I suppose this post starts with a fairly usual situation, on a fairly usual day. It was a few months ago, and I had ran out of milk for my cup of tea, and so embarked on the short 5 minute journey to my local shop to buy some. Like I said; fairly usual situation, fairly usual day. The sun was out; not too hot, not too cold, just so.
On the way to the shops, I pass a secondary school (less any confusion from anyone not from the UK – this is for children the ages of 12-16). Not one I attended, but a school nonetheless.
I spotted in the distance two boys walking towards me. Instinctively, I felt my chest tense inside me. My heart was pounding. My palms were clammy. My eyes fell to the floor.
“They’re going to say something. They’re going to say something. What if I fall over? What if right now.. RIGHT now, my feet decide I am unable to walk and I trip? What if they call me fat? Or Ugly? Or both?!”
I picked up my head in ‘faux confiance’, looked straight ahead, trying to maintain a sense of ”normal” and “cool”. I passed the boys. Pretending that their very existence didn’t bother me. My pace quickened, and I practically ran the rest of the 500 metres to the store, my sanctuary. My safe zone.
It was only on arrival, that I realised – they had a school uniform on. They were, what, 15? 16? They didn’t care about me. They were far too interested in their football banter. I was 25. TWENTY. FIVE. I was an adult. A grown up. Why on earth did it matter?
It was then it hit me, that the demons of my past hadn’t quite left me as alone as I had thought.
Here is me. 15 – scraggy hair with a mind of its own and a tendency to frizz out with the slightest humidity. (Unfortunately straighteners were far in the future at that point.) My skin was, let face it, terrible. I broke out even just looking at a bar of chocolate. And the ever-so-kindly put “puppy fat”? Well, what is there really to say about it. Lets face it, I was a set of braces away from complete adolescent annihilation. Most of this is undetectable in the photo, the hat, the pose, the distance. But that was kinda the point.
This was taken at the Hoover Dam, USA. A trip of a lifetime for any 15 year old. But I was sad. And angry. I didn’t want my photo taken. I wanted to disappear and never think of that point in my life again. But I just “had” to have my picture taken. I’d regret it when I was older. Looking at it now? I really don’t.
School started off a happy time. I was smart. Fun. I had friends. I won art competitions and took part in anything and everything I could. Except sports. I only ever succeeded in sport once, with a victorious 3rd place in the egg and spoon race.
Then I hit secondary school.
I still to this don’t really know what changed. Probably nothing at all. Maybe everything. But that is when the name calling started. It wasn’t much at first: “Get out the way fatty” was a particular favourite. Then they got clever.
I was pushed into puddles, books ripped apart. Tormented in P.E as the “chubster”. At 13, a girl in the changing room threatened to kill me if I didn’t leave and never come back. Fortunately she was expelled later that same day. But that was the point I cracked.
I still talked to people, but I became quick witted. Come backs were my forté, not that they helped. I put on a face to the world, but I was dead behind the eyes. I hid away at break times when I couldn’t face the world, or have the energy for my carefully constructed cover. I kept my head down when I needed to. But they were winning. And it got worse.
My hair was cut, a stapler thrown at my head. Chemicals put on my clothes in science. Hands burnt. Pins put on my chairs. Threatened with an electric sander. Spat on. “Smileys” were the worst. Thats when you keep a lighter lit for ages, get it really hot. Then put it on someones skin – for fun you see. It leaves a mark, a “smiley”. They had lots of fun with that one. And the rest.
This was before anyone really had the internet, and Zuckerburg was still a nobody, so Facebook wasn’t a worry (though I dare say, it’d be a different story today). Back then, mobiles were the ‘cool new thing’. The good old Nokia 5110. A girl, my so-called ‘friend gave my number out to everyone who would take it – and the texting and prank calling began. And boy, did I get a lot of those. School time, evenings, weekends. Never. Ending.
Its at this point that people wouldsay to tell your teachers, someone would do something, right? When I was 16, I had to lead a class as part of my exam, and the entire room throw verbal abuse (and the odd trainer) for the entirety of the lesson. Infuriated that my teacher had witnessed the entire incident and did NOTHING, I stormed into their office, demanding why. “Character Building” she said. “You get abuse as teachers. Part of teaching is learning to deal with it”. I wasn’t a teacher, nor trying to be one. I was a child. I stopped going to PE after that for the rest of the year. I wasn’t missed.
A day soon after I locked myself in the drama department toilets, and just sat their crying. Wondering if I stayed their long enough, the world would just carry on without me and everything would stop hurting. I didn’t feel like I could go on anymore. I sat there for 3 hours. I even wondered how much you had to cry to become so dehydrated you just, disappeared. I tried to calculate it in my head. I guess that would have been a great time to have had Google (see, quick wit… I can’t help myself).
Looking back, it still hurts. Sort of like when you bash your arm into a door. It stings, and that fades. But the bruising lasts a lot longer. The apprehension never goes away. The feelings of self doubt. Self loathing. Self…nothingness.
I’d like to say it never happened after that, but i’d be lying. The violence went, but the taunts still haunted me. No-one wants the fat kid in their dance class. But I got past college, and got a job, and grew up. And today (not that it makes it alright) I am sure I can credit the troubles I had as a teenager for the empathetic and caring side of me today, always wanting to help others. I am a stronger person because of it… most of the time. It disappeared into my past in a haze, unspoken and unwanted. But as they say -” kids and people can be cruel”, so we just have to deal with that, right? “Get over it”, Take it with a “pinch of salt” ?
What happened to treat others how you want to be treated? I think that’s a fairly basic, applicable-to-every-day-life sorta cliché.
And, believe it or not – you can help you know. More than you probably think. Its the little things that make the difference. Its looking past the laughs and giggles, and the smiles and jokes, and looking. Really looking into someones eyes. It doesnt matter if they are 7 or 27… you can see it. If you want to.
The grey, empty, desolate space where their soul should be. The origins of their very being. And maybe, just maybe, in that split second they let their guard down, you try and help. A friendly shoulder, a hug. “i’m here”. Knowing that someone is there in the darkest times when you feel so, so alone. You can help make a change in their lives, for the better.
You could make them feel a little more valued, a little more appreciated, a little more alive…. and not just a victim of bullying. Stand up for what is right. Stand up for them. And most importantly, stand up to the others.
Make a difference.
I know its hard, but I promise you. They’ll thank you for it.
Probably every day for the rest of their lives.
I know I would have.