Continuing our stream of mental health articles this month, one contributor bravely takes us through his experience of bullying at school and how life does, and will, get better.
When it comes to mental health, and the issues associated, it is difficult to think of words to express experience. Despite the progress that society in Ireland has undoubtedly made when it comes to speaking about mental health, more has to be done.
 
This piece that I have written is my own personal experience with mental health issues in the past. While it is probably not very groundbreaking in terms of the approach to mental health in this country, I hope that it will at least show that it is ok to talk about it. With that in mind, here I go.
 
My own experience with struggles in mental health probably started while I was in secondary school. As this is anonymous, I am comfortable enough to say that I was bullied for the goods of 4-5 years in school, give or take. It wasn’t physical bullying or anything like that, I was extremely lucky not to have to go through that sort of ordeal, unlike many other bullying victims. Instead, it was largely of a verbal variety.
 
I was bullied for how I looked, mainly. On top of that, and what affected me the most, I was often picked on for anything I said or did in school. As a result, my confidence in school took a massive hit, and I was often afraid to go to school at all, while being too embarrassed to bring it up.
 
It was a tough time and, during those years, I started to question my value to the people around me. I started to wonder if anyone would miss me or care if I was gone. For a long time, and still occasionally today, I believed that my friends and family would be better off if I just disappeared.
 
I was constantly at war with the thoughts in my head. I became irritable, sensitive, anxious, and weary of how I looked, acted, and spoke. I never sought out people to talk to about how I was feeling for a long time because I didn’t feel as if it mattered, and that anybody I spoke to had more important things to worry about.
 
As a result, I simply kept my mouth shut, out of fear of wasting people’s time with issues that didn’t matter, or out of fear of experiencing abuse for whatever I would say. I often found myself walking through the front doors of that school petrified of the day ahead. I put on a brave face and painted on a smile because I was too embarrassed to say that I was anything less than happy with my life. On the rare occasion that I expressed any sort of worry or depressed emotion, I would often be met with ridicule. Figuratively, I would open the curtains, only to immediately pull them shut again.
 
It was the worst period of my entire life. While many of my friends have gone back to the school to say hello to our former teachers, I am still too afraid to go anywhere near it. While I would playfully bid good riddance whenever going the past the building in a joking manner, the truth is that I am petrified of the memories in the place.
 
I think that one of the biggest problem that I faced at that time, and one which still exists today across the country, is that, despite what was going on in the school, I never felt comfortable going to any of the teachers for help or support. On the one occasion that I told a teacher that I was experiencing problems, the teacher shrugged it off by saying “ah lads, leave him alone”. No further follow up, no repercussions, nothing of the sort.
 
I became extremely untrustworthy of the people around me, even including many of my best friends. It is a trait which I still carry around to this day, a good 3 years after I finished secondary school.
 
To those who have made it through this thus far, here is a bit of levity. Gratefully, I did have a few truly dear friends that tried to make me feel welcome, and helped me rebound somewhat. Carrying on into college, I now have great friends that I feel almost completely comfortable around who also make me feel welcome. Now, it isn’t a case where I have told them on occasion what I have gone through. Not at all. I still don’t feel comfortable around anybody enough to discuss such things, but it is the little things, like listening to what I have to say and being interested in what I am saying which makes me feel a bit more comfortable.
 
It is the small expressions of love that helps when I was feeling down, such as when I was at a party that fell on the night of my 18th, I got a shoutout from the DJ and the girl hosting the party gave me a hug and told me: “this is our night”.
 
Are they small little moments? Absolutely, but for a person like me who didn’t feel like he mattered, they are massively important.
 
To this day, I still have problems. I still get wrapped up in my own thoughts far too much. I still have moments of feeling worthless and unimportant to those around me. They are problems that I am working on remedying every day.
 
I guess if I learnt anything from that period, and if I was to offer some sort of advice to people who may be going through the same, I would say to them not to ever doubt your importance to the people around you. You are loved even more than you can possibly know. Don’t make the same mistake I made by keeping your mouth shut. Seek out help, whether it be from a friend or a member of your family, your coach, your pet, just don’t be afraid to open up to people.
 
I made the mistake of not thinking that anybody cared, and it is still affecting my relationships with people to this day. Your state of mind matters. And to all of the guys out there too proud to admit that they have a problem: emotion is not a weakness, never forget that!
 
If you have been affected by the contents of this article, Samaritans can be called 24/7 on: 116 123 (this number is free to call and you don’t have to be suicidal to call Samaritans).