The scars of bullying: Will I ever get over this trauma?

Not all of us can identify what we want to do in life at the age of five. For Aria, it was easy. Performing. Whether it was acting, dancing, ballet or playing music, it didn’t matter. Being on stage gave her a sense of belonging. 

At school however, she felt the opposite. A target of relentless bullying, anxiety became a constant in her life. Each night she’d lie awake, replaying the events of that day, overwhelmed by the helpless feeling that tomorrow would be the same. 

Eventually she had to drop out of school entirely. 

The years that followed were the hardest for Aria. She felt alone and hopeless.  

Then she stumbled across an old wrestling gym. Little did she know it would play a huge role in her recovery from anxiety and depression. 

  
 

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Transcription

 

Narrator 

Just a heads up. This episode features a personal story of mental health and contains themes of suicide. If this brings up distressing feelings for you, please contact the Beyond Blue Support Service.

Aria

I first experienced bullying in year two. The school was getting ready for Valentine's Day. And we all got someone's name out of a hat. And we had to like write a card to them. And I remember receiving my card, being very happy as you would. And I opened it, and the person had written a Jenny Craig voucher in the card, and given it to me. And I guess at that age, I didn't really understand what it was. I just thought it was kind of funny, because then everyone else was laughing. And I thought, Oh, this is ‘haha, it's funny.’ But then as I got older, and I sort of realised what that was and what that meant. I feel like it was such a young age to be set up. It's something I'll never forget. And you know, I'm 27 and Valentine's Day to me still sucks.

Narrator

Welcome to Not Alone, incredible stories from everyday Australians talking about their mental health to help you with yours. This episode is about bullying, and the scars it can leave you with long after it stops. 

Not all of us can identify what we want to do in life at the age of five. But for Aria, it was easy. She wanted to be a performer.

Aria 

If I have to think back at what young Aria was doing, it was music. It was dance, it was singing. She had a pure love for the stage and music. And that's all I remember. It was something else to be on the stage performing. It was such a lovely feeling. But she was always anxious. Anxiety didn't seem like anything for me, unusual, because I was so young, it just seemed like my normal life.

Narrator

Aria’s anxiety as a child manifested itself in different ways. One habit in particular began to take hold. An urge to pull her own hair out. It's a condition known as trichotillomania and is associated with high levels of stress.

Aria

[Aria cries as she talks]

It's embarrassing. And I walk around every day and I have to put eyebrows on or I have to put lashes on or I have to hide the bald spot in the back of my head.

And people say what's happened. It's not nice to tell them that you pulled it out and beaten it.

There's a lot of things you can cover up something like that you can't. It's painful, but you have to have control some way. And that was the only way I knew how

Narrator 

That first instance of bullying that you heard at the start of the episode, in grade two.. unfortunately, that wasn't a one off incident. Already an anxious child, Aria now had to deal with constant bullying every time she went to school.

Aria 

It was mainly verbal bullying, which I hate to say was a bit more tolerable than physical bullying. I mean, you learn to tune it out, you learn how to sift through the voices and what people are saying to you. But it did become more personal with like my weight, my appearance, you know, picking on my chins was the main one. You know, like where's your neck gone and things like that. There was often times where I was called pregnant just because of my size. And I was a short kid. I was a chubby kid. I'm not gonna lie about it, but there's never a reason to describe someone in that way to their face, behind their back, online… It's never okay.

Walking into the classroom, I would feel this pit of nerves, this pressure, like someone was sitting on my chest. Dread and fear. You want to cry and you want to hysterically laugh at the same time, but nothing comes out. And it's just you numb staring into a room of people that you don't know who's going to say what or who knows what or who's spoken to who. It's frightening. And when you do it alone, it is the most painful experience, it feels like it will never end. 

I went to high school. That's when the physical bullying started. So I went on a bus every morning, every afternoon, it was a 45 minute bus trip. And there's no escape on a bus, you have to sit on that bus for 45 minutes with these people that hate you, that would do anything to see you cry.

[Aria cries as she talks]

They would throw my bags under the bus before I got on and told me that's where I deserve to be. I understand that the people who did these things have issues of their own. But when you're going through it, and at the time, those words don't mean anything. It doesn't take away what they're doing to you. And it doesn't take away the pain of it. And it doesn't take away the feeling and the hurt. It doesn't make it right and it doesn't make it better.

Narrator  

Aria would find it nearly impossible to fall asleep at night. She'd lie awake, replaying the events of the day, overwhelmed by the helpless feeling that tomorrow would be the same. And in the final weeks of year 10 It became too much.

Aria 

I had to make a choice. That was quite a hard one, but seemed easy at the time as well, that the best option was to not return to school. It wasn't the place for me. The bullying was becoming overwhelming to the point that I felt numb. There's there's a part of that time that I don't actually remember because I was just so numb. And we just decided that it was best to just pull me out altogether. It was too stressful. And not just on myself but my family as well because they were there for me. And they had to then protect themselves while protecting me. And it's a big effort. It doesn't just affect one person. It's a domino.

Narrator 

When the bullying was at its worst, and Aria felt like giving up, she had two pillars of support at home.

Aria 

Throughout everything, I've had two of the most special people in my life stick by me since day one. And that's my mum and my Nan. I honestly believe in soulmates and those two are my soulmates. I have no idea where I would be without them. And I don't want to know. My nan moved in with us when I was three. And from that day, we were inseparable. We were best friends. We would have sleepovers in her room and she taught me how to cook she we would watch TV in the afternoon and she'd fall asleep and you know if she if she went into hospital, I was there twice a day me and mum would go twice a day. And the things that those two did for me I could never repay them. Without them, there would be no me.

