When Bullied Children Grow Up

It’s been about 4 years since my diagnosis of Complex PTSD following severe psychological childhood bullying, and subsequent domestic violence relationships.

I was diagnosed a full year before I accepted that diagnosis. I left that therapist the moment she suggested the PTSD, and that it began with the bullying, because I had never associated the way that “friend” treated us as bullying. I’d merely seen it as one girl being a real bitch.

My counsellor came to her conclusion by asking me to detail my early childhood experiences. She had suspicions that the symptoms I was displaying were related to early childhood trauma, but I think that initially she suspected some sort of family abuse, until she heard about the loving and accepting and nurturing environment that my family had given me.

That’s when she began asking me about my experiences with friends, with school, and then with men.

That bullying label she applied to that girl.. it came as a shock. Through our sessions, I began to detail specific incidents; and in doing so, remembered more of them.

In order to explain the specific type of bullying I experienced, it’s probably easiest to liken it to a domestic violence relationship.

That girl started out sweet, and friendly. Within a very short period of time, she changed direction and would cast one of us out every couple of days, forcing the rest of us to go along with it under threat of being the outcast; the girl who nobody was allowed to speak to, the girl the group would whisper about behind their hands, the girl who would be laughed at and humiliated and occasionally pushed around the playground.

At 8 years of age, it’s a very scary and confusing experience, to have people that you love treating you in such a manner, with absolutely no explanation as to why.

What was more damaging was what happened when she decided your time as an outcast was over – she asked you why YOU had ignored THEM.

I now know that there’s a term for that behaviour, and it’s designed to make you question your own perception, to take the power away from you, the power that allows you to stand up for yourself. It’s called Gaslighting.

She began to control every aspect of our lives, both in school and out of school.

She decided which boys we should have a crush on. The boy she picked for me was a boy I actually had a crush on. She told me to ask him out, I did, she then became jealous when he bought me a gift, and she told me I had to break up with him. I did that, too.

None of us were allowed to have sleepovers without her being present. If we did, we had to keep it secret, so we couldn’t go back to school the following Monday and laugh and giggle about the silly little things we’d done. We had to tiptoe around each other and pretend nothing had happened.

It was rare for us to dare her wrath because inevitably, the girl you’d invited over, when she felt she was next in line for being outcast, would dob you in to protect herself. We all did it. It taught us that we couldn’t trust anyone, especially each other. We learned to keep happiness a secret, in case it was used against us.

We all discovered quickly that none of us were allowed to excel in anything. Some of us deliberately failed exams, others held back their sporting potential, and each of us tried desperately to become her Best Friend; the one afforded protection over all others.

She constantly accused us of having a secret.

Have you ever tried to prove you don’t have a secret? You can’t. You simply get accused of lying, regardless of what you say, and the conversation goes round in so many circles, with them suddenly changing direction, or throwing in another accusation, until your brain is so confused, and exhausted, and too full of anxiety over the consequences of this conversation that in the end, you just admit to something to make it stop – the punishment is preferable to the interrogation.

My first romantic relationship was practically identical to my relationship with this bully. He employed all of the same tactics, and threw in a whole bunch of cheating to go with it. The gaslighting, though. He was a master, and the end result of all of that relationship was a girl who didn’t believe in herself, her memories, or her own feelings. Everything I thought, felt, or saw was incorrect, so I lived a secret life on the internet, with friends he was unable to touch. It was the only place I had ever been allowed to learn who I was.

A year after that initial diagnosis, I went back to my therapist. I finally believed her.

From then, my mind was a place I didn’t recognise. All of the barriers I’d created over the years had been broken down, but life itself hadn’t stopped to allow me to process it. I didn’t know how to cope. It was touch and go for awhile there, with so much rage exploding onto the people I came into contact with, and the destruction of some dear relationships.

But I learned how to cope. I learned how to process it, and I learned how to put the pieces of my past together with the reactions of my present. I healed, I became a more productive member of society, I lost all that rage, the self-hatred, and a fair chunk of the shame I’d been carrying for the majority of my life. I don’t have panic attacks, I don’t react to current situations in a manner affected by all of my past. I can quite confidently say that my C-PTSD, while it will always exist within me, no longer affects my daily life.

