I first starting writing this blog in October but I had to stop as typing it out was getting too much for me. However, it seemed apt to finally complete it as today is the start of Anti-Bullying Week. You see, I was bullied both physical and verbal bullying for over six years (I say over six years as it continued to an extent even after I left school). And the entire time I was at school very little was done. Bullying was just something else they weren’t going to support me through. Just another thing that came below grades on their priority list.
How it started
Going from a local C of E primary school to a Jewish secondary school meant I was an outsider before my differences even became apparent. Most other students arrived with the friends and cliques that they’d developed over the preceding seven years. I, however, was alone. This became clear to me before the term even started. We had a pre-term ‘get together’ during which will we all did tests to determine which classes we’d be in and went through a speed-dating like introduction session. As I sat there trying to get to know the girl opposite me, she simply spoke across me to a friend a few seats down. Everyone already knew each other, they didn’t need an introduction and weren’t interested in meeting anyone new. So, from the moment I stepped foot through those doors, I was bullied.
I never hid the fact that I had epilepsy and this of course came with natural repercussions. But I believe a larger issue was my non-existent ASD diagnosis. I never had any actual support in school so it wasn’t obvious to the other kids that anything was ‘wrong’ with me. I just acted ‘oddly’ and when provoked I responded.
Physical bullying happened during my first year at school. One particular boy just liked hurting me (in all senses). On the first day of every month, he’d approach me and, with an evil glint in his eye, chant ‘pinch punch first day of the month’ as he thumped me with all his might. It got to the point where, instead of going to my locker in the morning, I’d head straight into the form room with my padded coat still on and my friends surrounding me like guards. But he’d always find me somewhere during the day.
Due to my ASD, altering my routine was not easy. And eventually, I decided it was enough; I attempted to get to him first. We were alone in a corridor and after I’d pinched and punched him, he cornered me against the wall. With more spite than ever he said ‘a flick and a kick, you’re too quick’. His bulky school shoe smashed against the side of my leg leaving a giant gash. I tried to keep it hidden but eventually, my mum noticed the scab. I lied straight to her face and told her I’d fallen over, it took several weeks for me to build up the courage to tell her the truth.
You see this boy had been choosing to physically harm me for months with no consequence. I, on the other hand, had already been excluded for uncontrollably lashing out. I was ashamed, that on that day, I’d made the first hit. I’ve always known physical violence is not ok, but for me, that was often the only way to express my feelings. Hitting was never a choice for me, yet I was consistently punished. This bully had purposefully left me bruised and bloody and always got away with it.
But being punched was the least of my issues. One of my pet peeves is that stupid poem that states:
Sticks and stone may break my bones
But words will never hurt me
I don’t like using bad language in my blogs, but this is pure BOLLOCKS! The Divine Comedy put it perfectly:
Sticks and stones may break my body but words can tear me apart.
So be careful what you tell me, spare a thought for my heart.
Broken bones fuse together, bruises never last for long,Sticks and Stones by The Divine Comedy
But once they’re said words stay spoken
And hearts stay broken from that moment on.
Because my school refused to deal with the bullying, I felt like I deserved it. When I hit someone it was a reaction to something they’d said, yet I was the one that got in trouble. With mental health being such a prominent topic all over the place, why do people still see physical abuse as being so much worse than verbal and mental abuse? I don’t deny hitting isn’t right, but everything is circumstantial. If a child feels they need to lash out in defence, the full situation needs to be viewed. It’s tough as words aren’t visible and neither are the scars they leave.
But, I’ve been depressed since my pre-teens because those kids used my deficits and battles for their amusement. Pushing my buttons in order to frustrate me and then watch, with a metaphorical box of popcorn, as I lost my cool and exploded into a crazy person. It was entertaining for them to see someone struggle and get in trouble.
How Bullying Affects Others
However, it wasn’t just me that was affected by my bullying. People in my sister’s class (two years below me) would make fun of me during her lessons to make her react too. They even made up songs that they’d sing as I walked past them in the corridors. What I heard didn’t sound malicious, but it brought attention to me wherever I went.
A lot of them had siblings in my year and travelled on the same bus as us. Once a group of them threatened to throw my school books out of the top deck window making my sister too scared to sit up there again. They thought that because we were no longer ‘in school’ the rules didn’t exist. In fact, the bus bullying got so bad my sister and I devised a plan to get the earlier bus in order to avoid them altogether. She’s always been a quick person so was naturally there on time. I, on the other hand, concocted a lie related to my health that allowed me to leave class early.
It’s only with the magic of hindsight and maturity that I’m able to see the extent to which my bullying affected my sister and the rest of my family too. Although it wasn’t my fault, I’m left with a lot of guilt and self-loathing when I look back over those years.
Bullying was just part of my life
For me, bullying became so normal that I eventually stopped noticing it all, I no longer heard the singing in the corridors or noticed the constant sniggers. I mean that’s just so depressing.
I was focused on school and getting the grades I needed to fulfil my plan. Lunchtime was still hard and I spent the majority of it talking to my physics teacher about Doctor Who. But as far as I was aware things in class were fine.
Until one day in Maths my best friend leapt from her chair next to me, turned around and began yelling at the top of her lungs. It turned out, the two ‘popular’ kids who sat behind us had been throwing bits of loo roll at my back. Being the only person in the room who actually enjoyed maths, I’d been oblivous to this for weeks.
This was the only incident my school ever actually took any action towards. Surprise, surprise they weren’t punished. Instead, they set up a meeting between me and them in order for me to try and explain my condition, why I was different, what it was like for me living with epilepsy. They both left the room just as ignorant and evil as they were when they came in. The boy even tried to compare my situation to his slight skin issues. Like how is that anywhere close to a life-threatening condition!?!?!
All of this was because I was weird. Because I didn’t have a full diagnosis I didn’t receive the support I needed. The school punished me for things that weren’t in my control and other students saw this as something that was entertaining. The teachers and other staff members were unable to recognise that me lashing out wasn’t an anger issue but rather a communication problem. And I was unable to mentally separate myself from situations as some neurotypical people may be able to.
It wasn’t until a few weeks after my ASD diagnosis that I mentioned it out loud. And the one boy, who still haunts me to this day, gave me a look I’d never seen before. It seemed that for a moment he was empathising with me. It didn’t stop him from making my life hell, but I wonder if after that he did it for different reasons.
Of course, an extreme lack of knowledge in regards to epilepsy also played a part. Despite 1 in 100 people having the condition, awareness and understanding are still minimal. Very few members of staff ever received epilepsy training and the pupils were given no information at all. It’s only with hindsight that I’ve begun to realise many confrontations that took place in school were due to me blacking out.
The harsh reality is, that lack of understanding merged with the missing diagnosis, meant I wasn’t supported in school. Those six years were far harder for me than they ever should have been. In the end, that stress nearly killed me.
Eight years after leaving school I thought I’d begun to ‘get over’ all of this trauma. I was finally proud to be me and had persuaded myself it was deeper stuff I was still struggling with. But certain things mentioned in this blog just keep popping into my mind and school is back in my dreams every night. I guess when the world is on pause and there’s no certain future to look towards, one just ends up dwelling on the past.
I don’t think I realised just how raw this all still is until I actually began typing. It took several sittings to get it all written. There is still so much that I’ve not fully processed and I’m not sure I ever will. Being in a better headspace with so much time on my hands and so much on my mind; I want to start putting everything out there. It’ll benefit me and hopefully, others too.
I believe this blog will be the first of a few that finally reveal just what I’ve dealt with over the years. In writing them, I can question both the education and health systems. This is key because things must change.
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