November 18, 2011

“People, don't you understand,
The child needs a helping hand?
Or he'll grow to be an angry young man someday.
Take a look at you and me,
Are we too blind to see?
Do we simply turn our heads
And look the other way?”

As I was contemplating writing this article for Time To Change on this anti-bullying week I was found myself recalling a verse from an Elvis Presley song.  The lyrics spoke to me on many levels. They are from ‘In The Ghetto’, a song Elvis courageously recorded at a time in the USA when race relations were strained, and I say he ‘courageously’ chose this song because he hailed from the South, and in releasing a track with such huge political sentiment it could have spelled disaster for his career, and his position within his own community.  He chose to stand up and counted.

It also struck me just how timeless these words are, children who are encountering bullying do indeed need a “helping hand”, and those hands are quite often gloved in reluctance; by schools loath to accept that bullies operate within their establishment; by family members veiled in the shame that they observe a loved one’s abuse; and by the child whose fear, humiliation and complete bewilderment stifle their ability to ask for help.

As a child at school I was bullied for being ‘ugly’ and would be daily reminded by the kids at school why I was so vile. “Why have you got big lips like an African?” was one of their favourite taunts. My dark brown frizzy hair, my boyish looks, by geeky clothes, my glasses…there didn’t seem to be anything they couldn’t find fault with.  As a fostered child I had no idea of my origins and would go home and say, “Daddy, am I ugly?” or “Mammy, am I a ‘half-caste’?”  My parents would be mortified and reassure me that I was their special, beautiful girl, but I’d look into the mirror and gaze at my reflection, sucking in my lips to make them smaller, whilst thinking 60 or 70 kids couldn’t be wrong, I was an freak, and deserved to be pushed along the corridors by kids chanting “ugly, ugly, ugly”. I accepted it, became introverted, fearful and resigned to my fate.

Life moved on, I grew up, dyed my hair blonde, and became someone who I thought people wanted to see.  I was angry, and unbeknown to me I also had a mental illness, which was adding to my sense of confusion about life, people and where I fitted, and it didn’t appear that there were many places I rightfully belonged. I always felt that I was an actor, performing various Dawns, and just awaiting the moment I fluffed my lines and people actually realised who I really was, that “ugly freak”, the one who wasn’t “right in the head”. 

It’s not possible to live a life with the burden of fear and stigma stalking your every step, thus despite many personal and professional successes it was almost inevitable that I would encounter bullying again, as an adult, and because I’d been so traumatised as a child, that it would be catastrophic. Bullying within the workplace brought me to my knees with shock, despair and I had a complete breakdown.

At this point in my life I began to research the effects of bullying on the child and on the adult by setting up a website inviting people to share their experiences, I was astounded to hear how many adults were affected by bullying, and how many forms  that bullying took.  Sharing with others helped to begin a healing process, and I began to understand how by ignoring bullying, pretending it’s not happening allows it to breed and when adults, co-workers, family members and peers turn their heads and look the other way, trauma remains unaddressed, only to rear its head at a later stage, the long term effects meaning some of the victims of bullying will be diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress disorder.

In this current climate where austerity is affecting everyone, the mentally ill and disabled are being bullied by the press,  and people are turning on each other with a need to ‘blame’, we owe it to children to address bullying rigorously and equip young people with the confidence to be able to say that they are affected by bullying, and that they want it stopped, only then will be begin to create a generation of victims who as they grow up refuse to been seen as such,  and whilst we will never eliminate the ‘bully’, we can ensure they cannot thrive with impunity. 

As a perfect end to this article my daughter has just walked in and said to me “Every week should be anti-bullying week”, and you know she’s right!

(Alas my anti-bullying website is no longer, I couldn’t afford to keep it running, but I do have an online blog which shares the news and views of YOU the Mentally Wealthy, feel free to check it out and chat).

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