Ever since I started this blog, I wondered my reasons for doing so. Was it to express myself through a new medium? Was it a means to find my calling in life? Maybe I just loved putting pen to paper…or in this case, fingers to keys. But one thing I have come to understand is that I’ve always aimed to give a voice to those in need of being heard; whether it be a upcoming theatrical show, or new-to-the-scene music artist…or maybe, for once…me.
Writing is somewhat like therapy. A part of me likes to escape into tales I create, giving characters back stories, which inevitably end up becoming loosely based on my own life experiences. A part of me wonders why this is, and deep down I find that it is because we cannot move on if we do not speak about the things that worry us.
The story I am sharing with you, is my only way I know how to talk about my struggles. When I try to verbalize my fears, my anxieties, my hurt…a mere squeak escapes into the vast darkness. This story is probably the hardest thing I have ever written, and putting it out for the public to view; rather than scribbled into a notebook, still makes me nervous. But I only do this so others may learn, that they may grow and that maybe…just maybe…I can show you that everything you see is not exactly how it appears.
For many who know me growing up, I was a reasonably, happy child. Days would be spent running in the fields, playing tricks on the adults, helping my grandmothers do their chores and being as bright and bubbly as I wished. Sound fun? It sure was. For when your this age, nothing bothers you and all the worries in the world are not even on your radar.
High school. I remember it, as if it was yesterday. The representatives from high schools in the surrounding areas would flock to your primary school classes like bald eagles, trying to encourage as many of your class to choose them as your preference, as you moved onto your next step in education. I remember listening to the speaker of my eventual institutional choice, as she said quite confidently and proudly, “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Going to this school will open so many doors for you along the way. We pride ourselves as being a good supportive network and a place where our students are happy to study and prosper.”
I was sold, and after final examinations and much deliberation, I decided this was the path I was destined to be on. Now, as an 11 year old child, this new school felt enormous. The building was buzzing, and I felt like a little, worker bee in a vast hive of corridors, classrooms and gyms.
I loved it…it was different, it was fast-paced, but most of all, it was new. I loved new experiences and each day of my first year, I woke up excited for what it would bring. But as the famous Geoffrey Chaucer famously said, “All Good Things Must Come To An End.”
Second year commenced and with it brought with it 5 consecutive years of utter torment. You hear about bullying in schools via TV documentaries, but you never spend too much time thinking about it. I know I didn’t…that was before my schooling life was turned upside down. I was happy…I was progressing well…nothing was going to stand in my way.
When I look back now, it is simply impossible to pinpoint where the bullying began and the events that triggered it. But with hind-sight, I have come to understand that when someone decides to make your life a misery, they do not need a valid reason to do so.
From Monday to Friday, I had to endure physical and psychological abuse by not only my bullies, but by the many friends who stood back, watched this abuse and even took part in it at times.
My memories of class involved offensive name calling and so-called ‘joking’ comments on my features, my voice and my interests. In the corridors, a group of guys in my year, who had never spoken to me once, decided to join in on the fun. Several days a week, I would get water-balloons thrown at me, when I was on my own; forcing me to sit in wet clothing for the rest of the day. I’d get shouldered in the corridors and get pushed into walls. The physical aspect got so bad one day that I ended up with a lump and cut on my forehead, when this group slammed my head into the wall of a mobile classroom.
With each new year, came new bullies. The old ones got bored and moved on, but not before the baton was always passed appropriately to my next harasser. I went home to my parents, and put on a brave face, often telling them lies about someone else’s day to make mine sound fun and exciting.
If the events within the school walls were not bad enough, the torture did not stop there. The bus rides home were without question the most character destroying time of my life. Any flicker of hope that my confidence and hopes would be safe, were soon snuffed out by people who I once called friends.
For reasons which I will never know, I was a prime target for everyone on the bus ride from Newry to Crossmaglen. Taunts about sexuality were always leading the charge in the outnumbered battle of The World vs Sean. Words like poof, f**got, queer and sissy accompanied whatever they had to say to me. Usually these taunts were shouted from a distance away, as I sat quietly on my own. I never retaliated, as I always had a dislike towards any types of confrontation.
