Trigger Warning – Bullying, upsetting read, almost 1.9k word count and only a synopsis of our story.
If I could paint a picture of the pain of bullying I would because a picture can say much more than any amount of words. But I hope my words can help you understand young lives tainted, damaged and almost destroyed by bullying.
Begin by taking a nice relaxing breath and feel the peace and contentment of a happy life…Just breath.
Now I add two children and we see the eldest overcome some challenges, such as being shy, a characteristic of many first children. Because of relocating, we support her through changing school after one year. Our youngest child began life weighing 2lb 9oz and was the best Christmas present we brought home, that Christmas, three months after he was born and daily drives one hour each way. Now laugh with us and imagine the relief of a diagnosis of full health for him at the age of one. No heart murmur. No lung deficiency. No eye sight problems as predicted. We feel proud and happy as we watch him run into school without a backward glance, loving all the new activity and company.
Journey with us as we take another relaxing breath and practice gratitude for two happy, healthy children aged five and seven. Following our heart, values and beliefs we raise them to be loving and kind; to watch out for the welfare of others and to go out of their way to be inclusive and help others feel they belong. Ironic really how the tables turn on us.
Now picture the knot in my stomach as I notice things begin to change… see a tummy bug that needed a few days hospitalisation leave its mark on Emma. Notice her upset going to school, lunch not eaten. Hear her tell stories of her lunch being taken on her. Hear her recount tales of constant name calling, jibing and mocking. Feel her pain as they make fun of her prominent teeth and her love of galloping around the playground instead of running because of her infatuation with horses. Approach the teacher. Get reassurances of an eye on the matter. Confront a young boy’s carer for his bullying of her on the school bus. Get more reassurances.
Soon we notice the tears, bitter tears of being excluded by one or two girls. We watch as more of her circle follow their lead and she’s left feeling frustrated and lonely. School anxiety starts to develop, tears and tummy aches rack her body and people mindlessly comment how thin she is. We see her push her food around her plate…and then around some more. We are at a loss for what to do as family trips to cafes or restaurants become a nightmare.
Soon separation anxiety develops as I carry her into school and peel her off me, as I try to reassure her that today will be better; the children will be lovely and friendly.
Add in lots of GP visits, referrals to counsellors, psychotherapy and meetings with teachers. I feel my own health deteriorate as I battle to cope with fibromyalgia. We watch homework suffering and educational milestones not being achieved. I listen as I’m advised by school staff to have an educational assessment done but in the same breath advised that I’ll have to pay and arrange it privately, again unsupported as the government only fund two per year and more disadvantaged children in her school need it. See some school supports come onboard, extra learning support and confidence building. Pay for a second Educational Psychologist’s report, needed before she enters secondary school, to access extra support there. Watch her adjust well to secondary school, relatively happy during 1st year with no supports offered or thankfully needed.
Feel the kick in my gut as Emma’s happy 1st year turns into an upset 2nd year and a return to more of the same. Bullying begins again with more tears, more anxiety, more loneliness and exclusion.
We try to find opportunities that build Emma’s confidence and self-esteem. We send her to pottery classes and see her flourish and then watch as even in the privacy of her own home she is a victim, as we laugh and enjoy the company of relatives over Christmas, she is hounded online. We witness her stress as two girls send texts with nasty, abusive messages. We contact the Gardaì and find there’s not much we can do. We change her phone sim.
First day back after Christmas we advise the school in case she should be targeted by these girls in person. We receive a phone call from the school. We are told that the two girls are reprimanded. Later I listen in shock when I’m summoned to the school to collect our emotionally upset child having been physically attacked, dragged to the floor by her hair and kicked and punched by one of the girls on the school premises. See the nasty black and blue bruise leave its mark on her skin, knowing full well the ongoing abuse is leaving its nasty tentacles entwined even deeper within. Read horrible lies posted about her on a social media site to slander and ridicule her. We later find out the girl had a crush on a boy Emma was friendly with. We approach the parents. We are kind, we ask for respect, we say we won’t involve the law.
In the meantime we watch her so upset and frightened at home, refusing school for weeks. Myself and Emma listen as we are told by school staff to “build a wall and put it all (the bullying & assault) behind you.” and we support her decision to change school. We feel our own stress levels increase. We grasp moments of self-care but stress and fibromyalgia don’t make for a good mix as I struggle to keep positive and find solutions.
