One problem I’ve had over the years is bullying. Yeah, big surprise, introverted eccentric goody-goody boffin got bullied at school, but it seems to have continued over the years somehow — almost as though I bring it out in other people… or, perhaps, I overreact and take things to heart?
There’s no sense going over the petty name-calling I endured at primary school, because almost everyone gets it anyway. I also won’t mention physical bullying in this situation, because (a) it seldom happened to me (I count myself lucky not to have had Eminem’s life), and (b) a physical bully could hardly be “oblivious” to the consequences of his actions!
My first secondary school was all-boys, and to my shame I passed some of the bullying down the pecking order, since for once I wasn’t at the bottom; I paid for my sins at my next school, which was mixed, by getting it not only from the boys but also from the girls! I was already a bit of an introvert when I went there, and it only got worse because of this, as only in my own room could I be free… but then I somehow let the bullies get inside my head, which really took some getting over.
I can only pity the kids of today, who really can be bullied in their own homes by genuinely malicious people thanks to social media (damn you, Internet!), but back then it was my own paranoia and obsessive behaviour that prevented me from letting go when I was at home. Hey, there was one guy I actually thought I would have been friends with, if we hadn’t gotten off on the wrong foot! At least that part of my life ended with my GCSEs, as most of the obnoxious crowd left before I started my A-levels… but not one particular guy who continued to annoy the HELL out of me for another two years. However, I feel that might be something to save for my later post on hatred… watch this space.
The sad thing is, I still got bullied at university! Certainly in my freshman year, where several blokes in my class (Geology, of all the sciences, seems to attract the most laddish kind of student) began referring to me as “coathanger” whenever they thought I was within earshot, amongst other exclusionary tactics. As a postgrad, I encountered the guy I always call “good housemate”, who was influenced by a classmate who had a very short temper with me, often sneeringly telling me to “shut up” for no particular reason; both used to insult me all the time, sometimes aiming simply to exclude me from the group entirely. At least I had “female best friend” and “other female best friend” in my corner, the latter being very angry with those two because she personally hated bullying! And “good housemate” continued having a go at me while we were housemates (sometimes making me quite upset, as you may remember), but still, I like to think he toughened me up.
(A mark of the strength of our relationship: he’s still my friend on Facebook today…)
Alas, one of my current housemates is becoming an oblivious bully: not only having a go at me for being a vegetarian (something else I haven’t apologised for), but playing practical jokes on me and criticising my lifestyle. I could take it when he jumped out at me when I turned the light on in a dark room, I could take him going “moo!” in his room when I walked past his door, I tolerated him turning the kitchen light off and walking out while I was cooking, I got over him implying I wasn’t normal for never having had a long-term girlfriend before (I know, it’s not normal and neither am I, it just sucks to have it brought home out of nowhere), and the time he grabbed my backpack as I was about to walk into our front garden at night was just below the line (at least he didn’t go through with his original plan to grab my face!).
But on Saturday, he ran into the kitchen just as I was returning to my baked beans and veggie sausages, which were cooking nicely on the stove, and held the kitchen door shut, sneeringly saying “no, Dave!” when I asked him to let me in. I had a minor panic attack and objected loudly to him preventing me from getting to my food, rather than playing whatever game he wanted me to play, he got quite snotty and said I needed to “get laid”. (Well, obviously, but what’s that got to do with his unfunny pranks?!) The next time I saw him (hopefully the last time before 2014), he asked if I was “still depressed”, since that was obviously why I hadn’t laughed at his antics.
And so we come to the crux of the matter: people who think victims like me should somehow be “thankful” for the way they treat us, or maybe that they’re even “helping” to toughen us up (oh, such altruism!). Hey, maybe I got overly upset at being kept out of a room into which I had every right to go, but so what? If he barricaded me out of my room, or locked me out of the house (especially on a wet, windy night like this — I have concerns about getting home for Christmas tomorrow, but never mind that now…), would he still expect me to laugh it off? Would he even care? Did the new tenancy agreement I signed the other day include a clause stating that I must indulge him in such things or be evicted?
(Did it? Damn, why didn’t I read it properly before signing…)
This unpleasant incident reminded me of the bullies at school: like a mantra, every time I got upset or angry at the way they treated me, they sneered, “why d’you take it so personally?”. Sorry, but that’s how I am, and if you don’t like it, don’t bully me — I’m under no obligation to respond to your taunts in a way that pleases you (indeed, the one time I laughed along with their joke — a “wanted” poster of me, featuring a picture of Terry Venables as a young man — it really seemed to take the wind out of their sails). Basically, unless you’re a dominatrix, I’m not gonna thank you and ask for another! Yeah, maybe I need a thicker skin and more of an ability to laugh it off, but that’s for my sake, not yours, bullies.
And YES, I think you’re a bully even if you didn’t specifically intend to upset me, if you carry on doing it despite seeing that it upsets me, and react by telling me that I should behave how you want me to. I’m my own person and I’ll react however I react, regardless of whether it ruins your fun or not.
Some people can mock me playfully, but they’ve earned that right by being my friends and helping me (yes, even “good housemate”… hey, especially “good housemate”, who let me stay in his new flat for a week when I was between homes!) — but even then I set limits: one time “best mate” snidely suggested I get something with meat in it to eat, but apologised when I pointed out to him that, unlike everyone else, I never give him any flak for refusing to drink alcohol (which is a rarity in an Irishman, but you know how I prefer “weird” people).
Of course, I put myself down humorously all the time (especially in this blog, as you may have noticed if you’ve been able to stay awake this long — see, Q.E.D.!), but perhaps it’s a “control” thing — none shall mock me before I have mocked myself! In fact, that confused the hell out of one of the bullies at school, back when I was 15. I suppose I need to find a way to let others laugh at me without it being me telling the jokes, but perhaps the problem isn’t that I object to them mocking me: perhaps it’s OCD, and I think they’ll just get the details wrong!
Finally, I myself have, in the past, been a horrible person to others (especially a good friend I had at school who just happened to be dyslexic), and for that I’m sorry… I guess being on the receiving end so much has made me realise how I don’t want to do the same to others (like my comment about “best mate’s” drinking above).
All right? Have I born my soul enough now, and can I go to bed before the onslaught of Christmas Eve, and fighting my way back to Worthing? Fine then. As Jerry Springer would say: take care of yourselves, and each other…