Beating The Bullies

High School Trauma

When I started high school, the first thing that struck me was how tiny I was compared to everyone else. Over two thousand students in a building that itself was enormous in comparison to my previous junior school. I remember being overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. I also remember feeling lost and alone, as I wandered round aimlessly with a little map in my hand, not daring to ask anyone for directions and not having a clue what I was supposed to do.

Don’t I look a smart boy!

 

The only hope I had was to try and make some friends and to do this quickly. I would be much less vulnerable in a group, safety in numbers and all that! I really tried hard to fit in but I was far too nervous and it seemed like everybody had already grouped off together.

My best plan was to try and blend in and attempt to make myself invisible to the world. Would it be possible to accomplish this feat for five years? Sadly the answer to that was a resounding no.

Right from the beginning I was easy prey for the bullies. Being weak, fragile and highly sensitive is not a good combination. I was much smaller than the other kids and being on my own, I stood out like a sore thumb. My tactic of staying quiet and keeping a low profile was quick to backfire on me. I soon got the nickname Steve Davis which I hated! But it was to stick with me for the rest of school. Steve Davis was a snooker player who was well known for being extremely dull and boring.

I was given several other derogatory names such as Mr Puny verse and my personal favourite FA cup ears! And so began an excruciating time for me, where everyday was like a living hell!

Its hard to believe just how cruel and vindictive kids can be, unless you’ve experienced it first hand like me. The name-calling and intimidation was relentless and I had to endure periods of physical abuse including being thrown down an embankment into some tennis court netting, which resulted in a broken nose. Not to mention being used as a human punch bag. I had my dinner money stolen and once I had stopped having the school meals, I regularly had my pack lunch tipped on the floor in front of me.

Another incident, which stuck with me, was being cellotaped to my chair and stabbed repeatedly with a compass. This resulted in my mother making an appearance, which achieved very little, making me look even weaker. If anything it caused the treatment to get worse.

I’ve chosen to block out a lot of my time at high school as the majority of it is still very painful, but one more day stuck in my memory, as it involved the worst kind of bullying, humiliation. I had adopted my usual position, sat alone in the corner of the playground, counting down the minutes until the end of break time, whilst desperately trying to keep out of sight of the bullies. Unfortunately today was not to be my lucky day,  I  was forced into the middle of the playground by a lad who although the same age as me had a much bigger physique than most kids in our year. He had already been showing off tensing his muscles in front of a large group of female admirers, having them feel his biceps before he rolled my sleeve up and made me tense my arm in front of them. Then he proceeded to completely ridicule me, he had all the girls giggling and I was left feeling extremely small! Not content with this, later that day in the classroom he challenged me to an arm wrestle. I refused of course, but a few of his mates told me if I didn’t they’d be waiting for me outside the school gates. In other words I’d get my head kicked in. Everyone gathered around to witness my humiliation, he let me use both my hands to give me a sporting chance. Of course he still managed to beat me! Next came the inevitable laughter and name calling. This time I couldn’t stop my eyes filling with tears, until I was finally saved by the arrival of the teacher.

After that day I became extremely self-conscious about my body. I started believing that the only solution and the only way I’d get any respect from anyone, was to get bigger. I soon became obsessed with this and from then on, every birthday or Christmas present I asked for was related to building my body up. All my spending money went towards exercise equipment, from Dumbbells to Bull workers, leg weights, ab- pumps to pull up bars. I even got my self a toning belt, which resulted in me burning my belly! I bought myself books on bodybuilding and was constantly looking up new exercise regimes.

This obsession continued throughout high school and even into my working life, things didn’t get much better. If I was starting work at 8 o’clock, I would get up at 5.30 so that I could do an hour and a half workout with my Dumbbells before setting off. On arrival I would go straight to the staff room and examine myself in the full-length mirror. Still not satisfied with how my arms were looking, I’d quickly get down on my hands and knees and do some push-ups before everyone else arrived.

Even to this day, I prefer winter to summer so I can remain covered up and even to this day if I see a group of women laughing in a corner I presume they’re laughing at me.

Solutions

So what’s the answer? I wish there was a simple way of beating the bullies. I hate the thought of kids suffering the same kind of daily harassment that I did, its arguably even worse now with the introduction of social media, the horrible treatment can be even more relentless. If you’re a little different school can be tough but after your school time is up, being unique is celebrated and will get you much further in life. I’m also well aware that bullying doesn’t always stop at school but can continue into adulthood.

