I’ve never publicly told the story about how I was bullied in primary school but in light of National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence last week, I figured it was high time I spoke up.
We’d been besties since grade one. I don’t really know how we came to be friends in the first place, but it was just the way things were and I liked it that way, thank you very much.
Needless to say, six years later when I noticed she was spending more time with one of the other girls in our friendship group, I wasn’t happy about it. In true primary school style, I wrote her a letter telling her of the fact and expressly stated not to share the letter with the other girl that was trying to steal my best friend. At lunchtime I saw them whispering behind a tree, pointing at my letter.
From there, things went downhill fast. Suddenly my entire friendship group would roll their eyes when I spoke, not want to partner up with me when we had to get into pairs for activities, run away from me during play time, and not invite me to birthday parties. I found out that they even drew mean pictures of me and passed them to one another during class. One picture in particular depicted an elephant defecating. They labelled me as the elephant’s excretion.
On Friday’s we had inter-school sports, which meant that we’d walk to the local netball courts to play off against the other schools. Before our game began, I was wandering around killing time and heard my name being called. I turned around and searched about to see who was trying to get my attention but couldn’t find anyone. I continued wandering. Sure enough, my name was called again. I looked around and saw a huddle of girls across the netball court turn quickly amongst themselves and giggle. My heart sank. They called again but I knew better than to give them the satisfaction of looking about like a fool, so I held back my tears and ignored it.
After our game, I drew up all of my courage and approached my former best friend, demanding to know why she was treating me the way she was, why she didn’t want to be my best friend anymore. She yelled in my face, “Because you’re boring.”
That day, like most days, I went home crying. My parents didn’t know what to do but to comfort me and tell me that the girls were just jealous. Whether it was true or not, it didn’t change the fact that I faced this on a daily basis in a place that was meant to be safe but really just felt inescapable.
I was fortunate enough that the “popular” group took pity on me and started inviting me to sit with them. I felt like a charity case, but I didn’t care. At least I wasn’t eating by myself or spending my lunch breaks in the toilet and library anymore.
And then, to my great relief, high school came. My primary school was a feeder school to the high school next door but it was the fresh start I so desperately needed – where there would be new people who didn’t know I’d been rejected by my own friends. The school was big enough that I could go about unaffected by my former group and they gave up on their bullying. I created new friendships, friendships that got me through high school.
In later years, two of the girls from the group apologised to me for following along with the bullying rather than standing up and saying something. To be honest, it felt too little too late because it didn’t change the fact that I was bullied on a daily basis for an entire year. It didn’t change the fact that I had to contain my pains whilst I was at school so that they couldn’t see how much they were hurting me, only letting the emotion burst out once I was in the safety of my mum’s car. That I had to spend hours and hours of lunch breaks alone, forcing me to face my loneliness. That I had to accept that I may never know why they really turned on me. That I had to put aside my pride and accept the generosity of the “popular group” in my hour of need. That I had to figure out how to forgive those girls so that I could move on peacefully with my life.
To be honest, I don’t care if the rest of them never own up to the bullying because a large part of me is glad it all happened. Because suffering changes a person. Potentially in the best way possible. Like carbon under the pressure of a 1000 kilometres of dirt forms a diamond, so too has my experience – and survival – of bullying transformed me into a stronger, wiser, more self-sufficient person.
It was during one of my lonely play times at school that I discovered I had a love of storytelling. That I wanted to be a writer. Sometimes I wonder if I would have ever discovered it, had I not had the time alone by myself to be forced to find something to do.
I know that’s not something that you want to hear, especially at a time in your life when your friends are the most important part of your life. But believe me: school and bullying are just a stage you have to get through. My question is will you let it crush you? Or will you become like diamonds?
Were you a victim of bullying? Or were you the perpetrator who has since seen the err of their ways? I’m going to be sharing other women’s stories over the next few weeks to empower those who are facing the overwhelming reality of being bullied. Send me a message if you’d like to share your story.