I have a secret. It's something I've kept hidden for the past 15 years. Here goes... I was bullied mercilessly at high school for two years between the ages of 14 and 16. It was hell on earth and it destroyed my self-esteem.
Weirdly, that wasn't so hard to say out loud. So why have I waited until now to speak out about it?
It's a simple question but the answer is much more challenging. There certainly was a point when I realized something was up and I couldn't ignore it any longer. It was last summer. I was working in PR and I was on a corporate retreat. My colleagues and I were about to play golf on a stunning golf course in Vancouver. My team was bantering back and forth and chirping the other teams. A joke was made about my lack of sporting prowess and -- as I now understand -- I was triggered. And let me tell you, if you're 29 years old and you find yourself crying on a golf course, something has gone very wrong.
But in my mind, I was 15 again. I saw myself standing on the sports field at high school in a small town in England, being jeered at and picked on. You see, I wasn't a sporty type or a cool kid in school. I loved English literature and I enjoyed drama classes (before Glee made it cool). I was a member of the debating society. I always had my head buried in a book, I wore glasses and I couldn't throw or catch a ball to save my life -- still can't, actually. You get the picture.
While the bullying happened predominantly on the sports field, I didn't find any respite in the classroom. I really wanted to learn and I studied every night and put all of my energy into my assignments. Put simply, I worked my ass off. And while I was proud of my A grades, sadly it provided more fodder for the bullies.
I loved writing. It provided an escape for me. I decided to submit an article to a club for budding junior reporters and, long story short, it resulted in the BBC's Newsround crew traveling to my house and having me present a segment to be broadcast on national TV. As I'm from a very small town, this event attracted local media attention. I was on the front page of the local newspaper. The sandwich board outside the newspaper shop displayed the headline, "Local girl reports for the BBC." I was giddy with excitement.
The next day, I strode confidently into the halls of my high school. The bullies will think I'm so cool! Wrong. It got worse. By the time I sat my final exams, there was a large group of people who seemed hell-bent on making my life miserable. As I walked into school to take my GCSE's, I noticed writing on the wall beside the main entrance to the building. In large red letters screamed the words "Cheryl is a ****." I was distraught.
Flashback to the golf course. I decided it was time to take action. I started seeing a counselor and began the difficult task of dealing with the beliefs and feelings I had built up as a result of the bullying. My counselor helped me identify links between the trauma I had endured and the choices I had made as an adult. Learning about these patterns blew my mind. Before starting this process, I was so deep in denial that I had no idea bullying had negatively impacted my life well into my late 20's.
It's been just over six months now. The journey is far from over. There have been challenges along the way, but I'm so proud of myself for seeking help. I hope that by sharing my story, I'll inspire others to do the same.
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