It’s been a good four years.

I had a beautiful baby girl, who had some physical challenges in the form of Developmental Hip Dysplasia, but my therapy and diagnosis gave me all the tools I needed to get her and ourselves through it unscathed.

She’s recently started a couple of days a week at Day Care. It’s an exciting opportunity for her to socialise with other children.

While it’s a wonderful opportunity for her, I’ve found that it’s been quite triggering for me – I wasn’t expecting that.

My daughter is pure sunshine. She’s friendly, and happy, and loves to share. She adores other children, and gets so excited to spend time with them. What’s triggering me is the fact that at the moment, it’s her chasing after them.

It’s a silly thing to be hurt by.

I only see her at drop off and pickup; an emotional time for all of the children. It shouldn’t affect me that those children stick to the kids they already know, but it upsets me to see my daughter on her own so much. If she engages with another child, it’s because she initiated it, or she sits on the periphery, smiling or laughing at what they’re doing, just waiting to be invited to play.

This is most definitely a situation where only time will help. She needs to settle in to the environment and the concept of being away from her family for hours on end. They all need time to get to know each other. I know that once they’re comfortable, they’re going to adore her and she won’t even need an invitation to play.

I know that this is a situation where I need to remember that my experience is not her experience. I’m desperate for her to know something that I never did – the pure, guileless love of a friend you can trust. A friend who cares for you enough to stand up for you. A friend that you can spend time with, without worrying that the fun moments you’re sharing are going to be erased the very moment they dob you in for inviting them over.

I’m not worried that I will taint her experience with my own. I know that I can keep my hurt from clouding her life, because I was given the tools to do so.

I am just surprised by the extent of the damage done to me by one little girl, over a period of five tiny little years. Experiences that ended 20 years ago but are still resonating within my subconscious, despite therapy and all the work I’ve done to heal from them.

I’m not angry about it, I’m not hurt by it (anymore). I am aware that her behaviour had to have been due to her own experiences in her own life. I can’t blame an 8 year old girl for not having the tools she needed to deal with whatever traumatic situation she was experiencing. Her behaviour ended up putting me in that same position, years later.

I am just… surprised. I am in awe of the power of the brain, and of the consequences of traumatic childhood experiences.

I am also now more prepared for the future; for the days my daughter comes home crying because someone was mean to her. They’re going to trigger me. They’re going to make me angry, and they’re going to *hurt*. I am determined, however, to encourage my daughter’s natural empathy for the suffering of others, whilst helping her to cultivate a healthy self-esteem.

That’s far easier said than done. My own parents did exactly the same things for me, and I still fell into this trap. I refused their help when they tried to intervene. I forbade them from contacting the school or her parents because by that time, the damage had already been done. Just like with that high school boyfriend, I needed that bully to love me. I believed both of them when they told me that nobody else would want me, so I did all I could to become what they wanted me to be. Of course, what they wanted me to be was broken and in their control, so nothing I changed about myself ever made a difference, except in the damage it did to me.

For now, I’m going to work on putting my own feelings aside, and focus only on the positives that this new day care experience is providing for my daughter.

Hopefully, by the time bullying starts, I’ll have developed a strategy for helping my daughter through it.

You know, that… or schools will have actually done something to address the epidemic.

The new, shiny leaf on which I now sit

Hello everyone.
It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?
The three of you who read this have most likely stopped checking your reader for my posts, so… surprise! I’m not dead!

In fact, I’m more alive than I’ve been my entire life. A very, very lot has happened since I last wrote and it will be a real task to condense it, but here goes!

Almost a year ago, during The Giant Breakdown of 2012, my psychologist said she would be inclined to diagnose me with PTSD from childhood bullying.

I, of course, thought that was a load of horseshit because I’m not a soldier, wasn’t in an horrific accident, and I wasn’t bullied – I just went to school with a mega bitch.

Fast forward 12 months through the absolute mess I made of my life, and I found myself in deep contemplation over my past, my future and the stress that was my present. What I discovered was a small fire that was lit under that concept she had mentioned.

I began to believe her. And then I began to remember.

