Monday, 6 April 2015

You are always on my mind

Part of "growing up" is about making peace with your past. For some this is easier said than done.   It took me an incredibly long time to make peace with mine and I'm still not at 100% nor do I ever think I will be. 

I guess you could say I have a very... "Colourful" past. I've been through a lot to say the least. Not as much as some, mind, but it's all relative. 

One thing that has been the most difficult to reconcile is the years of bullying I have endured and continue to endure. There is a bit of a black hole around my pre 20s but I do know I was bullied. A lot. 

It started at a very young age. I have very vivid memories of specific events. For example, the earliest memory I have of being bullied was at primary school. I couldn't have been much older than 4. There was a girl in my class called Elizabeth. Everyone loved Elizabeth because she had fiery red hair and impossibly pale skin. She looked just like a porcelain doll. 

Elizabeth didn't like me. I have no idea why. There would always be little digs at me that I could simply ignore but one particular day she had been truly horrid to me all day. Then at story time (my favourite time) she sat right behind me. I liked to sit right at the teacher's feet so I could see the words and read along. I could feel Elizabeth nudging me with her foot. Every time she nudged me, I scooted forward a little until I was practically sitting on the teacher's feet! She obviously found this hilarious. The teacher told me to move back and as I did, Elizabeth jabbed me hard in the ribs! This caused me to shriek out loud. Obviously his annoyed the teacher and she made me sit by her side facing the rest of the class. For the remainder of the story, Elizabeth made faces at me. 

After class the teacher told me off for being disruptive and told me that if I continued I would sit facing the class for all future stories! I do believe Elizabeth knew precisely what she was doing. Yes she may have been a young child but she was well aware of her actions and she knew she had gotten me into trouble! 

School pretty much continued like this until my last day of secondary school! 

One particular incident I recall from high school was pretty bad. I was in class and the teacher had left the room for some reason or another. Everyone was getting on with their work except "Kathy". Kathy was looking over at me. I was sat by myself as was the case in most of my classes. Kathy really had it in for me and I've no idea why! She came over to my table and called me a tramp. I ignored her. Then she yelled "I said you're a fucking tramp, did you hear me, Tramp?" I ignored her again, knowing full well what would happen if I responded. 

Quick as a flash, Kathy picked the tippex up from my table and emptied the bottle over me. Then she spat at me. I was angry. Not because of what she had done, because I was wearing a brand new jumper and I knew what would happen when I went home covered in tippex! I stood up and went to walk over to the sink to try and wash my jumper when suddenly I felt Kathy's hand connect with my face. Man could she slap! My face was stinging and my ear was ringing. 

In that moment, I lost my cool. I flipped my desk in Kathy's direction, just as I did the teacher returned to the classroom. She saw what I did and sent me to the Head Teacher. I tried to show her the jumper and the raised hand mark on my face but she was having none of it! "I saw you throw that table, if you don't go down to the office now I will have him put you on report." 

I took off my ruined jumper and with my hand on my face I went downstairs. There was no point in fighting. I knocked on the office door and was told to wait outside. When the door opened, the Head told me to come in and take a seat. I stood. I could feel the anger welling up inside me. He asked me what had happened. I gave him my version of events. 

He sighed and said "It's always someone else's fault isn't it?" I couldn't believe my ears. The anger was threatening to bubble over. "Are you fucking stupid?" I asked him. He looked at me, surprised that I dared to speak to him in such a way. He told me to calm down and this just made things worse. "Don't fucking tell me to calm down!" I yelled. I threw my jumper on his desk. "Look at the fucking state of that. Look at my fucking face. Do you think I did this shit to myself for a laugh?!" By this point I was shaking with rage. He told me that if I swore again I would be in detention. I told him to go fuck himself and went to walk out. He told me that if I walked out then I would be put on red report - the worst report there is - for behaviour. I walked out. 

