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Because it’s #ChildrensMentalHealthWeek, I thought I would share my story of how I became a suicidal child at primary school. I hope my experience will help highlight the problem of children’s mental health and further the cause to properly fund support for children.
For those of you who have read my previous post about my relationship with food, you’ll already be familiar with some of the problems I had growing up. But that wasn’t the worst of it, and I’ll flesh out what I mentioned in my previous post with a bit more, relevant to the topic, detail.
As a mixed ethnicity person growing up in a town that was almost 100% white, going to a school where there was only one other person who wasn’t white throughout my primary school years: wasn’t a pleasant experience. When I wasn’t being bullied by the older kids for not being white, I was being beaten by some of my teachers. When I wasn’t being beaten by those teachers, I was being forced feed food. And When I wasn’t being forced feed food, I was having to contend with my “friends” talking and racially abusing me behind my back. Through all that, only one person ever came to my aid, and that has stuck with me to this day: but I’ll get to that later in the post.
As you can probably imagine, I got into a lot of trouble, and a lot of fights. And I did, but not really out of choice. If only being dragged into fights was the only thing I had to contend with, maybe my life would be very different now, but it wasn’t. So here’s the background to my primary school years (reception to year 6).
On my first day of primary school, I took my Optimus Prime Transformer toy, which was my brand new birthday present that I’d gotten that day. Literally, like an hour before I left the house for school. Someone asked me to play with it, and because I was desperate to make friends I let them: I never got this toy back. When I approached the kid to get it back, they said they’d already given it to me. Which they hadn’t.
I’d later go on to work with that person in my late teens at some crappy job. I recognised who they were from that one memory of my first day at primary school (still never got that toy back though), and when I asked about my Transformer toy they said they didn’t remember: I’ve always wondered if they’d given it to the only other non-white person in our school at the time. Because we all look alike.
In my early few years of primary school, being bullied because of my skin colour wasn’t as much of an issue. I did, however, have problems with my teachers. I’ve always been a picky eater, and my taste for what I can eat can change quite dramatically, and when it changes I’m often unable to physically make myself swallow it. Because of this quirk I have, I went from stealing a whole block of cheese from the fridge and eating it like it was a huge bar of chocolate, to disliking cheese so much I’d not eat it again until I was 14.
This sudden change in cheese preference happened while I was in my first year of school. So when my mum sent me to school with cheese sandwiches, I tried to sell them because I could no longer stand eating cheese. I was caught and made to stand in the corner facing the wall, all day by our teacher. All. Day.
This wasn’t my only incident involving food. Until it was decided I should go home for dinner in my last two years of juniors at my primary school, I had a lot of run-ins with the dinner ladies and other staff trying to force feed me due to picky eating. I would be made to sit at the table with a member of staff until I ate my free school meal, and I’d be there the entire dinner time. Often the staff member would get frustrated by this and would then force feed me my food. Good times.
Even in the out of school club (Cub Scouts) that I was made to go to, I was force feed food. I was on a camping trip with the Cubs and was trying to trade the breakfast items from that I didn’t like for items I did. However, the adult chaperones decided they didn’t like this and decided to stuff the bacon and baked beans I didn’t like down my throat. They could have just switched them for other items of breakfast food they were still serving, but no. They thought it was better to force feed a child unnecessarily. God forbid they swap it for a sausage, egg, or toast. I’ve never eaten baked beans again because of it, and I struggle with eating any bean due to their shared texture.
The one thing my mum did right while I was a child was to teach me to read, write, and do basic maths. So for the first few years of primary school, I would often get bored due to being taught stuff I already knew. This resulted in me getting into a lot of trouble. This came to a head with my second-year teacher. Mucking about, as kids do, a few of us were standing on each other’s feet while waiting in line at our teacher’s desk to get our work checked. No one was crying, just a lot of laughing, until our teacher decided to put an end to it by shouting at me, and only me, then stamping on my foot as hard as he could: which was agony. Their massive adult foot dwarfed my tiny child feet, and they didn’t hold back.
Whenever there was a group of us getting into trouble, if I was in that group, no matter the teacher, only I’d be singled out for punishment: almost exclusively. And my second-year teacher seemed to enjoy taking it out on me. Although this teacher wasn’t the worse teacher for it, that accolade would be reserved for my second-year junior’s teacher.
I ran into a lot of random racial abuse when I was a child, there was this one time when I was playing WWF (now WWE) wrestling in the front garden with one of the other kids on our street. Out of nowhere an older kid just came by and started giving me grief, so I dished it back. They told me to come say it to their face (even though there was no fence or anything in between us, just a couple of metres of grass), so I did. I got right up in their face, even though he was several years older than me, and repeated what I said, then legged it. I had many incidents like this growing up.
