To put it more precisely, I want to feel that I matter.
I cried a lot as a child. I was bullied at school for five years which was the prime reason. My parents had imbued me with a strong sense that violence was wrong, that fighting was wrong, but had not equipped me with a pacific alternative. I did not know how to stand up to bullies, what to say, what to do. So I retreated into myself and when I transferred to secondary school made sure I always had a book to read at playtime so I could avoid feeling lost; I couldn’t avoid being sneered at in the classroom. I used to dread school lessons which required pairing off, or going into groups as I would be the one left unchosen.
My mother said I cried every night for 2 years. That is probably an exaggeration but is near enough. I jumped a year at primary school as I seemed to get on better with the year above, but other than that I can remember no action being taken at school. My father didn’t treat it as important, telling me that he’d never had friends at school and look how well he turned out. My mother finally wrote my father a letter one holiday giving her point of view, which is credited with changing my father’s mind.
She only recently told me about her school days, where the headteacher bullied everyone, teachers and children included, ruling every inch of their lives. The only reason she said nothing to her parents was that this was the only decent school in the area and there was no alternative.
I was also bullied by one of my teachers; in fact the one teacher I needed the most help and support from. She threatened to keep me down a year, to make me repeat as I was not doing sufficiently well in her lessons. That, combined with the fact that I would have to start learning English as a foreign language I think probably contributed more to my father’s decision for taking me out of that school than my mother’s letter. Maybe I’m being uncharitable in saying this, but it would be the only example of emotional appeal changing my father’s viewpoint on anything.
I wasn’t heard. I cried in bed at night because there was no point doing it in front of anyone else. When, two terms later, having settled into a new school and made my first good fried, my parents announced we were moving (again) I was devastated. It was assumed that I wanted to go but my opinion had not been sought.
I struggled in my third (and last) secondary school as I was too scared to make any overtures of friendship. One friend later told me that I had seemed very stand offish and unapproachable those first few weeks. I replied that I was actually scared shitless.
This pattern of retreating into myself continued into adulthood when I chose partners whose own problems would dominate mine to the point where I never put my problems first as I was always busy trying to sort theirs out. I sank into the background.
In some ways I am still in the background; I define myself too much as a parent and my state of happiness depends too much on theirs. Ask me how I am and I’ll tell you how my children are.
I need to reaffirm my identity as an individual, independent human being. To feel that I matter because I exist. Not because I’m a parent, a mother, a daughter, a sister. But because I am me.