Bullying, Cyberbullying & Mental Health

Trigger Warning - In this post, I'm going to discuss potentially triggering topics such as bullying, cyberbullying, anxiety, depression, PTSD, suicide, et cetera. However, if you do decide to read on, I will include various supports at the end of this post that you can reach out to if you are affected by anything that I have mentioned.

This is a post that I never thought I would write - serious, sombre, personal, and raw. On a similar note, I'm not sure how it will be received. A 'hot take' or 'jumping on the bandwagon' for a few extra followers, likes, clicks, or views? An attention-seeking 'woe is me' post? Irrespective of how this post is viewed, my intentions and reasons for writing it are to highlight the issues of bullying and cyberbullying, and the effects that they can have on your mental health - from my own perspective and personal experiences.

Most people who engage with or are involved in the Irish bloggers and social media influencers/personalities corner of the internet will have heard about the happenings on a particular discussion forum last week and the repercussions that followed thereafter. After Caroline Flack's tragic and untimely death, I hoped that people would realise the damage that words can do, but clearly, some people still haven't. Words hurt and often leave a longlasting effect, and regrettably, I myself know that all too well. I have had more than my fair share of experiences with both bullying and cyberbullying, so I'm going to discuss my personal experiences to illustrate just how much words and actions can affect a person.

As most people know, I was homeschooled, but what some of you won't know is that before that, I attended a local primary school, at which I was the victim of vicious bullying from junior infants to the very end of fourth class. I don't want to go into all the details, but essentially, for six years straight, I was bullied socially, verbally, and physically every single day by my peers. Each of these incidents may appear minor to an outsider, but having it be your reality every single day for six years, they culminated and became soul-destroying. By the age of nine, I developed all the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and regularly experienced pseudo heart attacks. Just before the end of fourth class, two of my classmates repeatedly stamped on my foot with football studs after a match. Almost ten years, an MRI, countless x-rays, and numerous consultant appointments later, it still causes me pain. I was very fortunate to have parents who always supported me and did everything in their power to resolve these issues, and I am also conscious of the fact that not everyone is as fortunate as I was in that aspect. After a schoolgirl committed suicide as a result of bullying, my parents decided that enough was enough, and I was removed from the school at the end of the school year. 

The town that I'm from is small, so although I no longer attended the school, it was inevitable that I was still going to have to interact with my ex-classmates.  As a result, the bullying and teasing did continue, although it was not quite as severe as before. In my teens, most interactions occurred via social media, and cyberbullying became an issue that I had to contend with. In fact, an ex-classmate was harassing me via social media as recently as the end of last year. From my experience, cyberbullying wasn't as vicious as the face-to-face bullying that I was subjected to. I won't lie, there have been times where it has really affected me, but for the most part, I was able to block them and get on with my day. That being said, some of the people that were unkind or abusive to me online were people that were my 'friends' at the time, so I thought that I had to just grin and bear it (oh, how wrong I was).

I wish I could say that the bullying I experienced hasn't affected me in the long term, but it has. As a child, I was extremely shy and I suffered from severe anxiety and had all the symptoms of PTSD, although I was never officially diagnosed. Now, about fifteen years after it began, it still affects me, and I do still struggle with the aftermath of it all. Aside from the physical pain that I still experience as a result of the football studs incident, I'm still shy and introverted, I still suffer from anxiety, especially social anxiety, I still regularly experience anxiety attacks and pseudo heart attacks, I have next to no confidence, very little self-esteem, and I do still have very low days. I know that this is a work in progress, and although it may not always seem to be the case, I have come a long way. While part of me does wish that I didn't have to experience the trauma that I have, part of me is grateful for what it has taught me - it has given me an invaluable insight into mental health that otherwise, I wouldn't have. I believe that my experiences surrounding bullying and my own mental health prompted me to choose psychology as my future career, specifically clinical psychology. This definitely doesn't mean that you can bully whoever you like and they'll come back and thank you later on - it's simply how I have chosen to view my experiences and form something positive out of something so crushing. 

I wrote this post because I wanted everyone to really see the effects that both bullying and cyberbullying can have on someone's life, as illustrated through my first-hand experiences. I know that me writing this post won't change the world, but if even one person realises how easy it is to break someone in just one fleeting moment, and holds themselves accountable for their words and actions from now on, it won't have been pointless. No one is perfect and the world won't just change overnight, but if we all do our bit, we can all create a better world to live in.

If reading this post has prompted you to feel guilty about how you may have treated someone in the past, or how you are currently treating someone, take a moment to reflect on your words and actions, and apologise to them if you feel that you are in the wrong. Likewise, if you feel that you are being bullied, please know that you are not alone, stand up for yourself, and seek support and advice from someone that you trust. I know that it is most definitely not an easy thing to do, and is something that I myself have never really had the courage to do, but looking back in hindsight, I truly regret it. If you are victimised by those who you view as your friends, they are not genuine friends, but I promise you that you will find true friends who will treat you in the way you deserve to be treated, even if it takes some time. In terms of cyberbullying, I know that oftentimes, the bully is a 'keyboard warrior' who hides behind an anonymous account, and I also know that if you do block them, they are quick to create a new account to continue their harassment, which can make things extremely difficult for you. I cannot put enough emphasis on the importance of telling a trusted loved one about what you are experiencing and seeking appropriate support. Even just talking about your problems with someone you trust can make all the difference.
If anything that I have discussed in this post has caused any upset or trauma for you, and you wish to receive support, I have attached some of the many excellent organisations and supports that are available to you, for free.

Aware (depression) - 1800 80 48 48 / supportmail@aware.ie
Childline (under 18s) - 1800 66 66 66 / Live Message / 50101
Pieta House (suicide & self-harm) - 1800 247 247 / text HELP to 51444
Samaritans (suicide) - 116 123 / jo@samaritans.ie
Text About It (any crisis) - 50808

Love, Rachel x

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