MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Mon 25-Jan-16 16:12:30

Guest post: "Bullies made me stronger than I ever thought I would be"

Donna Wishart refuses to think of herself as a victim despite being bullied relentlessly throughout her school years.

Donna Wishart

What the Redhead Said

Posted on: Mon 25-Jan-16 16:12:30

(34 comments )

Lead photo

"I kept my head down. The bullying carried on but I didn't bother telling anyone - I just had to get used to it."

I didn't realise there was anything different about me until I started secondary school. Until then I thought I was the same as all of my friends. I thought I was normal.

But from the moment I started high school it was clear that the other children saw me as different. I stood out for being ginger, for wearing glasses and for just wanting to learn.

My years at that school passed so slowly. Each day was filled with snide remarks and name calling that turned into getting tripped as I walked to class, having shuttlecocks whacked at me and getting water poured over my head at lunch time.

I wasn't just picked on by girls - it was boys too. But at least the girls stuck to name calling and threats. Being picked on by boys was so much worse. There were four or five of them that were relentless with their torment.

Those boys would sit behind me in class, pulling my chair out from under me and stealing my bag. They had friends in other years and before long I was getting called names by people I didn't even know, getting pushed around by people I had never even seen before.

I turned into a recluse at school. I had a couple of friends who were also bullied and we stuck together - we were social rejects together for fear of otherwise being very much alone. I would stay with this group as much as I could but would still spend breaks hiding in the school corridors, reading a book and eating my packed lunch. I needed to immerse myself in a world of fiction and get away from the reality of those school days.

I opened up about how - at times - I had felt almost suicidal, how I didn't see the point in getting up in the morning and how I would dread walking into school each day.


Everything came to a head halfway through school when my closest friend and I were on the bus home together. All of our tormentors were at the back of the bus and we were sitting a few rows in front. We were getting shouted at but we didn't turn around, just willed the journey to pass quickly. The bus stopped in our local town and they all got off the bus, spitting on us as they went past. I remember it being in my hair, on my school blazer and even on my face; I felt humiliated and more alone than ever before.

I went with my parents to speak to my head of year. My parents were adamant the bullying had to stop. The teacher listened to everything we told him and then he said something that has stayed with me for the last 16 years.

"My wife is Sri Lankan. She walks down the street and people call her names. She's used to it, she expects it, she knows that she's different. Donna, you have red hair. You're different, you're going to get picked on and you need to get used to that."

I listened to his advice. I kept my head down, worked as hard as I could and tried to get through. The bullying carried on but I didn't bother telling anyone - I just had to get used to it.

In my final weeks of school I was attacked with a metal woodworking file in my design technology class by one of the main bullies. He smacked me and smacked me with this file and all I could do was put my arms up to shield the blows. So many things happened that now feel like they happened to someone else.

I decided to write a letter to my headteacher and told him everything that had happened over my time at the school and I told him how let down I felt. I told him about the teachers that had turned a blind eye, I told him about my lack of self-esteem, lack of confidence, and how I couldn't bear to talk to anyone I didn't know. I opened up about how - at times - I had felt almost suicidal, how I didn't see the point in getting up in the morning and how I would dread walking into school each day. I explained how I'd got used to being picked on - I was ginger after all. I told him that I hoped, despite my years of bullying, that I would walk away from school with good GCSE results and that the bullying would ultimately make me a stronger person - that I would not let the bullying define me and that I would learn from every single thing that I had experienced throughout my school years.

My head teacher apologised to me and promised that no one would have to go through that again. In the end, he restored my faith in teachers and I believed him - I am sure he kept that promise.

And me? Well, I got those decent GCSE results and got on with life. I felt so free after my school days had finished. I was bullied relentlessly but I am not a victim, or just a product of my past. Those bullies have made me stronger than I ever thought I would be.

Photo credit: Hayley Willis, Shutterflies

By Donna Wishart

Twitter: @genuineplacebo

Owllady Mon 25-Jan-16 16:15:32

sad how awful
I'm so sorry Donna, that sounds terrible flowers

Arkengarthdale Mon 25-Jan-16 17:28:48

I too was bullied for being ginger and clever. I was also sporty so I was bullied for that too. I could sing and play the piano and was bullied for that as well. Unfortunately my teachers, including the headmaster and senior mistress, told me it was all my fault as my tormentors lived in council houses and I didn't, so I had to put up with it. I'm so glad it made you strong and you were able to keep faith in yourself. It broke me that no one stood up for me. I am currently going through a similar situation at work 40 years later where the big girls (managers) just lie and lie and make up all sorts of crap about me, just like the big girls at school did. I wish I could share your strength and I admire your ability to come through it.