I went up to the library, sat in the furthest corner and cried. I was so angry. It was typical of my school. The victim always got the blame!

Another incident I remember also involved Kathy. No surprise there! I was in the canteen getting my lunch. My favourite hot meal was cheese and potato bake and I knew the dinner lady always reserved one for me. 

When I walked into the hot side I saw Kathy and her friends. They hadn't seen me so I quickly walked round to the cold side. I asked for the potato bake that was being kept. The dinner lady told me I had to get it from the hot side. I told her it was for me and that I couldn't sit in the hot side. She refused to serve me still. 

Kathy and her friends had got up to leave. In order to exit the canteen they would have to go via the cold side. I decided to leave before she saw me. A cheese and potato bake wasn't worth a beating or verbal abuse. Not today. I walked towards the door, looking behind me for Kathy. 

Next thing I know I'm lying half way across the canteen with the worst head pain ever. People were surrounding me. Someone had called my mum. From what I was told, I had walked into the door. Yeah right! I hit the door that hard I'd sent myself flying backwards! 

Next thing I remember, I was in a teacher's car with my mum going to the hospital. Luckily my mum worked at the school across the street as a dinner lady. Her shift had finished and she was about to leave when she got the call. She was holding my hand and telling me to stay awake. My whole face was throbbing.  

I won't bore you with the hospital visit, I didn't need stitches or anything. The next day I was back to school as normal with a huge egg protruding from my forehead! I knew people were laughing at me but I didn't care. 

At break time I was in one of the toilets trying to avoid the ridicule when I heard Kathy bragging to her friends. "You should have seen how far back she flew. It was fucking hilarious!" She was talking about me. "I saw her leaving the the cold side so we went out of the hot door. I could see her through the window and when the cold door opened and she went to step out I booted it shut!" Her and her friends were laughing hysterically. 

I sat in the cubicle until the bell went for next class. It was obvious I hadn't just walked into the door. If I had, why did I land in the middle of the canteen?! What kind of idiots were running this school?! There was no point in me saying anything. No one would believe me. It was my word against hers and there were more people with her who would defend her. 

To me, this kind of thing was normal by now. I just accepted it as being part of my life. Every time I tried to push back or even ask for help I was rebuffed with some seemingly arbitrary rational as to why these things were happening to me. Of course, I started to question myself. Was it really my fault? Should I actually care more about the little things that other people care about? Should I try harder to fit in? To be like all the others? Should I accept the labels give to me by society. For a while I started to feel a little lost. I was stuck between their world and my own. 

After school I decided to go to college. It was the right thing for me to do. It wasn't expected of me as such. It's not that my parents didn't care about education. My dad really did and desperately wanted me to do my a-levels. It was more a case of "well, you need to make your own choices in life and then live with the consequences". 

As a child, I picked my career aspirations based on a word I not only knew but understood and could spell at age 5 - archaeologist! Of course, living in a Roman city, watching Jason and the Argonaughts and enjoying digging in my yard also helped. By 10 or so I was a fully fledged garden archaeologist. 

My mother despaired of my brother and I. We were convinced that our garden must be a hotbed for undiscovered Roman treasures and we dug great big holes looking for this treasure. We found broken pieces of pottery that I was convinced were ancient artefacts of great historical importance. The coins we found became treasure buried by our ancestors who lived here before us and hid them from thieves - I also had quite the imagination! 

The Romans fascinated me well enough but my interests were rooted in the ancient Greeks to some extent - I built a to scale junk model of the Parthenon - and the ancient Egyptians. They were my favourite. I fancied myself a bit of an Egyptologist in my younger years. There was nothing about The Egyptians that I wouldn't read. 

However, that dream was smashed to pieces by my guidance counsellor at school. She asked me what I wanted to do and when I explained she all but laughed at me. She then informed me "everything that needs to be discovered already has." My dream died a death right there. The worst part about that was the year after I started college, they started to dig the amphitheatre in my home city and the man himself, Tony Robinson was there!  

