Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
Sticks and stones may indeed break my bones, but words have the power to stay with me forever.
Somebody from my primary school (children aged 4-11 for those of you outside of the UK) must have been in a nostalgic mood recently as they had posted up a selection of class photographs on Facebook, taken about 23 years ago. They appeared on my wall because one of my friends was tagged in there, and they instantly brought back a ton of memories.
Looking at those photographs, I can probably remember about 40% of those names, but there, right in the centre of one of them, was a little boy with tight curly hair, a pasty complexion and thick rimmed glasses. For the purposes of anonymity, I’m going to call him X.
I read through the many comments that had been written underneath by people that I hadn’t seen or thought about in years.
However, one in particular stood out.
I forgot that we went to school with Napoleon Dynamite.
Someone else had written something below about feeling guilt, but laughed about it all the same. My heart sank. I remember him, I remember his name and I even remember a cruel nickname that we called him. This skinny little boy was quiet and shy, and was bullied mercilessly to the point where he left the school because of the abuse that he suffered from so many. While I never considered myself to be a mean girl (although I wasn’t perfect), I remember one incident that still makes my stomach churn a little, all these years later.
Our primary school didn’t have a canteen, so we had to walk up to another building further up the road for our lunch, during which we were expected to hold hands in pairs. Nobody ever wanted to be near him, so he was forced to hold the hand of his sister, who was equally ostracised. I remember that they were walking in front of me once, and he turned around and looked at me.
“Eww, you’re kissing your sister,” I said to him, laughing with my friends and backing away so I wouldn’t have to walk near him. Even at that age, I knew what I had said was wrong, and I have no idea why I felt prompted to join in with everyone else. To my recollection that was the only thing I ever said to him during my entire school life with him. He didn’t say anything, he never said anything, he just turned around and carried on walking. I had no reason to dislike him – he never did anything to me at all, but I didn’t talk to him, I didn’t include him, I didn’t invite him to any of my parties. Almost nobody did – in my own little bubble he simply didn’t exist.
Karma came to bite me on the ass when I started high school. I was what my students would describe as a ‘boffin’ – I worked hard, was in the top sets for everything, played in the orchestra and band, was on the badminton team, and to my recollection received only one or two detentions throughout my five years at the school. Looking back, I was a bit of a know-it-all, I wasn’t considered to be as attractive and didn’t possess the same social skills as some of the more popular girls, but aside from getting involved in silly girly politics, I didn’t intentionally go out of my way to hurt anyone else and I had some friends.
One boy in particular despised me almost from the first moment he met me, and he and his cronies tortured me for almost the entirety of my teenage academic life. He learned how to flick spit with the end of his tongue and he would frequently spit in my hair when stood behind me in a line. If I did or said something in a lesson he would go out of his way to tell the teacher to try and get me into trouble. He would concoct lies, spread rumours, and tell the older girls that I had said things about them to try and get them to beat me up. On several occasions, it almost worked, and being surrounded by lots of students while an older girl threatened me, screamed at me and pulled my hair because she had been told I’d been mean to her sister by this boy still remains one of the most terrifying moments of my entire life. He and his friends used to take great delight by repeating my name over and over whenever I would walk into a room, or would call me fat or ugly. When my friend tried to stand up for me, they did it to her too. Unfortunately, I was in most of my lessons too, and so it went on all day, every day.
At one point my father, who was a governor at the school, intervened, and this made it far worse. The boy started to use him as a way of trying to wind me up. However, what he didn’t know was the way my very angry and violent father treated my sisters and I when we were growing up, which was something I didn’t tell anyone until years later, so I couldn’t tell my father any more after this for fear of what he would do, both to me and to him. My father expected me to ignore it and would get angry and lash out at me when I got upset. It wasn’t as easy as that.
Looking back, many of these incidents were silly and childish, and nowadays wouldn’t bother me in the slightest, but I’ve always felt that my teenage years, while successful, were lived in fear. I cared so much about what my peers thought and adapted my behaviour to try to be accepted, and then spent many hours hiding in the music room during breaks and lunch times to avoid contact with people. I even attempted to befriend some of them, to be told “don’t talk to her, she’ll grass you up if you say anything about her.” Worse still, my self-confidence was on the floor. I believed that I was ugly. I believed that nobody liked me. I used to feel physically nauseous whenever I walked into my form room every morning because I knew what was going to happen. I was so stressed that I suffered from nose bleeds. I pretended to be ill so I didn’t have to go to school. I was the ultimate victim, feeling sorry for myself and constantly repeating different instances in my head until I had made myself feel anxious and depressed. I didn’t help myself in the slightest, but I didn’t deserve what I got. My saving grace was the fact that I worked hard, I got good grades and was able to get away from them as soon as I possibly could – while others were all crying and hugging on the last day, I happily skipped down the school drive knowing that I was going to be attending a performing arts college and would never have to see them again.
I left school nearly seventeen years ago, and I’ve moved on – we all have – but I haven’t forgotten. Of the hundreds of people that I shared my lessons with, I am still very close to just one, and communicate regularly via Facebook with just two or three. I have a life that I am proud of, a supportive family, great friends and a wonderful bloke. While I don’t harbour any ill feelings towards them, I don’t wish to get in contact with any of those people I knew so many years ago ever again, and the photographs, and some of the comments written below them, served as a reminder as to why. I’m very sure they feel exactly the same way about me.
I take bullying extremely seriously as a teacher and am quite open in sharing my own experiences whenever I have had to deal with it. What I tell my students, and will continue to tell my students for as long as I am their teacher, is that the opinions of others don’t matter, especially those which have no connection to our lives and how we choose to live it. Some children are thoughtless and cruel and often they will continue to be just as awful in their adulthood. That’s their problem, not ours.
What matters is that we don’t allow ourselves to be the victim and, more importantly, allow those opinions to dictate what we do, who we are and how we act. What matters is that we can go through life being successful and happy, as kind and as generous as possible and be able to look at ourselves in the mirror at the end of each day and know that we have done our best. What matters is that we like what we see in our reflection. Karma will often take care of the rest.
To X, and anyone else I treated unfairly along the way, I’m sorry. I hope he doesn’t read those comments and that, wherever he is and whatever he is doing, he’s happy.
What about you guys? Have you experienced bullying at any point in your life?
You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog, and don’t forget to check out my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/suzie81speaks