Your school years. Acne and arguments about the opposite gender, sharing around gum, teasing, laughing, passing notes under the table. The time to learn and grow whilst having fun. But what happens when ‘The Best years of your life’ aren’t the best?
I left school almost three years ago. I’m now at Uni surrounded by friends, living independently and basically attempting the whole adulting thing. The years of uniform, 6:30 alarms and homework seem a distant memory; the sweat of the changing room, the polish on the corridor floors after the holidays and the strange smell lingering in the canteen from whatever was being created that lunch time are all odours that belong very much in my past.
As I reckon is the case for everyone, secondary school was a mix of the above cliches and some very personal, unique memories. I recently came across my leavers book, where scribbled goodbyes and heartfelt well-wishes brought back memory after memory. I was suddenly reminded about the people who I shared 5 years of my life with and yet haven’t seen in ages (apart from the odd facebook stalk of course).
In my post Dealing with Insecurity a few months ago I opened up about some of my struggles throughout my teen years but I’ve been careful to avoid talking specifically about my schooling experiences because I wasn’t ready to share that time of my life online. My 20th birthday is a few months away (a very weird idea, trust me), so I’m in the final lap of my teenage years and where I am in this season of my life is where I always wanted to be when I was 16: studying a degree I love, surrounded by people I love, in a city I love. For my Year Eleven self, Uni felt so far away, my last year of school dragged painfully and I was desperate to get my GCSE’s and get out of there.
It’s not something I talk about often but my last two years of school were difficult. I know so many others have had similar, and in many cases so so much worse, experiences. Because of this, I often shy away from using the word ‘bullying’ when I talk about what happened to me but reflecting on it now, that’s what it was. Hurtful things were put online, I lost most of my friends, and myself and the few who stuck by my side were cut out of our social group.
I remember each day sitting on the bus to school, ear phones in, and being transported and deposited to the last place on Earth I wanted to be. Months of that process broke me, each day seeing the same faces, hearing the same taunts and being shunned by people who were once my friends.
Having left school and had time to heal and move forward with my life I am no longer angry about my experiences because I’ve learned that what I thought at the time was breaking me, was actually strengthening me. Week after week of being in a place I was desperate to leave taught me a whole treasure trove of lessons.
Despite all I learned I am in no way glad it happened. If you’re being bullied then the lessons you learn will never outweigh the hurt you’re feeling and I don’t want you to think I’m giving you a naively optimistic ‘all’s well that ends well’ spiel.
Bullying is wrong. End of. But what I do want to tell you is that whilst I’m not glad it happened, I am glad about how God was able to use that situation for good and make me who I am today. This is not a story about a girl looking for sympathy but one who seeks to glorify Him and share what He can do in the darkest of times.
When I write this I am not trying to shame anyone. Part of the reason why I’ve put off writing about this topic before, is the fear that someone who may have, intentionally or unintentionally, contributed to my struggle will think I’m trying to make them feel guilty. I promise that isn’t my motivation here. When people ask me if I have any anger towards those who hurt me in that last years of school I can say with honesty, no.
Their identities are not defined by their actions as much as mine is not defined by the things they said and did. I’m not the same person I was when I was 16 and neither are they.
We’ve all grown and matured, we’re all young people trying to figure out who we are and what we want to do with our time here on Earth and whilst our paths crossed and I was left with some damaging memories, I’m not damaged permanently and neither should they be.
I’m making a promise to myself today, to change how I remember school. It’s so easy to forget any enjoyment you had from a season if it’s clouded by one or two negatives. For a long time I simply haven’t thought about my time at Secondary school and on the brief occasions I do my brain seems to edit out all the good stuff.
I want to remember the friend’s who would do anything to make me smile when I wanted to cry. I want to remember all the laughing we did, birthdays, sports days (If you know me, you’ll know I’m not a lover of sport, but for the purpose of the positive vibe I’m trying to achieve, just go with it), sunny lunch breaks on the field, sleepovers, the pains of D of E expeditions and the fun of guide camps.
My five years of secondary school were made up of so much more than I often think about and despite the more difficult times, I did enjoy most of my time there.
Here’s some embarrassing photos as evidence-
However I choose to remember my years in school, one thing is certain. I’m not defined by my time there, the good or the bad. Each experience strengthened me, changed me in some way, and taught me about myself and others, but my school years are only one thing of many that contributes to who I am.
I am a daughter of God, I am defined by his sacrifice and His pain, not my own. I am not the girl who cried herself to sleep every night and thought she wasn’t good enough to be friends with. I am the girl who was good enough to die for.
If you’re in a similar place to where I was three years ago then please believe me when I say you won’t be this version of yourself forever and the people that are hurting you won’t be those versions of themselves forever either. The situation feels huge, endless and suffocating now but it’s not permanent. You have a lot to look forward to.
This is a tricky topic and one that’s extremely personal to me so if you’ve made it to this point in the post I’m thankful for your time. Whilst I am in no way a trained professional and can’t offer any counselling, I can give advice based on how I dealt with my own personal struggles. So feel free to check out the ‘contact’ page if you want to drop me an email or connect via social media, I’d love to hear from you!
Bullying isn’t restricted to the classroom and comes in plenty of shapes and sizes, if you’re struggling with being bullied or overcoming previous bullying have a look at the links below, I pray you find something that can help-