My counsellor asked if I had any other aspirations. I'd always been good around children. I was somewhat a Pied Piper in that respect. She told me that was a more feasible dream and so it was written. 

I recall my dad's disappointment. If there was ever a person I couldn't bare to disappoint, it was my dad. His exact words were "you will very soon have children of your own. Why would you want to spend your life looking after someone else's?" Somehow I managed to accept my dad's disappointment and proceed as I wished. I'm now 30, I'm amazing at my job (not bragging) and I'm the only one of my female siblings without children of my own. In fact, the only other one of all 9 of us who doesn't have children is my older brother and I will keep my opinions on that matter to myself. SO THERE DADDY!

Anyway, I digress. When I began college, I was put into a lower level class than the one I applied for as my grades weren't "good enough" for the higher level. However, after a week or two on the lower level course, my tutor realised it was too easy for me and bumped me up. In the original class, I had a friend in a girl I went to school with. When I moved up, I had to start over. Bizarrely, I was incredibly popular in my class.  I didn't know how to deal with this new found popularity. It was incredibly overwhelming. I became suspicious of everyone. Why did they want to be friends with me? What did they want from me? 

I ruined several friendships this way. I was so obsessed with the idea of them playing me that I pushed them away. In hindsight it may well be that these friendships would have been somewhat tenuous at best and I may have dodged a proverbial bullet. I never exactly got used to the idea of being popular. It unnerved me greatly, however, I did use it to my advantage. I learned to manipulate people. Of course, this is not a great quality in general but they would believe anything I told them and so I could become a whole new me. 

Unfortunately, this went to my head somewhat. I tried to reinvent myself in a way that was almost implausible. It worked for a while which then gave me an ego boost and made me feel confident and like I could be anything but as so often happens with these things, people begin to see through it. One thing is for sure though, I never got bullied at college!

I became fast friends with one girl in particular. She was shy and quiet like me but she had something inside her that wanted to come out and play. Also like me. We started skipping classes together to hang out in the library. I was still doing the work as it was so easy it hardly took up any time. I guess you could say I started to become a bit of a rebel. I'd been good my entire life and had nothing but shit from it so I figured why not go the other way?!  I started seeing a sweet, lovely guy but he was too eager to please me. I wanted someone who had a bit of an edge. I found him eventually. What I didn't realise was just how much trouble this guy could cause! The friend I made, let's call her Jane, also found herself a bit of a rebellious boyfriend. Neither of our parents were particularly pleased but we didn't care much. We sort of evened things out by being good Christians. My rebel boyfriend was so foot loose and fancy free that I eventually called time on things. 

We were coming to the end of the first year of college and I needed a Summer job. I found a new boyfriend and a position at McDonalds. Hardly glamorous but I love to work. The best thing is my boyfriend AND my best friend also worked there eventually! I got to the end of the academic year and my tutor wanted to have a word with me. My class attendance was appalling but my work was in the top 10%. I had two choices; attend 80% of my next years classes or quietly leave now. I went for the latter option and started to work full time. 

The boy and I were quite happy working together and very much in love. After some time and a few different jobs I decided to go back to college and make the most of my free education. I was 19. I started this course with another of my close friends, we were once again the popular kids! The course was an absolute cop out. It was no effort at all to pass the course which I did without even attending. We had to do a work placement which I did with the local council and they offered me a job on the spot. My tutor agreed that I could work and finish the course. I passed top of the class. 

I continued to work for the local council whilst searching for my next challenge. This one had to be big. The boy was working at my old secondary school and was still at college. My friend and I decided we would apply to join the Army. Why not? If my dad could do it so could I!  I applied in the February, got all my papers sorted, passed my selection and was enlisted in the July. The boy wasn't happy about my decision. He had made this clear from the beginning. I told him that I needed to do this for me. He reluctantly accepted my decision. I would be gone for 6 weeks then I would have a weekend off then another 6 weeks of training. I was nervous and excited in equal measure. 

