I’ve written about it before. Heck, I’ve written about most of it before because mental illness is mainly just that: the same twisted thoughts swimming around your head until you want them out.
It’s been in the news again this week that another teenager has made the heartbreaking decision to end her own life after being bullied relentlessy at school and on social media. I speak to so many young people going through the same thought process.
Young people who have been led to believe – as I was – that the problem lies with them. That if they can’t change who they are, they should die so as to give the bullies some peace of mind.
I don’t understand. I really, really don’t understand how a girly sleepover, or lunchtime spent crowding around a too-small table in a school cafeteria, or meeting in Starbucks on a Saturday morning, can be made ‘better’ by telling someone how disgusting they are. How the world would be a better place without them.
I’m not perfect. I’ve said things that I’ve come to regret; talked about people in ways I shouldn’t have. There have been times where I’ve looked back at things I’ve said and apologised for saying them.
What I have never done – would never do – is make someone feel so awful that they wish they were dead.
My crime was this: I had short hair and I arrived at secondary school friendless. Not because I didn’t have friends, but because I had got a place at a faith school and they, quite simply, hadn’t.
When I started, I wanted to make friends.
By the fourth day, all I wanted was to be left alone.
By the fourth week, I told my Dad that I wished I were seriously ill so that I never had to go back.
By the fourth week, I had also forgotten that I was being – horrendously, seriously – bullied, a fact that didn’t reoccur to me until I was two years deep in psychotherapy. I remember so many people asking me if I was being bullied (that’s what happens when you can’t stop crying and shaking every time you get to school in the morning) and genuinely and honestly telling them that I wasn’t. In fact, I thought I deserved the punishment that was being dolled out to me.
By the fourth week, I believed that I deserved everything that was heaped upon me. That there was no reason anyone would choose to be my friend; that they were doing it for my own good; that I needed to learn something before I could make any friends.
Because I had short hair. Because I didn’t come neatly packaged with a friend.
And yes, when I was eleven, I started to think about ways of not having to go back to school.
I am sure that some people will be reading this and wondering why I still go on about it sixteen years later. The answer is this: because it haunts me every single day of my life. Less than it did because I have worked hard to come to make peace with what happened; less than it could have done because my life ended up OK, actually. But, as far as I am concerned – and unless I get an answer – the questions will always remain if not from an emotional stance but from an academic one: why would you want to make someone feel that way? and why me?
Of course, as I’ve learnt very slowly, the problem never lay with me. The problem lay with the people who thought it was funny/OK/a good idea to do what they did to me. The problem still lies with those people, many of whom have gone on to get respectable jobs which entail protecting vulnerable people.
Sometimes people tell me I need to get over it; that I need to stop living in the past. It’s hard to ‘get over’ something that was the main flavour of your life for so many years. If I’d had an amazing time at school and I told people about how much I’d loved it, no-one would tell me to get over it or to leave it in the past.
It changed who I grew up to me. More importantly, it changed who I grew up to be without my permission.
Part of me wants to message them. Part of me wants to message the places they work.
But I won’t. Because I don’t ruin lives.
It’s never been my style.