cheerfullysleepless Mon 25-Jan-16 17:40:33

I am gobsmacked: do you mind my asking when and where this was as if in England and last twenty years this head of year should have received statutory training that should have informed him how cruelly damaging and irresponsible his (in)action was and you might even have a legal case against the school. I am a teacher (and a ginger as it goes!) and people would rightly lose their jobs for this behaviour at my school. I also hope you're reassured to hear that whilst there is of course bullring at our school, in truth there is at every school the issue is how well it gets dealt with, I think the ginger thing has moved on a bit. My school in particular is so diverse ginger isn't really that different as everyone is different - not the point here I know but if you were thinking about your beautiful
Daughter who I think from
The photo has red hair I wouldn't expect she would have to go through what you did. So sorry you went through this and teachers so bloody useless, totally unacceptable.

Sallyhasleftthebuilding Mon 25-Jan-16 17:58:53

My DD was bullied - she's clever but not ginger - slightly beaver built than most so that's ok?

She left juniors a broken child - teachers were useless - she too wrote a letter to her head teacher - saddest thing I ever read.

Nothing has changed - there is not where to go head teachers aren't accountable, OFSTEAD aren't interested Govenora sweep it under the carpet ....

She is stronger - it's taken 12 months to build her back up - she puts herself out to stick up for those being bullied!

A tough nut and I couldn't be more proud

genuineplacebo Mon 25-Jan-16 18:31:38

Hi, I don't mind you asking at all. This was just outside of London between 1996-2001. Thank you for reading x

Orange1969 Mon 25-Jan-16 18:37:00

This story chilled me as I had an almost identical experience at high school. In my case, even my parents didn't take me seriously.

My "crime" was to have a different accent to the other pupils.

It has affected my entire life and led to severe depression after I left school.

My revenge was to work hard, do well at school and go to university in a different part of the country. Most of my tormented amounted to very little in life.

I'm so sorry that this happened to you and your head teacher was absolutely wrong.

cheerfullysleepless Mon 25-Jan-16 19:29:45

I've no idea when the legislation came in but suspect after we both finished school (you're younger than me) but what happened would now be grounds for legal action. Certainly at the time you were at school there really should have been far better awareness and training amongst the staff on how to deal with this and I'm just so sorry you were let down. I work in pastoral myself and it's hard work really effectively resolving bullying cases but one absolutely can and schools have a moral responsibility to do so.

BaconAndAvocado Mon 25-Jan-16 20:33:27

I too was bullied for wanting to get on at secondary school and because my accent was "posher" than my tormentors'.

They were from the local council estate too and I know a couple of them had awful home lives but that doesn't excuse what they did.

I'm not sure if being bullied made me stronger.......if any of my DCs we're ver bullied I hope they would tell me, although being very close to my parents I never told them about the bullying until many years later and I'm still not sure why!

SirChenjin Mon 25-Jan-16 20:59:06

I'm not sure how I feel about this blog. I was bullied at secondary school and it destroyed my confidence - took a long time to recover, and to be honest I'm not sure I ever truly will. The idea that bullying can make you stronger sends out the wrong message imo - that in some way, bullying can actually be good for you and somehow 'toughen you up'.

I hope that's not what you're saying, because bullying can quite easily have the opposite effect - and that in no way, shape or form means you are weak or that you have a victim mentality. Bullying is one of the worst forms of cruelty that children can endure - it should not, must not, be tolerated, but the very worst thing that a bullied child or adult should be left feeling is that they've somehow failed (again) by not becoming stronger as a result of it.

TheyreMadITellYouMaaaad Mon 25-Jan-16 21:51:15

What SirChenjin said.

I am very uncomfortable with this story. I'm glad you are able to view your experiences with such strong positivity, and that you feel a success. I am genuinely glad that you feel whole, despite being so troubled in the past. But that's probably down to your personality, not the bullying.

I feel that bullying broke me - and mine was not nearly as bad as yours. It has taken me years to begin to believe in myself to any degree. Years, and mental ill-health, and therapy. Probably my personality, too.

One of my dc is ginger - and couldn't give a flying monkey's what anyone thinks about that. If they have a problem it's their problem. She is the most emotionally resilient child I know. And totally unlike me. OTOH another of my dc can be upset by a misunderstood compliment, let alone a malicious tease. This one is like me and I'm doing my best to teach him the life skills that I have learned so painfully over recent years, to try and help him develop some emotional resilience before he breaks.

marshmallowpies Mon 25-Jan-16 21:53:34

I was bullied too at school, and it does begin to feel very remote now, 25-odd years ago - I certainly don't feel it looms over me and my relationships any more, though it did for years; I too saw university and a good career as my escape route, but when I got to university I felt very isolated and found it hard to make friends. It took until my late 20s/early 30s to really begin to trust people and believe that people like me for myself.

