Today, I am in the public eye as a broadcaster. My work in radio allows me to attend public events, like concerts, as well as to meet new people from all over the world. Part of my job is doing in-depth interviews for my radio show, C.S.I. I get to travel a great deal, too. For a kid who was bullied, it is all reasonably remarkable. I went from being shy and terrified to totally outgoing, living a full, healthy and happy life. The road from here to there was not always easy though.
My experience with secondary school was quite harrowing. Like most teens, my self-confidence was only starting to develop. I had the usual concerns about making new friends and adjusting to new surroundings. However, amid all this adjustment, I was routinely bullied. It was so severe that after only three weeks, I had to leave school altogether. Some people may not understand this. However, it was the best course of action if I wanted to survive, even though it is not at all what I wanted (or needed ) to happen. However, what I wanted was of little consequence to the bullies who tortured me. Nevertheless, at the start of secondary school, it was easy for bigger kids to pick on me. The bullying I experienced was far beyond teasing, however. It was worse. Much worse.
It started one day when I was on the phone with my mother—it was lunchtime. I was the “baby” of the family, and she was extra protective. The school year had only just begun. I remember the phone being ripped out of my hand and thrown against a nearby wall by a pair of older kids. I did not know them. Yet, suddenly, a hand around my throat, ruthlessly choking me. I could barely breathe, let alone cry for help. Even writing about it now puts my stomach in knots.
Though I cannot recall the specificity of the taunts, the sense of utter shock has never left me. I felt frozen in place and could not move. Everyone has these grand ideas about what they would do in a life-threatening situation. Nevertheless, until you're actually in one, it's impossible to know. Luckily, I was able to release myself and run. Grabbing my shattered phone, I quickly redialled my mother, who was wondering about the interruption. However, instead of telling her what happened, I covered it up. Boys are expected to be tough; I felt like a failure, even though I was not responsible for what had happened.
Not being able to share the trauma was very difficult. My anxiety surrounding school only increased. I barely slept and would pretend to be sick, so I did not have to go. However, I could not make excuses forever. Eventually, I would have to go back. It was only the third week of secondary school. This time, I was headed to class after lunch. The classroom was on the fourth floor, which meant climbing four flights of stairs. There were lots of students coming and going in the stairwell, but fewer kids had to go to the fourth floor—which is why my bullies picked this spot to hurt me— fewer witnesses.
A group of older lads I recognized from my neighbourhood seemed to be waiting for me. The usual name-calling and shoving started. I hoped the call to class would end it, but that’s not how things went. My shirt was pulled up over my head, and I was physically pushed down the stairs. As my body hit each step, it hurt, but the taunting hurt more. My body was bruised all over with gashes on my hands and arms that required medical attention. It was strange to hear the secretary later say I was lucky things were not worse—I felt far from lucky in that terrible moment.
When asked what happened, I just made up some excuse about being clumsy. Even after my mother came to pick me up that day, I could not bring myself to tell her the truth. It made me feel weak as if I'd disappoint her. My injuries were so threatening that my parents let me stay home from school for a few days. It was a huge relief. However, when I recovered, I was expected to go back. After the first incident, I was nervous, but I thought it was a fluke. But being targeted the second time shook me.
I was not even aware of conditions like Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD ) at the time. However, today I was suffering from it. I truly feared for my life. Those boys wanted to hurt me. Some said they even wanted to kill me. The thought of going back to school (and back to the bullying ) caused severe anxiety, but I still was not ready to admit what happened yet.
When my injuries healed, my mother wanted to walk me to school—nervous about my new-found “clumsiness." Nevertheless, as we approached the building, my body went cold. I felt drained of all sensation. Once again, I was frozen. Unable to move. That is when I just burst out hysterically crying and shaking, stating I was never going back to the school again. I could no longer hide what was happening.
My parents wanted me to report the incident. So I did, even though I knew it would only make me a bigger target. The Headmaster asked the usual questions, but ultimately, nothing really changed. The school classified the incidents as "bad luck." I was a First-Year, and it was just something that happened. However, why was that the case? “Bad luck” is tripping on your laces and falling down the stairs—not being deliberately pushed after almost being choked to death. School is supposed to be a safe place to learn and grow. However, it was not safe. Not for me.
