This time last week I was getting ready for a trip down to London for the first Fry’s Gig ‘Unsigned Mind #1’ (www.frysgig.com) in aid of the mental health charity Mind (www.mind.org.uk/). After an uneventful journey on train and tube, I walked from Angel tube station up to the Old Queen’s Head, where the gig was to be held, and reflected back on one particular aspect of my life.
I was about to walk into a pub, on my own, having met not a single person who was going to be at the gig in real life and ‘knowing’ just a few of the attendees through tweets exchanged on Twitter. This was a far cry from my teenage years, when I couldn’t even walk into my local haunts in Cambridge to meet my friends. Back then, my Dad would drop me off outside and I would wait until one of my friends came out to walk me inside. Walking in on my own, despite the fact I knew pretty much everyone in there, simply wasn’t an option. Why? Because I’d been bullied at school.
I was first picked on in my first year at a private girls’ school in Nottingham. I was targeted by one particular girl – who’d been a ‘friend’ of mine throughout the junior section of the school – although it was a while until we discovered this and I never really understood why. It was silly little things – like my pencil case disappearing from my desk and eventually reappearing days later covered in blotches of ink and unpleasant words – but it was incredibly hurtful and confusing for a 10-year-old girl. Dad changed jobs, we moved away and for the next year, which involved two different schools – another private girls’ school and then a mixed comprehensive – I had no more problems.
After another change in Dad’s job when I was about 13, we moved near Cambridge, where I started at the school I would ultimately be at until I went to university. I joined in the third year and by then the girls (it was another private girls’ school) had already formed firm friendships and split into distinct groups. With my Midlands accent, pierced ears and dyed hair (my mum was wonderfully liberal), I was a prime target. Very soon it became apparent that I wasn’t going to have an easy ride. There was never anything physical – except the small balls of chewing gum flicked into my long hair during assembly – but whispers, verbal digs and harassment in the classroom during registration, during assembly and during breaks. I can’t remember exact details now – perhaps I’ve blanked it out, perhaps it’s just so unimportant to me now in the great scheme of things – but back then it took over my life to the point where life didn’t seem worthwhile.
The bullying was all done very carefully, so that it wasn’t obvious to anyone else. In fact, when I went back to my 20-year reunion last year, some of my close schoolfriends of that time hadn’t realised what I went through because I’d hidden it so well. Others didn’t realise because they were going through something similar themselves and were fighting their own battles. I started to make myself sick in the mornings so I didn’t have to go to school. Mum and Dad realised something was seriously wrong and eventually dragged out of me what was happening. They went to see my headmistress, who wasn’t interested in doing anything. So for nearly two years I had to put up with it – and all of my confidence and self-esteem were sucked out of me. Every morning I registered in the classroom adjoining mine, where a couple of the ‘bad girls’ looked out for me, because I couldn’t face going into my own classroom. Then one day towards the end of the fourth year, my form tutor overhead something being said. She took the three girls involved into a soundproof music room for a while. From that day onwards nothing ever happened again. I have no idea what she said, but she was my saviour.
I’ve come on an awful lot since then. In fact, I hardly recognise myself as that timid, frightened, depressed and desperate young girl. Many things and people in my life since then have helped me to recover my confidence and turn me into the person I am today. Recovering from that period of bullying has probably made me stronger than I ever would have been without, but I would much rather I hadn’t had to go through it in the first place. If only my headmistress had taken action sooner. If only there had been an organisation my parents and I could have turned to for help. There wasn’t back then, but there is now. That organisation is Bullying UK. They’re a charity who receive no government funding. They help 500,000 people a year going through what I went through – and worse – for just £50,000. But that vital help is at risk because donations are so low at the moment. If you can spare anything at all, please make a donation via www.justgiving.com/savebullyinguk to make sure they can continue to help people.