You need to find someone (an adult) to talk to. maybe you have a school counselor or even a favorite teacher that you can open up to. Its very hard I know, but the treatment you’re getting is not fair, so please don’t just put up with it. Remember bullies are very insecure people, if there calling you names its probably just to draw attention away from themselves. Another great idea is to have a good outlet. At the start of my second year I came up with the idea of a lunch time table tennis club. With the help of my head teacher and some extra fundraising, we were able to buy all the equipment we required and my idea became a reality. Table tennis was my savior. Suddenly I had a safe place to go every day, where a teacher was always present to overlook proceedings. All of a sudden lack of friends was not an issue, I was making more than I knew what to do with!

I’m not saying you need to come up with anything as drastic as that but sometimes when you’ve tried everything else, thinking outside of the box is the only way to go. maybe there are existing lunchtime groups you can get involved with, finding people with similar interests to you. Anything to stop you becoming isolated and an easier target. One thing I haven’t suggested is standing up to the bully. In my case there were too many for this to be an option but if there’s one main culprit then standing up to him or her might work.

Its important not to be a victim for the rest of your life. I’ve already shared how body image remained a problem for me. As well as this I do have a nasty habit of planning conversations with friends in a desperate attempt not to seem boring. when you’ve been called dull every single day throughout school, sadly you start to believe it! Its true, certain events from your childhood are bound to have a profound effect on you but they can also make you stronger.

 

 

Looking After Yourself

In this post I’m going to discuss managing your mental health and include some of the methods which have worked best for me. This is not to say they’ll be for everyone. For more creative people than me, art and music therapy may me of benefit. The important thing is finding the coping tools that work best for you.

Reading and Writing 

I find reading a fictional book to be helpful. I can soon get lost in the story line and forget about my issues in the real world. A good film or favourite television program can have the same effect. I’ve always been uncomfortable talking about my emotions and instead found writing things in a journal to be equally beneficial. I’m finding writing this blog to be very useful too. As well as it helping me continue to work through and understand my own illness, its also given me a purpose and its keeping my mind occupied which is essential at the moment.

Sports and Fitness

Any type of exercise can be used as a great coping tool. I like to keep myself fit and its a fact that when you take part in physical fitness, chemicals are released in your brain that make you feel good and therefore will help to boost your self-esteem( that’s about as technical as I get! ). Hence the saying Healthy body Healthy mind. If your a competitive person it can also give a goal to work towards. For example I got myself a pedometer, which measures how many steps you take when you’re out and about. I always try to beat my record from the previous week, which gives me more of an incentive to leave the house. 2500 steps equates to one mile, which means if you do roughly 66,500 steps you’ve completed a full marathon!

Walking in the countryside and the peacefulness that comes with this is a great aid for switching off, completely unwinding and being one with nature. There is no better therapy than this for me. Its always been important for me to feel in control. Exercise helps me to take control back of my body and this in turn can give me the confidence to start taking charge of other situations in my life.

I enjoy playing numerous sports and I use each of them as a way to escape from the every day pressures of life. Its amazing how great it feels to smash a golf ball down the middle of the fairway or kick a football into the roof of the net. As well as the obvious benefits the exercise brings, I also find sports to be an effective way to release tension. I’ve played competitive table tennis in local leagues for several years now and I find the camaraderie and strength you get from being part of a team, to be immeasurable. you’re trying to win, not just for yourself but for the other lads too. I had to have a little break away from the league due to my illness but I’m happy to say I’m back playing and everyone’s been fantastic. I’ve been made to feel valued and significant, all of which has increased my self-worth.

Talking Therapy

I have received both counselling and psychology sessions. I started the process very tentatively, I found it extremely difficult to open up to a stranger. I also felt undeserving of the help, like there were people much more in need than me and I was potentially taking up their space. For the first few weeks I was very defensive and looking for hidden agendas in everything Nancy said to me. I spent half the time attempting to convince her I was ok and the other half apologising for being there. Over the years I have become a master of repressing my feelings. Bottling up emotions has always seemed the best and safest option and therefore its become the norm for me. I now know that this is extremely unhealthy. In counselling sessions you have to be prepared to be stripped bare (figurately speaking). To open up and share some of your inner most feelings takes time and only works if you have complete trust in your counsellor. It took me five months to get to this stage. This might sound a long time but with my trust issues, Its a miracle I found anyone I could open up to at all. Once I began to share things, all of a sudden everything just started pouring out of me. I was able to be completely honest including talking about my suicidal thoughts. Just to be able to tell someone that I didn’t want to be here anymore was such a massive relief. Every time I got something off my chest, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted.

