Something I believe contributed to my depression

I really don’t know what caused my depression – in all likelihood it was a combination of many things. I do believe that my feeling of isolation during big chunks of Secondary school definitely contributed to everything and that’s what I’m going to talk about today.
 

For a large part of Secondary school (from about 11 to 14 or 15 years of age) I felt very much like an outsider. Firstly I was much shorter than my peers – no-one’s fault, but it didn’t help and my growth spurt came later than a lot of my classmates. This didn’t help me feel like I fitted in. I was also very ‘bookish’. I love reading – indeed I still do, and I was a geek, not a computer geek but I was still into things seen as geeky.

However what really pushed me out of the fold in school was the fact I was bullied – and the complete failure of the school to deal with it. As you may have gathered above – I wasn’t popular, I didn’t have a group of friends around me. When I moved to Secondary school almost none of my particular friends from primary school were in the same class as me. From memory (and I’ll admit this may be flawed) I think there were 5 of us from my primary school in our class, 2 of whom were my friends, 2 I didn’t know as well, and myself. Also the 2 I would say were friends were both female, and I was in that societal induced stage at the time where it wasn’t cool to be friends with girls (I won’t go into how ridiculous this is, I know that as an adult, but as an 11 year old I followed what was expected of me).

In my form at school there were 3 groups that bullied me. 2 groups of boys – this was a mixture of physical and verbal bullying, and 1 group of girls – this was predominantly, but not only, verbal bullying. I was a young 11 year old I guess, certainly not as worldly as some of my classmates appeared, and really didn’t know much about relationships, sex, didn’t know many swear words and so on. This feels like it shouldn’t be a bad thing – but it proved to be for me.

So I got picked on for not knowing things, and being a kid I tried to pretend I knew more than I did, and then felt even worse when exposed as not knowing them. This is the shape most of the verbal bullying took – along with some name calling, and comments on my size.

I was also physically bullied – quite badly at times. Two particular memories stand out. One was being dragged around the classroom by my feet, careening into desks, being kicked as I passed by quite a few people. I came away from it surprisingly physically unscathed – the same can’t be said for my mental wellbeing. I’d basically been shown I was absolutely powerless, for the duration of the ordeal (which in memory still feels like hours, it was probably 10 minutes at the absolute maximum) I had absolutely no control over what happened to me. I was totally in the hands of my classmates. I was scared, I was in tears and all I saw afterwards was the class laughing at me – or hiding their faces. I’m sure some were horrified by this, but didn’t want to turn themselves into targets by interfering. And I guess that’s where the bullies’ power comes from – physical intimidation and fear – people didn’t get involved because they didn’t want to end up in my place.

The second memory that stands out is being pushed into the bottom of a cupboard and not being let out. Even though I was small it was a very enclosed space, and it was dark, and of course once again I wasn’t in control of what was happening to me. I wasn’t exactly weak (the rugby pitch was one place where I always held my own) but I’d been pushed in by a group of lads bigger than me, I was cramped into a space where I couldn’t fully use what strength I did have, and there were many of them holding the door closed – I had no chance of pushing it open. Funnily enough I suffer at times from claustrophobia – now I can’t be certain it harks back to this, but I don’t recall it being a problem before this point of my life.

I think what really made the whole thing unbearable for me was the school itself. Teachers and other staff seemed almost wilfully blind to what was going on. When I finally did tell my parents about it and they contacted the school it was handled abysmally. I was taking part in the French exchange, and was due to have a French student staying with us and accompanying me to school at times. All three groups of my tormentors had made threats about what they would do to him (using the sort of nationalistic stereotyped terms that are still far too common for my liking). I can’t really say for sure how long ago it was, but I think the fact that someone else, rather than just me, being put on the line is what made me finally go to my parents about it. They (both being teachers themselves) contacted the school to tell them what was going on and to ask that something was done. And this is where my school showed it had either no idea how to deal with this kind of thing – or that it saw the contact from my parents as a nuisance to shut down as quickly as possible.