Narrator

Aria felt lost without the daily routine of school. Yes, the trauma of bullying had been removed. But so too had her dream of performing. That next year, she rarely left her room. A sense of emptiness took over and she couldn't see a way out.

Aria

My purpose up until that point was school and performing arts but now that I left, I didn't have music classes. I didn't have acting classes. I had no reason to get up in the morning.

So I decided at that point that I didn't deserve to be here anymore. I started to sell all my belongings and give them to friends.

[Aria cries as she talks]

I made notes for my mum and my nan and the people that I loved. Just explaining the situation nothing nothing felt good enough. Think felt worthy dishonour my skin didn't mean anything. The hug of my nan didn't fix anything. I didn't enjoy music, I didn't, I didn't want to wake up. I just wanted to sleep forever. I wanted to remove myself from everybody else's life to better them, because I just felt like I was wasted was just pointless.

I had it all planned out. How it was going to happen, what I was going to wear, where I was going to be.

And then my nan asked me what's wrong, and I broke. 

[Aria cries as she talks]

And I remember that day because she held me. Just held me. I won't ever forget it. And she saved me. That woman was my soulmate. And she saved me.

Narrator

Aria’s nan didn't have the answers. But that didn't matter. What mattered was that she was there. In her arms, Aria didn't feel so alone. And though her nan passed away a few years later, Aria has a memento that ensures she's never far away.

Aria

Me and my mum and Nan would often watch movies together and one that really drew me in was The Help. So I've actually got the words ‘you is kind, you is smart, you is important’ tattooed on my neck. And she would often when I'd come home, upset or from school, she'd often hold me and say those words.

It’s special to have those there that when I feel like I can't keep going or things are getting tiring. And you know, you drop your head. And I remember that part of my body is towards the sky where she is now. And I know she'd have her hand on the back of my neck saying, ‘Come on. Let's just keep going. You've made it this far. Let's go.’

Narrator 

What would you say to bullies who caused you so much pain? How do you tell them that the scars are still there? And that they still hurt. Aria says she's not looking for apologies. But she does want them to understand that the effects of the words the actions, the threats, they don't disappear overnight.

Aria

If I could go back in time and talk to those bullies, I would tell them that what they did to me still affects me. I still live my life on the words that they told me. I value myself on what they said. I see myself as those words and that hurts. And it is something that I wouldn't wish on anyone. I shouldn't be sitting here today, wondering if my chins are on show, how big my gut looks… I shouldn’t. If they knew, I hope they’d do it again different.

Narrator

With the help of her mum, Aria saw a GP and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Hearing those two words came as no great surprise, but it did start her on a pathway to getting better. The next few years were focused on understanding her triggers, and implementing ways to address them. There was the gym, walks with mum, meditation, eating better, sleeping better, and eventually, she felt ready to return to what she had always felt she was supposed to be doing. Performing. 

Only this time, the stage would be a little different.

[Sound effects of a wrestling gym]

Aria had always loved watching wrestling on TV. Eventually, she gathered her courage and went down to a local wrestling gym. It was gritty, full of odd balls, and an old trainer named George. She loved it. After years of feeling like the world had no place for her area finally felt a sense of belonging.

Aria

I thought this place looks cool.This looks like somewhere I belong. 

[George, her wrestling trainer talks through some exercises]

Six, seven. Yesterday you win, tomorrow you lose.

Aria

When I walk in, it's like walking into my home. It's safe. It's familiar. I know everyone inside is going to be loving and caring international room.George doesn't just teach wrestling. He teaches respect. Wrestling is a dance. There's rhythm. You feel each other's movements, the same way you feel each other in a dance. 

My mental health is a constant. It's not something that ever disappears. It might just sit in the background. But I'm aware of when it's reaching for me. And I know the steps I need to take to protect myself it is a constant in my life. 

But it is not who I am.

Narrator

We want to say a huge thank you to Aria for being so open and vulnerable in sharing her story. We've covered a range of mental health issues and if anything has been upsetting for you, please contact the beyondblue support service on 1300 22 4636. 

We've also listed a number of resources in our show notes. This podcast was recorded and produced on Wurundjeri country and we pay respect to the traditional owners of these lands. 

Thanks for listening to Not Alone.

Our theme song is Friends With Feelings, written and performed by Alice Skye, produced by CAAMA Music and published by Sony Music Publishing Pty Ltd.

Helpful resources

  • You can join the discussion on our Beyond Blue online forums
  • Bullying No Way provides provides trustworthy and practical information about bullying for young people
  • The eSafety Commissioner helps Australians have safer, more positive experiences online.
  • The Butterfly Foundation provides support for people affected by eating disorders and negative body image
  • Head to Health can help you find digital mental health services from some of Australia’s most trusted mental health organisations

Suicide and crisis support:

  • The Beyond Now suicide safety planning app helps you stay safe if you're experiencing suicidal thoughts, feelings, distress or crisis.
  • The Suicide Call Back Service provides professional 24/7 telephone and online counselling to people who are affected by suicide. You can access this service by calling 1300 659 467.
  • Lifeline provide crisis support and suicide prevention services – they can be contacted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 13 11 14.
  • If you are in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please contact emergency services on 000

 

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Crisis support

If you are in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please contact emergency services on 000. Other services include: