Until I turned 14 my life was pretty textbook. I was the 2nd of three kids with an older sister and younger brother, a Mam and a Dad a dog and a cat. Everything was fine.
Somewhere between 1st and 2nd year everything imploded and the ground was pulled out from beneath me. Within a year my parents separated, and my sister was diagnosed with a life threatening illness which required immediate surgery and our lives were consumed by medical appointments and arguments.
The trauma which comes with a sudden and brutal loss of security and break up of a family should never be underestimated. Family members told me I should be strong, that I should look after my brother and sister, that I should take it easy on my parents. That I should be quiet and well behaved and not create any more problems for those around me.
Eyes were taken off the ball and all of a sudden I went from surrounded by strong role models who checked that my homework was done, that I was eating my greens and in bed by 11 on school night to being surrounded be people who were slowly falling apart.
When we are broken we find ourselves drawn to others who are broken. I started hanging around with a girl in school who was troubled. At the time I thought she was cool because she didn’t care about anyone, and she challenged authority. Looking back now I can see that she was craving security and boundaries just as much as I was. She gave me my first cigarette, and my first drink and we started skipping school to lie in a field and laugh at all the losers who were learning Irish verbs or analysing the poems of Beckett. One night she challenged me to kiss a boy and said that if I didn’t, I was frigid and everyone would laugh at me. I didn’t like him, he was a foot shorter than me and was rude. I kissed him anyway.
Soon after I started getting into trouble I realised that all my old friends were distancing themselves from me. I was now a bad kid. My grades were slipping, the teachers were frustrated with me and I was getting a bad reputation. I recognised that this girl was bad for me, and I needed to turn things around. I started to distance myself from her and tried to win my old friends back.
This was when it got serious. For her, it was probably another rejection, another message that she wasn’t good enough. She didn’t take it well and turned on me.
It started with name calling, and threats. Soon it turned into things written about me on toilet doors, prank calls to my house, horrible songs being sung as I walked from classroom to class room. Before long I started spending every break in the toilet, feet up against the door so she wouldn’t know I was in there. I would read books, eat my lunch, catch up on homework. If we were taken somewhere on a bus as a group, the anxiety would build up for a week beforehand, and I would use every excuse in the book to get out of it. At one stage it got so bad, I had to climb over the back wall of the school at 4pm, as I knew she would be waiting for me at the front gate.
My already fragile self-confidence was destroyed. My entire sense of self worth was based on one person’s opinion of me. I stopped eating and sleeping, avoided any interaction with groups of girls, and skipped school whenever I could. The thing is that I know out of frustration, I engaged in the same behaviours that had scared me so much, lashing out at people who didn’t deserve it, and dragging others down to my level. I own the fact that others would say I bullied them.
This went on for a year before it eventually phased out and I started becoming friends with other girls. I still had no confidence, but acted like a hard woman, sought attention by acting out and getting into trouble. I had no direction or ambition and completed a half assed CAO application form with some random courses I knew I would never be offered.
I couldn’t wait to finish school and get away from the town that had caused me so much hurt. I barely passed my leaving cert, got into bad relationships, and moved from job to job for a few years.
It took me ten years to realise that I had allowed negative experiences control my life for too long. It was time to take back control. I had to stop thinking of myself as a bad person, forgive myself for mistakes that I made, and contribute to the world in a positive way.
Bullies make their victims feel alone and isolated. They ensure that their voices are the loudest you hear, and their message is the one that resonates with you. They tell you that you are nothing, and you believe them. You have to find the strength to ignore it. Take your power back. Look around you. See that there are others around you trying to be invisible just like you. Hiding in toilets and avoiding groups. Go talk to them. You are good enough, you have a future, you deserve happiness.