I often find it hard to talk about my own mental health, which isn't necessarily an unusual thing but it's easy to feel that you're alone and can't
open up to people or seek help. I personally have struggled with depression, low self-esteem and loneliness, amongst other things, which I feel has a lot to do with the fact that I was bullied at school.
For a long time that wasn't something I was comfortable admitting, whether that was to friends, family or others who may have been able to help. The truth is I was so deep in denial that I only realised that I was bullied when I was in my first year of university, after my best friend heard me talk about some of my high school experiences. Even now, the majority of my closest friends don't know and almost none of my family do. It took me a long time to come to terms with what happened over my four years at high school and, if I'm being honest, I'm still probably some distance off fully accepting everything. However, what is abundantly clear is that those experiences have shaped the person I am today.
I was incredibly naïve around my experiences being bullied and in some ways I probably still am. I often slip into the trap of blaming myself for things that happened or trying to tell myself that it wasn't that bad. This was all part of the denial. I created an illusion that I couldn't possibly have been bullied because that wasn't the sort of thing that happened to me, and that if something did happen to me it was because I deserved it. I was effectively rewriting my own history with myself as the villain. Meanwhile I was letting the main culprits get away with the crime.
The fact is I was picked on for my accent, my weight, where I lived and even the fact that one of my eyes was a different shape. I was punched, kicked and strangled against the fence on the school pitch. One time I was pushed over and cracked my head open on the concrete at lunch time. I often viewed these events in isolation but there's a definite pattern that for too long I ignored.
Suffering in that way for as long as I did can provoke all sorts of emotions
in a person. Bullying has touched every aspect of my life, choking each part of me until it's left either dead or spiritless. As a man in the modern world
there's all sorts of negative stereotypes and connotations associated with
showing anger, which I'm incredibly conscious of. I'm not an aggressive person and I'd go as far as to say I was pacifistic. In spite of that, years of verbal and physical abuse have left me with an unrelenting rage which I've never allowed to come out. Instead I lock it away deep inside myself, directing the abuse inwards. I've become my own abuser.
It's that anger which has fuelled the spreading fire in my mind but if I'm
really honest it's not misplaced. I'm not angry at the bullies. I'm still angry
with myself. I've allowed myself to believe that I'm ugly, that I'm a burden on those around me, that I'm unlovable and that I deserved everything that
happened to me.
It's not true. None of it is true. It's easy to be angry at teenage me and resent him for his weakness and for not speaking up but at the end of the day he was just a kid. He didn't know any better. Even now looking back I don’t regret not telling anyone. It was my decision even though it wasn’t necessarily the right one. I wasn’t really in an environment where I felt like I could tell anyone. I felt completely alone. I didn’t trust any of my teachers at school and neither did I think anything in particular would be done if I did. Neither did I want to look weak in front of family or friends.
That’s why Anti-Bullying week is so important to me; because no one should have to feel alone like I did. It’s vital that children and teenagers really understand the negative effects that bullying can have and are familiar with resources which can be used to mitigate the effects. School was quite a cold place for me and in hindsight I truly believe that if there was more support available at the time then perhaps this article would have had a slightly different tone.
I can definitely thank my bullies for most of the negative emotions and thoughts I feel about myself and my environment. However, they’ve also taught me a lot about myself. I’ve emerged a kinder and more empathetic person with a stronger sense of right and wrong. I’m still working on myself and the job will never really be over, but that’s what Anti-Bullying week is all about for me. It’s a reminder that many of the negative feelings I have aren’t even my own and it’s also a reminder to help those who may be feeling the same as me. It’s the week that tells me I’m not a victim. I’m a survivor.
Feature image: Pizabay @EliasSch