‘Dear’ A and J,
You were not the only ones, but you were the ringleaders, so I am addressing this letter to you.
I wonder if you realise – or care – how miserable you made my senior school years. I have tried to get in touch with you directly but you have never replied. If I were being charitable, I could assume that you hadn’t received the messages, but why should I be charitable to two people who never showed me a moment’s thought or care? So I am assuming that you either don’t care enough to answer (which would make you simply the grown-up versions of the little shits you were then) or you are too cowardly to face the consequences of what you did, and to apologise for them.
I did nothing to you at school – nothing that would ‘deserve’ the treatment I received at your hands and those of your friends. Not that there is ever any excuse for bullying anyway – but it just adds one more layer to the nastiness, in my opinion. I was an outsider – I moved into the area with my family a year before starting senior school – I didn’t have the local accent, didn’t really have any local friends, and I had been brought up by teachers, so I spoke BBC English, liked reading, and tried hard at school – and as far as I can see, these are the ‘crimes’ for which I was targeted. Plus I was very shy, and didn’t know how to talk to people – which made me an excellent target.
You called me Spewitt – a bastardisation of my surname. You excluded me, and ensured that I had almost no friends, and no good friends until at least my third year in the school. I dreaded school every day. I cried about it at home, and asked my mother for help, but she said ‘Sticks and stones will hurt your bones, but calling names can’t hurt you’. But it did – so much.
I remember hiding out in the library (a room you lot very rarely troubled) and the girls’ loos, trying to keep out of your way. I was desperate to be accepted, but it was not to be.
Even on our last day of school, before study leave started for our O levels, you and your cronies followed me down the road, from the New Wing to the Old Wing, chanting, catcalling and harassing me. Can you imagine what that felt like to a shy, vulnerable girl? I’ll tell you – it was hell. Did you feel brave and macho – a big group of boys, taking on one girl all on her own? Do you like the picture of yourselves that that paints in your heads? It is pretty vile, isn’t it.
Maybe you realised you had gone too far when I didn’t go to English with Mrs Shaw, but skived a lesson for the first time ever. You didn’t know that I was hiding in the music practice room up in the attics, sobbing my heart out, did you? But you wouldn’t have cared – it would have been a victory for you.
Imagine all this is happening to a girl who is important to you – sister, girlfriend, wife, daughter. She is having suicidal thoughts at 14 years old, because of her treatment at the hands of her bullies. She dreads every day at school. Their treatment of her is causing her to become clinically depressed – at only 14 years old.
Fast forward a few years. She has always found it hard to make friends whilst doing her nurse training, and then whilst at university. That is the bullies’ fault, because she doesn’t trust people easily, and she has catastrophically low self esteem, thanks to them. She doesn’t believe anyone really wants to be her friend, she finds it hard to open up to people. That is all the bullies’ fault – do you realise that?
Fast forward again. She is married now, but her ongoing and undiagnosed depression is causing her problems in her marriage. When she has children, she is diagnosed each time with Post Natal Depression – it may be that she is more predisposed to PND because of her undiagnosed depression, or it may just be that the depression worsens due to the stress of new parenthood and the tiredness of having young children. It doesn’t actually matter, because the effects are the same – she finds it hard to bond with her children, hard to enjoy the normal things of life, struggles to do things other people do as a matter of course – making friends, connecting with people, going out of the house.
Actually, her history of bullying is now affecting the lives of her husband and her children too, now – her boys grow up never knowing what it is like to have a healthy mother, one who is not carrying around the black dog of depression day in, day out, struggling to motivate herself even to get out of bed. I wonder what that does to them? It’s not fair, is it – but it is the bullies’ fault, isn’t it.
Another fast forward – now she is nearly 50. Her kids are grown up, or nearly so. She is on strong medication to manage her depression – the side effects are pretty nasty, but they stop her from becoming suicidal again. She looks forward, and can see nothing ever changing for her. Two-and-a-half years of psychotherapy have helped a bit, but she is not cured, and doesn’t believe she ever will be. Which is true, of course – she carries the potential for depression inside her forever now – thanks to the bullying and the damage it did. She may improve, and be able to come off the medication eventually, but she will always have that fear, that she will plunge down into the black pit again. There will still be that nagging voice at the back of her head (the bullies’ voice) that tells her she is a failure, isn’t good enough, no-one really likes her or would miss her if she were gone.
Do you like that picture? Would you want that to happen to anyone you cared for? I hope that knowing you made me feel that way, that you did all that damage in my life and my family’s life, makes you feel like utter shits. That sounds bitter and unforgiving, but that is down to you too. Maybe if you got in touch and apologised, it would help – who knows. But you don’t care enough, don’t have the courage, do you.