When I reached the junior years of primary school, I bumped into this same kid, he was in his last year as I was entering my first junior year. That kid would often bully me with a group of their friends, but what sticks most was that almost every day that kid would try to chase me from school on their bike. That kid never once was able to catch me, so I would just give him sh*t for his inability to do so. I outran them on their bike every single time. And every single time I’d mock the life out of them.
I’d later meet this kid again when I was in my late teens, and it seemed they hadn’t had quite the growth spirt I did growing up. I reminded them of what they did, and they didn’t talk trash to me then. What a surprise.
During my first year of juniors, I was bullied a lot, not just by the kid who used to try and chase me home on their bike after school, or their friends. I was a target for pretty much everyone in their final year at the school. I would often get groups of the older kids harassing me throughout my breaks. One time they were mocking my skin but invoking the wrong ethnic group, so I corrected them telling them I’m West Indian. They obviously didn’t know what that was and thought that meant I was native American and proceded to make the kind of Indian noises you’d see in the old cowboy and Indian programmes. It cracked me up and I couldn’t help but laugh in their faces.
Although this incident about my ethnic identity was funny, the rest of the relentless abuse I’d suffer at the hands of them and other groups of kids like that at school was not. Never ending verbal abuse when surround by a group of much bigger kids wasn’t fun. Nor was the pushing and violence that would often go hand-in-hand with it.
One time the adults in charge of looking after us on our breaks actually did something to stop my bullies, making one of them stand next to the wall for the rest of the break. This was rare, most the time they just turned a blind eye. But because this rare event happened, that bullies girlfriend decided to start abusing me for getting them in trouble. Like I somehow asked them to racial abuse me. She was a good one and a half feet taller than me as well, due to our age difference. I ended up tripping her over to get her out of my face. As a result, I got punished by being made to stand two feet away from her boyfriend who had been punished for bullying me.
Why would you make me stand next to someone who’s been racially abusing me? The girlfriend didn’t get punished at all for her part in all this. It all seemed so unfair. All I wanted was to be left alone. There was nothing I could do about the colour of my skin, no matter how much I wanted to, and I did try. One of the common lines of abuse I’d get was that I wasn’t actually black, just a dirty white kid. This eventually caused me to try to scrub the colour off my skin: I was desperate to be white.
At first most the bullying was “water off a duck’s back”, I had to show it didn’t bother me, shake it off, or pretend to join in to show it didn’t faze me. All because I was desperate to be accepted. But it did bother me, a lot. Throughout my primary school years, and into my late teens I wished I was white because all my problems came from not being white. Everyone else around me, including my family, was white. I had an identity crisis that has never truly gone away and is another aspect of my borderline personality disorder. I was disconnected from myself and from everyone around me.
During all the time I’ve been racially abused, only one person ever stood up for me, a kid from my class. They stood with me in front of a gang of kids a lot older than us and told them to leave me alone. I’ve never forgotten that moment, or them, because of it. Although we don’t really talk now, a few years ago when we added each other on Facebook we were talking on messenger and I brought it up that incident to thank them. They didn’t remember or even factor in how big an impact that left on me, but it was highly significant to me. I wish more people were like them. I wish I was still like that, my anxiety disorders have taken that part of me, unfortunately.
Second Abusive Teacher
My second-year teacher was a vicious evil piece of work. I’ve never been beaten so often in my life. It made my bullies seem like amateurs. I was constantly being hit by this teacher for the smallest things. I was singled out for all of their abuse. I was picked up by my hair so that I would be dangling above my chair in mid-air and then hit repeatedly. This would be done in front of everyone in the class, and the classes next to ours could also see because they were wall-less, open plan type of classes rooms. Not once did one of the other teachers ever did anything to stop the abuse.
Just so you’re aware, it was illegal to hit children at this point in school. This was no longer the golden day of child abuse where corporal punishment was allowed. My mum often talked about how she would get caned during those years, but that level of punishment would have been a walk in the part compared to what this teacher routinely put me through.
The worst part of my primary schools years wasn’t the bullying, the abuse at the hands of the staff members there, or even the abuse I would sometimes get at home. The worse part was when the overt racially motivated bullying I had to put up with from the older kids, changed to covert, behind my back, racial abuse from my classmates. That was the final nail in the coffin for trusting other people, and I truly lost the ability to form attachments because of this: the problems I was having at home.
My junior years were where I started to break down, and during the perfect storm of trying to get over being regularly beaten by my second-year teacher and having my so-called friends being racist about me behind my back, I snapped. I attacked one of the kids talking behind my back within earshot of me, so I’d heard everything they’d said about me. I got on top of them and pinned them to the ground. I then proceeded to repeatedly ram their head into the concrete playground floor. If the other kids hadn’t of dragged me off, I most likely would have killed them, because I wasn’t going to stop. This was when it was decided I should probably go home at lunchtime to eat rather than staying at school.
