Forgetting the Bully

It all started when I got my first job.

I’d just finished my exams at school and was free to spend my summer however I pleased. I was 16 and still a child, but my mother got me a part-time job working in a government office during the evenings.

For a first job it was amazing: good pay, looked great on a resume and I was good at it too. Everything seemed perfect until the bullying started.

At the time I was incredibly naïve. All throughout my time in school I had shied away from socialising because I’ve always been an introvert. The result of this was I didn’t know how to fit in. I didn’t know about fashion or how to talk to others. I’d rarely gone shopping for clothes in my life and thought nothing about how I looked.

I realise now that none of these things really matter anyway. You can wear what you want, be who you like, it’s your life after all. However when you’re younger difference isn’t something that is accepted but rather something that is opposed.

I’d love to say it changes as you get older, but really it doesn’t. No matter what your age there will always be people looking to single individuals out and try to force them to be the same as everybody else. Always somebody there to look down on you.

At my job, I was the odd one out. I went to work everyday in a shirt and trousers but there was no dress code. Everybody else wore trendy jeans and t-shirts. I may as well have been dressed as a clown.

I had a terrible haircut and didn’t know what to say in social situations. Everybody I worked with was a year or so older than me and they all seemed to understand the rules of fitting in so much better.

To make matters worse, I was completely unaware that I was the odd one out. I was naïve about the world and how people acted or were supposed to act.

Looking back, I feel a surge of anger. It happened over a decade ago but with hindsight I can see where I went wrong, I can see the full picture and see the injustice of the situation.

It took me a while to understand that I was being bullied, it was a strange feeling for me. Each day I would go into work and would be the subject of jibes, pranks and abuse from a group of people, all led by one chubby guy a year or so older than me.

To describe the events makes them seem less worse than they were, but it seemed like everything that happened was designed to torment me. All the little things piled one on top of each other until I found them hard to handle.

At my job when you printed something out, it was sent to a room where you could collect it. Some times I would go to collect my prints and they would be missing. Obviously I thought the printer was broken, so I went back to my desk and printed them out again. Again they were missing. I took a look at the printer to try and fix it and that’s when I noticed my print outs had actually been hidden underneath the printer.

This happened a few times and it drove me insane. Partly because I knew who had done it, but I had no way to prove it. It was impossible to fight back against because everybody could deny it.

Worse, I knew it had happened, they knew it had happened. So I felt they were laughing at me. Little instances like this may not seem like much on the surface, but when they happen to you every day you start to question why they’re happening and if you’re not mentally strong the conclusions you come to can be brutal.

My manager was rarely around and I worked a late shift which prevented anybody from really intervening in the bullying. The bully would shout things at me, or make remarks in my direction but the only people around were our peers, the same age as us, they just kept silent.

I guess somebody must have said something to the manager eventually because I soon found myself being separated from the others. This didn’t really change anything, in fact it made things worse. The bully increased in volatility, finding new ways to get at me.

He figured out the phone numbers to the desks around me and from the other side of the room he would ring them from his mobile phone. Since I had to answer the phones as part of my job, I was forced to go to the phones and pick them up. Of course, when I went to pick the phone up it stopped ringing and laughter echoed out across the office.

Worse, I would have to walk by the bully’s desk every time I wanted to get a print out, meaning I wasn’t separated from him at all. Each time I walked by he would make a noise in my direction or shout something at me. Sometimes his friends would laugh, other times everybody would stay silent.

Eventually I got sick of him. One day as I was walking by he said something and I confronted him about his comment in front of everybody. I can’t remember what I said now, but it was something like telling him to shut up. His friends laughed.

Instantly he turned aggressive, I’d obviously made him lose face in front of everybody so he had to regain his dominance. He looked up from his seat and said “Watch your mouth you little shit or I’ll take you outside and kick your head in.” I just laughed at him and walked away. Everybody else sat in silence.

When I go back on this moment, it’s not actually the bully that bothers me. It’s that everybody else sat in silence and let it go on.

For me, those people that sat back and did nothing were just as active in the bullying as he was. By turning a blind eye to bullying and hoping the problem goes away by itself, you’re instead supporting the bully by making him think his behaviour is acceptable.

Now, some of you that have never been bullied may wonder why I did nothing about it. I can offer a couple of reasons why. One reason is that bullies prey on the weak. If I was strong enough to stand up for myself then I wouldn’t have been bullied. I had neither the confidence or the knowledge as to how to stop the bully, so he continued.

The larger reason though was because I was ashamed. The constant barrage of humiliation left me not wanting to go to work, but I forced myself to go as I didn’t want to admit to others that I was being bullied.

When you’re bullied, you live in shame. Simply knowing that you aren’t strong enough to stick up for yourself is enough to make you feel weak. You don’t want to ask for help because you feel ashamed of yourself for doing so. In my case, I almost felt like I deserved to be bullied. I took a look at myself and started to believe that maybe the bully was right, maybe I was worthless?

Obviously this is a silly thing to think, I know that now, but when your self-esteem is low it’s hard to look for help from anybody. I never wanted to admit that I was being bullied to others because I didn’t want to admit to myself that I was weak. So I instead just hoped it would all go away.