My mum saw me onto the train with tears in her eyes. She didn't want me to go. Not because she didn't want me to leave home but because she thought I would be killed! I got to the barracks and tried to familiarise myself with the people, the area and the rules. I didn't care much for the people if I'm honest. There were one or two who I liked to hang around with but co-ed socialising was frowned upon greatly. Of course, owing to this rule I was hell bent on breaking it!  See? I'd become a right ol' rebel now that no one was making my life hell...! 

All too soon I realised that there were some girls who managed to make me feel like I was back in high school! They were, let's face it, nasty little bitches! One in particular went on to become "famous"! She was the worst! 

We were fast approaching the half way mark and I was excited to be going home to see my boy. It just so happened that my weekend leave fell on the date of his sister's wedding, for which I was bridesmaid! 

Just before our halfway exercise, I got a phone call from a very close friend. He had some utterly tragic news. My whole world was rocked by it. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to comfort him but I was miles away. I remember wandering down the rugby field in a daze. I couldn't process what my friend had told me. 

I sat in the middle of the field for quite some time. I wanted to cry but I couldn't. I was too numb. After an indeterminate amount of time, someone came and sat next to me. I barely registered him. He was from the troop opposite us. The Army Air Corps boys or as our sergeant so lovingly called them "The Blutack Heads" on account of their light blue berets! He put his arm around me without saying a word, I rested my head on his shoulder and burst into tears. I cried uncontrollably for almost an hour and Mr Army Air Corps just sat with his arm around me. 

It was getting a little cold so I said I would go back to the block, get a cup of tea and go to bed. Mr Army Air Corps gave me his number and said if I needed him it was to text him immediately. When we got back to the top of the field he gave me a firm hug and we went our separate ways. 

The following morning I was called into the sergeant's office. I'd been seen "fraternising" and this was incredibly frowned upon. What did I have to say for myself? I denied it of course. I'd done no such thing. He explained how I had been seen on the rugby field en flagrante with a member of the all male troop opposite. 

I told them it wasn't true and that there was a perfectly legitimate reason for what was seen. When I was asked to present the reason I clammed up. It wasn't my thing to tell. I couldn't betray my friend like that even though he would be unaware. I told my sergeant that it was very personal and I couldn't divulge such sensitive information. I was dismissed from the office pending a hearing. 

I got back to my room and I could hear all the whispers. The occasional "slag", "slut" and "whore" was uttered loud enough for me to hear. I didn't care. I held my friend in very high regard and I wouldn't tell anyone what he told me no matter the consequences to myself. I'm loyal to a fault sometimes. (This friend and I no longer speak yet I will still not disclose what he told me that day.) 

I found out who had reported me. It was, of course, Miss Thing herself. She had apparently been interested in Mr Army Air Corps and was in the process of chatting him up when he came down to the rugby field. In a jealous fit she had taken pictures of us and shown them to the sergeant! 

I sent  Mr Army Air Corps a message that evening. He had been pulled up too. Thankfully for him his sergeant believed that there was nothing untoward however to set an example to the others he was sentenced to a week of ROPs, that meant he couldn't go to the city at the weekend. He was annoyed of course but not at me. 

I was hauled before the troop commander. She asked me to explain my actions and the photograph. I explained to her how it was a simple case of misunderstanding but as I wouldn't divulge the I formation my friend had given me I was punished severely. I was sentenced to a week of ROPs, backsquadded to week one and denied my right to go home. 

The next particular instance of bullying that sticks in my mind is from when I first moved to London. 

For a while I didn't have a job. I wasn't particularly motivated to work either. I enjoyed taking time to adjust to London life. 

After a few months I started looking for work. My boyfriend's father told me that his company required a temporary receptionist. I decided to do that for a while and look elsewhere in the meantime. 