Up until then I had always assumed people thought I was boring and dull, like they did at school, and tolerated me out of politeness. I always worked on the assumption that people generally disliked me, and it was my job to try and win them round.

That has changed now - I have a good circle of friends and (most important to me) I have retained friends - old work colleagues from 10 years ago are still good friends, I still have friends from school days, I have people I can call on if I need them, and that means a lot to me.

But what I can't let go of is the bitterness towards my school for allowing it to go on, and wishing there could have been a way I could have escaped the bullies (much of it happened on the school bus where I couldn't get away) and resentment towards the bullies who denied me what should have been happy years. And I worry about my own children and what might happen to them - DD1 is nearly 4 and so full of fun and confidence, so unlike me - but I dread to see what will happen at school, if she has the confidence crushed out of her. I hope she is stronger and fiercer than me.

SinisterBumFacedCat Tue 26-Jan-16 00:52:25

I was bullied at secondary school because I had excema and greasy hair. However that's my the real reason I was bullied, I was bullied because the people who bullied me were horrible immature idiots who couldn't compute the possibility of sharing a classroom who wasn't a carbon copy of themselves.

I hate that victims are asked to look for the reason they are being targeted rather than the bullies being challenged on their treatment of others. I hate it that we are expected to grow a thicker skin, use it to motivate ourselves or fight back. Why should we change ourselves to fit over people's limited expectations, turn to violent retaliation and change our nature.

I still live with the scars of bullying, social phobia, I still assume most people dislike me on sight. I truanted to escape the bullied and failed my exams. but I managed to work my up to the job I wanted.

I always think it's interesting that you never hear from a bully on these threads, because face it their must be one reading them. I don't blame the bullies who went for me, I feel sorry for them, they were supposedly enjoying the best days of their lives and decided to spend it focused on me, someone they openly dislike, what a waste of time! I do blame the school, they knew what was happening, brushed it under the carpet and started a smear campaign against me when I tried to get moved to another school. Recently I discovered my head of year at the time wrote a book in bullying, while I was getting bullied she could not have been more disinterested.

Snog Tue 26-Jan-16 03:21:22

OP nobody should have to endure that treatment at school. I am so sorry for what you experienced.
I fear that Nothing has changed in schools and the world of work is no better.
Everywhere has a written anti bullying policy and none of them is worth chips unless there is true commitment not to tolerate bullying from the top. This kind of commitment is uncommon.
For every person made stronger another person is broken, their health ruined.

I have seen and experienced bullying managers in the nhs leave a trail of destruction and human suffering in their wake as they get promoted time and time again even though they are well know bullies. Bullying seems to be an accepted part of our culture. I'm not sure what the answer is, but writing a policy ain't it.

Devilishpyjamas Tue 26-Jan-16 06:42:54

God that's awful sad

You were so brave writing that letter though.

My son was bullied towards the end of primary - his school didn't do much about it either (he was seen as being 'too sensitive' - I had to point out that I'm not sensitive but I would have struggled going into a place where I knew I was going to be called a cunt every day - and I wasn't ten). He also came through it & it has given him a resilience & the ability to see other people as being the problem rather than him (if people were mean to him he used to think it was his fault).

It's a life lesson he could have done without though. I'm so sorry you went through that.

Devilishpyjamas Tue 26-Jan-16 06:44:23

Oh & as for the NHS. My mum wass whistleblower re patient safety. The bullying that followed that was horrendous. Bullying seems part of the NHS management approach.

Devilishpyjamas Tue 26-Jan-16 06:46:08

And yes snog - this bully was promoted & continues to leave a trail of destruction after her. So many lives affected. NHS management is toxic imo.

genuineplacebo Tue 26-Jan-16 08:21:26

SirChenjin and TheyreMadITellYouMaaaad - I think everyone experiences things differently and looks back on them differently. This all happened 16 years ago and so I am able to reflect more on it now I am removed from the situation. At the time I was broken - my school days were hellish and for years afterwards I lacked confidence and found it hard to form relationships BUT 16 years later I can look back on it all, see how far I have come and realise that actually, I am the stringer person now.
I didn't say bullying was good for you - that is how you've interpreted that SirChenjin and when TheyreMadITellYouMaaaad says that now feeling whole is down to my personality - yes it probably is. I know not everyone feels the same way, even years after bullying has ended. I'm fortunate that I have been able to build a solid life and move on from those school days.

