For the last twenty two of my thirty one years on this planet, bullying has been on my mind. I've suffered it, in some circumstances I've done it, and now with two children I consider its practise. It's almost never far from the news and again it seems another British teenager has lost their life because of it.
My views on the subject change constantly in regards to my own experience. Be it the distance from it, or the perspective of age; what I went through is now more a tool rather than an anchor. For years it did really affect my decisions and discourse. I was desperate to impress and make friends, and I'd do almost anything for acceptance. I'd be nervy and insecure and often have nightmares of just voices saying my name.
Would I have suffered from depression without it? Probably. It definitely didn't help. As bullying went I luckily didn't get much physical abuse. Every so often I'd get bumps or knocked about, but never badly. It was mainly just teasing, or belittling. This wasn't helped by the fact that I crapped my pants in class once when I had a stomach bug (that was my cross to bear until Sixth form.)
I was miserable most of secondary school. I'd hide at lunchtimes and breaks just to avoid being the butt of the joke. Again luckily, when I was at school the internet was in its infancy so I didn't get anything posted anonymously online (bar once in Sixth form but by then I was more popular because I had the uncanny ability to speak to a girl without a spontaneous erection.) The name calling or the stuff being taken was the worst. I'd sometimes just sit there as a group around me would say the nastiest shit they could think of and see if I cried.
When I say my perspective on it has changed, it's mainly how I view the situation and the people who picked on me. Were they dickheads? Yes. Were they children? Yes. Are the majority of children in their teenage years (including myself) dickheads? Yes.
I'm not excusing their behaviour (or mine when I was unnecessarily cruel behind people's back to be funny) but part of growing up is making mistakes and growing out of childish behaviour (hopefully). In some ways I made myself a target. I would react dramatically or lose it when they were mean, and I'd sometimes just be a wally for attention. It wasn't right what they did, but hand on heart sometimes I did deserve a slap as a kid.
The other thing I (and please if you're bullied, or have a child/friend/family member who's suffered don't take this as me dictating general mistakes, this is all me) did wrong was not try and gird myself against the bullies. I felt powerless in the face of the abuse. I was worried I'd get the crap kicked out of me for speaking back. In some situations that definitely was the case, though there was a time I did push someone off and I never had trouble from them again. With hindsight I should have addressed my physical lacking. Apart from maybe laying off the cakes, I should have asked my folks to let me do a martial art. Not to come into school and Bruce Lee their heads off; but so I had the confidence to stand up for myself.
It's often hard talking about this with my parents because I know they feel guilty about it, and they really shouldn't. Apart from the fact that they did go in and talk to teachers, there's very little parents can do to protect their kids. They can't wade into school and smack the bullies (the secret dream of all bullied children), calling the offender's parents will just get you a kicking, and it's not like they can press criminal charges (I know technically they can, but it's a fruitless gesture that again makes their child a target.) All a parent can do, in my opinion, is give their child the support they need to survive school. Be that just knuckling down and getting through it, or a foundation of fortitude to deal with bullies. My parents are two of the most loving and supporting people on the planet. They gave me a safe home and fostered my interests. I had a haven from school, and it probably explains why I pulled so many sickies.
Of course this is all easier said than done. I'm fortunate to not feel scared anymore, to not get that creeping dread when I think back to it. Having actually worked with violent offenders, substance abusers, and criminals I'm fairly confident that I can handle a bully when faced with one. If I could go back and talk to that chunky fifteen year old, I'd show him the beautiful family I have, and the collection of stuff and he'd smile and realise all he dreams of is possible.
But I fear for my children. I'm in my parents' shoes because I will move Heaven and Earth to protect my kids but I know it's a situation I can't really affect; because I'm not directly in it. My wife and I have agreed that they both will do a martial art from the earliest point. I've taught my son to stand up for himself (though genetics seemed to have handled that a lot, he often tells me he's going to put me in the bin.) All I can do is be there and try and help when I can. As a parent you're powerless in many ways to the trials of life your children will face, but facing them is part of becoming a fully formed person.
If you're being bullied please don't take what I've written as me saying it's your fault, because it isn't. Despite sometimes making myself a target, it wasn't my fault these people victimised me. It is never right to make someone feel awful. To feel demeaned is the worst pit you can be in. You feel powerless, afraid and hopeless. All I can say is that there is always hope somewhere. I've come out the other side, and I know that being a kid is hard and confusing. But if you just keep going, being an adult means lots of fun stuff. Like taking your clothes off with another adult, staying up all night, and driving a car. Though I'd not advise doing all three at once.
If you are feeling lost and alone please do speak to someone. If not your parents, siblings or teachers, call one of the many fantastic charities like the Samaritans, Beat Bullying or Young Minds to name but three.