I hesitate to write this blog post but I doubt that will last for long.
Because the subject I want to talk about is a bit sensitive. The eternal problem, of bullying.
My own high school experience is a bit unusual. You would think that being a nerd with low self esteem, few friends and personal dilemmas with all of my appearance, beleifs and sexuality, that I would have been the victim of bullying.
But on the contrary, I wasn’t. And in fact, for one awful week in year eight, I was the bully.
Let me explain.
When I was in year seven I was bullied, but not very much and not for very long. And I think the reason is that I was a crap target, due to the fact that I just didn’t care.
Or at least, i did care, but I kept it locked up and hidden and never let on to anyone that they were bothering me.
Now I’m not saying this will work for everyone, but it sure as shit worked for me.
There was this girl who handed out shit to everyone, and it didn’t take long for her to take a certain dislike to me. So one day she pushed me down a flight of stairs and challenged me to a fight, which I politely refused.
“Why? You scared?”
“Yes, terrified. Lets just assume you’ll beat me and leave it alone, alright?”
And after a long pause, during which i picked myself up off the ground, she walked away.
This same girl caught my bus in the afternoons and on the trip would make a point to sit and criticise my appearance, the way I did my hair, my spotty complexion, my weight etc. And it was as simple as nodding, looking out the window and tuning out that got her to eventually leave me alone.
I was a boring target, in other words. I had absolutely no reaction other then to just shrug and play along without actually engaging, so I was labelled a freak and left alone.
I was lucky, in other words.
There was one other instance when another girl took it upon herself to add a new bruise to my shin every day for most of the school year. Again I tried to ignore and avoid her, but that swinging shoe and the consequential bruise kept catching up with me, and finally one day I completely lost my shit and screamed at her to fuck off.
As I had been going along with this dumb game for months with no reaction, the sudden explosion of rage actually worked, and she finally stopped it.
After that I was simply called freak, eccentric, nerd, smart ass, and allowed to carry on undisturbed.
I was quieter and more shy in year seven, and it hadn’t done me any good, so from that point on I started trying to be more assertive, more outspoken. I was also trying to impress my long term love by transforming into a punk, so year eight was the year of dyed hair, loud music, and attitude. Incidentally, it’s also the one year I didn’t make it onto honour roll.
Year eight I was going through my identity crisis, and it was also the year of the splitting of my friendship group. I used to hang out with seven other girls, half of us nerdy outcasts, half of us riding the highway to teen pregnancy and legal drug addiction (alcohol, nicotine, that sort of thing).
(And p.s, that’s not being cruel. Out of the four girls in question, three have fallen pregnant, all have cigarette habits and the last time I saw them, were going into the pub while I was leaving. One I am still friends with, the others are part of history now.)
Anyway, that year our group split in two, the four nerds left to be nerdy, the four others left to do whatever anti-authoritarian activities they wanted. I was in the nerdy half (I never did quite manage to shake that, despite my best efforts) but we were still on friendly terms.
One day, this new girl showed up at school. Her name was Ainsley, and I had known her back in primary school. Back in those days she had annoyed me, being needy and whiney, and it would seem nothing had changed. She was still annoying, but that doesn’t justify what we did.
In the month she was at school, Ainsley was passed around from group to group, no one wanting her around, until she ended up with the other four, the split part of our group of friends.
She kind of hung out with us as well, but not so much. When she did, it was frustrating to nod and smile while she was slowly grating on your nerves. I’m trying not be mean, just honest. She really did irritate me. For me, the thing that did it was her constant pining over the boys in my brother’s year group (three years above us). She was fixated on this guy who was friends with my brother, and would divide her time between badgering me to give her his phone number or email address (which i said no to, because I didn’t think I should be giving out boys phone numbers to potential stalkers) and telling me in explicit detail her life plan of him falling in love with her and them getting married and having children, and then him turning out to be gay but deciding to stay with her to raise the kids.
