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'I posted about being bullied in high school on Facebook. My bully replied.'

Recently, Tanya Hennessy spoke about the time that a former bully reached out to her via Facebook to apologise.

Like Tanya, I was bullied on and off for most of my high school years. I also received an apology from one of my bullies.

In some ways, the apology changed my life. It gave me a freedom from feelings that I lived with for most of my adult life. It wasn’t as simple as ‘I’m sorry’ and just like magic my life was transformed. If only it was that easy.

Tanya Hennessy talks about her high school bully on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here. Post continues below.

Video by Channel 10

We like to think that when school ends, so too does the bullying. In many ways it did. What didn’t end for me were the long-lasting impacts of bullying and the changes I made to myself to protect my heart from ever feeling that way again.

In early 2018, I was added to a Facebook group for a school reunion. In an instant, I was transported straight back to a time that I had buried deep inside but never forgot.

The bullying was at times physical. There was a class I had where the majority of other students made it their mission to get me to cry every lesson and there were others who would ‘let’ me be their friend if I met their conditions. I did everything I could to fit in but nothing seemed to last for any length of time. Every time I would just start to feel comfortable or just a little bit accepted, the goalposts would move.

From the moment I entered the Facebook group, it was as if I was back in the science classroom with the wobbly stools and the green peeling paint on the walls. I could hear the boys muttering “Ralph or Jabba” behind their hands but loud enough that others in the class would hear and laugh as I walked through the classroom.

cathy
Cathy during high school. Image: Supplied.
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I could see the benches that we sat at, and remembered how I stopped walking to the back of the room so I didn’t have to walk past them. This only changed up their MO. They would instead use me as target practice.

Then there are the physical feelings that come with PTSD and rise up when I think about being pushed in the back as I walked to the station from school.

Step, push, step, push, step, push… with each push, I would stumble just a little.

Walk, push, stumble, push, stumble, walk, push… I was determined to not fall, to not cry in front of her.

I kept my balance just and kept the tears away until it was one push too many and instead of stumbling I closed my fist, swung and connected. That dealt with one bully but there was another 20 or 30 still at school waiting to call me names, exclude me, set me up for failure. Just like Medusa, if you cut the head off one snake more would grow back.

With each new name that popped up, the more the feelings of loss and despair grew, and the more I was transported back to being 15 and 16 years old, into the classroom. I decided that it would be highly unlikely I would attend the school reunion as I had absolutely no desire to return to the patterns of behaviour that made me feel worthless, unlovable, lonely and more. This meant that I had nothing at all to lose by posting:

“If I am completely honest I didn’t think high school would get much worse for me when I changed schools, but apparently it could. While there are a few memories of my time at PHHS that I have I looked back on fondly and I have a couple of dear lifelong friends… If I am completely honest life at school was pretty much hell and made hell by quite a number of people.

"Though honestly, I am not sure that they would even realise what they did was hurtful, or maybe they did and they simply didn’t care.”

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My post sat there for over a week and then this, “I realise what I did, since 1987 I have seen your face in flashbacks. I know. I’ve never forgotten…” - Vanessa.*

I genuinely wasn’t expecting any replies at all and actually had forgotten all about the post and the group as I had turned off notifications for it.

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I contacted Vanessa privately, accepting her apology. I was surprised to learn that in many ways the trajectory of her life and some of the mental health issues that had plagued her into her adulthood were similar to mine.

Vanessa expressed to me that her behaviour as a teen had clouded her adult life, leaving her feeling self-conscious and afraid. She told me that her bullying of others had given her panic attacks and she lived with an anxiety disorder.

It shocked me to think that a bully could have the same feelings and experiences as me. She was so powerful when we were at school and I felt I was nothing. I asked her if it had occurred to her to reach out anytime sooner. “No, it hadn’t,” she said. “I hoped that one day I could apologise for my behaviour… I am glad that an opportunity was made possible.”

She went on to explain that she googled me after she saw my face and name in the school reunion group and found something I had written about my experiences of bullying in high school. “I recognised that I had the chance to tell you that I was part of the problem back then and that I wanted you to know that I did care and that I was sorry.”

Vanessa said that her anger and pain towards me can from a place of jealousy. She was jealous that I was all the things she couldn’t be and set out to destroy me, “It was your lovely nature, you were like a strawberry blonde bundle of sweetness and I was resentful.”

Accepting Vanessa’s apology was a freeing experience for both of us. I went on to attend the school reunion that I wasn’t going to attend. I am not going to pretend that it was easy. I will say that a number of people from high school came up and apologised to me for many different reasons, overwhelmingly though, it was that they stood back and watched it happen instead of stepping up and defending me.

Interestingly my memories of high school are clouded by feelings of loneliness and worthlessness. The memories others had of me were that regardless of what happened around or to me I carried myself with grace even in the face of adversity.

Feature image: Supplied.

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