Bullying Almost Destroyed Me
Bullying fundamentally changes people, for better or worse, for the rest of their lives. Growing up I experienced a lot of bullying. I don’t know why, really, other than it started at a young age and maybe that made me an easier target in the years that followed? I don’t know what I did or didn’t do to those that bullied me, so that they felt the need to do it.
Bullying crushed my confidence. It crushed it, walked all over it and scattered the remains as best it could. I've been trying to piece it together ever since.
I got physically and mentally bullied throughout school, up until around 5th year of secondary school. I received physical beatings 3-4 times a week in primary school. They’d knock me down, before kicking and punching me. They also had this thing they called the "pole" where once knocked down, a group of them would catch me by the arms and the legs and swing me rib first into concrete pillars/columns that held up the shed roof. The lasting damage from that is be sure you never poke me in the ribs. I probably won’t react well.
The bullying was systematic. In a way they were smart. They always attacked places that for the most part would be covered by clothes so there'd be no visible marks. They also put the fear of god in me so that I wouldn't tell a soul. I have so many memories of getting sick in the bathroom at school from fear, and being so upset over all the physical abuse and mental abuse that came along with it. I was too scared to tell the teachers or my parents, for fear of what might happen to me. I started comfort eating around that time. It was the only time and distraction where I wasn't so worried. My weight ballooned upwards and it suffices to say that the bullying only continued. Secondary school didn’t change much of that. It was always by the front door that I got hit, before I rounded onto the main corridor. Then, of course, lads being lads, there was a mongo line each side of the hallway to push over anyone that happened to pass through. That was a given for anyone that came along the hallway, but it was hard to walk through it and not fall over with a dead leg after the beatings I'd gotten down the hall. By fifth year the physical bullying had stopped for the most part. I was taller and bigger, and thankfully those in my year and most of the year ahead were fairly sound. At 16 I was morbidly obese, the results of years of comfort eating.
By the age of 18 I was finished school, in college, and on a new chapter in my life. Or, at least, that’s what it had felt like at the time. The reality was I still had a ton of stuff plaguing my mind from the years of bullying. Statements and comments that I’d had passed my way so many times, that they began to feel like facts! Remember that old “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?” - how wrong was that?! The beatings happened, but the mental scarring was so much harder to overcome. Towards the middle of my first year in college I found myself depressed, lost, and not knowing what to do, unsure of how to move forward and be happy. I questioned whether I wanted to move forward. I felt hollow, cold, with no hint of hope that the future held anything good for me. On a cold Winter’s evening I went to the cliff walk in Ballybunion and stood on the edge outside the fence. I stared out over the dark water, and I cried. I cried and I beat my fists against the fence behind me. I took out my phone and sent a few texts to friends, none of which made any sense in hindsight. I put my phone on the fence and dangled my leg over the edge. As the cold wind rushed past me I remember thinking to myself that it was just one step, and all would in my head would be quiet at last. That in the blink of an eye, it wouldn’t hurt anymore. Just one step. I placed my foot back on the ground and let out a loud cry (which, thinking about it now probably scared a few of the nearby cows!). I stood there crying for a while, my hands shaking. A few minutes passed and I managed to stop crying. I felt completely empty, like I had nothing left to think about other than to just fall over the edge and be at peace. I stood there and felt a really cold gust as it ripped past, making me more aware of the now cold tears that remained on my face. As I wiped my cheeks my phone beeped and vibrated from a new message. It was from a friend that had been going through a lot at home. We’d spoken earlier that day about their situation and what would be best for them to do. Their message to me read: “Thanks for today. It was good to talk. Felt like a step in the right direction.” I sat down on the ledge and cried harder than before. I sent a message back saying: “I need to talk.” They rang me near instantly, and I cried down the phone, a mesh of words muffled through the cries. She listened, calmed me down, and asked me to step back over the fence. I did, and within 5 minutes she was there with me. We sat and spoke for a while, I poured out a lot of what I was feeling and she did her best to support me. I’ll forever be grateful of that.