Along with having to put up with my friends talking behind my back, and friends using me, I also had a friend that turned on me for no reason, attacking me out of the blue. One day mid conversation they just attacked me out of nowhere, then disappeared from the school grounds.
It’s easy to develop attachment difficulties when you have these kinds of experiences happening to you when you’re a child. There wasn’t a single friend or person I could trust. I couldn’t rely on my mum either.
I finally had a total break down at home alone when I was required to go home from school for lunch. I’d struggled with a lot of dark thoughts and imagery, but this was when I could no longer stop it from seeping out. For those of you who have already read my previous post – Awkward Phone Call With My Mum About My Childhood – you’ll already know some of this. But for the rest of you, I use to live pretty close to the school, so walking home for lunch wasn’t really a problem.
The problem was that I’d get home and more often than not, my mum wouldn’t be there. Sometimes she’d eventually make it back in time to feed me, but more often than not, she would either not make it back in time to sort out my lunch or not turn up at all before I had to go back to school. I was often being late because of it as I’d wait as long as possible in the hopes I’d get feed.
I’d regularly cry my eyes out while I was at home from school for lunch. I would go to the cutlery drawer and take out the meat cleaver and with the purpose of wanting to cut off my left hand. I’d stand there at the kitchen sink, cleaver raised ready to bring it down just above my wrist, but I’d never go through with it. I was like this every time I was alone at lunchtime. I was completely lost to the despair inside me. I just wanted everything to end so the pain would finally go away. I felt so alone because no one seemed to want me to exist, no matter how much I tried to fit in or be a people pleaser. I just wanted it to be over.
It was around this time that I use to hit myself as a form of self-harm. But I didn’t start to cut myself until I was in my early twenties. Nor did I start pulling my hair out until I had dreadlocks (this was a consequence of my racial identity problem), which also started in my early twenties.
I wasn’t just having problems with my peers and other adults, I was also having problems at home. My mum suffered from depression when I was growing up, and I suspect she’s been depressed the entire time I’ve existed. I saw her crying in the living room for no obvious reason when I was a child on several occasions.
This, coupled with struggling to get by because we were dirt poor, resulted in my mum hitting me sometimes. One such time she knocked me to the ground and kicked me in the ribs whilst a laid on the ground. This soon stopped once I’d grown to be as tall as her, and I remember this because there was an incident where she went to hit me and I just stood my ground, and she stopped herself, but I could see she wanted to in her eyes. She never tried it again.
For the most part, my mum was rarely physically abusive, the abuse I suffered was largely down to emotional neglect. I had so many struggles to manage whilst I was growing up, and I had no support from anyone. I had tried reaching out to my mum once due to the racial abuse I was suffering from every angle, but she offered nothing of use, just told me to ignore it. My emotional needs were never once met. I wouldn’t reach out for help again until I was arrested and suffering from drug-induced psychosis (the birth of my anxiety disorders that trigger psychotic episodes).
Another of the things I use to hate about my primary school teachers was how I was always being blamed whenever someone was talking in class. I’d get in trouble for this even when I wasn’t even in the room. Because I was often late getting back to school after going back home for lunch, I heard my name being called out and told off countless times, even though I was outside the classroom in the hallway hanging up my coat and putting my shoes away. It really wound me up that I kept getting blamed whenever anyone was talking when I was there or not: most the time it wasn’t me.
The teachers would just blame it on my “deep voice”, the deep voice of a prepubescent child. I call foul on the play on that. Eventually, I just started talking all the time, I would sit in class and make up stories to tell the kids around me. If I was going to get in trouble for doing it, then I may as well be actually doing it. I was quite a creative storyteller if I do say so myself: for a child at least.
Most of these things I’ve stated in this post may have and could have, been easy to manage on their own: they may even be trivial. But collectively, they took their toll on me: the straw that broke the camels back.
It’s important to remember that mental health problems can affect anyone of any age, and children are no exception to the rule. More needs to be done to protect children from developing mental health problems.
My childhood has caused me to be plagued by thoughts of my death, images of death, being suicidal, and having existential crises since I was eight years old. It’s something that I’ll always have to do deal with, it’s just a part of who I am. No child should have to carry that burden the rest of their lives just because the support wasn’t there when it could have made the most difference.
My experiences have ruined me, and I may never fully recover from all the damage it caused to my identity, personality, and health. I literally have the scars to prove that. But if children can get the support they need, then they can bounce back before their childhood traumas leave such lasting marks on them. This is why it’s important to provide well funded mental health care to children.
There are a number of services that provide a lot of useful information and support for helping those suffering from bullying.