Bullying for me started at a very young age, I was in primary school about the age of six. Even from that age, I stood out, I was different. I don’t know home but somehow my behaviour was different from that of my peers. I hardly made any friends at that stage in school, I never really had the opportunity as most of the time I was in and out of hospital with check ups and tests from my abnormal walking. My condition had started developing at this stage which was becoming much more visible. When I was in school my peers would make fun of me. My walking was different, I was constantly falling over and I couldn’t play sports and when I did, I was clumsy. It started with name calling and believe me kids can be so cruel. Bent, peg leg, spastic just to name a few. At the beginning I didn’t understand what the were referring to so I laughed it off or ignored it. It was only as it started becoming more frequent and more obvious that it started to make sense. To begin with I protested, I attempted to defend myself but it soon stopped as I felt I was fighting a losing battle. I didn’t speak to anyone, I didn’t know what to say. I felt ashamed and lacked the confidence that my complaints would be taken seriously. The teachers were aware of it yet did nothing. I remember after I had surgery for the first time at age 7, I went back to school in plaster and during recesses, I sat with children younger than me all because the teachers wanted to protect me from the rough and tumble of my peers. My bonding period, the time intended for developing friendships was spent with 4 and 5-year-old. I made daisy chains with them during spring and summer.
The situation become worse when I began junior school. In class, my belongings started disappearing. Either they were stolen or hidden. My parents bought me new stationary almost each week purely because it went missing so frequently. My work books went missing too for which I received harsh words from my teachers every time I complained. My work would be scribbled on or damaged. I had no friends to defend me or stand by me, I stood alone. On one occasion, during my maths period my stationary went missing so I couldn’t complete the set task. When the tutor requested to see the amount of work I had done I had one maths equation to show for an entire hour. I will never forget that day. The tutor, Miss Whealan only saw what was on the page, not what was behind it. She felt that I was unable to cope with the level of maths work I was being set, so she put me down a level. It was the first time I cried in class. I knew even at such a young age that it wasn’t my academic ability that was a problem, I knew I wasn’t struggling or finding the tasks difficult. It was everything else. Little did the tutor realise and know at the time that this downgrading would affect my confidence in maths for the rest of my life. No one accepted responsibility for what happened that day. Some of the smaller incidents were always overlooked. A fellow pupil standing on my legs while I screamed for him to get off, being trapped between the tables with a chair being thrown at me, hitting me with a lunch box in the face and across the head and of course the famous flushing my head down the toilet and then throwing me into the bin. Tears were just watering eyes and silence was considered acceptable as well as appropriate. Another incident I remember was when I was in the final year of juniors, a year before secondary/high school. We were given fountain pens to write with by the school. It was to show us we were now growing up, more responsible and it was expected of us to behave in such a manner. I was so very pleased with my new fountain pen, like any 10-year-old, I kept it safe and close. It was a new toy almost. This joy was short-lived as pens started going missing and nibs were being damaged or broken. I wasn’t spared either, in fact the first ever fountain pen my parents purchased for me ended up beyond repair and was eventually disposed of. One afternoon while I was on the receiving end of harsh works from my form tutor, one of my peers kindly informed him that she had seen me damaging the nibs of fountain pens. My heart skipped a beat. I knew this was untrue but I also knew that my protests would fall on deaf ears. Her words, “Also Mr Kelly, I’ve seen her breaking the nibs of ink pens. She has also broken them off pupils personal pens too, I saw her yesterday.” My tutors response, “Oh is that so? So as well as not concentrating in class and causing trouble you’ve been damaging property too. Sit and do your work while I go and find out about these broken pens.” I sat in my seat petrified. I knew what was coming. The form tutor next door informed Mr Kelly that such incidences were occurring. I was called into class stood in front of everyone and yelled at for my misbehaviour. I was labelled irresponsible on the words of an 11-year-old who had clearly lied about what I had done. It was the first time I felt humiliation, but by no means the last. With no fountain pen, my school year ended, juniors was finally over.
