- *PLEASE NOTE*: Writing about my experiences with severe bullying is not an easy thing to do. I don’t wish to seek sympathy or appear as if I have not dealt with my past. I’m finally sharing my story in the hope that it will help others. *In the interest of identity, names and initials have been changed. I refer to myself as A in the story. I do not have any feelings of hatred towards the people involved in what I went through. I only feel sorry for them now.
It began when I was very young.
My wonderful mother, who is a teacher, read to me and my brother every night. But we didn’t read picture books. We read novels like Charlotte’s Web and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. I would sit beside Mum and read along with her, sounding out the words. That’s how I learned to read at the age of three.
I developed an insatiable appetite for books of all kinds, and my vocabulary swelled. With my little pink glasses, huge smile and vivacious nature, coupled with words far beyond my years, I was so excited to start school.
I was different. Very different.
This never bothered me much, but it obviously bothered a lot of other people
Perhaps it was inevitable that I’d run into trouble. Maybe it was bound to happen. But regardless, throughout my entire primary school life, I was bullied. Every day I would be called names, with teacher’s pet being a recurring favourite. Kids would throw things at me. They’d threaten to hit me, or even kill me. My schoolwork would be covered in graffitti. The boys would act as through I was poisonous, yelling “Ew, gross!” every time I walked past. I was excluded from a lot of activities, and even got beaten up on a few occasions.
I was always in floods of tears every single day it happened. But there was nobody at school I could turn to. I tried, of course, but always heard the same thing. Grow a thick skin. You’re too emotional. Get over it. Stand up for yourself. One day when I was eight, my teacher told me to my face that I was a “smartypants” and that was “why no-one liked me,” That cruel and inaccurate comment haunted me for years.
Mum offered to let me change schools so many times but I always refused out of fear. I’d already changed schools in kindergarten because we’d needed after school care (single parent family!). I endured it, hating every moment until I finally left for high school.
My Primary education had been in the public system. I went off to a private Christian high school hoping things would be different. And at first, they were.
I met two girls, J* and E*. We clicked right away. They seemed so sweet and kind. Like me, they were the only members of their primary schools to enrol at this high school.
They told me they’d been through similar bullying experiences and swore that we would always be friends. I believed them, and for a few months, I was completely happy. The years at primary school seemed far behind me. Life was fantastic.
But inexplicably, J was changing. She was constantly telling me stories of extreme physical abuse at home, but there was no evidence of the bruising or injuries she should have had from apparently being strangled and beaten. Before anyone dismisses me as a victim-blamer, J told me profusely not to tell anyone. I did tell the principal, but I couldn’t help suspecting that she was lying to me. I shrugged it off. It was impossible that sweet-natured, innocent J could ever lie.
From there, things started going downhill. J started slapping me across the face regularly. I would ask her to stop, but she’d become all sullen and guilt-tripping me until I apologised and agreed that I had deserved it.
J and E began hanging out together a lot, ignoring me and only speaking to me to give me a fresh list of complaints against my personality. I was uptight. Not fun anymore. Annoying. Bossy. Too quiet. Too shy. Too friendly.
I suggested we all go see the school counsellor together to sort out any conflicts. J refused. She was happy to go with E. But not me. Eventually, J and E both agreed to go together. But from the second we entered that room, J blamed every single problem on me and me alone. I was in tears by the end of the session, but I was desperate to salvage the only friendships I had at this school. Everyone else in our year had come from the same primary schools. Cliques were long established and I had no hope of entering.
Finally, things came to a head. They’d been sneaking away from me for weeks, and then came the final nail in the coffin.
There was a rumour going around our year that this boy named Daniel* liked me. One day J came to me and handed me a love letter, saying Daniel had asked her to give it to me. I went into a complete state of panic. I was only 13, desperately shy, didn’t know how to talk to boys, and had no idea what I was meant to do.
J and E laughed at me while I was crying and hyperventilating. I asked Daniel himself about the note, and he said he had never written it. I was stunned. J and E would never do that to me. Never.
The next day, J and E admitted it had all been a sick joke to scare me. I ran off in tears, humiliated for falling for such a stupid trick and furious at myself for embarrassing Daniel.
One day later, November 16th 2005, our year advisor pulled me out of class and told me the truth. J and E weren’t just having fun. The whole scheme had been a set up. They didn’t want to be my friend anymore, and this was all a plan to make me angry enough to leave their group of my own accord.
I was then taken to the school counsellor’s office where J and E were waiting, apparently sobbing. They later bragged to everyone that they had just been laughing at me while pretending to cry.
Mrs C, the counsellor, told them to be honest with me. E exchanged a deer-in-the-headlights look with J. “Can we go outside and talk about it first?”
I wanted to scream at them to get a backbone, to stop weaselling out of being truthful, to tell them how broken I felt inside. But I couldn’t make any words form.
J and E were sent to sick bay to ‘calm down’ together. I was left in the office. Nobody stayed with me.
The grief I experienced was staggering. I had never known a human could feel so much pain and still breathe. For the rest of the year, I had to watch J and E stay close, and hear about the rumours they were spreading that I was a horrible person.
I went into Year 8 thinking that the Christmas holidays were what I had needed. I was ready to move on with my life. But J wasn’t.
