health

"I lived in torture." One woman's story of the lasting effects of high school bullying.

I’m a 34 year old woman. I have a career I am proud of, I have values that I stand by, I think I am a good friend, and I am plagued by insecurity stemming from my childhood. The fact that I “think” I’m a good friend rather than knowing is just one example of this.

It is amazing how profound the impact of childhood bullying can be, and continues to be, for an adult woman.

I still don’t know what was or is wrong with me. Why I was friends with some kids in primary school and suddenly I wasn’t. Why my young “friends” literally ran away from me one recess as a way to de-friend me. On another occasion I had a peer put “itching powder” down my back and the teacher had to offer me a shower in the teacher’s quarters to relieve the itch. It was embarrassing to say the least. I still don’t know my crime. I was maybe eight years old.

What I do know is that the internal scars that experience created are embedded in me, and have impacted on every aspect of my life. I lived in torture through the rest of primary school. I was a painfully shy girl in high school who didn’t try to make friends as, well, who would want me? I remember doing a questionnaire in class in Year 8 where you had to say how many friends you had. I wrote 1 – I was nothing if not honest – and the girl next to me noticed and said she was my friend. Can you imagine being that girl? Mortified at her own answer, embarrassed someone had noticed, proud to be able to cross out the 1 and put a 2. That second friend changed schools shortly after.

I survived high school. I still don’t know how. In all honesty, it is a minor miracle. More torture. More horrific girls. More insecurities developed. Add in hormones. Significant depression. Thoughts of wishing I could just run through the glass door front entrance of the school and forget everything. To not have to fight any more. And yet I somehow survived.

Listen to Mamamia Out Loud: Do parents have to crack down on teens?

I got to University and was overwhelmed by actually meeting nice people and forming friendships. For whatever reason, my depression got worse. I developed bulimia, started self-harming and having thoughts of ending my life. I somehow had some insight and sought the help of the Uni’s free counselling service. They made me sign a contract that said I wouldn’t kill myself. All I saw was that to them I was a liability, they didn’t care about me but wanted to make sure I wasn’t detrimental to the Uni’s reputation.

I went to my GP and asked for an antidepressant. Bizarrely, and honestly reflecting my mental state, I was worried she would say no. Of course she didn’t. I filled the prescription and had to hide the box secretly in my room. My family (I thought) had no idea of my torment.

My GP was my saviour. I couldn’t tolerate the meds and had to stop them. She suggested I see a private psychologist but I couldn’t afford it, and was aware that one of my siblings was seeing the same person. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, but I agreed to continue seeing my GP. She saw me every week for a double appointment. I apologized every time for taking up her valuable time that was surely better spent on someone else. Those appointments saved my life.

I dropped out of Uni. I worked in retail and travelled a bit. Somehow I recovered. I made great friends and I started a career in a caring profession in my bid to help others who might be as desperate as I was as a young adult.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image via iStock.

I'm now 34 and I still struggle with periods of depression. My family now offhandedly tell me they knew of my school problems, like it was nothing, but not one of them ever talked to me about it at any time when I needed it most. I felt alone and they still have no idea how serious it was or that they almost lost me. I have never talked to them about it. I'm lucky I have amazing friends who I trust implicitly and have talked to instead.

Yet even with my amazing friends, I question as to whether I belong with them. I am still waiting for them to run away from me, just like when I was eight years old. If this has impacted so much on friendships, you can imagine how it impacts on relationships. Who would want me? You have to be confident these days and put yourself out there, and for me that may as well be putting myself in a shark tank. I was a virgin until I was in my 30s. It became a bigger and bigger issue in my head prior to this and was personally mortifying. I am also crippled by anxiety as to how people will judge me in any social situation. Thinking of this causes the depression to rear its ugly head and the cycle re-starts again...

I don't expect any resolution for my own issues with my childhood bullies. Sadly, it's quite possible that they have no recollection of the events and no idea how much they affected me.

My message is this: kids can be cruel, but adults should have insight. Teach your children to have compassion. Teach them to not judge others for being different. Tell them it is OK to be who they are. Talk to them if you think they are struggling. Give them an open door to walk through whenever they need it. Ask those you love if they are OK. It may be awkward for you to start a conversation, but it can be life-saving for them.

A small act of a child can have a long-lasting effect on a person. Please look after yourself, your own, and others.

If you or a loved one is suffering with poor mental health, Mamamia urges you to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, or BeyondBlue.

FROM OUR NETWORK
00:00 / ???