High school shaped my teenage years as well as my twenties. I entered high school as a timid, withdrawn and lonesome girl. I was 11 I knew no one and I had no confidence in myself. I never told anyone about my condition, the anxiety surrounding people’s reactions was not something I could contemplate. The school year started better than I expected, my peers would talk to me and actually included me it things which they did. But it was short-lived, an illusion. Soon they all found out about my condition and I became the target of all forms of abuse. The names came first; bent browner, peg leg, spaz, etc. So called friends I had made began to drift away and then join in the ‘fun’. The spat at me, called me disgusting and a loner. My peers tripped me up on purpose just to see me fall and for them to laugh. Everyday, without exaggeration, I went home with at least one bleeding knee or one other form of injury. I would walk into class and people would start calling out names or would pull my chair away so I would fall. I look back now and smile at the smallness of their pranks, the smallness of their minds and it baffles me to think what they actually obtained from it all. Science was probably the second lesson in which my peers had the most amount of fun with physical education being the first. I hated, I mean absolutely hated PE but I was forced to take part as it was a curriculum requirement that all pupils take part. I had no options or choices. They had a field day watching me run, watching me fall and watching my faulty coordination. It was humiliating not being able to run in the same manner as others but worse still was the fact that I participation was a requirement. I became a laughing-stock.
One particular incident at school really stands out today. It was a winters if my memory serves me right which is a for me, even today. My school was fair large, build generously over a large piece of land. During lesson change, it was a long walk between rooms so I was often late. On this particular day, I on my own or at least this is what I thought at the time. The route encountered some steps on the way, and as I walked down them a peer from my class came and barged passed me while hurling abuse at me. The abuse in the form of bad language and racial comments didn’t affect me as much as I had become accustomed to it. What did hurt in the form of excruciating pain was my right foot. I lost my balance but remained standing, although just barely but the loss of balance somehow led to my foot being in an extremely unusual position. I heard and felt a crack. The pain shot through me as if it were lightening. I never realised at the time that I had actually suffered a fracture. The classroom felt like it was at the greatest of distances. I walked slowly arriving at least 20 minutes late. All my peers had already arrived and class had commenced. “What time do you call this young lady?” asked my English teacher, Mr Brooks. I apologised and attempted to explain the reason for my lateness. It fell on deaf ears. At this point my foot was throbbing, I felt dizzy and sick, I was also sweating profoundly. I sat at the back of class trying to control the pain, a pain which was very new to me. As I was sat along I had the urge to take off my shoe to see the damage. I usually found that once I had seen the extent of the injury I felt calmer. There was just swelling which I expected but the pain was tremendous. I couldn’t understand it. During lesson my peers felt it necessary to play more pranks on me. One of them walked past and threw my books across the room. The teacher was absent from the class at this point. I was forced to get up to retrieve my books. The laughter of all my peers watching me walk still haunts me today. Worse still, they believed I was faking it, putting on a show to attract attention. So, one of the boys who particularly had an interest in bullying me came and stamped on my foot. The broken one. I screamed and fell to the ground at which point the teacher returned. “What on earth are you doing on the floor?! Get up off there and sit back down on your chair, you’re not in play group anymore!” Staggering heavily, sweating profusely and in indescribable pain I sat on my chair. The remaining half an hour felt like a thousand hours. After class finished, everyone left and I was of them course the last. I was on the top floor of a three floor old house. Climbing up was hard enough but I never knew that going down would almost kill me. It took approximately half an hour. Little was I aware that just before the last set of stairs, I had my peers waiting for me. My heart skipped a beat when I saw them. I walked slowly down the stairs past them without them moving. All the while my heart in my throat, mind wondering what on earth was to come next. I was almost at the bottom when one of them grabbed my arm and pulled me down the stairs. I was on the floor by the time I got to the bottom. I heard laughter around me, cheers and sniggering too. I somehow managed to get back on my feet, and whilst dragging my broken foot and school bag, I went to the school office to call my parents. After this I cried. I have never cried so much. X-rays proved it to be a fractured toe. I ended up in plaster for 6 weeks with nothing but an apology from the teachers for the distress caused. This particular incident reinforced to me the notion of vulnerability and being disabled. It stayed with me for a very long time.
As a child I went through a great deal of abuse and bullying yet it went unnoticed. Those around me were invisible to the anguish I suffered. These and many other incidences occurred in my life, many which I cannot even recall clearly. But its all taught me a great deal too. Today I’m not the vulnerable girl who was dragged down the school stairs with a broken foot. I’ve accepted that at the time I was very weak but such vulnerabilities don’t pursue me anymore. These incidences and many other have made me much stronger to fight and defend myself. I cannot at all deny that it was difficult, it was and some scars still remain. I blame not myself or my perpetrators, but the teachers for failing to notice. It’s from this time onwards that the invisible me was born.