Our Head of Year was also my classes English teacher, and at the beginning of the next lesson she stood at the front of the class and basically said ‘Ben has said that he’s being bullied, and that the exchange student visiting soon has been threatened – this is unacceptable and must stop’. I kid you not, the head of year, stood in front of the class, told them I’d complained of being bullied and had reported that they’d threatened to do the same to a student due to be visiting. Funnily enough this didn’t help at all – quite the opposite in fact. My next few weeks at school were even worse than they had been – when confronted by the various groups of bullies I did my best to say it wasn’t them I’d meant but one of the other groups, not that any of them really believed me. Net result even more bullying physical, verbal and mental.

So after this I withdrew. I spent every break I could in the library or in my younger brother’s classroom. I wandered the school grounds alone, dodging everyone else. I used to spend ages sat on the grass outside the sixth form common room, it was a safe place, and if someone did start on me there was a fair bet some of the sixth formers would come out and put a stop to it. Yes, I got more protection from older pupils than I ever did from a member of staff at that school.

Now in fairness my whole school life wasn’t hell. As I got older I made friends with people outside of my class group – some of whom remain close friends to this day. I enjoyed most of my time doing A-levels, although I was part of a fringe group of outsiders rather than one of the ‘main crowd’. However due to my experiences above I sort went into exile for a lot of my school life – I certainly won’t describe it as self-imposed exile, I feel quite strongly it was forced upon me by the bullies and the school’s lack of action. I do think though that this furthered my sense of isolation, and the experience of what happened when I spoke out made me less likely to take my problems to other people – and this I think played a great part in my depression, or at least in how long it took me to seek help.

I’m not going to play ‘what if’ about the whole situation. It happened, I guess in some ways it helped make me who I am today – and that’s someone I’m very happy being. I have great friends, a few from my school days, but even more from gaming (I had to get gaming in there somewhere). With the gaming friends I’ve made I do finally feel like I belong, I’ve found my group, my place in the wider world. I also have my home with Helen, that’s the keystone of my current happiness, even without everything else I’m incredibly happy with that part of my life.

Also the above gave rise to a lot of my song writing – below there’s the lyrics of a song of mine that very much comes out of these experiences – the end is more recently written, and captures where I am now.

 Thanks for reading all – stay safe.

 

 ‘Outsider’ by Ben

I don’t seem to fit in here,                                       I’m smaller than you all,                                            I don’t speak up from fear,                                    I’m wishing I was tall.

So I sit away from you,                                          Just reading my next book,                                         I keep my head down,                                     Hoping you won’t look.

I’m an outsider,                                                 Where are my friends.                                           I’m just the quiet one,                                              An image that never ends.                                      I’m an outsider,                                                 Where are my friends,                                            I’m just the quiet one,                                              An image that never ends

I walk these halls alone,                                       They echo to my stride,                                               I go from place to place,                                                  Always ready to hide.

I’m an outsider,                                                 Where are my friends.                                           I’m just the quiet one,                                              An image that never ends.                                     I’m an outsider,                                                    Where are my friends,                                            I’m just the quiet one,                                               An image that never ends

Now it’s all gone and changed,                                   I have found my place,                                     Helped by all the games we’ve played,                 No need to hide my face.                                           

I put myself out there.                                  Running all those games,                               Starting to show some flair,                       Changing my life’s aims

No more an outsider,                                            Here are my friends,                                                No longer the quite one,                                        And I hope it never ends.                                       No more an outsider,                                           Here are my friends,                                                No longer the quite one,                                       And I hope it never ends

(For those interested a very early version of the first part of this song, without the last versus, can be found on our AloneTone page here:  http://alonetone.com/helbenmusic/tracks/outsider-3 ), a newer recording should be bookending the album I’m currently working on.)

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Author: wraithben

I'm Ben, early 40's and work as a Real Time Analyst in a call centre in the South West of England. In my spare time amongst other things I like to game - computer games, board games and most of all RPG's and Theatre Style LARPS. I also suffer from Chronic Depression.

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