Bullying continues to be an ugly stain on our society.
Sitting in the sun, surrounded by my family, dad began his celebratory birthday speech.
Choking back the tears, he raised his glass. What I didn’t expect were the next words that he uttered, but they ripped through to the very heart of me.
“To my daughter, AJ, I never thought that I would see this day…that you would be here to share my special birthday.”
I felt like I had been physically punched in the stomach. Throughout the years of my being bullied, attempted suicide and consequent hospitalisation I hadn’t once considered how my parents had felt. The pain now firmly etched on their faces, it was something I would have to tackle head on.
We shared a wonderful birthday, but days after I was still deeply shocked by his words.
Most research related to bullying has focused on the effects on children, the reason being that children bear the brunt of the suffering. However, many parents suffer too.
I visited mum and dad asking them to open up to me. This is part of what they said:
“You’re not the first person to be bullied and you won’t be the last. I can’t remember exactly when it first started but you seemed to spend most of your time either in your room, at the stables or with nan and grandad.
“While Jo (sister) was invited to friends for tea or to birthday parties you were always on your own..
“It was winter when mum was frantic with worry that you never arrived home from school. We didn’t have mobile phones then. You turned up in the dark, black and blue, tights ripped, knees grazed. She was so relieved to see you that she shouted and screamed and still you said nothing.
“It wasn’t until the school summer fayre that we realised something was seriously wrong. We saw you walking with your favourite teacher, Mr Blenkinsop, not mixing with anyone. He told us that you had some ‘trouble’ with the other girls.
“We persuaded you to go to the bouncy castle while we talked – by the time you came back you were in floods of tears, lips cut and swollen where you had been punched square in the face. The culprit came running after you, to where we were standing, still laughing, taunting and shouting abuse.
“I was so angry. Even now, that sense of not being able to keep my child safe is so pervasive.
“We were subjected to calls and visits from the ‘gang’, an odd experience which felt like a home invasion, a violation so sudden and unexpected.
“I was torn between wanting to be your body-guard and letting you lead your own life. A respite came in the summer of ‘82, where you seemed happy spending all your time with Dusty (the horse), your only companion, before starting high school. That first day is engraved in my memory – the day they fractured your skull.
“We searched our hearts and minds for answers but found none. The physical assaults only escalated. The school was of no help whatsoever, ignoring our pleas for help. Yet the psychological effects were far more damaging and it has had a long-lasting consequences for all of us. Your depression kicked in, the destruction had been done.
“Sometimes I wonder if we could have done things differently or prevented it somehow. I will never understand why you wanted to ‘end things’. Your mum was inconsolable. The doctors explained that you needed a rest from life. A grief and sadness overwhelmed me – would you try again? How would you cope with life?
“I fear for children today, the cyber world has opened up a whole new level of bullying. Recent attacks aimed at you have brought back all my fears and worries.
“But we stuck together, and most of all AJ, your mum and I want you to know that we love you very much.”
As hard as that was to listen to, it has made me realise the effect that bullying has on the whole family. I realise just how lucky I am to have the love and support of my family.
No one should be made to feel in danger or fear by others at any point in their lives. It impacts not only the victim but the wider community too. I firmly believe that we all have an immediate responsibility to protect our young. As long as we turn a blind eye to the people who need us most, we will continue to have blood on our hands.
As dad adds: “Think about this – would you deliberately murder someone with a gun or a knife? No. Then why do it with words? Murder can be invisible – as in the taking of a life.”