I chose this photo because I really like it and also, vainly, because it got lots of likes when I posted it on social media. Over 100 people liked a simple photo of me finally having bothered to put make up on in the middle of last Summer. But much as we shouldn’t be living life for the likes, I’ll admit the interest it garnered and the nice comments people wrote underneath it buoyed my confidence in my appearance, something I have struggled with all my life.
I don’t intend for this post to be a sob story but I am writing about the impacts of bullying as a person who was bullied, so here is your fair warning that it may come across that way. There’s no way to paint this theme in a positive light but I hope that if you can hold out through the couple of paragraphs about context, you’ll get to the thought-out and wider approach of thinking I am trying to bring to this. I was bullied as a child all the way through school, because I look and am different. There is no way to make that sound less dramatic. It started when I was 4 and carried on until past the age of 18. I was bullied because I looked different, I had droopy eyelids and although I am grateful for the surgery for what I now know is called Ptosis, caused by a genetic condition I was only diagnosed with aged 22, the surgery was done to ensure each eye was corrected, but they did not match, it is something I have been made painfully aware of for as long as I can remember and although I talk openly about this these days and many people say they’ve never even noticed, unfortunately some people did notice and bullied me mercilessly about it.
I am also a very sensitive person, so the bullying was perpetuated by the fact I rose to most snide remarks and comments and therefore the bullies saw I was affected and got their kicks by continuing on with this. It doesn’t matter to a bully whether you’re crying because you’re feelings are hurt or out of pure frustration (often the case for me) they will see the tears and that will just keep the vicious circle going and going and going. I now know that as part of my ADHD I suffer from a condition called RSD, Rejection Sensitivity Disorder, it makes me very sensitive, on the negative side it makes it hard for me to receive even the most constructive criticism, it makes me disagreeable out of fear that if I am not heard or liked or I am going to be overlooked and it makes me get worked up easily. It has it’s positives though, it makes me more aware of how others might react to something and makes me quite empathetic, believe it or not. Ultimately though, it’s a bully’s dream come true to pick on someone with RSD, I am the gift that keeps on giving purely by nature. I try not to use ‘suffer’ when talking about conditions as they are just parts of me, but I’m afraid this is the one that really has made me ‘suffer’ over time. It was the name for all the big feelings I was having whenever someone was displeased with me in some way and it did quite a lot of emotional damage, some of which I still am affected by now.
And at the time, I didn’t know I had a genetic condition that caused the Ptosis of (in? I have no idea) my eyelids, and although a bully would give zero shits as to why, I didn’t even have an answer when they mockingly asked why my eyes were wonky. I also had no idea I had ADHD and the associated RSD to know why I couldn’t shake off the feelings brought on by the bullying or the urge to always jump to my own defense, no matter how much I knew I’d be better off walking away. I was clueless as to all this but now I start to understand about myself and my conditions better, if nothing else I can finally answer some of my own questions and curiosities.
My parents and teachers did what they could along the way to try and help and they did help. When it got to the point people were turning up at my house to see if I wanted to come and ‘hang out’ and I made it clear to my parents no, these were certainly not my friends, my Dad would politely tell them I did not want to come outside and that they needed to leave. They continued, my parents told my school and luckily the school told them in no uncertain terms my parents had every right to call the police if they turned up again and they did actually take notice of that. It didn’t stop the bullying at school though. And the most frustrating part of all of it, is that most of the time it was me who was expected to change. I needed to be less sensitive, I needed to be tougher, I needed to just let all of this negativity wash over me and pretend it didn’t matter or affect me. I can say with certainty this was the most useless and dismissive advice I have ever received, even if it was all intended well. I do understand better now when not to rise to bait, although still not good at actually doing that, and I understand it is better for me to walk away and try and ignore something. But that’s taken a lot of emotional intelligence to get to that point. A lot of emotional intelligence I didn’t have as a child.
I just didn’t understand why I was the one who had to try and change, instead of the bully, well maybe just leaving me alone? The only time I was ever truly shouted at by a teacher I still remember so clearly to this day. I was walking through the atrium at my school and a boy who had been relentlessly making remarks all lunch time walked back past me and said yet another thing and I broke. With tears streaming down my face I turned round and screamed ‘will you just fuck off?’. Loudly. And a Maths teacher was right behind me. He was livid and sent me straight to his classroom. He was actually fairly kind about the whole ordeal in the end, but not to start with, I still remember his shouting. I explained that I had been being teased all lunch and I finally broke, I remember him saying, ‘that’s no reason to scream at someone though, you need to rise above this’ and I held my tongue for fear of consequence but I still remember standing there and thinking ‘but why do I? Why can I not for once be angry, be hurt, be truly upset and show these emotions?’. I was so very tired of being the one to have to police my behaviour and pretend these emotions just did not exist. Because not once was I ever made to feel better by someone telling me I needed to change. Those feelings stewed up inside me, I cried alone and spent most of my time at school on edge. The truth is this did affect me in ways that I am finally starting to understand.
And this is where I am wanting to turn this around, because these days, I don’t think about it too much, but I do wonder whether children who are victims of bullying are still given the same well-meaning but useless advice. Are they still expected to be the ones to change, to pretend their feelings are inconsequential and have them dismissed in the same way that I was? Or are they given better lessons of emotional intelligence and given the well-meaning sides of those lessons with the addition of how to work through the feelings of sadness, frustration and anger, instead of having to try and ignore them? I don’t have children myself, but my suspicion is probably not.
And nowadays, I have come to learn so much about myself and also about how my past has formed me in to who I am today. I understand why RSD and the ignored impacts of the bullying on my emotions have led me to be the person that still takes most baits, the person who writes a paragraph long Facebook status and two paragraphs of caveats and explanation so that I reduce the risk of having it turned against me, even though it likely never will be. As I now, finally, start to find a sliver of confidence in my own appearance, wonky eyes and all, I am starting to find peace, but I still most days do not like how I look, because RSD means each and every remark stewed for far longer than it would for other people. It is much, much harder for me to ignore the negative and accept the positive. I am under no illusion that I would handle the bullying any better these days, it would still break me down the way it did then. I still find myself inwardly intimidated by walking past a group of teenagers even now, as a fully grown (ha! still a short arse) woman.
But it also makes me wonder whether it would still happen by those very same people, even now? I may be silly for thinking it, but it still happened when I was 22. I went to the pub in my village with my closest friend and my now-husband, fiance at the time, and sat down at a table, close but not right next to the very same group of people that bullied me. And they went straight back to mocking me, using my full name in the exact same, sneering tone they used it when I was a kid. We did not once interact with them, before or after they started, and quietly moved from the room we were in, into the other one as luckily the pub has two rooms, to avoid it. But again, it was still myself and my friends that had to move, we were the ones expected to a) make the change and b) just pretend it wasn’t happening. So I wonder whether another almost 7 years later they would still do the same? Within the next 9-18 months we’ll all turn 30 years old, will they still be school bullies? As I said, I don’t think about it much, and now it is a curiosity more than anything., but I do wonder if they have ever once realised they needed to stop such shitty behaviours? Did they ever grow out of it? Or did whatever was hurting them which caused them to be so nasty in the first place ever stop hurting them? The thing is I’ll likely never know. There was only one of them who ever continued to bully even when there was no one else around to watch. I doubt I’ll see him again or ever be in the same place as the whole group of them together again, where they might still find that confidence of being with each other to be shitty, but sometimes it does cross my mind.
Would they still bully me today?