Six week Nightmare (summer holidays)

Summer Holidays

I hate summer

I don’t like summer, I know this might seem strange as it’s most peoples favorite time of year, but it’s my least favorite by far. The problem being I like to keep covered up, and it’s too hot to do this (good job I don’t live in Jamaica!). Wearing short sleeved tops makes me feel uncomfortable and extremely self-conscious, as I’m forced to show off my hideous arms! There’s much more walkers about, meaning the usual countryside spots I like to visit are no longer secluded, and therefore much less appealing to me.

When I was a kid and being hassled at high school, there was nothing better than the six weeks summer holidays and a period of respite from the bullies, In fact I yearned for it to come round. Right now though, I can’t imagine anything worse! In fact my world, kind of comes to a standstill. Don’t get me wrong, I still go out with my family and friends, but not nearly as often. They have to make more allowances for me and we have to be much more selective in where we go. During these six weeks, I hardly ever venture out on my own.

supermarket hell!

This year I’ve been making some good progress, in terms of my anxiety. In the months leading up to the summer holidays, I’ve been managing a short walk around the local neighbourhood, following a set route and gradually becoming more confident in my ability to do this unsupported. It’s still a significant challenge for me but I know my capabilities and felt to be making positive steps in the right direction. However any progress I was making has now reached an abrupt halt due to, yes you guessed it, the dreaded summer holidays. Sadly this is not a new thing for me, the exact same thing happened last year and is likely to happen for years to come. The problem is, for anyone with a mental health illness, such a prolonged period of isolation is very damaging and for me it will take time to regain my confidence.

It’s frustrating that I can become so distressed over a bunch of kids and for the majority of people such an abnormality, must be difficult to understand. I mean what harm could children possibly cause me? Believe me I constantly ask myself this same question and I’m frustrated by what I can only describe as irrational behaviour.social anxiety

It all stems back to my time in high school. A painful time when I discovered some children to be extremely cruel and vindictive. The school bullies would take high delight in ridiculing me in front of as many people as possible, which lead to me hiding away from large groups of students. Back to the present time, in the summer holidays you get groups of kids hanging around everywhere. It’s ridiculous, I know, The rational side of me knows there’s absolutely no threat to me, but for some reason I’m transported back to being a child again, and unless it’s a matter of life or death, I still refuse to walk past them!

I’m an adult and supposed to be a much stronger person now. Difficult childhood memories can still have a profound effect over us, even all these years later. I know this to be true, but It doesn’t stop it being any less embarrassing, and it’s truly exasperating when I consider I’m losing six weeks out of every year like this.

A spiritual Connection

Like I alluded to earlier, before the summer holidays I’ve been doing alright and managing a short walk most days. I call this my Tom walk as I pass my best mates house on route. I also pass a bench were we scattered my dads ashes. The local bowling club was one of his favourite haunts and the bench is situated overlooking it. It’s a beautiful spot with a fantastic view of the whole valley. It’s also the halfway point of my walk and a great place for a pit stop!

About a month a go whilst on my Tom walk, I was sat on my dads bench. The sun was shining and I was having a good day. Feeling more relaxed than I had for a long while. The one thing I haven’t mentioned about this spot is that it’s only a short distance away from my old high school. This is never an issue for me as I always choose a time when every ones still in school. On this particular day I was a little later than normal but I still had at least half an hour before school finished, so had nothing to concern me. I’d just have five minutes and then be on my way.

Whilst sat taking in my surroundings, I noticed a small bird sat on a telephone wire, overlooking the hillside. I soon became preoccupied by other things and and didn’t give the bird much more thought. But 10 minutes later when I glanced up it was still there. It was at this point I decided to set myself a silly challenge. I wouldn’t allow myself to move from this bench until my new little friend flew away. I should be fine with this, after all what sort of bird stayed in the same position for so long? Evidently this sort! 10 minutes passed and it was still there. I started to panic. 5 more minutes and the road would be filled with kids and the bird still showed no sign of moving. Come on little bird, please fly away. Come on you’ve been there long enough now. Are you super-glued to the spot or something! I could just stand up and leave anyway, nobody need know about the stupid challenge. The problem is I knew, and the competitive side of me wasn’t prepared to fail! So as excruciating as it would be, I decided to sit it out.

