Two things happened recently that have made me think about life and more specifically my own life, all 35 years of it. I found out that I am going to be a father and I watched Ben Smith accept the Helen Rollason award on BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year for raising awareness of bullying of young people. I can still feel the lump in my throat when I think about it.
One of course was a far more life changing thing to happen than the other but both gave me a glaring reminder into my past.
When I was 4 I moved to Stirling from Glasgow. Not on my own, obviously, but that is another story in itself that I will touch on in my next blog.
I’ve always known and have always thought that I was different, what that ‘different’ is I do not know and have never been able to put my finger on it. However moving to a new city with a hilarious accent, or at least it was to my new classmates who would ask me to say the number one (which sounds like wan in a Glaswegian accent to those who don’t know). This would also bring me unwanted attention even at an early age.
As a kid in school, I had been known to ‘act out’ when I was bored in class or if I finished my work before everyone else as it led me to distract others. I was once given a gold star for finishing my work before everyone else only to have it removed and taken back within two minutes – this was a new record! In hindsight, I am sure I would have been judged and placed along the spectrum somewhere, though this was the 1980’s in Stirling and no one had ever heard of acronyms yet never mind ADHD.
Even in primary one, I remember one particular girl and her cousin stealing my ‘Rambo’ gloves and feeling utterly helpless to do anything about it AND that was aged 5. My Mum had to speak to the mother of the girls and it turns out they had binned my gloves prompting their Mum to buy me a new pair. This then meant I would be teased for this.
I wasn’t innocent either and on one occasion I vaguely remember throwing a stone up onto the roof and it falling down and hitting a girl and her needing some attention. Though much like the other handful of times in my life I have hurt people I still carry them and never forget, this often, even still to this day, makes me want to offer up an apology. Years after the incident I met the girl and after a couple of beers too many I apologized and she didn’t even remember it. I am all for forgetting the past but when I’ve been stupid or hurtful I don’t know how to let these things go, the other side of that is that I tend to do less stupid stuff and hurt people less.
My only way of defending myself at a young age would seem to be by being vocal. Often reasons for being picked on outside of being new to the area would be my clothes. It turns out that if you have one stripe less on your tracksuit, you increase your chances of a beating. Trainers weren’t cool enough, hair wasn’t good enough, football shirt from last season wasn’t new enough. Other reasons would be more ‘primitive’ like someone wanting to make their mark on me to flex their muscles and figuratively display their dominance. This was the local bully or bullies wanting to take their shot at someone they would see as a weak link in the community. Other people would escape this due to having a big brother or a big cousin which would always be used in retaliation to anyone ‘starting’ on them. By being vocal it would stop one or two people from beating me up due to the noise attracting others nearby and they would put a stop it, some didn’t care but my lashing out verbally often did nothing but fan the flames of the people looking to put their hands on me and some would seem to enjoy my distress, which is a worrying trend to see in kids.
I for the main part would hide the majority of it from my family. In the 80’s and 90’s living in the Raploch and probably most other small towns in Scotland if not the world you were expected to stand up for yourself, to fight back and to not take any crap from anyone. I wanted an easy life, I wanted to grow up, get a job and build on my early escape plan I had been concocting for what seemed like millennia. Many, many, many people would not let this happen the easy way.
I would do my best to fit in and tried to join the school football team. After the first after school session, I left with the rest of the players and made my way home. There was another boy who had been picked on previously and I think he saw an opportunity to use myself as leverage to pull himself out of the hole that I was also in. He started a fight with me and the other boys decided to join in and help him then before I knew it I felt something against my head while the other boys held me down. It was a gun, a potato gun but I didn’t know at the time what it was. It’s hard to put together the words I felt at that time but it was frightening. Eventually, with a few scrapes, a bloody nose and a severe dent in the self-esteem off I went home. I washed up and told my family that the football team wasn’t for me.
Another time on the way home from primary school aged around 8 or 9 I was chased by 3 boys and if I had been good at anything it was to outrun these bullies. Sadly on this occasion, they met a few more of their friends who banded together to chase me. I made the mistake of trying to cut through a back garden and some of the boys had gone a different direction to catch up with me (who knew 8 year old’s were so organised?!). So there I was in the back garden of a strangers house surrounded by around 7 or 8 boys with nowhere to go. I tried to escape but 4 of the boys took a limb each while the rest took shots each at punching and kicking for absolutely no reason. At the end my face was covered in blood while I stood and let out the loudest ‘aaaaargh’ I had ever done and walked off while they laughed.
Schools were for the largest part either helpless or unhelpful. I remember being told that my mouth was one of the reasons I would end up in these situations and I remember a friend’s Dad telling me ‘I had a face for trouble’ without knowing my full struggle or even taking the time to find out. I believe it’s due these examples that still to this day I despise being simply fobbed off.
When I went to high school it seemed to increase as I would meet the worst people (I’m sure they are delightful now…) from all other areas. Which then would see beatings in the stairwells, the toilets, the dinner queue and even in the classroom. The fear when the teacher would leave (Not all classes, but certain ones) was horrible and I don’t think I will ever forget the time I turned round to see a chair flying towards my head.
I was encouraged to ‘stand up for myself’ and in doing so I brought myself even more trouble. A group of 3 boys cornered me in a corridor and I headbutted one of them in complete anger. This led to the assistant headteacher tell me he was going to suspend me and not any of the boys. I believe this is where I lost complete faith in school and possibly authority for some time. Another assistant head sat me down in his office when I was 15 years old and told me that he knew I no longer wanted to be at school and that he would, if I wanted him too, write me a letter that would allow for me to leave school early as I would be receiving my National Insurance Number shortly. All of this angered me and I chose to stay in school until I was 16.
I left school with General level GCSEs and a slightly bitter resentment of school and people in general. It took me 3 months to get my 1st job and I spent Monday to Friday walking into town every day. I pounded the streets looking for a job and went to the Job Centre and Careers Office every day until I finally got my 1st job. That was all me, I did that. The reward and sense of fulfillment at the end woke me up, I felt reinvigorated and I was ready to remember that I had a plan to get out there and aim for the top of the mountain. The hair was standing on end.
These examples I share with you today (and there are TONS more in my head) I have for the last 20 years or so felt had absolutely no bearing on me whatsoever. However, I have come to the realisation that this isn’t the case. It took me longer to mature than others and a heck of a long time to deal with my emotions.
With my baby boy set to be born any day now, I would hate for him to go through even 1% of what I went through and the fear I felt on a daily basis having to run home from school as soon as the bell rang so I avoided a beating. I will do everything I can in my power to guide and protect him and even then I know I can only do so much.
To those reading, if you or anyone you know suffers or has suffered from being bullied in any form, please tell someone and seek help. Nowadays there are so many organisations freely available that were not available to me. I could have matured earlier, I could have dealt with my emotions better and not saw people through a bitter lens if I had or had someone pointing me towards the right help. It took me a long time to get to the point I am in today where I am happy, confident, passionate and ready to tackle any challenge in front of me and you can too.
This year like every year I organise a stand-up comedy night just before the Fringe Festival begins in Edinburgh in aid of a charity or cause and this year the proceeds will definitely be going to an Anti-Bullying charity and I look forward to donating and researching.
You are stronger than you think.