In counselling you have an environment were you can feel completely safe. Your able to share what ever is on your mind with the knowledge that it will stay in the room. So how ever cynical you are about talking therapies, please don’t dismiss them as an option cause you might be pleasantly surprised.

Medication

For a short time I needed sleeping tablets but now I’m just taking my antidepressants. It took me a while to come to terms with needing long term medication. In the past I wouldn’t even take paracetemol for a headache! But I soon realised the tablets are just a necessary fix and its no big deal really. It did take a while to get on the right medication, I tried a few that disagreed with me but now I’m on the correct tablet and dosage for me. If you’re struggling with your meds remember to persevere, they do sometimes take a while to get into your system and have the desired effect. Other than that be honest with your doctor about how your feeling.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the ability to be and remain in the present. Being aware of your body and mind and your environment in that exact moment. Its not as easy as it sounds, the human mind naturally wanders off and its very difficult to concentrate on one thing at once. That’s my understanding of it anyway but I’m far from being an expert and I’m new to practising the mindful meditations. I practice them for twenty minutes every day in a quiet space with no distractions, this might not be easy to find for some people but it is necessary. Due to my limited knowledge on the subject I’m not going to advise but I will recommend a book called ‘Mindfulness for dummies’ or you could always look up the therapies on line. What I will say is the various breathing exercises been a huge benefit to me and recently even helped to bring me back from having a panic attack.

Positive Mantras 

If I had a pound for every time I’ve been told to be kind to myself and take one small step at a time, I’d be a rich man! You might get sick of people saying these things to you but the reason why its repeated so often is because its actually great advice! I now have a few additional methods which are giving me the positive reinforcement I need right now. I have a mantra which I repeat every day, even more so when I’m in situations that make me anxious. Some of the most common ones are listed below.

  • I am what I am
  • Action conquers fears
  • I am enough
  • This too shall pass
  • I love and approve of myself
  • Keep calm and carry on
  • I breath in calmness and breath out nervousness
  • Keep your head up and your heart open

Obviously these are just a few, it’s what works best for you. You might want to invent a completely new saying that’s unique to you. When I’m stressed I repeat the phrase ‘nil nil and all is well’, when I’m about to start a game of table tennis and the umpire says nil nil, I manage to switch off all other distractions and just focus on the job in hand. This inner calm has proven helpful when trying to accomplish any given task.

One big thing I miss about my counsellor is the constant reassurance she gave me. Helping me realise I was on the right track, that I wasn’t a bad person and actually had a lot to offer. The way I’ve chosen to emulate this is by writing positive reminders that relate to different situations. For example if I’m about to go out with friends and I’m feeling anxious I look at a certain page in my notebook, which emphasis that I’m well liked and good company, that I’ve no need to rehearse or force conversations. Instead I should just be myself and go with the flow. These simple scripts help me to continue to leave the house and manage my every day life. As time goes on and I continue to be more assured and comfortable in my own skin, I will need to read them less and less.

Graded Exposure

If you have somewhere to go or just want to get out for a little while, the first thing to remember is there’s no shame in asking someone to go with you. everybody needs a bit of a prop from time to time. If the only way you’re leaving the house is to be accompanied then so be it, its better than staying in and feeling sorry for yourself.

Sometimes if you picture a full length journey somewhere or focus on a task in its entirety, it can soon become overwhelming. Therefore a good idea is to break things down into more manageable segments. This is where Graded exposure comes in as a really productive tool to help you get your independence back. In my case I had a carer who took me out. If you haven’t got this option or find yourself on a waiting list, a close friend or family member will do just fine. For a long period I didn’t leave my house on my own due to my anxiety levels. First and foremost I wanted to be able to get to the local shop on my own to get necessities and avoid having to rely so much on other people. The shop is a ten minute walk away (I don’t drive). We split the journey up into 6 checkpoints. For the first few weeks we kept repeating the journey together but then eventually I managed to meet my carer at the first checkpoint. Over time I was able to go further distances on my own until eventually I achieved my goal. I have achieved larger challenges since including getting to the local swimming baths and playing table tennis in the league. All of which I have done through graded exposure.

Gardening

This interest is an unusual one for me to include in this list. Unusual because until the last couple of years I hated it. It was a chore I could well do without! But I now see it as an important distraction for when I’m having a bad day with my depression. The back garden is a quiet secluded spot were I can practice my mindfulness and feel completely safe. There’s always plenty to do planting, weeding and generally tidying up and making the area look nice. Its a perfect place to go when I’m feeling sorry for myself and it nearly always brings me out of my slump. Plants are very similar to us in many respects. If they receive plenty of love and nurturing there happy and they blossom.