To cut a long story short, I kept to my side of the bargain and although I felt uncomfortable, I soon realized I had nothing to worry about. Out of the hundreds of kids that passed, only a handful even glanced in my direction. The others were far to preoccupied to even notice me. I felt huge relief, followed by foolishness that I’d made such a big deal out of it in the first place! You’d think then that I’d now be able to put my other issue, of walking past groups, into some kind of perspective. Sadly you’d think wrong! I’ve still spent the majority of the summer holidays, in the safety of my own home. However, it’s still a small step forward. On the day, the anticipation was much worse than the actual event, and I need to keep that in mind moving forward. I’m not a deeply religious person, but I do believe that the little bird was stuck to that phone wire for a reason. Maybe I was supposed to have this personal experience, to prove something to myself and help me to start overcoming some of my anxiety. Or maybe the whole thing was a coincidence, Who knows!

 

Reassurance

Reassurance- People power!

When I think about needing reassurance, the first thing that comes to mind is my family. I am extremely fortunate to have a loving supportive family who understand all about my illness and the limitations it brings.

ReassurancesI’m fortunate to have a small group of amazing friends who also get me and are just like an extended family. When I’m out with them I feel like I’m cocooned in a protective bubble. Their support is invaluable and gives my confidence an extra boost. Don’t get me wrong I’m not mollycoddled by them, I still challenge myself daily and try to be as independent as possible, they just keep my spirits up and reinforce to me, that I’m doing the right things.  When I do something or go somewhere on my own, my reassurance is that I always have a friend or family member on stand by. If I’m struggling with my anxiety they’re only a phone call away and will come and rescue me, not even questioning the reason why. Knowing I have this plan B in place, gives me the necessary peace of mind and more often than not, I find I don’t have to use it. I appreciate that not everyone has the same level of support that I do. I remind these people that there’s an awful lot of online support services available and I too am happy to respond to any comments. It’s important to remember you’re not on your own.

Reassurance- Repetitive cycles

I gain comfort from a continuous routine. I guess it’s part of my illness that I need to feel in control and that there’s no surprises waiting for me around the next corner! Sadly there’s not too many guarantees in life but I find nature offering me some. Like every autumn the leaves turning a golden brown and falling off the trees, or every spring daffodils and tulips shooting up everywhere.

ReassurancesJust like these other phenomenon, for a two week period between spring and summer, my garden bush begins to blossom, tiny white flowers appear everywhere and the bumble bees come out to play. On sunny days there can be hundreds of them hard at work collecting pollen. The greedy ones drop to the ground, too heavy to take off! pretty soon the flowers all turn brown as they die away. This reoccurring event takes place every year without fail and there’s something strangely soothing about it.

I crave a simple life, where I know exactly what’s expected of me. Even though I know such a life doesn’t exist for anyone, I try to limit the surprises in mine, by excessive planning. For example If I’ve been somewhere before, I notice where all my escape routes are for future reference! I also know what time places are likely to be at their quietest. It might sound crazy but this is the simple reassurance I need to live my life.

Praying For Rain!

I don’t believe there’s any use in praying for the weather to change, I’m sure God’s got more important prayers to answer! However If I was to ask for anything it would be rain! For all you sun worshipers, before you scold me for even suggesting such a thing, think about all the other people and animals who also love the rain. Some even depend on it to survive, you see it on nature programs about creatures living in the baron desert lands, they can’t wait for the wet season to come. Closer to home you get gardeners who love the rain, saying it helps keep the grass healthy and the flowers blooming. In hotter climates people find the rain refreshing, as it cools them down, the Jamaicans refer to it as liquid sunshine.

Reassurances
this little fella loves the damp ground

Winter is my favourite season, mainly because it’s cold and it rains a lot! My body image problems are less of an issue, as I get to cover up.

In England when it rains the majority of people run for cover. The majority don’t go anywhere on foot if they can help it. If I see anyone they tend to be in too much of a rush to even notice me! So basically you can guarantee a quieter environment, which is ideal for me! Strange as it must sound I never feel more comfortable and stress free, than when I’m out in the rain. It’s one of my biggest reassurance, when everyone else is hiding indoors, I find I’m in my element.

 

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.