Eventually the bully was moved to another room and we were separated for good but by that point the damage was done. My self-esteem took a big hit and when the bullying was added in to other problems and stresses in my life I fell into a slump – one that I never truly got out of for years.

I battled depression for a long time afterwards and while I wont blame it all on the bully, I will say that the bullying was the catalyst to start off a spiral of self-pity and depression.

For years afterwards I went through periods of hopelessness and after a while I started to think back on the bullying and punish myself for doing nothing about it. I would look back, asking myself why I was so weak and foolish. Why was I so naïve?

Really I was just telling myself these things as I was depressed and trying to prove to myself that I was a useless human being and always would be. Thinking back on the bullying gave me no excuse to feel otherwise.

The conclusion I came to was that the bully didn’t like me and nobody stopped him so they didn’t like me either. If people didn’t like me then that surely meant I was a bad person, not to be liked. This logic makes no sense now, but at the time it worked perfectly for me.

A few years after the bullying, I was out shopping. I decided to take a shortcut down a back alley to go to a music store. As I was walking along, I looked in front of me and who was walking towards me but the bully. I watched him walk by and he didn’t even recognise me. It was as if I didn’t exist and never had.

On the bus home I was filled with a rage. How could a person that had such a negative bearing on my life not even notice me in the street? It made me feel so insignificant.

I thought back on the moment and fantasised about getting revenge. That alley meeting was the moment when I could have finally felt justice by physically confronting the bully and getting my anger out by beating him up. Instead I did nothing.

For a time I punished myself for the mistake. The ironic thing is that when you’re depressed and have low self-esteem you actually start to bully yourself. I beat myself up mentally for doing nothing, told myself I was weak and always would be. Said to myself that I was worthless, that I deserved all the bullying.

I don’t really want to explain how I got out of this slump because that’s a story for another time. I’ll just say that eventually I built myself back up, gained confidence in myself and realised that maybe I wasn’t so worthless after all. I am finally happy with myself and who I am. It took a long time, but I did it.

When I look back now on the situation, I partly feel angry at myself, but mostly just feel pity for the bully. I can’t claim to truly understand the bullying that happened to me. Why he did it, what his reasons were. There could be a number of explanations. Maybe he was a sociopath and didn’t really care. Maybe he was bullied himself and it was a way for him to gain self-esteem.

Either way I feel pity. Whatever the reasons I now realise that a bully is lacking something. Humanity, self-esteem or empathy. All the things that make a person happy.

The truth of the matter is that bullies are unhappy in some way and bullying is an outlet for their pain. So all I can feel now is sorry for the bully because I truly know how unhappiness feels and it’s not something I’d wish on anybody.

After a time, I forgot about the bully. I realised what he did was juvenile and nothing to do with who I was, but more to do with how he felt about himself. Soon he was lost to the recesses of my mind, never to be remembered again.

Until a few months ago that is.

I was reading something online about bullying and he popped into my mind. I was working in Korea at the time as an English teacher and curiosity got the better of me. I decided to do the only natural thing: look him up on Facebook.

By this point I’d even forgotten his name, which is how insignificant he’d become. I soon managed to trace him down and looked at his profile. I didn’t know how to react to what I saw.

When we think back on bullies, we always want them to have somehow gotten their just desserts. We want them to have suffered or have failed. I think a lot of us always believe that karma comes back to bite everybody in the ass eventually. However that’s not what had happened to him.

On his Facebook, it revealed that he too was in Korea, he too was an English teacher. It was a strange feeling for me, coming to the realisation that the bully and I were alike in some way.

I always wanted to believe he was different from me, but really it now seemed we were much alike. My initial reaction to this was annoyance, the old feelings from the bullying came back to me. I was angry because he never suffered for what he did.

Irrationally I also felt like he had somehow made my own life less legitimate because it was his life too. Even after all of those years I couldn’t stand to share something in common with this person.

I quickly came to a realisation, only momentarily. If I wanted my revenge, now was the time to get it. We were both in the same country, living at opposite sides in different cities. We hadn’t been connected to each other for 10 years. I could easily track him down, make his own life hell, harass him, beat him or even murder him. I could easily get away with it too, there was no link between myself and him. I would never be suspected.

I only had these thoughts for a moment before I pushed them away. By getting revenge, I would be no better than he was. I would be bringing myself down to his level. I may feel like I had gained power, but really we don’t need any power when we’re comfortable with ourselves.

If we’re happy with who we are we don’t need to do anything to validate that happiness, we just have to continue to be ourselves and that’s enough. By getting revenge, I myself would have been nothing more than a bully.

Once I finish writing this post, the bully will no doubt fall into the back of my mind again.

We are now unconnected, both completely different people, the experiences are nothing but memories. Maybe he regrets his behaviour, maybe he never even realised he was bullying me. I don’t care either way.

It doesn’t matter. None of it does. It means nothing to me and who I am now. I think that’s the best revenge of all. When it no longer affects you. You see how insignificant the bully really was.

They are gone and forgotten.

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