I was one of the many people who watched The Bachelor Australia last night and felt sick to my stomach. But it was for a different reason.
Not because of the horror of witnessing an unprecedented level of nastiness coming from the show’s villains Cat, Romy and Alisha.
But because of my own guilt. Because, you see, I was a bully at school, and I know in my heart that I destroyed one person in particular – the way the Mean Girls destroyed Tenille on Wednesday’s episode, with their taunting causing her to flee the Bachelor mansion.
People say that a display of anger is based on hurt of some sort, and that was definitely true for me. My parents split when I was 13, and I did not cope at all with my life being turned upside down. I lashed out at one girl in my class, intentionally trying to make her feel as bad as I did. It was shitty. And mean. And immature. But it gave me some power in a world of chaos.
So, yes, I was a bully at school, and I knew at the time I was doing it. What I didn’t know was how badly it had hurt my victim. I left school at the end of Year 11, and didn’t give it another thought.
I didn’t think about my victim’s terror until she approached me from across a crowded room at a party recently to tell me that I had ruined her life.
I didn't recognise her, but she recognised me.
"I still have nightmares about you," she told me, as we stood there as adults at a mutual friend's wedding.
I glanced at my boyfriend nervously - because, of course, I'd never told him that I'd victimised a classmate to make myself feel better.
"I had to see a counsellor because of how you treated me," my victim persisted.
And finally, I had to give her what she needed: an admission from me of my cruelty. And a long-overdue, sincere and heartfelt apology.
It was an incident that will stay with me forever. After the confrontation, and a lot of self-reflection, I have learned just how bad my behaviour was. I was mean, petty, nasty. I did a lot of it in the name of 'joking' - it made others around me laugh, and I recall I told myself at the time I was just "telling it like it is".
In that same way Cat, Romy, and Alisha have justified their behaviour of laughing at and belittling other women in the house.
The trio of Mean Girls may not have recognised it as bullying themselves, but the viewers did. Just one glance at Twitter and you can see Australia's reaction to their unceremonious exit last night:
Will they be able to make the episodes an hour long still without 37 minutes or Cat and Romy bullying everyone? #TheBachelorAU
— liv (@olivialaskowski) September 6, 2018
— Emilie (@enkunie) September 6, 2018
Cat and Romy have come out this morning and said they've been taken out of context, and the editing has been manipulated to make them appear nastier than they were.
They feel humiliated by their portrayal on the show. Cat reports she's been getting horrific messages, telling her to kill herself. As Jessie Stephens discovered when she spoke to Romy and Cat today, they are not doing well after the severe backlash.
I feel for them - and wonder why we think it's okay to do to them 100 times worse than what they did to others?
But what I am thinking mostly is this: I hope they learn. I hope they heal.
Whatever happened to them that made them this way - I hope they acknowledge their behaviour, and do what it takes to ensure they never treat people like that again.
If there's a good that can come from Australia having to watch this behaviour, let's hope it's opening dialogue and increasing the standards people expect from each other - and themselves.