She wasn’t content to hate me herself. She wanted everyone to hate me.
I was already an outsider. When I sat down at tables or near others, people would literally get up and move. Or they’d ask me to leave so their friends could sit there. At first, I’d quietly say no, or joke “I don’t see their name on it,” only to receive a look of disgust and a comment “Sorry, (friend who apparently owned the seat) A’s being a total bitch and won’t let you sit down,” and then I’d get glared at so much eventually I’d just move anyway.
I tried to make new friends. But J’s plan of attack was to approach whoever I was talking to and, in front of me, invite them to sit with her. She wouldn’t look at me or even acknowledge my existence. Then later on, when I wasn’t around, J would tell them that they would be ‘way happier’ hanging out with her.
It didn’t take me long to figure out what she was doing. It got to the point where I actually had to warn people I was friendly with that she was going to try to sway them to her side. They always swore they would be loyal, but in the end they turned from me and I was alone, which was exactly what J wanted.
The boys absolutely loved it. Their favourite trick was to stir J up to do more. They would get together with J and plan attacks on me. J and the boys would borrow people’s phones to send me nasty text messages. In Year 8, a group of the boys told J that I had told everybody the combination to her locker. I hadn’t, but J ran off and reported me straight away. I got grilled in the assistant principal’s office for a good hour, refusing to admit I had done it. There was no way I was going to be punished for something I hadn’t done. J came to me the next day with watery eyes. “A, I accused you before I knew the facts, and I’m going to make it right,”
She never did.
From there, things got worse and worse.The attacks escalated. I’d go to my locker to find it filled with rubbish. Every time I walked down the hall, someone would yell out a stupid comment about my alleged sex life. Apparently I was having affairs with all the boys in my grade. One of my most awful memories of the school is when I was walking towards the train station on my way home. Without warning, the boys came and formed a tight circle around me, asking me shocking questions about my body and alleged sexual antics. It was absolutely terrifying. Even as I type about it a decade later, I can still recall the shame and fear.
Every day I would hide in the library and read. But even there I wasn’t safe. J would sit in the library and stare daggers at me the entire time while I ignored her. The boys searched for me all over the school to attack me further.
One day, the boys entered as per usual, for ‘a bit of fun with A.’ I heard my name being called. Like an idiot, I walked over. The gang of boys was sitting with J.
“J,” one said, “Do you like A?”
J’s eyes locked directly with mine. They were full of loathing as she coldly said “No,”
My grades dropped. I couldn’t eat. My weight dropped down to as low as 38kg from the stress. I’ll never forget the night I ended up in the hospital from the horror and despair I felt.
Eventually I gave up trying to get help from school. Their only solution was to not think about J, because she wasn’t doing anything to me. The school counsellor said she was powerless. And one huge advantage J had was her appearance. Curly red hair, tiny physique, freckles, glasses, sugary voice. She was the portrait of purity to everyone. How could someone so cute be a bully? How could such a tiny girl torment someone twice as tall? I don’t necessarily blame anyone for being fooled by J. I’d fallen for her innocent act myself.
I began thinking that maybe I deserved what I was getting. Maybe it was my place in life. Maybe I was paranoid and blaming J for things that weren’t her fault. I did attempt to make peace with J a few times, but she always took advantage of that and went right back to the torture.
Eventually, after one too many cruel acts and her pleas to the school being flat-out ignored, Mum told me I had to change schools.
I was so scared. The school wasn’t THAT bad. And if they hated me here, why on earth would another school accept me?
Thankfully, Mum was insistent and pulled me out of the Christian school. I enrolled at a performing arts school in Year 10. And finally, I found somewhere I belonged.
I was in my element. People liked talking to me and genuinely wanted to be my friend. They understood and identified with my love of the arts and reading. And I was happy.
For an entire year after I changed schools, the bullies from my first school went to incredible lengths to find me. But I had an amazing group of friends now who protected me, and I knew how to protect myself online.
The scars remained. Despite my new life, it took a long time for me to realise that I didn’t deserve to be bullied and that I did deserve to be happy. But I know that now. I’m still undoing the years the bullies tried to take from me. But I am alive. I’m travelling the country teaching kids that they have the power to stop bullying.
I see the news stories about the children who get desperate enough to end their lives over bullying and my heart breaks. I know all too well about feeling like there’s literally no way out.
We need to fight bullying together. We can’t let it win. We need to stop glorifying such behaviour in the media. We need to stop comforting the bullies and start taking care of the victims. We need to teach resilience and empathy to everyone regardless of age. I’ve overcome bullying. Anybody can. There IS life after such experiences.
What I have written here is NOT about saying “Ha, suck it! I’m so much better than you haters!” That approach would be counterproductive. I don’t know if anyone who was involved in my story will read this. I don’t know if they feel any remorse and I don’t particularly care what they think of me anymore. I’m not even sure they would admit to being bullies. But if they do, I only have this to say.
I don’t hate you.
You didn’t win.
You didn’t beat me.
I am my own person.
I am not ashamed of my story.
I’m not a victim.
I’m not just a girl who was bullied at school.
Being bullied is only part of my life, and it absolutely does not define who I am. And as long as this is the outcome, my story has only begun.
Help fight bullying at http://www.standforthesilent.org/