I lost count of how many objects collided with my head for that 40 minute journey. Sometimes it was half filled bottles of water. Other occasions it was a boot or shoe that was propelled towards me. And during all this time, these assaults were not carried out by people from neighboring towns or villages, but by people I grew up with, from childhood.
The particular individuals who bullied me most, were actually people I had once called friends. Somehow in the blur of growing up, our friendship turned into a sport; enjoyed by all. These so-called former friends even gave younger schoolkids a lesson in the art of “aiming for Sean.” At times I felt like a spectator in a cruel game of human darts…10 points if you hit the back of his skull…100 if you smack him right between the eyes. Only, I never was a spectator…I was the target.
The final few weeks of high school seemed to be the slowest I had ever experienced. If worries about final exams before university were not worrying enough, I had to tend to a wound on the back of my head that was caused after my main tormentor convinced a gullible and highly impressionable junior student to fire a capped 2 Litre, full bottle of water at me, just as I was nearing my stop. When it collided with the crown of my head, I can recall to this day that my eyes went white with the impact. I shook it off, but as the pain lingered on, during my journey to my house, it was only then that I noticed my hair damp with blood.
Needless to say, when I said goodbye to high school…I meant goodbye. Secondary Education is meant to be one of the best times of your life. It is there to make character…not break it. Many people reading this will probably ask why I did not speak to someone I trusted; my parents, my sister, my cousins. Maybe it was because I didn’t want to cause them any worry or heartache. Maybe I didn’t want to appear weak. I do not know. But my favorite one always was…why did you not stand up for yourself? That is a hard question to answer.
Truthfully, I was in fear. Fear of what I would look like, fear I would have no support and fear of those who had made me a victim of a problem that continues to ravage our schools worldwide. It took me a very, very long time to get over my experience of bullying…not just because of the intensity of the acts, which were unquestionably excruciating, but out of confusion, disappointment and a sense of betrayal towards the ones who caused it all.
My current friends and people I meet every day may not see the scars that still remain. However, they are healing, with each new day. I try to be as humorous and happy in my everyday interactions with everyone, to keep alive that child that was once so naturally bright and bubbly.
However, I must stress to all out there that although I felt I had no-one to turn to…there IS ALWAYS SOMEONE OUT THERE. Whether it is that friend you always confide in, a parent or it could even be the local librarian…there is always an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. And believe me, it is not a sign of weakness if you ask for help. When I completed High school, I was so closed off from everyone around me that I felt I had no future. My confidence was diminished and my belief in myself was non-existent. But just as I was about to admit defeat, I spoke to a girl I once went to school with. She spoke to me of her struggle with bullying herself, and as we jointly confided in one another, I found my heart starting to mend, despite its wear and tear.
Like many others victims of bullying, I never wish for an apology off my tormentors. What is the point? They are most likely reading this. What I wish for is that they can grow up and understand what they did was wrong. I hope that they realize that they may not know the extent of their capabilities until it is too late. And most of all, I hope that they raise their kids to never do the same on another child.
But the purpose of this story, is not to speak of these actions of cowardice but to highlight to those suffering, the many online avenues that are now available for support. One particular campaign that I believe in with my whole heart is the fantastic BEING ME CAMPAIGN who have a vast support network of people from all walks of life. They are there to help and guide you, as well offering encouragement to just “be you.”
Another wonderful campaign that will hopefully be a part of every school system in the future, is the anti-bullying ambassadors of THE DIANA AWARD, which was set up to protect the welfare of all young people; in memory of the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
Music artist Nadine Coyle, is a regular spokesperson for this campaign. She believes it should be implemented into all schools throughout Northern Ireland, as it encourages both students and teachers to work hand-in-hand to eradicate bullying.
Princess Diana once said, “Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.”
This story, titled Lost, is a small glimpse into how hope and belief can still remain possible, even in times when it is most dark.