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Nikki Newman: My Bullying Hell – And How I Survived

bullying-kids

Okay – deep breath!

In my last Good Enough Mother piece (Are You Too Nice For Your Own Good) I touched upon the topic of bullying – and what I went through while I was at school many years ago.

So it feels like a natural progression from my last piece and a necessary part of my journey here on GEM to write about this topic now. But I’ll be honest, opening myself up like this is hard!

In the past two weeks I’ve heard from two friends whose kids are being bullied at school, one friend is actually moving house, moving towns and schools entirely to escape the hell her son is going through.  I am even more angered that the school in question is the very same school I attended and experienced bullying at over 20 years ago.

For me, things at high school became tangled and confused with my home-life when a friend of the school bullies who were already problematic for my sister and I, became our step-sister. Our personal life ended up as part of the public life of our school and nothing felt safe anymore.

Then, when I started to date a guy in the same year-group as the bullies, things got much worse.  My idea of having a boyfriend at age 15 was to hang out at break times, have lunch together, hold hands and share the odd kiss.  That was it.  But the rumors and names that had started to spread around school were nothing short of vicious and I couldn’t understand it.

What I didn’t know but learned eventually, was that this guy had previously got a girl pregnant and she’d had an abortion.  I had no idea.  But this is where the rumors and names were coming from.  By being associated with this guy I myself was labelled. I felt sick.  I am sure there was jealously at work there too.

Shortly after, we broke up.  I decided I really didn’t like him enough for this kind of hassle. But the bullying  – verbal and physical – continued relentlessly.  Time and time again I went to the teachers, my mom took time off work to come into speak to them, time and time again, But NOTHING WAS DONE.

It was becoming unbearable.  I started to skip school but it was my studies of all things that kept me going.  I would skip school and work on my assignments in the peace and safety of my home.  I’d attend just enough to get to grips with the work, get books out of the library, buy books if need be, and then skip what I could to avoid break times. Books became my refuge – everything from Shakespeare (the witches in Macbeth? Oh yeah, I had my own coven to deal with) to Maya Angelou (‘I know why the caged bird sings’? I did in my own way) – and my work was my voice. It felt like the only way I could show those bitches the middle finger.   By reminding myself one day I’d be out of there and my hard work would take me far away to better things, I felt some hope.  But it was hard.  I’d also started to smoke and drink to deal with the stress.

The worst was yet to come.  An end of year show was planned by the bullies’ year group as it was their graduation year, but they were the main organisers and had free reign.  I heard rumours that they had something lined up for me during the show.

I was nervous but I knew there was not much longer to endure before the bullies left school and my life for good. Before heading to the hall on the day of the show, a teacher called me out of class and told me I wouldn’t be going to watch it.  I was to go with him instead.  What was going on?

While the show went ahead across in the drama hall, I sat alone in a classroom, supervised by the teacher.  Eventually he said as if in explanation: ‘They’re using your name in vain over there’. That didn’t sound good.

Later I found out what happened. During the end of year awards segment, I’d been awarded ‘Slag of the Year’, a prize specially devised for me by my long-term antagonists. Two year groups had watched this, which included all of my peers, my friends, my sister, and all the teaching staff:  300 or so audience members in total.

I was devastated, horrified.

I will tell you that a couple of years later I bumped into the ringleader of the gang in a nightclub washroom.  She claimed not to remember me.  High heels and alcohol gave me the guts I needed… this time, I blocked her way out of the cubicle as she had done to me at school but instead of hurling abuse at her, I demanded an apology. I sure as hell got my apology.  Did I feel better?  A little, but I also felt bad.  This wasn’t the kind of thing I did.  But on the other hand, I guess she deserved it ten times over.

But how come more than 20 years later, the same problems are going on at the same school?  Why are these bullies allowed to rule?  Where are the rights of the vulnerable?

What I realise is there will always be bullies, in every walk of life.  What we can do is learn ways to arm ourselves against them while they are dealt with harshly – yet also of course – constructively.

Despite my attempt in the nightclub at some sort of ‘resolution’ I carried the pain and shame caused by that time around for many years and it reverberated in many negative ways for a long time.  Only later, much later, in my late 20s, did I really start to ask, why was I removed and shut in a room while they were allowed to go ahead to do that?  Shouldn’t it have been the other way around?   I’d had no way of defending myself.  The school had failed in its duty to me.

If I could I would set up workshops for kids who need to know how to deal with this sort of shit:  real, practical survival skills for personal protection. We can support and empower the vulnerable even if the bullies will never be completely gone.

With my own son I have performed role-play, showing him how he can react to threatening people and in threatening situations, giving him the words and the body-language to use.  These things just don’t come naturally to a lot of kids.  We owe it to them to teach them.  Simply saying ‘stand up for yourself’ isn’t enough.  Telling them to ‘tell someone’ is not enough, although it is vitally important.  The vulnerable kids need to know the power they have in them and to know the issues lie with the bullies, not with them.

