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17/01/2012 / melgardener

Ban the Bully

This week I read the shocking news that another teenager, 14-year-old Sheniz Erkan, had taken her life as a response to consistent bullying. The debate around bullying, and how to manage or curtail it, has surfaced again with many keen to share their own experiences – either as the bully or the bullied. I feel very strongly that it’s important we share all stories – both to understand each side of the scenario (for how can we combat something we don’t understand?) and to ensure that those currently being bullied do not feel alone.

I was the victim of bullying in my early years at high school and when it happened I was completely blindsided. Having come from a very friendly, happy and social primary school where I had a gregarious group of friends, I was absolutely unprepared for the fact that I could be targeted in this way.

It’s interesting that, in searching my memory, I find I can’t picture my bully’s face very well but I can certainly recall, too easily for my liking, the knot in the pit of my stomach and how my body would flush with heat (my flight-or-fight response was obviously well-attuned) when I saw her coming.

I still don’t know what I did (probably nothing) or why I became her target but it was clear that she had singled me out from early on in Year 7.

Two events remain with me, as clear in my mind as if they happened yesterday. My hands have just clenched unconsciously above my keyboard as I picture them.

Most of the bullying was verbal but one day, I don’t know or can’t remember why, she decided to get physical. I was standing in front of one of the long, low silver bench seats that are so loved in our schools (you remember, the ones that would get really hot in the sun and take off a layer of skin if you sat down before checking?). The bench seat was positioned in front of a brick wall and, as she walked past me, she shoved me hard in the chest. I don’t think she even looked at me as she did it. The only recognition that she even knew I was there was the connection between her hand and my chest.

I was taken by surprise and fell backwards, cracking my head hard on the brick wall.

The second event is a memory of myself, in a classroom, probably sitting at the back in an attempt to remain unobtrusive. I can picture my writing on the paper in front of me. I am writing as small as I can possibly make the words on the page, my head is bent down almost touching the paper. I have the strongest sense that if I make myself and everything I touch as small as possible I might just be able to disappear.

I know I changed during this time but you’d probably have to ask my parents for an objective assessment of how much. I know I put on a brave face and outside school I had many interests and friendship groups to distract me. I know the experience has affected me far beyond my school years and I can see the legacy of that time in some of my relationships today.

Although, it must be said, that an adult’s perspective allows me to recognise this, accept it and make different choices – skills I was not equipped with when I was 12 and 13 years old.

I was lucky to have supportive parents to whom I felt I could confide. They were obviously aware of what was going on and I do remember having a couple of meetings with the school but these must have been unsatisfactory because, at the end of Year 8, my parents moved me to another school. I will always be grateful for their support and, although I know some counsel staying and dealing with the problem, I found the move to be just what I needed. I still had trouble making friends at the new school which was compounded by the fact that I was starting two years after everyone else so friendship groups we well established by the time I arrived.

My story has a happy ending in that I was able to move on and eventually forged a number of amazing friendships for which I will be eternally grateful. But I have never forgotten that time and I can only hope that, if my children are ever in a similar situation, I will be able to find the distance and objectivity needed as a parent to help them deal with it.

Do you have a bullying story? Or were you a bully and regret it? Have your children been the victim of a bully? If so, how did you (or are you) dealing with it now?

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