 

Finally but not least give yourself a break and celebrate your achievements how ever small they might seem. I met a friend the other day and he was buzzing because he’d just got a big promotion at work. I was delighted that I’d managed to walk in Aldi by myself and buy a loaf of bread, an equally huge achievement for me! I wasn’t going to mention it cause it seemed insignificant in comparison but I did and he was really pleased for me. We celebrated both together.

 

 

 

 

There’s always hope

Two years ago I came perilously close to taking my life. Its hard to explain the pain and mental anguish I was experiencing at this time but lets just say I was in an extremely dark place.                                                               I didn’t fully understand why I was feeling this way, which made it all so much worse. Even though I’d been seeing a counsellor for some time Asking for help on this was not an option, I was far to ashamed and didn’t feel deserving of it. I felt like I’d become a burden to everyone important in my life. I genuinely believed that killing myself was the only option left. And so I began putting plans in place for after I’d gone. I wrote personal letters to each of my loved ones, cleared my debts and left enough in the bank to pay for my funeral. I even put a list together of telephone numbers my family would need to contact after my death. I really gave it a lot of thought and attempted to cover all angles.                                 shortly after this I took myself to the spot I intended to do the deed, a nearby quarry with a big drop, easily deep enough to do the job. I wasn’t sure if today would be the day or if it was just to be a practice run (as ridiculous as this must sound!). Anyway it was a cloudy but fine day, I cant remember much of the walk up but I found myself stood on the edge. I closed my eyes and thought about how easy it would be. One simple step forward and my problems would be over, the pain would finally stop. I had just about convinced myself that today was going to be the day when a strange sensation came over me. I was suddenly greeted by a warm breeze against my forehead. It felt good and strangely comforting. I opened my eyes to see the sun breaking through the cloud and lighting up the whole valley. What a stunning view, I cant believe I hadn’t noticed it before! I broke down, overwhelmed with emotion. Today wasn’t to be the day after all.

Later I confided in my counsellor, sharing my entire plan with her. At this point She made me get the extra help I needed. I was still adamant I was going to end my life and put it down to cowardice that I hadn’t done it already. She also helped me to see that not taking my life was actually the bravest thing I’ve ever done. The help that I’ve received since that day has been invaluable.                                                                                                The reality is I’m nowhere near recovered, I may never be. But I have learnt to manage my illness much better. Some days I find myself very down and too anxious to leave the house on my own, it feels like I’m surviving at best! But all this aside I no longer wake up in the morning dreading the day, instead I find myself looking forward to things to come. In fact every day feels like a bonus and this alone is a huge step for me.

 

 

FEELING USELESS

One of the main characteristics of having depression is constantly putting yourself down and I am a great exponent of this! You can soon become fixated on everybody seeming better than you. You think of yourself as totally useless with very little to offer. Your self-esteem is very low and suddenly even the simplest of tasks becomes a challenge, as self-doubt starts to take over.

‘Everybody’s an expert, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking its stupid’

Above is one of my favourite quotes by Albert Einstein. To me it highlights that everyone has things they excel at and equally things that they’re not so good at. If your taken out of your comfort zone anyone can look foolish. A good analogy is that of a penguin. when on land penguins can appear extremely clumsy, waddling along, tripping and sliding on their bellies in the most undignified of manner. But then all at once a magnificent transformation takes place. Suddenly they’re gliding through the water with elegance and grace as they show off their skills.                                     I can honestly say I’ve never met anyone who’s not good at something, It’s just easy to forget this when your battling with your mental health.

Take a leap of faith Adelie Penguin
Pygoscelis adeliae
Jumping off iceberg
Paulet Island, Antarctica

 

 

Acceptance of Mental health

mental health awareness A smile hides our true emotions

Depression is a serious illness that affects millions of people and that’s why there’s so much help out there. Accepting your mental health is the first stage and was the hardest part for me. For those of you who are fellow sufferers you may be in a dark, scary place at the moment but I assure you that what your feeling is not abnormal. It might not feel like it but all the symptoms such as low self-esteem, panic and anxiety, extreme changes in your emotional state and generally feeling like crap! They’re all part of the illness and like any major illness it needs treating. You deserve the help, please ask for it! You’ll be amazed how much having someone to talk to will be of benefit. Unlike the picture above you no longer need to hide behind your smile. I was extremely pessimistic about going to see a counsellor but now I can see, it quite literally saved my life. It took me a long time to open up but counsellors are used to this and will be patient and empathic towards you. Once I did begin to unload all my bottled up emotions and talk about my mental health I felt a huge sense of relief.