SleepyForest Tue 26-Jan-16 08:46:12

I love red hair, it is beautiful. I love bookish, hardworking, quiet children too. I have two of them as my children. I hope I am able to protect them against bullying.

I was bullied at school and it really damaged me. You might confuse my scars for strength but that would be a mistake. Your experience sounds horrible op, I am glad you are recovering.

I find this blog post very upsetting - I was bullied at school, for 6 long years, and at the age of 14, I was considering suicide. It has left me with a life-long history of depression - just last week, I had to go back on antidepressants, because the depression had got bad again. I have had to accept that I will ALWAYS have depression - and I blame the bullying, the bullies, the school and my parents' lack of support for my depression.

It didn't make me stronger - and now I wonder if I am a failure because it didn't. That's what this blog entry has done for me.

Sallyhasleftthebuilding Tue 26-Jan-16 12:41:41

STDG - my confident daughter is only stronger today because I spent the last 12/18 months working on her ... I am lucky that she tells me everything and we can discuss things. Had that not been the case she would have ended up with serious mental health issues.
Luckily the bullies went to high school with the same trumped up attitude and they have been cut out of a lot of social circles - kids aren't daft - and they don't understand how they were so popular in juniors yet failed to make the grade in high school

My bullying went on all through senior school, and when I told my mum about it, she basically dismissed me ('Sticks and stones will hurt your bones, but calling names can't hurt you' - and I should just ignore them and it would stop), and I never felt able to go back to her and tell her it was still carrying on - because I felt I had failed - I hadn't ignored them firmly enough, so it was my fault it had carried on.

SirChenjin Tue 26-Jan-16 13:16:58

SDTG - exactly.

genuine - I'm very glad that you didn't mean your blog to sound as if bullying makes you stronger, because that would be an awful message to send out. It might have been better to focus on your innate personality being the key to overcoming the lasting effects of bullying, rather than claiming "I am not a victim" (which perpetuates the myth that people who are bullied just need to stop playing the victim and get on with it) and that "bullies have made me stronger than I ever thought I would be". Bullies do not*/bullying *does not make you stronger - which I am struggling with the premise of this blog and why I'm unable to interpret it any other way when your words are there in black and white.

My bullying took place 30 years ago when bullying was seen as 'just one of these things' - and I am still not a "stronger person" because of it, regardless of how much reflecting I do. I recognise bullying for what it is - bullying. Not something which makes people stronger.

Arkengarthdale Tue 26-Jan-16 13:46:40

SDTG - I couldn't agree more with you. That's exactly what happened to me and I have suffered ever since.

My parents told me to walk away and I earned a nickname for being a coward which followed me for many many years after leaving school. I should have thumped the ringleaders right at the beginning, which was my preferred method of sticking up for myself, but I wasn't allowed to. I gave up telling them it was still going on and bottled it all up.

My education was ruined as I suffered from stress illness and was off for one day a week for almost all of my school days. I did get some exam passes but left school as soon as I possibly could. Now in my fifties I will never be promoted or be able to earn a high enough salary to buy a property and be self funding. One appears to need a degree these days to be an office manager!

I am currently being bullied at work - as I posted earlier, the 'big girls' are my managers but it is just the same as being at school to me. And I work for the NHS - reassuring in a strange way to hear it's not just me!

Openup41 Tue 26-Jan-16 13:52:40

I was traumatised by bullying at school. For the first few years it was occasional bullying by a popular girl. She saw I was a soft touch, I guess from the first time she was nasty to me in from of the class and I did not tell her where to go. I was absolutely petrified of her. She openly ridiculed me. She left a year later and I was relieved.

From the third year a group of boys bullied me daily - made cruel remarks about my appearance. I felt isolated, I argued back and almost always ended up crying in front of my peers. My friends did not stand up for me. It became the norm. I could not wait to leave in year 11.

I am always welling up just thinking about it. I left school nearly 25 years ago.

The worst thing for me is a part of me loathes myself for never having the balls to fight back, to swear to throw a chair at them. Maybe this would have stopped them in their tracks. I had no courage to stand up for myself so maybe I am to blame. The bullies tried it on with others but failed as they retaliated. Why could I not have done the same? Why was I paralysed?

I will never get closure and hope I will someday go on to forgive myself for not bring kinder to myself. I obviously felt I deserved the bullying.

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