This is my third and final blog post about the three goals that I set at the start of this year – goals that will help me function better on a day-to-day basis as I battle with mental illness and live with grief.
My three goals are:
- To get physically stronger through exercise (Blog Post: Running? Really?)
- To write for children again; to be the children’s author I’ve always wanted to be (Blog Post: Getting back in the writing seat)
- To no longer have the people in my life who have caused me emotional suffering.
This will be the most difficult of the three goals to write about, but it’s something I feel is important to share…
I have moments during the year when I decide that the house needs a good clear out – clothes, the children’s toys, stuff that I never needed in the first place. I have a clearing frenzy – bags piled high and shipped off to a charity shop. Done. Tidy house. Clear space.
It may be time consuming and half way through when I look at all the spilled out cupboards I regret my decision, but I plough on and it gives me a strange sense of satisfaction when I’m done. I like tidiness. I have been told by mental health professionals that I have mild OCD. I can’t relax around mess. I need the clear space.
I have reached a point in my life where, with the help of professionals, I have learnt that it’s not just my home I need to declutter, but also my life. That is, just as there are items of clothing in my wardrobe that I don’t need, I have people in my life that I don’t need.
What am I on about, you may be asking?
Clearing people out? How? Clearly they can’t be bagged up and shipped off! And not just how, but why?
I have had people in my life who have caused me much distress. They have been a stifling suffocating presence, slowly stripping away my sense of self, layer by layer, right down to my bare bones.
I’ll rewind and hopefully this will make sense…
As a teenager, I was bullied. I was bullied for being overweight and I was bullied for working hard in school and being ‘clever’. ‘Fatty’, ‘tree trunk legs’, ‘ugly’, ‘swot’, ‘teacher’s pet’ – these are just some of the names that taunted me throughout Secondary School.
The result of this bullying was that I developed unhealthy coping strategies. I binge-ate in secret after school until I felt sick. I would then have to sit down with my family and eat tea, my stomach churning.
I wouldn’t put my hand up in class to answer questions. I stayed quiet, blushing crimson when the teacher would often name me and I’d mutter the correct answer and be praised. But instead of feeling proud, my insides would be squirming, knowing that giving that correct answer and having my work praised would result in a kick in the back as I walked down the school driveway home, or having my pencil case thrown out of the class window in the next lesson, just before the teacher arrived. It meant being mocked and laughed at.
Luckily, I had lots of friends in school which balanced out the bullying. I just accepted it. I was being bullied. It was just how it was.
Once I left school and went to University, these spiteful bullies left my life. I never had to see them again. But our adult selves are shaped by early experiences and their cruel words will always echo in the back of my mind. I still hate the way I look, especially since starting taking mental health medication at the start of 2015, which has caused significant weight gain. I still resort to bouts of binge eating and making myself sick as a coping strategy when things get really bad.
I still get embarrassed by any success and tend to hide it, keep quiet about it. It’s hard for me to accept any form of praise, it makes me incredibly uncomfortable.
I got away from these teenage bullies, not unscathed, but I got away. I haven’t seen these people since my school days and am unlikely to see them ever again in my life.
Turning into an adult, I had escaped from bullying behaviour. I could put it behind me and try to move on.
I have been bullied as an adult. This is such a difficult sentence for me to write (I can’t speak it aloud).
Don’t be ridiculous. Adults don’t get bullied. You have the ability to walk away, answer back, ignore. You don’t have to be weak and just take it for goodness sake. Get a grip woman. Stand up for yourself. You’re a grown-up, not an awkward teenager. Stop being so sensitive. If you think you’re being treated badly then it’s your own fault. Don’t stand for it.
I have been bullied as an adult and these are the kind of things I have been told over the years. These are the phrases that I have believed. It’s just me – I’m weak and pathetic.
Four years ago, I drove off in the night in my pyjamas desperate for escape from the living hell that these people had created. I found myself standing on the harbour wall, watching the waves lash angrily below. And I cried. I cried like I’d never cried before. But I couldn’t do it. The love I have for my three boys pulled me back from the brink.