I found strength in holding onto some sort of goal (a dream) and in doing good stuff for myself  – education – that NOBODY could take away. I could see ignorance all around me and I knew I was not like that.  And the experience then is part of the drive now that allows me to go for my dreams more and more as my life goes on and without apology.

That said – I’m still saddened that nothing has changed. Things MUST change. But what will it take…

Okay – that’s what happened to me… but what were your teen experiences? Were you bullied and how did you deal with it? Do you still carry the scars around today? Or were you a bully who now regrets your actions… I’d love to hear your stories…

Nikki Newman, 36, from England, currently lives in Qatar, where she moved this year due to her husband’s work. A former teacher and proud mother of 7-year-old Oliver, she’s currently focusing on settling her family into their new lives, while also pursuing her passion for painting. To see Nikki’s work please go to: www.nikkinewmanart.com

16 Comments

  1. Remote Patrolled

    July 7, 2011 at 10:19 am

    I’ve known Nikki for almost 2 decades now (OMG I’m getting old!) and she’s one of the nicest, sweetest, most gentle people I know – so hearing this story appalls me. Shame on the school – and the students themselves.

    I myself was bullied a little at school – when you’re a gay kid (though not out) at an all boys’ school you’re going to take some stick. I think you always carry a little of that with you for the rest of your life.

    But success is the best revenge. And Nikki now lives a large, fabulous, inspiring life!

    Thanks for sharing hon x

  2. SusanDevey

    July 7, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Another great article Nikki, and is it really almost 20 years (gulp!)?
    I’ve been there myself, with a group of particularly nasty girls and boys who loved to torment me. I did once manage to stick up for myself in class when I turned on them with a ‘Oh just grow up!’ while a teacher was explaining something to me. I apologised for interrupting him and his reply was something along the lines of ‘Not at all…carry on!’
    If only more schools had such an anti-bullying stance (mine does, thankfully). You can’t believe that in this day and age it still goes on with such venom!

  3. Nikki Newman

    July 7, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Rich, thank you honey! I hope that by putting this up it might just help one person X

    Susan, hi! Loving that teacher! Yes, I think as a teacher I did everything I could to take a stand (I hope) and I am so sure you are too, I’m sure your students feel very safe in your care 🙂 Thank you too for sharing xxx

    The work is nowhere near done though!

  4. Rene Syler

    July 7, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    @Nikki: I just want to personally thank you for being so open. I gasped and had my hand over my mouth as I read it. Kid’s can be so cruel as I am seeing now with my own kids’ peer groups. Anyway, thank you for such a poignant piece. Living well is the best revenge!! xo

  5. Ann Chadwick

    July 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Nikki, powerful blog. As a triplet in a Bradford school me and my sisters all experienced bullying – my sister Britt more so – and teenage years are so very vulnerxable. Wish you could go into schools and talk directly to kids, rather than to parents on a blog, because your words are needed – and you have the strength, compassion and beauty to show them what’s what. Although remember many bullies are weak and vulnerable too – I wonder if it’s the bullies that need help too. Great post hon.

  6. Wanda Reese

    July 7, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    Powerful, Nikki…very, very powerful. Have a good friend and colleague who lost his 14-year old son–just a wonderful blond-headed kid–the result of relentless bullying by older students, so your story truly touched me.\
    Going to direct him to your post.
    Thanks for sharing…

  7. Candy Bradford

    July 7, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    Nikki, Thank you for sharing your story. May I re-post it on my website? Please take a look and see if the content of my site complies with what you are trying to do to help adults and young people. (http://www.cherishyourchildren.com) Thank you, again, for sharing your experiences. Very courageous.

  8. Tiffany

    July 8, 2011 at 1:36 am

    My jaw dropped at some of those things that you described! I seriously felt your pain!

    I went to a small high school where I experienced some bullying, but the faculty and staff were good about staying on top of stuff like that, so I was fortunate. Additionally, I was one of the smartest kids in my class, so not only did that fuel some of the bullying, but since I did so well in school, all of my teachers knew me and I felt like they kept a pretty decent eye on me, which made me feel a little safer.

  9. Nikki Newman

    July 8, 2011 at 2:20 am

    @Wanda, that breaks my heart. My love goes out to that family. I didn’t touch on that in my piece as it’s just such a huge area I would not be able to do it justice but it was always on my mind while writing it. As a mom I feel the pain and want to do all I can to save children and young people like that. It honestly makes my heart ache. Thank you for commenting.

    @Candy I will head over there right now to have a look, it sounds great. Thank you for reading.

    @Ann thank you my friend for your comment. Those teenage years are some of our most vulnerable as you say, which is why this is so important.

    The bullies do have issues and need the right kind of help.

    My concern is getting to the victim first and foremost and forming a protective layer so that they know they are safe.

    Thank you too for sharing that you and your sisters experienced bullying and I am sorry to hear that hon. xxx

    @Tiffany Yes it’s that sense of safety you describe which is so vitally important. I remember that feeling of being unsafe and vulnerable and it was truly terrifying, like anything could and would happen. It fuels anxiety which can fuel depression and then it’s a downward spiral. To feel safe is crucial. I am glad you had great teachers who looked after you. Thank you for sharing!

  10. Rutland65

    July 8, 2011 at 2:25 am

    Now that I am 2.1mtrs tall and 160Kg,people find it hard to believe that I was bullied at school, but I was not always this size. I have always been tall but used be pencil thin, and due to a minor form of cerebal palsey at birth, i walk with a limp, sometimes it is more noticable than others. The disability meant that I was never any good at sport, always the one left when the teams were picked. The names like spastic, and hopalong soon followed, I would find any excuse not to go to school, I used to throw my shoes out the window and tell mum that I could not find them. Kids from higher years used to think it was fun to push me around, pinch my bag or gob in my cornet case. It was a few years after I left school, and had jobs where I worked away from home, and had to be more confident, that my personality developed, and I became much more self assured. But writing this brings some horrible memories back. i enjoyed the studying, but I hated school.

  11. Nikki Newman

    July 8, 2011 at 3:04 am

    @Candy, I would be happy to share this piece on your site! Thank you. Your site and work look inspirational and I’d love to learn more about it. Building self-esteem is the kind of thing I was thinking about with workshops etc…maybe someday I can do something like that. Great work!

  12. Nikki Newman

    July 9, 2011 at 5:12 am

    @Rutland65 Thank you for sharing your story here, that’s very upsetting and I appreciate going over it brings back difficult stuff. You’re right about the moving away and developing, school days and that kind of trauma means you don’t have the freedom, peace or safety to really develop and know yourself, it’s difficult enough at that age anyway!! So well done for going out there, growing and moving past that horrible time. Well done.

  13. Claire Casely

    July 9, 2011 at 7:33 am

    Congrats Sis – very brave, I remember that day well too, the teaching staff were spineless. Talking to kids in schools would be fabulous. Love you xx

  14. Susan (5 Minutes for Mom)

    July 9, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    That is INSANE that the school allowed that awards ceremony to go on and took you aside. I cannot even imagine.

    How frustrating that 20 years later, the issue is still not solved.

    I’ve never been bullied, but I am extremely passionate about educating parents, teachers and children and spreading awareness and solution minded thinking.

    Thank you for this post.

  15. Candy Bradford

    July 11, 2011 at 3:16 am

    Nikki, Thank you for your kind comments about my website. I will have your article posted on it by tomorrow evening. Please check back: http://www.cherishyourchildren.com. My focus is on building the self-esteem in young people and helping parents learn how to make time to interact with and support & guide their kids and instill good, strong values. Since bullying is such a problem, I want to offer ways to teach kids how to deal with it. If your followers have stories they would like to contribute, or advice on what worked for them, I would love to share that with my followers, as well. I’d love to meet you, personally, and maybe we could do something together sometime to benefit the youth who just need someone who cares. Thanks, again, for the permission to reprint your story. Candy

  16. TechyDad

    April 11, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    This is a subject that hits close to home for me. I was bullied a ton throughout school. In high school, a group of kids would follow me from class to class hurling insults. If I changed my route or walked faster to lose them, they’d make more fun of me. I quickly learned to keep all of my emotions and reactions bottled up as it meant less for them to use against me. I built a wall between me and the rest of the world. (It took me quite awhile to break that wall down after high school.)

    They would also block my path into class. One day, while trying to push my way through them, I saw red. I mean I literally saw red. Everything turned red and I angrily looked at the nearest one. I was at my breaking point and was about to do something really violent (completely NOT me) when the teacher arrived and broke up their blockade. Thinking back to that day still scares me as I’m not sure what I was going to do, but it certainly would have injured at least one of the bullies.

    I began to get paranoid. Everyone laughing was, in my mind, laughing at me. I couldn’t carry on conversations while looking people in the eye. In social situations, I’d find myself drawn to the wall, away from people. It took me a long time to recover from it all and, in many ways, I’ll never recover. (My go-to response for conflict is still “be quiet/keep it all inside.”)

    Sadly, my son has already had to deal with bullies. When the administration of the school tried to sweep it under the rug (I was told “he’s not the type of kid to be bullied”), we pulled him and finally moved him to another school where he’s doing much better. Hopefully, he’ll escape the ravages of bullying that I had to deal with, but if he does he’ll have my wife and I on his side.

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