I am five years old. The bullies have dragged me into the cemetery behind my backgarden, cackling, whilst telling me in menacing tones that something horrific will happen to me and my family if I don't do what they tell me. What they are ordering me to do is urinate on a grave. I am terrified.
I can't understand what exactly is going on, but I know something dreadful will happen if I don't do their bidding, these bigger, older, stronger boys. I pull down my pants and try and wee. Nothing happens because I am paralysed with fear. The boys laugh and jeer. I try harder, and finally, a trickle seals my fate. I am doomed because I have desecrated a grave - me, the little girl brought up a god-fearing Methodist - and doomed because now the bullies have me at their command. I can't win.
Another day, they make me climb up a tree in the park behind my childhood home, the one next to the graveyard that backs onto our house. Bigger bodies push my tiny, chubby, petrified limbs higher into the branches. The trunk has been eaten away in the middle, hollowed out by dutch elm disease. I am happy to have a hiding place and cower into sanctuary, away from the boys. They soon get bored and drift off, back home for tea. Once the sound of their chattering has faded and I think I am safe, I realise I can't get down. I wet myself in fear. Later, my parents come into the park, shout my name and find me. I am rescued.
Another time, I am on my treasured red bike with stabilisers, belting down the path into the park. Shortly after, the bullies will jam the bike into the hollowed trunk of the elm I was stranded in before, wheels folded at unnatural angles. My beloved bike.
Some time later, I am in the park again. The bullies are there and this time, it's almost comedic. They tell me they'll share a secret, magical word with me that means someone is truly beautiful. After much explaining, I am persuaded - even then, a lover of words and so eager to learn and please. I walk up to an innocent and attractive young mum sat on a park bench, watching her happy child play on the swings. I sidle up, worried and shy, as the bullies look on, smirking. "You look really s***!" I beam at her.
I wish that I'd spoken out about what was happening to me. I wish I'd told my parents, teachers, Sunday school teachers, anyone - but I believed the bullies. That something awful would happen to my mum and dad if I did. The bully's trick of course being to isolate and humiliate then prey on their ability to make victims feel powerless - the ultimate power trip of a coward. But bullying wasn't really talked about, let alone really tackled in school - it was just accepted as part of life and teachers deemed that simply playing at opposite ends of the playground would suffice. A shrug was all you could expect if you told someone about it.
As I grew up throughout the Seventies and early Eighties, there were many more instances where I was bullied. For being fat, for wearing glasses, for being a swot, for being a horse-crazy child who rode riding school ponies at Pony Club when all the posh, rich girls had their own.
I remember once plucking up the courage to tell an uncle that I was getting bullied and he gave me the rather unhelpful advice to punch the perpetrators. And I've still never hit anyone in anger. I wish there'd been somewhere to turn, an easy way at school to talk to my teachers. Apart from the love of my family and friends, there didn't seem to be any help available, let alone a professional ear to talk to. And that can't be healthy.
My story isn't unique, it won't be the worst case of bullying you've heard and it certainly won't be the last.
And I simply can't imagine how much harder it is to be a young child today, let alone dealing with bullying. You're already coping with the relentless pressures of constant testing at school, homework from a young age, the sometimes insidious effects of all-pervading social media and the internet, plus fearful parents who rarely let you play outside.
What does this mean for me now? I still struggle hugely with insecurity, self-esteem and self-worth issues. I still sometimes feel like that fat, adopted only child with squinty little eyes who was a prime target for bullies. I've had a lot of therapy over the years and even now it's hard to unpick exactly how much effect it had on my developing young mind and my mental health now - but it's a given that it's more than it ever should have.
As Aristotle said: "Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man."
That works for women too. And I wish someone had given me, as a very young girl, the tools to realise that being bullied didn't have to shape me now as a woman. And I wish with all my heart that one day all children are finally given those tools.
Young Minds Matter is a new series designed to lead the conversation with children about mental and emotional health, so youngsters feel loved, valued and understood. Launched with Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, as guest editor, we will discuss problems, causes and most importantly solutions to the stigma surrounding the UK's mental health crisis among children. To blog on the site as part of Young Minds Matter email email@example.com
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