This is when I first went to ask for professional help. This is when I learnt that as a result of this bullying behaviour, I have been left battling with depression and social anxiety.
As a teenager, I got to walk away. I went to University and left the bullies behind. This isn’t as easy as an adult. It’s harder to walk away from the workplace, from family members. How do you escape?
In 2015 (whilst I was still teaching), out of sheer desperation, I walked into my Union’s office and broke down. Everything came flooding out like a burst dam. My Union representative sat and listened. When I stopped and couldn’t lift my gaze up to meet his, he quietly said, ‘This is bullying.’
It shocked me, to hear him say it. Bullying? But adults don’t get bullied. I walked away from the bullies years ago. This was all my fault. This was me not able to cope with the teaching profession. This was simply me being a failure.
‘Bullying in the workplace is common,’ he said. ‘You need to make this stop.’
I went there weekly, where he made notes of everything I said. He was determined that I put a stop to it. He was adamant that things could change and that I could continue in the profession. But I was terrified of the consequences of speaking out and deep down I knew that I would never let my words leave his office. I wasn’t strong enough.
Then my escape came. I had to have a hysterectomy. Whilst on sick leave, I handed in my notice, knowing that I could never return to teaching for the sake of my mental health. The weight that lifted off my shoulders when I dropped my resignation letter into the postbox was immense. I had done it. I had got away.
What I had escaped from was only one bullying environment. I still had people in my life who belittled me, patronised me and made me feel worthless. There were still the family members who have ignored me and left me desperately searching for what I’ve done wrong. Family members who have manipulated and humiliated me. Family members who have asserted control over me.
This is where I was when I first met my therapist just over a year ago. She is one of the most wonderful people I have ever met. Once again, as soon as I started to open up, to speak of some of the things that have happened to me or have been said to me, she too said, ‘They’ve been bullying you.’
I felt such deep shame. All my life I have let people bully me. It must be my fault.
My therapist works so very patiently with me to help me challenge my thoughts and to see things from a different perspective. Yes, I’m a very sensitive person, but does this mean that I’m weak? Or does it mean that I can empathise with others and show compassion? Yes, I’m a quiet and introverted individual, but does this mean I’m pathetic? Or does it mean that I’m thoughtful and respectful of others?
With the help of my therapist I have slowly learnt that I can escape. I can move away from these people who have caused me so much distress over the years – not in the same sense that I did as a young adult when I physically moved away to University – but by making the conscious decision not to have these people in my life.
Since losing my little boy, Ned, I have learnt who are important to me and I have ended all contact with those who have bullied me. I am hurting deeply with grief. I don’t need their added hurt.
I don’t want to confront these people for the way they have treated me. They would never acknowledge that their behaviour was bullying. They would laugh and say I was talking nonsense, making things up, exaggerating, being ridiculous, over-sensitive. They’d get angry – how dare she call me a bully.
I’m not making it up, or exaggerating or mis-reading or being overly-sensitive. They are bullies (even if they can’t see it) and they have to live with that. I don’t.
So they may not be bagged up like my old clothes; they continue to live their lives, carrying on with their bullying behaviour, but not with me.
Yes, they have wounded me, but wounds heal. Wounds leave scars and I will always carry those scars because I can’t change the past. But if I leave those scars alone, over time they will fade. They’ll always be a part of me, but they won’t ever define me.
I surround myself now with people who I care about. People who bring me some happiness. People who I choose to have in my life. People who have been by my side since the day I lost Ned. People who are helping me to rebuild this new me, tiny piece by tiny piece.
It’s not easy to accept that you’re being bullied as an adult. You carry such a sense of shame, a sense of failure. It takes a lot of courage to accept that it’s happened and face up to it. I would never have been able to do this without the support and encouragement of my therapist. Without her, the wounds left by these people would still be raw and oozing with pain. Instead, they are now slowly healing.
I have a long way to go on my road to recovery with many mountains to climb and many stones that I’ll stumble over. But I know that I have the right people by my side, supporting me. These are the only people that matter to me.
Yes, I have been bullied, but they haven’t broken me.