Many people make the presumption that if your depressed you’re bound to fall into a certain category. Maybe your alone and isolated with no family or friends to turn to. Maybe you’ve experienced a life changing traumatic event. You might be financially unstable, facing bankruptcy, the bills are mounting up and you cant see an easy way out. You have no outgoings, no reason to get up in a morning, nothing to be proud of and no purpose in life. A disability might be preventing you from living the life you want to lead. Or you might just be one of those people whose glass is always half empty, you some how manage to find the negative side of every given situation and have a miserable outlook on life!

What if none of these things apply to you. I can honestly say I have the best bunch of friends in the world and I’ve been brought up in a loving family, which are still to this day amazingly supportive of me. I have numerous hobbies and interests and I enjoy many aspects of life. I’d like to think of myself as cheerful and my friends would tell you that I’m good company most of the time. So bearing all this in mind, do I still have the right to be depressed? Should I feel guilty for feeling the way I do, when I have such fantastic support all around me?  Well the truth is I did feel extremely guilty and at times even disgusted with myself. Useless and inadequate are also words that spring to mind and I certainly felt undeserving of any help with my mental health. As well as being confused and frustrated by the way I was feeling I remember also feeling an unbearable shame. On the news I’d see children being born into poverty or war zones and it would remind me how lucky I was. I kept going back to the same question of what right or reason did I have to be depressed?

Mental Health Acceptance

Accepting my mental health has been extremely difficult for me and I’m not certain I’ve even got there yet. The fact that its such a difficult illness to fully understand makes it even harder to live with. But it is an illness and a serious one at that, weather you believe yourself worthy of it or not. If you’ve got it that’s completely out of your control. As much as you put yourself down, you do need the help and more to the point your entitled to it. If your like me and you have good friends then ask yourself why? maybe it’s because you to are a good friend to them too. If you have a supportive family the reason could be due to you being equally supportive of them. Its time to start looking after yourself. I had visited the doctors twice in five years and one of those time was for some holiday vaccinations! It took me some time to come to terms with the idea of having a fortnightly slot but I finally accepted that having spent most of my life caring for others and putting there needs first it was now my time to get a little help.

mental health awareness Escape To A Nicer Reality

 

 

Welcome

Remember when you strip it back to its simplest form, life is beautiful

I’ve tried to make this site as easy to navigate as possible. At the top of the page is an alphabetical list of topics, clicking on any one of these will bring up that post. Down the right hand side is a list of my most recent posts. Please feel free to leave comments and I welcome any relevant questions you may have, I will endeavour to respond as quickly as I can.

ABOUT ME

My name is Shaun Ellis and I have a background in care work. I have worked in learning disabilities and mental health sectors as a support worker, including thirteen years working for the NHS. In the last two years I have needed the use of various mental health services to help me come to terms with and work through my own illness. I am no longer well enough to work as a carer but still feel I have a lot to offer. I have become passionate about mental health awareness, hence me creating this blog. I don’t profess to be an expert in the field, there’s many people with much higher qualifications than me. But I do have experience on both sides, as a carer and as a service user, which has allowed me a unique insight into the subject and I believe qualifies me to have my say.

As well as this blog I am close to completing my first book I am calling ‘Beneath The Mask’ which tells my story of living with an anxiety disorder and depression. This will hopefully be available to purchase in 2018 but I will keep you up to date on my progress.

So I guess the only thing left to do is welcome you to my blog and briefly explain what I’m hoping to achieve from it. First and foremost I’m wanting to offer support and hope, to people just like me. People who might be finding themselves in a dark lonely place at the moment and feel like their surviving at best, as they battle with their mental health. I also plan to challenge some of the stigmas still surrounding mental health and help people who don’t know, understand what it’s like to live with. I intend to include taboo subjects such as dealing with suicidal thoughts.      I’ll talk about the daily challenges I face and the limitations iv had to accept due to my illness.

I will share some of the coping tools which have worked for me and some straight forward methods of helping yourself. This may be especially helpful for people who need immediate help but find themselves on a never ending waiting list to see a specialist!

I’m using lots of photographs in this site, most of which have been taken by John Hayes. So a big thank you to him for allowing me to use them.