One particular day I was doing some photocopying for the director. He had a circular that needed to be sent out urgently and it had to go to 150 people. The copier was in use. I asked around to see if anyone knew who the copying belonged to. No one knew. I paused the job and sent mine through. Their job would resume immediately after. 

I went to sit back down at the reception desk when one of the older secretaries came down. She started screaming at me. "Who the fuck do you think you are? Just because you're fucking the director's son doesn't mean you can do what the hell you like in this office."  I was pretty stunned by this. I had no idea why she was yelling at me. Then she threw a heap of papers at me. The circular. Someone had told her that I'd interrupted her job to out mine through. I tried to explain how the director had an urgent circular that needed sending out in that day's post. It was already pushing 3pm and everything had to be collared and stuffed into envelopes as well. She just looked straight at me and spat "You're nothing in this office. You don't belong here. Once the receptionist is back you can fuck off." With that, she stormed off back to her office. I was mortified. As I am writing this I can actually smell the coffee and cigarettes on her breath. I can see the stained teeth and feel the flecks of saliva hitting my face. 

After my stint as a receptionist, I was offered a position as a secretary. I'd not had much luck with other jobs as my Army paperwork was still being processed and apparently no one will make a phone call to verify this! 

I accepted the job. I was known as the "floater". Not the friendliest of terms! I would take on other work from secretaries who had too much to manage. I would help people with technical issues. I also covered the reception desk during the lunch period. In time, the switchboard system was upgraded to a computer system. It made everything so much easier - for me!  Everyone else had trouble working it despite them having a training session. 

The receptionist had to take time off and I was once again appointed temporary receptionist. Every afternoon, when someone was covering my lunch break, they would call me and ask how to do XYZ. I got fed up of it. The receptionist was going to be off for about two months! 

When I returned after my lunch break I decided to make a "dummy guide" with pictures so anyone who was at the switchboard would know how to do everything. I printed out copies for all the secretaries with a memo attached and had a copy taped to the reception desk. Everyone was delighted. Except the receptionist. 

When she returned from her time off she came up to my desk and started yelling at me. "Who the fuck do you think you are? Undermining my job as receptionist! You think you are going to steal my job from me? You've got another thing coming!" She then threw a ball of paper at me and left. I was totally shocked and quite upset. I was simply attempting to make my own life easier and in turn helping others. I ended up speaking to one of the company directors about the situation. It wasn't the first time that the receptionist had had a go at me for no reason. Of course, she flatly denied it! 

People often think that bullying only relates to school aged children. That once you leave school you leave bullies. That's not true even slightly. 

When you're bullied as an adult I'd dare say it's actually worse. It certainly was for me anyway. It was incredibly humiliating. Especially having to report it. I felt like I was back in school. I experience bullying on an almost daily basis. Perhaps not as direct as it has been in the past but it is still bullying nonetheless. 

When someone makes a sly comment about how I look, what I say or what I do it hurts. It upsets me. It makes me feel like a kid again and I'm powerless to stop it. They will make the comment just loud enough for me to hear it. That's bullying! I don't like confrontation so I won't fight back. The reason I actively avoid confrontation is because I know that I have an incredibly violent temper and I don't know what might set it off. 

When I am in a confrontational situation I can feel my body shaking. I will notice that my fists are clenching and un clenching. I can feel the tension in my entire body. I find that the best way to deal with these issues is to simply walk away.  

Bullying is becoming far worse these days with the involvement of the Internet. It's all too often I read a news story about someone killing themselves owing to cyber bullying. I think though what bothers me the most in those situations is the response from the general public. "Why don't they just block the bully?" It's actually not that easy. I could go on to explain why it's not that easy but frankly, I don't think you would understand.

I wrote a poem some time ago based on my own experiences of being bullied. It was used in an anti bullying campaign in a school in America. I have received mostly positive reviews of this piece. 

Driven to kill. 

