Hello The Band,
My name is Sarah and I am 22 years old.
When I was 13, I was bullied, and in response I began my nine year (so far) journey with depression and self-harm, followed by a seven year journey with a restrictive eating disorder.
Until now, The Band I have never written or spoken about my story in complete, honest detail. It’s more important than ever that I come to terms with how that individual made me feel.
I still don’t feel brave enough to open up this much to people who know me, so opening up to you, The Band, is the first step.
I was always a shy child growing up. I first found myself a victim of bullying at the age of five. I can’t remember much, apart from trying to hide from those two boys in my year and their cruel words – even then, I never told anybody about what was happening. Despite that experience (which was thankfully short-lived), I always had a good number of close friendships and grew up as a happy, quiet, attentive, little girl.
I moved through the next eight years of my education without any significant hiccups. During the usual childhood friend tiffs, I’d always find a new handful of friends right around the corner. I enjoyed school. I guess the only problem I had (although I didn’t notice it at the time) was that my family was not particularly open.
My parents had been together throughout my childhood (and are now celebrating their second year of – finally – being married) and I had an older sister. Both of my parents worked full-time throughout my childhood, so my grandmother would often walk me to and from school, and look after my sister and I at home.
I have few memories of spending time with my parents but those I have are happy ones. I wouldn’t realize until years later that the emotional distance between my family and I made me a very closed person.For the record, I’m beyond the blaming stage – we are all consequences of our experiences and we can’t change the past. Now we just have to try to learn how to move forward.
I made it to secondary school without too many problems. My first year was similarly successful – I was in the top sets for everything and had a close group of friends. About halfway into my second year of secondary school, not long after my thirteenth birthday, the bullying began.
I remember the first time so vividly.
I was walking home from school with a girl who I didn’t usually talk to much, and the boy in question (let’s call him B for “bully” for convenience) was walking with his friends some way behind us. There was nobody between us.
The next thing I knew, I heard him shout “Sarah, get your tits out!”
Instinctively, I turned around, stuck my middle finger up at him and continued walking. The girl I was with asked me what he’d said, but I pretended that I hadn’t heard the exact words.
I still remember my heart dropping a beat when he’d shouted, but I went home and got on with the day, not thinking much of what had happened. I didn’t know that it would change so much.
The next time it happened, I was walking home alone with B walking with his friends behind me. This was the start of countless occasions almost identical in content:
He would, on an near-daily basis, shout three words down the street at me: “Sarah saggy tits.“
I was (and still feel) so ashamed but I didn’t feel I could tell anybody. I’d never even judged my appearance until that point. I hadn’t noticed that I was developing faster than the other girls my age, and it made me feel like I was disgusting.
I hated my body, because (in my head) that was the reason this was happening. It didn’t take long for the self-hate and anger to kick in.
The first time I purposely hurt myself was following one of these incidents. I got my mathematical compass out of my pencil case, took off my trousers, and dragged the tip over my thigh several times. It felt so good to actually DO something, because I’d felt so helpless.
The next day, after B had done exactly the same thing, I tried to self-harm again. Problem was, I didn’t have quite so much anger and self-hatred built up, so had trouble making myself do it.
I was desperate for that release. I started drawing lines on my legs with pen and methodically scratching at them with the compass until all the pen had been scratched away. It didn’t take long before I didn’t need the pen, or before I used more harmful instruments, and moved to other parts of my body.
All the while, I was doing whatever I could to avoid walking in front of B on the way home from school. I would stand around the school gates, until the number of people dwindled so much that I was almost sure that he’d already left (sometimes it succeeded, other times it didn’t). I also started slowing down to the pace of a snail if I saw him ahead of me on the path.
After avoiding B on the way home for a while, he started bullying me in other ways, although he never used those words anywhere but on the walk home.
He began trying to trip me up around school. Having to see him in classes every day was torture. For the first time in my life, I hated going to school. I’d be anxious every morning and would feel sick at the thought of going in.
Then, the bullying started on the Internet, too.
We all had these “websites” and he would use his to bully me further – publicly. He’d post comments on his page, pretending to be me, saying horrible things (the most memorable being that I masturbated at the image of this unpopular guy at school).
Everyone saw it.
Nobody said anything, but I knew they had.
And B was relentless in his bullying, both in person and cyberbullying.
The first time I tried to be more aggressive to stop the bullying was after the online bullying had begun. Apart from what he’d said about me, he’d also followed a young teacher home and posted her address online. I used this to report him to the site host and his account was deleted.
For a short while, the bullying paused. However, my friends told me that B knew I was the one who’d gotten his site taken down, which meant that he was clearly still saying things about me.
After a few weeks, the three word harassment on my walk home began again. The next step I took was to tell my head of year about what he’d put about that teacher online. My friends were called into the head of year’s office and she asked them about what he’d written. They told her about the teacher and that B had written things about me on there, too. This teacher didn’t speak to me again, but B was suspended for a grand total of three days.
He never bullied me again, clearly knowing that that had been his punishment without me mentioning what he’d put me through.
About half a year after it started, the bullying was over.
However, the damage was already done.
I was depressed and self-harming on a daily basis. Self-harm became my way of coping with every negative feeling I had. I tried to stop a number of times, but always ended up self-harming worse when I gave in. It was also around this time that I learned my closest friends were talking about my self-injury behind my back. Everybody knew about my self-harm, but nobody approached me about it. Again, I changed groups of friends and, thankfully, was not alone.
I was 15 and just about to start my last year at that secondary school. My appetite was greatly suppressed by my depression and I’d often only eat one meal a day.
It was just before starting school that I consciously decided to stop eating. I began weighing myself every morning, before putting a few drops of milk into a bowl to make it look like I’d eaten, throwing away my lunch on the way to school, and reluctantly eating dinner with my parents each night. About three months later, I was at a BMI of 16% and my parents had noticed something was wrong.
I spent a few days pretending to be ill so that I didn’t have to eat anything, when my mother told me that they thought I was starving myself. I laughed it off and went back to eating properly. I lasted a week (and a 5 pound weight gain) before my emotions caught up with me.
It was then that I became trapped in the cycle of trying to lose weight and self-harming. Sometimes, I made myself sick, I over-exercising, one or two times of laxative abuse, quite a few minor overdoses, and lots of self-harming and cutting.
Since this started, I’ve seen quite a few different therapists.
The longest I’ve been without cutting is four months, and I’m currently coping better with the eating disorder than ever before. I’m still struggling quite a bit, but without this experience, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
I’m 22 and I’m on my way to my dream career as a researcher. I am just starting my PhD in psychology, with my research topic greatly inspired by what I’ve been through. I’ve come a long way since the first time B shouted at me. I still have problems with depression, anxiety, self-harm, and making myself eat enough, but I’m so much more confident, knowledgeable and open than I was back then.
I have a massive way to go, but I’m encouraged by how far I’ve come.
There were a couple of times that I came really close to telling a teacher what I was going through, but I never had enough courage to do it. I can say now that things may have be a lot easier if I’d been brave enough to say something.