Shortly thereafter I entered counselling, which helped me realise a lot of things and confront them. It didn’t fix everything, but, it helped. In the years that followed I experienced severe anxiety, which saw me end up in a&e on more than the one occasion. In early 2015 I undertook more extensive counselling sessions. They were difficult. For the first 2-3 sessions I felt like I was taking steps backwards as opposed to improving my mental health. However, that changed and the sessions were life altering, in so many ways.
Exercise and decent coping mechanisms are a huge part in being happier and better in control of that anxiety. There’s nothing better for it. I found a love for walking, hiking, and a long lasting love for playing soccer. I also fell in love with being in nature. These all help with weight loss. I’m on a good path right now, thankfully, though it hasn’t been without its ruts. Weight fluctuates and I found myself in a bit of a rut in terms of effort levels during the summer months this year. It happens. It's okay. I’m on the right path now, enjoying nature for what it is, and enjoying being in it. I have fair and realistic targets, and for the first time I feel capable of reaching the fitness goals that I have in my head.
The part that bothers me most about bullying is not the physical abuse. It’s the mental abuse. The name calling, the character destroying tirades that were hurled my way every day during the years that I was supposed to start figuring out the type of person I was and wanted to become. At times, it made me mean to others too. Not in the physical sense, but the mental sense - which, in many ways, is worse. Moments where I said things to people and I knew the very moment I’d uttered them, that i’d caused them hurt. Where I’d instantly feel regret, and feel torn inside about it, because I knew how much that shit got to me yet I still did it.
It became a reflex. A tick. A recurring theme where I defaulted to saying something controversial or funny so that people would find me entertaining or ‘likeable’. Even in groups of my closest friends I’d do it. That still happens at times, particularly when I’m nervous or anxious in a bigger group. I say things that are half jokes and half insulting to people that mean so much to me, and each time I do it I immediately regret it. It’s definitely much less frequent than before, thankfully, but still needs to change.
Don’t get me wrong, we all have ‘banter’ and a few laughs and sly digs, but, I’m referring to things that are just wholly unnecessary, from left of field, and often just ill-timed, ill-mannered and wrong of me to say. I am so much more aware of what I’m doing, and I stop myself maybe 80% of the time before the words fly out of my mouth, unfiltered, and unthought on, but there’s still those that get out. There’s no good that comes of saying them, to be quite honest, so there’s no need for them to be said. I get mad at myself when I do it. It’s something I’m working on, but i’ve a lot to do still. I literally did something like this on Friday, and I've been annoyed at myself in ways since. I feel regrets and frustration for all the times I've done it, something I realise more so in recent months than ever before. It's my job to change that, so it doesn't happen again. To be better to people, and to show empathy and kindness to those that I once wasn't so kind to. To be more grateful for those I have and to be the best person I can be.
The last thing I think about when I go to bed at night is the people in my life. I repeat to myself how grateful I am and how lucky I am to have those that I have. I do the same when I start the day. Bullying, and the affects it has had in my life, have created parts of my character that I want to fundamentally change. The parts I’ve mentioned here - the ticks, the comfort eating and lack of self belief. The reflex comments to ‘fit in’ or appear ‘funny’ in a moment just cause. At the same time bullying thought me the value of being kind to others, to be giving, to look out for others because you can never truly know what they have going on or have gone through. It’s a fucked up thing, bullying, and in a perfect world it wouldn’t exist. We all have the ability to choose how we act towards one another. Sometimes external factors make the path that is fundamentally better, a harder path. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t chase it. Bullying and its affects can shape the type of person you are, or become, but realise that you are a valuable person. One that is capable of a lot of good, kindness and happiness. Know that chasing the version of you that isn’t defined by the heinous and disgusting acts of others, is always the better path to choose. It might not be easy, but talk to those around you. You deserve to be happy, and when you’re happy you’ll do your bit to make sure those around you are happier too. That, is a headspace and future worth pushing yourself for.