That was her exact plan, and I have to say it weirded me out a little. But hilariously enough, the boy in question did turn out to be gay and is now happily settled with his boyfriend of three years.
But Ainsley was grating on my nerves, and her whiney pining and clingy nature is why i did what I did.
After a day or two of hanging out with this girl, the other half of our group approached us, and said we had to help them get rid of her.
We saw it as a joke, a harmless way to bring the two halves of the group back together and try to send a message to this girl that she either had to stop being annoying or go away.
And because it was a joke, a harmless joke, me and my friend Elise sat down together, and we wrote a script.
And this was some nasty nasty stuff. From memory, it went something along the lines of
“Ainsley, we’ve gotten to know you quite well over these past few days, and what we’ve gotten to know, we don’t like. So either stop it, or find some other people to put up with you.”
Oh. God. Thinking about it now I still feel completely racked with horrible guilt, and I deserve every single bit of it. Obviously, poor Ainsley did not take it well, and she left our school soon after. I heard a couple of years ago that she had dropped out of her new school and was pregnant, but that was just a rumour so who knows.
At the time I said sorry, but I don’t think that was enough.
Being the bully, absolutely fucking sucks.
We were pulled up for it, obviously, and had to sit through a meeting with several school staff to discuss the severity of our actions. I remember how most of us (the nerdy half) broke down in tears almost straight away. It was the one black mark on my otherwise perfect school record. It was also the defining split of no return between the two groups. Probably for the best.
So what do i have to say about bullying in high school? Well, I have to say that without a doubt it happens, and it’s utterly horrible.
When I was being bullied, my strategy was to just hold it at arms length and try to be unaffected.I know it’s not that easy for everyone. When I was the bully, it was easy to justify being cruel because this girl really was just so unbelievably annoying, and did not know when she had crossed the line.
So, I think that being aware of how your actions are impacting other people is important. Obviously, there’s not much you can do about the things you can’t control, like if you’re being picked on for your sexuality or appearance, or for no reason at all.
But there’s a big difference between having issues with someone for no reason in their control, and being irritated by a girl who without fail would come into school day after day, and talk about all the things she’d like to do with my brother’s mate.
However, having also been the bully and knowing the reasons behind it, I wish I could go back to fourteen year old me and tell her what I know now, which is you do not have to like or get along with every person in your life, you just need to be civil. You just need to tolerate them.
Back then, It was either you were friends with someone, or you weren’t. There was no in between. But there is an in-between and it is massive. I never had to be best friends with Ainsley, or even just friends with her. We were classmates, peers, and all I had to do was be honest with her. But I didn’t, and I regret it like hell.
If for whatever reason you don’t like someone, there is no need at all make that dislike the centre of your focus. It’s important to pick your battles. You gain nothing at all from lashing back and making someone else feel bad or unwanted, so what the hell is the point?
For victims of bullying, I can’t really offer much advice, especially because every case is so different. I could say “it’s not your fault” but in a case like Ainsley’s it’s so tempting to say that it was. Basically, no one deserves to be bullied, no one deserves to be made to feel bad about themselves or to be physically hurt, to have their emotions toyed with, to be belittled or told they are somehow ‘wrong’. No one.
You have no right to bully anyone and no one has the right to bully you. No one gains anything, but misery. Nothing is achieved, but continuing on the vicious cycle through one more round.
If you are being bullied, know that to an extent, it is possible to have some level of control over who affects you. That is, sometimes it is possible to detach and let it go.
Also, know that one day it can end. I have more to say about this, but that’ll have to wait until next time, because this post is getting to be too long.
Respecting, accepting, and at a last resort, tolerating others will take you further then being a bully ever will. Having the confidence to be above it all and to stay strong, and to know there are people who can help you if your strength fails, will be worth more then letting the bad feelings get to you and trying to deal with it on your own.
At the end of the day, the game is survival, and there are only losers. But isn’t it fun to see how long we can last?