This week's blog is very different to most. It wasn’t easy to write and brought back a lot of painful memories in the process. But I feel that it is such a strong and sensitive topic that needs to be addressed. Without this experience, I would not be the person that I am today.
As a kid in primary school, I was a confident young girl who had a massive passion for dance and music. It didn’t matter where I was or who I was with, I would sing all the time and I loved showing the dances that I worked so hard on and performed outside of school. I was just trying to fit in as all kids do. But the further I got into primary school, the more things started to change. My confidence started to deteriorate. Kids started saying horrible things, they started calling me names, and as time went on, it only got worse. Words started turning into actions and I didn’t know why this was happening. I just remember sitting on the staircase by myself hoping things would get better. But it never really did. I just learnt to “cope” with what was happening which is NOT OK.
It started to get really bad in the beginning of year 6 - my last year in primary school. Generally, people look back at primary school and think about their treasured memories. For me, this is not the case. I look back and cringe over some of the moments that I’ve tried to erase from my memory. I just remember waiting patiently for my name to be called to see what class I was in and to see the people that I would be surrounded with for the year. As each name got called, I finally heard mine. I walked over to my class and looked around at some of my fellow classmates. Some people were new, some people I had been friends with in the past and some that I had never even said a word to before. Maybe this was the year that I’d find a group of friends that would accept me, for me.
Year 6 is the year everyone starts to “grow up”. Everyone has a new sense of authority now that they are oldest kids in the school. Some even start to hit the lovely thing that has changed all of us - puberty. Girls start trying to impress the boys, so they start to style their hair, paint their nails and they try to make themselves look more pretty and stylish. I, on the other hand, was still the same girl as the year before. A very tomboyish, long-haired girl who had the same passion for singing and dancing.
So my first official day started, I remember it was a rainy day and I had new books and stationary that I was very proud of. I took them out of my brand new school bag that I had also purchased the week before. Within a matter of moments, they were wiped off my table by one of my classmates. I looked up at the person who did it, confused, before I proceeded to pick them up off the floor. They didn’t even say sorry. But I tried to ignore what just happened, I placed them back on my table and proceeded with my day. Everything seemed fine after that. That was until I came back from lunch and every everything was gone. My brand new school books and pencil case were gone. I looked in my bag, I looked around my table and I looked around the classroom - I couldn’t find them anywhere. Someone yelled “Look! It’s down there!” I looked out the window and my heart dropped. Someone had chucked them into the garden downstairs and to make matters worse, they were drenched. As some of the people in my class started to laugh, my eyes started to water. I ran out of my classroom to get them, I just remember not wanting to return. Why would anyone do this to me? I never found out who did it.
As the year went on, I still tried to gain some acceptance from the kids in my class. I just wanted to have friends, you know? I wanted to be like everyone else. I noticed most of the girls started to wear their hair down in class so I started to do it, too. Maybe they would accept me if I did the same. They didn’t. Instead, I got stuck with the name “Cousin IT” for most of the year. I tried to not let it affect me, but deep down, it did.
I finally started to become friends with some of the girls in my class. They seemed cool, well cool at first. They invited me to have lunch and everything seemed to finally go my way. I was finally making friends. However, there was one girl who was the “leader/ head girl” of the group. She wasn’t in the same class or anything, she just had been friends with the girls in the past and she was the one who changed everything. She didn’t like the fact that I was around, and she made it very obvious.
Slowly, day by day, things started to change and even I started to change as well. They started making me do things which I wasn’t very comfortable with doing. Stuff that isn't a massive deal these days but back then, it was so far out of my comfort zone. They made me swear, and say words that were inappropriate. This wasn’t like me. They made me spend my own lunch money and give them the food. This wasn't like me. But I felt like I had friends, I didn’t know back then that this was not ok.
At one stage, the latest trend were “von dutch” hats. Everyone had one. These “friends” that I had wanted one, too. So they turned to me. They expected me to buy them for everyone in the group. I tried to, but the day I didn’t turn up to school with them, I was no longer their friend. I was no longer part of their group. I had lost the people that I thought were my friends. I kept trying to reinforce myself that everything ok but I cried myself to sleep that night.
The next day I went school, trying to not let them see how much it affected me. So I put on a smile and pretended that everything was ok. At one stage though, it got a bit much. So I asked my teacher if I could bathroom and I was excused from class. The head-girl from the group must have seen me leaving through her classroom window and excused herself as well. I felt her presence behind me so I went the long way. I went up through another building and proceeded downstairs where the bathrooms were. She was still behind me. I heard her coming closer and closer, and in an instant, I just remember that I was at the bottom of the staircase. She had pushed me down. I was lucky that I didn’t break anything. I was just scratched and very emotional. I remember her saying “Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you tell anyone that I did this, I will make your life hell.” I didn’t know what to do or say. What could I say? All I could do was just lay there for that moment, pick myself back up and then locked myself in the bathroom as a tried to wipe away the blood seeping from my fall. I covered myself up and returned back to class when my eyes weren’t red anymore. I got in trouble when I returned back for taking so long. If only my teacher knew what just happened. She never did, I never told her.
I couldn’t handle it anymore. What could I do? Should I tell someone? Should I act “sick” for the rest of the year? Should I ask to change schools? Should I tell my parents and teachers? All of these questions had one problem, they would spark curiosity to whoever I was asking. Instead, I started to look elsewhere. My brother had been involved in the sport of wrestling for a few months now, I would always go and watch, but I had no athletic ability. I came last at everything except dance. However, it was the closest thing to self-defence that I had access too. So I joined. I stepped on the mat, excited for my first session. I started following everyone else running around the circle for warm up and threw up everywhere. That was the end of my first session. It was a terrible experience.
Determined to try again, not because I liked the wrestling, but because of everything else that was happening in my life at the time, I hopped on the mat and I made it past the warm up. I did it… without throwing up! I remember my dad giving me a pat me on the back as he laughed. It gave me gave me a bit of confidence. I even had a few wrestling matches that day. I fell on my back every time but I started to like wrestling. It gave me something to work towards.
Within a few months, I was actually getting somewhere. I wasn’t giving up on myself as easy. And at 11 years old, I was starting to turn my negative experiences into my fuel. I wasn’t going to let my bullying effect me anymore. I felt safe on the mat, I felt like I belonged there. I entered my first competition and I won. I then entered a few other competitions and I won them, too. If I could have the confidence to stand up for myself on the mat, what was stopping me at school?
It was beginning of October, the week before my first National Championships for wrestling. At school, the same girl that pushed me came up to me again and tried to start a conflict at the end of lunch. All I was doing at the time was sitting down on a steel bench eating my delicious lunch by myself, so I ignored her and didn’t let it phase me. I had this new found confidence that no one knew about. That only made her more frustrated. She tried to act out by calling me names and trying to push me off my seat but this time she was caught, a teacher caught her in the act. I didn’t have to do anything. She got into quite a bit of trouble and didn't bother me at that point in time. The weekend after, I won my first National Championships. I remember my teammates being so proud of me. These people were my friends but most of all, these people became my family. The more I realised that the more I realised that I didn't need those friends who put me down at school. I had better people in my life and I knew that I finally found people who accepted me, for me.
That week was a massive life changer for me. I realised in that moment that standing up for yourself is ok. However, bullying is NOT ok any circumstance. Whether you are the bully or the bystander, you have no idea what repercussions the bullying can have on one person's life.
I am one of the lucky ones. Through bullying, I found something like I love and has given me a sense of belonging. Some kids/people aren’t as lucky. Be kind to others and stand up for people who may not necessarily have a voice themselves. You don’t know how much you can change someone's life.