Child’s Play: The Consequences of Being a “Rat”
The decision was made after a long battle With the Education Welfare Officer that I would leave the school totally to continue my education up to the level of Junior Cert Examination (J.C. ) with a home tutor. The tutor was with me for two years, but government cuts meant I never made it to the J.C. Without the J.C., attending university seemed unreachable. Though I could have tried going back to school again, the after-effects of the trauma made that impossible. Nevertheless, despite the many failures of school administrators and the overall system, I never stopped learning. The bullying did not diminish my intelligence or ambition. Everything I have learned today is self-taught—even how to produce a radio show! Bullies victimized me. However, despite all the difficulties, I knew I was not a victim. I was so much more. It just took time to get to that point: time, and therapy.
The Education Welfare Officer was more intent on putting me back into school, following a series of formalities such as Youth-Reach Programme. Even though these were a desired help group, environments like this were not ideal as I had lost my trust in others because of the bullying. I needed one-to-one support.
Chatting with a Teen Psychologist/Therapist became routine. The sessions were organized by my general practitioner and the Irish Health Board to try and help me overcome what had happened. I was only thirteen at the time. Talking to people I did not know was hard for me, especially after the bullying and having to leave school and my few old and new friends behind. Being in crowds was tough, too. I just never knew when someone might try to hurt me again. The worst of it was not being able to complete the primary education every citizen is entitled to because of bullying. I mean, what kind of future could I hope to have?
My sense of despair only seemed to get worse as time rolled on. The therapist told me to go for a walk when my anxiety overwhelmed me, and one day, I found myself right to the edge of the Galway Canal. As I stared into its cold waters, I barely recognized my reflection. I felt empty, hopeless and helpless with added feelings of disappointing and embarrassing my parents So much so, suicide seemed a good idea. Luckily, two of my friends from my neighbourhood saw me and came over. Everyone knew what had happened at that point. Instead of asking why I was so dangerously close to the edge of the canal, they asked if I wanted to walk back with them and play videogames. A simple kindness, really. However, it was enough to make me feel connected. I was connected and accepted!
Living in the moment has helped me to move forward. However, getting to that point was a process of trial and error. To this day, I'm not sure why I was bullied. Maybe it was because I was shy? Maybe it was because I did not play sport? The good news is that I no longer care.
It is helpful to find a professional you admire and want to be like. A particular radio and T.V. presenter was that person for me. His job seemed fun. He got to work with celebrities and talk about music and pop culture. Watching his career helped me to choose my own.
I now enjoy meeting new people and hearing their stories. My work in radio has taught me that I am a people-person, which would surprise my thirteen-year-old self to no end!
The Youth Advocacy Service in the Galway City Partnership helped me find my desired career path at a relaxed pace. I think it is essential for people also to know that taking Medication to help with anxiety and depression was a tool I used during my teen years as well. There is a stigma around taking Medication, but I'd rather see people heal than contemplate suicide. Never let medication over-rule you. Take charge, if necessary. Today, I have learned to trust people again. It has taken time and effort, but the life I now enjoy has been worth it.
Do I still get nervous? Yes, I do. I threw myself into the deep end when I decided to go live on the radio. Everyone can now hear me, and, my mistakes. However, it is a different kind of nervousness from what I had experienced before. I deal with my feelings from a place of confidence. I feel productive, grateful for having a passion I care about.
If you find yourself getting bullied—even as an adult—get help. Talk to people you trust. Do not isolate yourself. Express your feelings. Use them as fuel to achieve whatever success you desire.
Life is like a rollercoaster; you have to deal with the highs and lows. So, focus on yourself and your wellbeing. Take baby steps if you have to. It may feel tedious at times, but it is worth the effort. You will find YOU. Have faith. Never give up.
Moreover, never let yourself be defined by others. As we are fond of saying in Ireland, ‘what is for you will not pass you’.