The 14th- 18th November is anti bullying week, which to me is one of the more important, yet quite under-recognised awareness weeks of them all. With my work with young people I see the effects of bullying a lot, with my work with eating disorders most sufferers I speak to mention it at some point and I have been a victim of it first hand.
Why do I think the week is so important?
Bullying is so widespread, affects so many kids and the effects can be devastating. It affects possibly one of the most crucial elements of our emotional health, our self esteem. This can affect us in our day to day lives, cause us to withdraw from social situations, not bother with school and distract you while you are there. It can act as a major fuel in the development of bigger problems, mental health issues, problems with drugs / alcohol and in some cases have led to suicide. No-one deserves this, a totally selfish act which is usually the result of the aggressor(s) being insecure themselves or having their own difficulties in life and not knowing how to express them, or feeling that if they suffer hurt, everyone deserves it.
My own experiences I can still remember vividly, not all of it, but certainly some of the more “memorable” incidents. I remember year 7, the first day of the new year actually and my first experience of physical violence, having my hand slammed in a classroom door, all the way to year 9, having a head smashed into a window. Must have been something I did wrong, something I said, something I did? The fact is as a kid (people who know me now won’t believe me) I was really quiet, shy and kept myself to myself. I was also quite different, rock and punk music was (and still is) my life, I dressed how I wanted, dyed my hair dark (and some other outrageous colours) and had a few piercings later on. But most importantly, I was happy like that, why did I need to fit in.
So I’m 26 now, I still love rock and punk music, I still dye my hair dark, I’ve grown out of (most) of my piercings and still dress how I want, if not a little more conservatively, I am one of the people behind a national eating disorder charity, far from shy talking at events everywhere and you know what, I couldn’t be happier. But the years in between were not so fabulous.
I thought because of the bullying I had to change, that there was something wrong with me. Looking back I know I didn’t handle the bullying well, but I don’t think many people do. I place it high up on the blame list for my 8 year struggle with an eating disorder, my poor mental health and the fairly outrageous and disturbing things that happened during my definitely terrible teens. But I also acknowledge it for giving me the resilience to get through all that and use that experience to my benefit, which I think I have done pretty bloody well.
There really is nothing special about me, which means if I can overcome it and turn it around into something positive, then anyone can. Yes things get rocky in the middle, if I could have skipped that bit I would have, but I also learnt positives from it. The only thing I regret is not getting help sooner, for suffering in silence and letting the problems that followed escalate beyond my control. Human behaviour dictates that realistically we will never stamp out bullying totally, but we can help combat the problem, deal with the issues the result from it and make sure that early help is available to everyone.
Some of the work I do now involves working with the bullies, helping them emotionally and quite often they will not bully others again, this could be the way forward. This is why self esteem taught in schools is essential, along with counsellors being available to every school to tackle issues early and tackle the problems affecting both parties.
So this is why I think this week is so important.