There is little point to rehashing the torment that bully put us all through. It serves no-one but the curious. Suffice it to say, she came to our school when we were 8 years old, and she turned our happy group of girls into one whose members spent every morning almost vomiting before leaving for school, stress and anxiety working its way through tiny little bodies and minds far too young to understand what was going on or how to deal with it.

What she did to us, if it was done to a spouse, would be considered domestic violence; mental and emotional torture.

She bullied the way only little girls are capable of.

I thought I had made it through unscathed, in fact I stood up to her a fair bit and could be quite the defiant little thing when I needed to be. What I didn’t realise was that the things I was experiencing were wiring my brain in such a way that as time progressed, those feelings would constantly reappear despite the present circumstances being completely different.

I’ve always known there was something wrong with me. Something wrong with my brain, something that made me confused, constantly, about my own feelings – something that alienated me from even my closest people. I thought it must have been mental illness of some description, but I was looking only at the symptoms, never even considering that the source could be something from those days in primary school.

Well, the good news is that I now know where my brain started going a little bit wrong, and it seems that that’s all I really need to know in order to take control of it.

My psychologist explained that PTSD doesn’t make you feel like something in the past did. It feels exactly the same now as it did back then, only it’s a totally different scenario and thus, my reaction can be entirely inappropriate – and confusing as hell for everyone involved.

That explains my entire life, from high school to today.

To today.

That’s the big thing here, guys. It seems that simply acknowledging her diagnosis was all I’ve needed to do to give myself back the power I relinquished to that little girl all those years ago.

I don’t hate her, I don’t even blame her. She must have been going through something terrible herself to need to force people to like her, to play with her, and to control their every move, even their thoughts. She was also 8 years old, and clearly too young to process her own troubles.

In a short two weeks, I’ve managed to acknowledge that diagnosis, and as uncomfortable and weak as it makes me feel to be almost 31 years old and still deeply affected by being picked on, I don’t just acknowledge it, I accept it.

I’ve begun to remember things, and not only remember them, but find the connection between that feeling from then, and the present day scenarios in which that feeling repeats itself. It’s like finding a skeleton key to all the locks in the city – all those secrets, they aren’t secret any more. I finally understand myself.

Already, with reactions that I’ve had for years, while they still rear up instinctively, I am able to put them in their place as a “then” feeling, not a “now” feeling, and in doing so, I am finally able to say what I want without the crippling fear of it being the wrong thing, and the reason I get left alone on the seat under the tree.

To me, it finally feels that I am allowed to have the future I’ve dreamed of, but not felt worthy or capable of attaining.

I was a beaten down 8 year old’s emotional mind, trying to navigate an adult world. A world in which I created even worse problems to overcome. PTSD tends to lead its people into abusive relationships.

I once had the opportunity to date a man who spent his time at art shows, surrounded by long-legged women in slinky dresses and heels. With people who didn’t have trouble talking, people who knew how to exist amongst others. People who were worth his time and his attention.

People who weren’t worthless like me.

I was conditioned to accept abuse and mistreatment, disrespect and violence from people who claimed to care about me. Strangers, even enemies have treated me better than the people I actively chose to bring into my life.

So whose fault is it? I was the one who chose them, and the one who stayed.

Well, thankfully I don’t think it’s my fault any more. I also don’t think I’m worthless.

Which is why I am now able to envisage a future in which I really am a mother, a driver, a wife, and maybe even one day, a writer.

Until recently, these were all things that I wanted, but felt that I didn’t deserve, or that I could never pull off. Now I know better, and I’m finally taking the physical steps required to make life happen.

It’s never going to be smooth sailing, and there will most definitely be obstacles for me to face, but for the first time in my life, I feel capable of doing just that. The fear of failure is gone. It’s actually okay if I make mistakes – it isn’t going to see me left alone under that tree.

I will never be left alone under that tree again.

And this time I didn’t run from a man who was promising me the world I’d glimpsed in my dreams. This time I am walking alongside him, not trailing behind, letting him do all the hard work for both of us in case I fuck it all up.

No. This time we’ll fuck it all up together and he can hang out with me under that tree playing Mario Kart.