We breath another huge, relaxing breath as she flourishes in her new school. She tells us she feels accepted, she feels part of the group. She no longer feels isolated. We see her take on new experiences and even a school adventure trip for five days away from home.
I gag and dry-retch, I choke and sufficate, imagining how she felt when they poured water down her throat while she slept; minding her own business, doing no harm to anyone!
I almost reach cracking point as I see her retreat into herself, go to school and get phone calls to bring her home sick. One boy begins bullying her on the school bus. It’s more than she can handle. We forfeit the fee. I drive her to school and then drive to work. We face more GP visits, psychological appointments, lots of time and energy draining travel as we again face point blank school refusal. This school has a Home School Liaison Officer and I feel relieved to get some help with mountains of paperwork to obtain home school hours and Emma achieves her Leaving Certificate despite all the torment and abuse.
Years later Emma, and then I, get messages from the bully who physically asaulted her, telling of her regret, her distress, her depression, anxiety and attempted suicide because of what she did. When I receive the message, I am taken off guard and feel a horrific and tangible need to rip that bully apart but instead I hear our amazing daughter Emma say how she has forgiven her…I breath deeply as I read the bully’s messages telling me she was bullied previously and was afraid of being bullied again. She admitted to portraying a tough image by being a bully to prevent further bullying of herself. That day I learned a lesson in compassion and I tell the girl it’s ok, don’t worry, access supports, do well in college, stay in touch.
I try not to think about the other bullies who verbally asaulted and excluded Emma but have never had the guts to apologise. Again we offer it up, practice forgiveness and wish them peace and progression. We have to in order to find peace and progression ourselves.
And later still we witness the distress, we see the anxiety, the new courses; some completed some not. We got phone calls from Emma, living away from home while in further courses telling of her panic attacks. We drive many times to comfort her.
We see her anxiety peak again and watch as her clothes become too big, knowing the anxiety grips her throat and messes with her appetite. We see her busy herself baking and sculpting, trying to ward off the omni-present anxiety, creating things of beauty and we remind ourselves that unfinished courses, a career or thoughtless people who never ask how she is doing but instead ask “what’s she doing with herself” don’t matter one bit and we listen as those parents proceed to recount how their daughter, her peers, her bullies both active and passive, excel and achieved their third level qualifications.
We watch her as she reaches out for help and is told it’s five weeks to see a Counsellor – pathetic public Irish healthcare service. A mix up because I’m busy coping with my own health and trying to work and her difficulty managing her timetable see her inadvertently miss that five week awaited appointment. We all feel frustrated when a phone call can’t reschedule her appointment and we are told her file is closed and she is referred back to her GP. She has to book another GP appointment and must request another letter of referral to a Counsellor from her GP. We practice patience, encourage, hold her and reassure her…soon the help will come.
We see her eat less, fit size 6 clothes and yet her spirit fights on. We both marvel as she learns Dutch with her phone app. We admire how she lobbies every politician for a service dog, unheard of in Ireland but which might just enable her complete a new course by helping her ward off panic attacks on the train.
We share that story here
We encourage her as she appeals to the welfare system for a companion pass so one of us could travel with her on the train. We try hard again to practice and encourage patience as she waits in hope that a human being will pass her application. But even when it’s refused for a second time we remind ourselves that she doesn’t need a travel pass as she barely manages a half hour drive to numerous appointments each week without us having to pull in and stop the car to help her contain the panic she feels. She has a driving licence but driving is not an option for her at present.
So what can we do? We do the best we can do. We trust it will all work out. We believe in her. We just love her and we admire her amazing resilience because we know any of those bullies would have crumbled under the strain years ago.
Oh and by the way, that’s just what was going on for our daughter. Our son was bullied too… but he hid it from us for a long time, instead he showed us his insomnia and isolation. We believe he tried to save us the additional pain of more bullying. I initially tried to share that story in Bullying & Beyond… Painting the pain, part three.
If you think this could help anyone who was or is a victim of bullying realise that they are not alone, please feel free to share. If you have been told by your school that your child was or is a bully, please consider the pain they have or are causing. I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!
Mindfully Marie xx