When I moved to secondary school, I felt excited and confident that I’d make lots of new friends and have lots of new adventures. However, for reasons still largely unknown to me, that idea was quickly shattered. I had been on the receiving end of a few mean jokes and some hair pulling in the past, but absolutely nothing prepared me for the bullying which I was victim of throughout my secondary school career. It started off when the ‘popular’ kids formed their friendship groups, and I somehow found myself on the outside, looking in. Slowly, I started being called names, left out of things, laughed at, getting stuff thrown at me and being publicly humiliated in a hundred different ways at lunch time. I went from a bubbly, happy child to a miserable teenager, constantly feeling left out and not good enough to be accepted by my peers.
There are a lot of things that I remember from those times, the names they called me; ugly, teachers’ pet, gay, flat chested, stupid and so on, and the nickname they gave me – ‘mushroom’. This resulted from an unfortunate incident when I was probably twelve or thirteen. There was a bout of head lice going around both my brothers’ primary school and my school, and in an attempt to keep them at bay, my Mum forcibly cut off most of my long, wavy hair, leaving me with a rather undesirable bowl-style. I cried all night after she cut my hair, and even more once the nickname started. Even after my hair grew back they still chanted it at me in the hallway.
I was never beaten up, never had my lunch stolen, but they hit me with their words, and slowly but surely stole my self confidence and joy. I went from the little girl with pigtails who skipped to school in the morning to the teenager who would come up with any symptom I could think of to get a day off school, away from the torment. I was the girl who loved English class, and relished the debates we had in RE, but not as much as I wanted to hide away from almost every kid in my year, and some in the years above and below. I started with a handful of friends, but slowly most of them turned away from me and joined the popular kids, leaving me with only a couple of actual friends, and the librarian, on my side. I would go home and cry every single day, sometimes on the bus home, almost always at night. I was pushed over so many times, but the pain of being snubbed by the pretty, popular girls stung far more than my bruises and scratches.
The things which saved me were most likely also the things which exasperated the bullying; I was a member of student council, helped out in the library, wrote a play to perform in assembly. All of these things offered a tiny piece of refuge for me, but also only increased the number of things they could pick on me for. Being different and standing out from everyone else was not good at my school, and I stood out more than most. When I was thirteen years old, I found out about something called the UK Youth Parliament, or UKYP (http://www.ukyouthparliament.org.uk/) which is a national group of 13-18 year olds who are elected to represent their areas at a local, regional and national level speaking on behalf of young people on issues which matter to them. I signed up, and surprisingly in my first year gained enough votes to be selected. As much as the students at my school disliked me, their sense of pride in the school was greater, so they all voted for the girl from Portway. I was part of the UKYP for 3 years, and during that time I met prime ministers and other government ministers, gave speeches and workshops to both adults and other young people, attended conferences up and down the country and appeared in local news, on the radio, and even in an issue of Sugar magazine. Through all of the experience I had, I learned to speak in public, deal with professionals and manage events. I even made a few friends along the way, but everything I did was tinged with a constant fear that I wasn’t good enough, that people were laughing at me as soon as I was out of the room, that nobody really like me. I compensated by being overly loud and enthusiastic, earning the titles ‘hyper’ and ‘immature’. In reality I was a lost, self conscious emotional mess, but I didn’t think I would ever be any better, or deserve anything more. It also got me the new taunt ‘are you Tony Blair’s daughter?’ and ‘you slept with Gordon Brown’. Yup, they were original…
At this point I’d like to make clear I never tried to take my own life, and I never self harmed, but I came very close to it. I contemplated it regularly, and even tried to cut myself with a shattered ruler. It left little more than a few scratches, and the horror I felt at having done it to myself was worse than the desire to do it. I have always had an in built level of optimism and hope, even when things were awful and I felt like I had nothing good happening, I had big dreams of getting away from everything and making something of my life. It’s been this driving force which has played the most crucial role in my coping, and also in my recovery. Of course I know that sadly many people do get caught in self harm and suicide attempts when they are depressed, and anyone reading this is experiencing that I urge you to get help from your doctor, talk to a trusted friend, family member or teacher, or contact one of the helplines I’ve listed on my ‘support’ page.