Just for some background, I'm female, 28 and live in Australia.
I first started being bullied when I was six. I was brainy for my age, but socially a bit backward - or at least I think so - it's difficult to know in retrospect. The first instance was very mild, and conformed almost perfectly to the stereotype of bullying. A bigger, older, not very popular kid started threatening me and some of my friends, forcing us to do things; stupid things like stand with our hands on our heads. We were terrified, but we eventually told a teacher and it stopped. This is the sort of thing that I think would be generally recognised as bullying.
At much the same time, the real bullying started. The popular kids (and even at six years old there were popular kids) made me an outcast. I was called names, taunted and laughed at. I remember several times when a group of them would all tell me that something I was doing was wrong or against the rules. They would force me into doing it the wrong way and I'd be told off by the teacher. I realise that it sounds stupid now, but I was only a kid then and I had no idea how to react or defend myself.
From there things became progressively worse. The one good friend I had moved away. I did have the occasional temporary friend, but generally they would desert my very quickly and soon after I would hear things I had said to these so-called friends jeered back at me by my tormentors.
I was occasionally pushed and tripped and spat on and it was very popular to throw things at me, but mostly it wasn't physical abuse - just name-calling and ostracism. I know this sounds stupid, but one of the most hurtful things was that I was always called by my surname. Other kids had first names, but no one ever called me by mine. To this day I feel sick when anyone calls me just by my last name.
By the time I was ten even the teachers had noticed what was going on. They could hardly fail to notice there was something wrong, since I had developed the nervous habit of peeling the skin off my feet and around my mouth till it bled. One teacher really did try to help. I think he realised there wasn't anything he could do to stop the kids picking on me, but he did try to come up with ways for me to get away from them. He organised for me to go to afternoon classes and camps and things for gifted kids. And I really appreciated it, since not only did I get away from my tormentors for a while, but I also discovered that I could make friends, and that some kids did like me. But it didn't solve the problems back at school.
The next teacher I had also tried to 'help'. He noticed there was a problem (god, what a genius) so one day he took me outside to cross-examine me about it. That's what it felt like, anyway - I ended up in tears. His brilliant notion for dealing with it was to call in the cousellor from the local high school (primary schools didn't have their own counsellors). I suppose this sounds like a good thing - but it wasn't. The counsellor just had no idea - he kept grilling me about why the particular name I was being called at the time upset me so much. I can't remember what name was popular just then - I think they'd gotten bored with 'lesbian' and were on to something else. None of the names made much sense anyway. I just wanted to scream at this moron "It's not important *what* they call me! What's important is that they hate me." He went into the usual spiel about "Names can't hurt you. Just ignore them and they'll get sick of it and stop." By that stage it had been going on for *five years* and no-one seemed to be getting sick of it.
Not only was the counselling useless - it actually had a horribly detrimental effect. It emphasised to me, to the other kids and probably to the teachers and parents that *I* had a problem, was causing a problem. That there was something wrong with me. In retrospect I find that absolutely appalling, and I will never forgive that teacher or that counsellor.
I blamed myself for it all - it seemed to be all my fault, but there seemed to be no way of stopping it. I fantasised constantly about suicide. I remember one time staring into a cupboard at home and wondering if drinking a can of insect spray would kill me.
One thing I later found out, which I think is very significant, is that the parents of the bullies hated me just as much as their children did. I suppose they resented me because I was clever and won assorted prizes etc. My theory is that kids will go further in tormenting someone if they feel they have tacit parental or adult approval.
My mother was quite supportive of me during this nightmare called primary school. She often let me have the day off when I just couldn't face going to school. And when it came time for me to start high school, she decided to send me to a different school. I think it was a good idea - it should have given me a chance to make a fresh start. The only small problem was that one of the 'so-called friends' was also sent there, and she wasted no time in telling my new classmates all about 'the weirdo'.
Still, for a while it wasn't too bad. I was occasionally picked on, but only about once a week instead of every day, and I actually made some friends. I suppose I should have heard warning bells when they told me their mission was to "make me normal", but I was just so glad to have some friends that I didn't take note. And I tried, I tried so hard to fit in - to talk the right way, to say the right things, to wear the right clothes so that I would fit in.
But it was in vain. I suppose at heart I was just too strange. Eventually some of the most popular girls decided they wanted to be friends with a couple of my friends, but they didn't want the weirdos and losers hanging around. I think I could have handled it if I had just been frozen out, but what actually happened was considerably nastier. One friend, who I had idolised, came up with an idea that I was just like Damien from 'The Omen'. They used all the things I had ever told them about myself to prove that I was a witch, or the anti-christ or the spawn of the devil or something.
And then they spread it round the school. It caught on like a craze, and I remember being mobbed, crosses waved at me, being asked if I was really a demon. It sounds bizarre. I know it sounds bizarre. But it happened. And at the time I remember fantasising about going to school with a gun and shooting the lot of them.
After that, my last couple of years at school were pretty uneventful. Then I left school, went to university, got a job etc etc.
But the bullying did have a long term effect on me. It made me very cynical and misanthropic. You learn a lot at school - about fear and cruelty and hate and betrayal. I find it hard to trust people, and the thought of having anyone know anything about me is very threatening. Also, I've realised that I was seriously depressed during school and for years later, but in recent years I think this has been getting better. It also left me with some horrible self esteem problems, which have continued to bedevil me, but I hope I will eventually be able to work through them.
I honestly don't know how things can be made better. So much of the advice about "what to do if you are being bullied" seems ridiculously useless and irrelevant. I wish that the Internet had been around when I was at school, since I might at least have been able to find other people like me, who I could talk to, and who would accept me for who I was.
The amazing thing is how much better it is to be an adult. I feel so free now. If I don't like the people I work with, I can change jobs. If I don't like where I live I can move. I no longer live in the city where I went to school, and I'm glad of it, since I really don't know how I'd react if I saw someone from those days.
All I can say is that if you survive, you win. If you can just survive school, things do get better. And then you can start mending the damage they've done to you.
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