This story I'll tell you
Will make you feel sad
It'll make you feel angry
It'll make you feel mad

For this is a story
About trouble and pain
That ends with a loss
There was nothing to gain!

It started that day
When they followed me home
They pushed and they kicked
Wouldn't leave me alon

Then each day that followed
It became worse and worse
I don't know why they did it
Perhaps I was cursed?

So one night all alone
I took to my room
And I thought to myself
“It'll be over soon”

With no fear in my heart
And nought but a knife
I slashed my own wrists
I took my own life

As the blood dripped away
And my heart stood still
Those kids were to blame
They drove me to kill

They're lucky, you see
'Cos now they got away
And my family lives
With this pain every day

'Cos I am not there
They all weep and they cry
For no one could save me
They all watched me die

So when you see a kid
Who's not pretty or smart
Don't taunt them or beat them
Please, have a heart

'Cos one day that kid
That you kicked in the head
May be found by her parents too
In her room, 

This is a semi autobiographical piece. The only difference between the poem and my own life is that I didn't make the cut deep enough to kill myself. Someone told me recently that I couldn't write a poem in this manner.  The narrator was the victim and apparently that doesn't work. You can't have a dead narrator... I'm a writer, I will write in whatever style I like thanks! 

One of my proudest achievements in life was having this poem used as part of an anti bullying campaign in a school in America. If this poem prevents just one bully from causing bullycide, if it makes just one bully stop and reconsider their actions then that is a glorious achievement. 

I don't understand adults bullying. They know the ramifications of their actions yet they do it anyway. Bullying in general leaves very deep scars. Psychological scars that can often take a lifetime to heal. Psychological bullying is the worst form of bullying in my opinion. It is often carried out over an extended period of time. The victim will usually have no idea it is happening until it is too late. I've been the victim of many psychological bullies. I've had someone say to me "shouldn't you be able to read the signs by now?". This is an idiotic comment to say the least! Yes, I guess I ought to be better at reading people. I tend to do a very good job of it which is why I'm so guarded and have very few friends. However, these individuals are experts at manipulation and what can I say? I'm desperate for people to like me. I'm desperate to be loved...! Because of this, I've been in domestically abusive relationships. Some of them physically abusive, most of them psychologically so. Thankfully I've managed to escape them with my life but I'm a shadow of my former self now.

One of my problems with bullies is I can't help but pity them. They obviously have something so wrong in their own lives that they have to pick on other people - there's a down side to studying psychology! That being said, it doesn't lessen the impact of their actions. One of the most difficult things for me in this respect is often bullies are themselves bullied. Apparently that's why they do the things they do. This logic doesn't sit right for me. Having endured years of bullying, I'd go to the ends of the earth to make sure I don't subject others to the same. I know the pain suffered by victims of bullying and I couldn't possibly imagine inflicting such pain on anyone else. 

The thing is, we're all guilty of it. We've all bullied someone to some extent. Perhaps not intentionally but we've all said something to make someone feel bad.

All this being said, I have made peace with the earlier parts of my life. I guess I'm blessed in that I don't recall all of it. However, there are still nights I wake in a cold sweat thinking I'm back in high school.

 I have very deep scars from my years of being bullied. Both physical and psychological. It has shaped the way I act around people. I'm always guarded, weary, suspicious. I would love to be able to let go of that part of my life but even after all these years, it's still raw. 

Just writing this blog has actually caused me physical pain. Whenever I read in the news that another victim has been killed by "bullycide" I cry. I wish they had had the strength to overcome it. Schools have a "zero tolerance" policy on bullying but what I find that means is that they sweep these issues under the carpet. More needs to be done about bullying in schools. Not just for the victims but for the bullies too. 

So as the poem I wrote states;

... when you see a kid
Who's not pretty or smart
Don't taunt them or beat them
Please, have a heart

'Cos one day that kid
That you kicked in the head
May be found by her parents too
In her room, 

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