This month is mostly brought to you by the letter B, for bullying…
No, this is not the section of a game show where we shout out “lines you’d never hear in a…”. After reading some of the recent articles on bullying and people’s experiences it stirred up some memories inside me. I started to reflect on my experience of bullying and, while the memories were still fresh I thought I’d share with you some of my thoughts and, to be perfectly frank, pains of my bullying experience.
Contrary to popular belief, I wasn’t always this funny (ha), intelligent (bigger ha) and well dressed (ha-ha) man you see before you. During my early school days, around the age of 13-15 I was very much the school loner. I had about 3 friends, one of whom was my beloved cat (so you can see what I mean by loner). I was angry all of the time and very quickly became what is known as an “easy target” for jibes and derogatory remarks.
I saying “bullying” because bullies aren’t just people that you can spot in a crowd. They aren’t one group of people over another, you can’t say “ah yes, I can tell be the way that man walks that he’s a bully”. Especially at school ‘bullies’ are anyone and everyone; you could be sat next to one right now on the bus…
At school, once you became known as the school geek or “harry potter” look-alike then that’s it, you were stuck with that label with everyone that was aware of it (which was pretty much everyone). It wasn’t helped by my avid determination to stick with the ‘Harry Potter’ look that I had adopted and the haircut that was described by my tormentors as a “mullet” (although it wasn’t – Google a mullet and it did not look that that).
The jibes would range in nature and tone. Some would be from girls having their usual catty digs or some would come from the year idiot. Often it would be a case where that day he’d picked you as the target to mutter the only long word he could manage in a day without tiring out his one brain cell. All you’d get from him is “mullet” and then he’d laugh and walk away. Any come back you gave was met with a blank face like you’d shouted a foreign language at him and shrugged off. I don’t like to be unkind but the facts seem to speak for themselves…
This went on all during the lower years of high school and into the 1st year of my GCSEs; never violent, only consistent tormenting from any and all angles. At the time, and even to this day, who do you turn to in that sort of situation? Teachers? Parents? The bullies themselves? In my mind none of these would have been of any real help. Teachers wouldn’t tell then entire year off for picking on 1 child. And besides, back in those days ‘bullying does not take place at our school’.
My Parents then? But how do you tell your parents you are being bullied by the entire year? Most parents wouldn’t know what to do any more than you would. The rest would either tell you to stop being so ridiculous, not care or march you down to the school to complain to the teachers that won’t tell off an entire year anyway and fob you off with a “bullying does not take place at our school”. Have you tried telling your entire year that you want them to stop calling you names? If you have, and succeeded, not only do I take my hat off to you but I also think you should be working for an anti-bullying charity and be an inspiration to us all.
This constant torment and digs meant that for many years I suffered with intense bouts of anger and frustration, often lashing out at those around me. Looking back now, I believe that I suffered all during those years from a very deep depression. My tormented mind took me places that I never wish to see again, nor wish on any living soul. The mind can be just as cruel as any bully.
So I suffered in silence for many years. I quickly took to anticipating the blows that would come my way, and I thought that if I called myself such things that it would take the wind out of their sails and they would get bored of it. It didn’t really work; they just found other ways of slipping it in or getting at you. However that view is something that still stays with me today and I’m always the first one to crack a joke at my own expense.
In my final year of GCSEs and going into a-levels I started to notice something in my behaviour, that, up until that point I hadn’t really noticed. Of my 3 friends (including the cat), the one who was the very opposite of who I was (not the cat) suddenly found themselves on the receiving end of my anger and frustration. Over a period of about 3 years I had repeatedly made jabs and comments about him, his views and his personality. I had become the very thing that I was so angry at. I think it came to a head when I noticed that my other friend had started to do it as well. I sat and watched as he made the exact same jibes that I had made and it hit me. I had become the very thing that I despised and I was utterly horrified. To this day it is my biggest shame and I only share it because such shames should be frowned upon. Bullying will only stop when society decides it is completely unacceptable just as it once did of Homosexuality. Isn’t it amazing how that can be stopped in public places and yet bullying of any kind can’t?
For those that have read a previous article of mine about gay bullying you’ll note that this is around the time that I ‘verbally attacked’ the resident school “gay boy” after he verbally attacked a friend. It was that event that helped me open my eyes to what I had become and the behaviour I was breeding in others.
It’s almost as if something changed within me. Not consciously or through any overnight miraculous transformation, slowly but surely things began to change. I cut and restyled my hair, learnt to control my temper and anger, became the “funny man” and someone less social awkward to be around. Now my problems didn’t change overnight but funnily enough the M word soon disappeared. As did the constant casual mocking. You could even say that I had a place other than rock bottom in the social ladder. The real relaxed me was starting to appear, not the bitter and twisted person that seemed to be taking hold. I was even invited to parties, invited out to the pub I had friends and people to talk to. All because I had made a change in my life to change what made me so different.
Now this is very unique to my experiences and life and isn’t typical of all bullying scenarios. Some could even say that I succumbed to peer pressure by changing who I was. But to those people I say this; surely the person I have become is better than the angry mess I was becoming? You can either be bullied, and spend the rest of your life being a victim of bullying or you can engage and challenge it. Work out what the bullying is about and actively challenge it. Either through changes and confidence in yourself or through seeking help and guidance from others, including your family.
Humans fear what they do not understand and this is especially true of children and those with troubled backgrounds. You’ll often find, as I did, that a bully is someone with a pain or secret of their own. Someone who is looking to deflect attention away from themselves, or to lash out the pain that they feel or have suffered. However there are those that just do it because social protocol allows them to. And these are the dangerous ones. These are the ones you don’t see coming and the ones that in all honesty, hurt the most. And it is these ones that we must challenge as a society so that eventually bullying truly is seen as socially unacceptable regardless of the social crowd it’s happening with. Why can’t we make bullying behaviour as unacceptable in public as 2 men kissing once was?
My years of bullying have left their scars. I don’t let them define me or dictate my life, but they have given me my sense of humour and outlook on life. Bullying is a part of my background and to ignore it is, in my mind, foolish. I owe both my good points and my bad points to my bullying experience. And while I wouldn’t call myself a ‘victim’ of bullying, I would call myself someone who has experienced it, knows it, and has come out the other side.
That is my demon, and I carry it gladly as a reminder to me and to others that throw away words leave lasting scars. I believe it was Oscar Wilde that once said that the ‘pen is mightier than the sword’… How true.
For those that are interested, my cat was called Tilly and she remained a true and loyal friend in the good times and the bad for 14 years of my life. She was, at one point, my best friend in all the world.
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