My school life started at the nursery situated across the road from my parents first home together – a 2nd floor council flat in a squat block built in the 1960’s that formed the front boundary of a grey and typically uninspiring estate.
Of the school I remember the layout clearly. The large tarmac playground enhanced by a grass strip along one edge, the long low building of dark red smooth bricks where the majority of children were introduced to the joys of learning, and the two porta cabins where the ‘big’ children went. Although, I think now that the latter were in fact receiving the first year of their primary education.
My best friend and I would play together during every break but I cannot recall that we ever saw each other outside of that environment. My neighbours daughter attended the same school, and although she joined us in our fun and games frequently we also spent a lot of time in each other’s company outside of school back in our block.
I recall with a certain wistfulness of me and her being quite mischievous and utterly carefree. It occurs to me though that the friendship with my neighbour may have only spanned a single year of our lives – the year from starting nursery to the time me and my parents relocated to our new council house in one of the nearby towns.
That year was probably the last year that I did not experience the long term impact of some trauma.
That year was probably the last year in which my sky was clear and free of clouds.
My next school was much bigger and there were many more children than I was accustomed to. My first day was very daunting and being 5 years old I had the opportunity to cry publicly and with impunity as my mother said goodbye to me at the building entrance where my teacher waited. Contrary to those first day nerves I settled into the new school quickly, and before long I was playing soldiers and kiss chase with a whole new set of friends.
Yet by the time I moved to the other side of the school, at the age of 8, I had gradually, and in retrospect quite inexplicably, transformed into a loner. I did not want to be, it just seemed to be the way things were – I had a couple of tenuous friendships and was finding it almost impossible to find new friends. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, and it was upsetting to feel so lonely with so many of my peers around me.
Eventually I discovered an equally lost soul to befriend. A boy who had just moved into the area who was faced with a sea of strangers. We bonded quickly as a result of our shared predicament and every break we would engage in light hearted play and discuss matters such as the latest episode of whatever fantastical TV show had captured our interest.
Unfortunately this was the year that the bullying started. I might be invited into a gang simply to provide a source of derision or cruel entertainment, or a group of girls would pair me with an unfortunate victim to humiliate and demean beyond any prior accomplishment. Eventually the bullying became physical and I was frequently punched and kicked repeatedly – sometimes with a frantic chase as an appetiser.
I learned quickly to scan the playground for the bullies so that I could attempt to reposition my activities at a safe distance. This failed so often that I eventually began to limit my play to the vicinity of a patrolling adult. I also learnt that telling an adult of an incident would result in nothing more than a few stern words, and renewed vigour from the bullies involved at the next available juncture.
School had become miserable.
At some point I began to be disruptive in class and difficult to handle. The concern and consternation of my teacher was enough that eventually I was sent off-site to a special needs unit once a week. One of the dinner ladies doubled as an escort and we would catch the bus to the single, but large room, that was annexed to another school. The unit was run single-handedly by a friendly and happy elderly lady who made everyone feel good, almost as if her joy was infectious. I don’t recall how long I had that source of calm and safety in my weekly routine, maybe only half a year, but I grew very attached to the whole experience, especially the old lady, and was quite distraught when it ceased.
Eventually I reached the end of my time at primary school and with relief and optimism I considered how much better life would be at the all male secondary school I was to attend. No more fear. A fresh start.
I was sorely mistaken. Many of the boys from my primary school had also been sent to the same school as me. Too many. Not only did I have to endure many of the original perpetrators of my daily torture but I now had a whole new set of candidates who one by one learned that there was tall boy to victimise. What better way of proving your worth than to terrorise someone a good few inches higher than yourself!
And so five years of purgatory ensued. There were those who would hit when I walked past and those that would seek me out. I would be ridiculed because of the colour of my skin or the way I would raise my knee to protect my groin during an assault. I would be derided over my interests or because my sports attire wasn’t fashionable enough.
At the end of the second year one particularly nasty young specimen decided to take it upon himself to rally all the bullies in the school for some end of year excitement. I was told as one or another passed me throughout the day that they would all be waiting for me at the school gate after the final bell. I was more scared than I had been in my life, and maybe more than I ever have been since. Anxiety grew within me over the course of the day until the final bell sounded. As each classroom ejected a score or more children expressing sheer joy for the commencement of the summer break I carefully made my way through the throng to the upper most floor. As I did the occasional voice could be heard saying “we’ll be waiting for you”. As the other children dispersed I remained in a building transformed from a circus of activity and noise to a shell of deathly silence. I waited and waited, moving from floor to floor, unable to see outside through windows beyond the doors of locked classrooms and offices. After nearly two hours, as I was becoming desperate, a late working teacher discovered me on the stairs and enquired about my presence. An explanation was enough for him to offer service as a bodyguard on my journey home. As we exited it was evident that the other boys had given up – there was no one there. Despite this I was still accompanied, and I was not only thankful but I briefly felt the warmth of a single ray of light through my cloud – thank you for helping a scared young boy.
My first ever thought of suicide came during my first year of secondary school. I had gone from the frying pan into the fire. I had been unable to escape. The display of aggression by the bullies had more impact than their punches and kicks. The thought of the aggression I would face each day made me anxious and fearful, and this weighed on me with increasing magnitude. My thoughts of suicide, would become a desire, and occasionally as I lay there crying in bed at night the desire would become so great that I would try to suffocate myself with my pillow. Of course, it couldn’t work – but the outcome may have been different if, despite my naivety, I had known of other ways.
I feel so very angry now when I see bullying.
The bully is weak in their need to exert power over another who cannot resist in order to validate themselves. I wonder though what hell the bully has suffered to develop that need? I can imagine, and for that I feel sorrow and pity, but their experiences cannot validate that kind of behaviour.
I know that a large factor of my low self-esteem is a result of the bullying I endured but I don’t know how to dispel that impact. I’m sure that the shaking I exhibit when I get angry, and even when my anger subsides, is caused by those years of conditioning. I avoid confrontation in the same way I avoided the bullies.
My schooling could have been so much happier…
Was this the start of my BPD? Or did my BPD pre-exist and make me an easy target?