72. Serenity Now

This post is about the consequences of adult bullying.

I may as well not even be there. I sit between them in the open-plan office and they ignore me. They talk animatedly to each other, about TV, music, food, football, the weather, their families, office politics, weddings, sport, films, holidays, diets, alcohol, clothes, celebrities. If I try to join in, I am frozen out. I sense a prickle in the air as the atmosphere changes. Like I’d opened the window on a winter’s day. Once I asked them if they could talk about a new film another time because I hadn’t yet seen it, so didn’t want any spoiler alerts. Their incredulous looks sent pangs of ice through my heart.

My opinion is of no consequence at all. It does not matter. I am irrelevant. Old. Pointless. Unwanted. Snobby. Up my own arse. Too political. Not cool. Weird. The volume of their voices drowns out everything in my headphones. So there I am, invisible, listening to their chit-chat and jokes all day, but excluded from contributing anything. I am in a glass bubble. Mute. Silenced.

Their repeated, anticipated reaction means I am learning to be afraid to speak. There is a tacit agreement that I am forbidden from joining in. If I do, then the conversation will abruptly end, or they will pretend they have not heard me. If someone does reply to me, our conversation will run parallel to the original one.

My heart booms in my own ears and stomach, my throat constricts with a dry, nervous cough. Swallowing is impossible now. I press my tongue to the roof of my mouth, trying to blink back tears, but cannot stop one from falling down my cheek. I rise, head down and slip out of the room, unnoticed. I want to run. I try to remember my mindfulness training and breathe through the impending panic, then lock myself in the ladies room. I figure that this is the best place for me right now. Silent screams. I blow my nose and wash my face. I could be in here all day. No-one will come looking for me.

They think I’m depressed, anxious, bipolar, have aspergers, hormonal, borderline, got ADHD or every other amateur diagnosis they’ve heard of or read about online. I’m high maintenance. Overemotional. Hypersensitive. Can’t take a joke. Too full on. Annoying. Jekyll and Hyde. That I’ve got pain issues so I’ll snap at them for no reason. A crazy bitch. I talk to much. A nutter. That I never shut up ranting. I don’t fit in so they cannot accomodate me. I agree I was a bit much for a few weeks. It was well over a year ago, I was completely upfront about it at the time, and my new medication stabilised me very quickly. I’ve been a model employee for nearly a year, but as we all know, old habits die hard. No-one likes to be proved wrong. I haven’t said more than 20 words a week to them in the last six months. I’ve worked really hard to change. Have they? When will they consider I have been punished enough? Then, I remember that I’ll be gone soon, so what does it matter? I feel better for a moment. This time next year it will be as if I never existed.

Being treated like this makes me seethe. So much so, that I’ve gone back to my boxercise class to try to rid myself of this constant bubbling anger, and to yoga to try to regain some peace. I’m wearing a teeth guard at night because I grind them so much.

They’ve been counting points and having naughty, cheat days, and between them they haven’t even lost half of what I have. If you really want to know how to lose weight, try being bullied for over a year. A side-effect of the stress.

Every morning I wish for some kind of minor illness so I won’t have to go to work, but I have to, because an employer will look at my sick record. Applying for every new vacancy takes so much effort, and takes up most of my weekends, but I keep going because every day that passes is a day closer to leaving and starting afresh. I can’t even take a day off, because I’m saving up all of my holiday to use in my notice period.

I know the circle never ends. Bystanders don’t intervene. They don’t want to take sides. It’s nothing to do with them. They’re staying out of it and not rocking the boat. Why should they be the one to stick their head above the parapet? They don’t consider being complicit as bullying. People would rather be loyal to group, even though they know it is wrong, for fear of themselves being ostracised. I might think they’re my friend if they’re nice to me or turn on them, mistaking their kindness for pity. Best not to get involved at all.

I wonder if they would want someone to stand up and support the victim if it was one of their family that was living through this day after day?

I’ve seen them walking towards me in the street. I felt like I was going to pass out. I had a few seconds to prepare my reaction and all I could do was wave a hand in a hi gesture whilst willing myself not to cry. NO EYE CONTACT.  DO NOT PANIC.

I breathe in for four, hold my breath for five, then breathe out for six. Repeat until calmer.

Then, one day, I take my house key out of the keyhole, and push open the front door. A large, fat letter on the door mat is preventing the door from opening as smoothly as usual. I notice the envelope has the logo of the company I interviewed with a fortnight ago and in that split-second, I know that everything will be ok.

59. Proof of Life

My friend is wringing her hands, fiddling with her ring and pacing.

Those strong hands, with her battle scars. You can always tell if someone is a cook by the burns on their inner wrists. It took six months for the black bruise under her nail to grow out, when she broke her finger. It still aches in Winter. She swears she knows it’s going to rain when it twinges. The stigmata on her palm as a reminder to put knives blade downwards in the dishwasher. A mosquito bite that got infected and left a shiny red mark. A moment of carelessness when trimming the fat from a fillet of beef, left an expensive, bloody treat for the dog, and a white line reminder in the crease of her index finger. The backs of her hands, so rough and tanned, with visibly protuding veins and the start of a few liver spots. I remember her reaching for my hand at her mother’s funeral and not letting me go.

I bring her tea, scalding hot, two Assam, just how she likes it. We sit at right angles to each other at the scrubbed kitchen table, where we have sat hundreds of times before, and I await the tale that’s clearly causing her so much anguish.

“Well you know I’ve been seeing that bloke, Jimi?”

I nod and “mmm”, not wanting to interrupt her.

“It was going great. We’d been seeing each other for about six months, every other weekend and a couple of lunches every week. You know I can’t get much time off at night, with the restaurant, and he has his kids the other weekends. Well, he told me he was going on holiday to Portugal with his daughters for half-term so today was the first time I’d seen him for two weeks. Well we met for lunch today and he looked really nervous. Twitchy. He wouldn’t look at me. I thought he was going to tell me he’d been unfaithful or something. He…”

She stops and puts her head in her hands. She’s trying to stop herself crying. After a few seconds, she looks up, smoothes her hair and breathes out deeply.

I reach for her hands and clasp them on the table, looking her straight in the eyes. She has the same expression as she did when her mother died. Hopeless. Despair. Beyond hurt. I begin to well up even before she speaks.

She blurts it out in one long stream, not pausing. “He told me he hadn’t been on holiday with his kids. He was on his honeymoon. He said he only married her because she was pregnant and he feels gutted because he thought that we had something. He says he knew straight away that he shouldn’t have gone through with it, but he didn’t know what else to do. It was that waitress, Diana, who left last month. They met at the restaurant when he was picking me up from work. He drove me home because I was so upset and there was a bit of wedding ribbon still on his car!”

We simultaneously unfurl and I smack one hand over my mouth and place the other hand more gently onto my torso as a reflex, for protection. I scrape back my chair, stand, walk the couple of steps over to her; I’m trembling. I hug her so tightly, her head resting on my chest. We both sob, loudly and I kiss and stroke her hair. I want to take this pain away so badly.

After a minute, we release. I wipe my nose on the back of my hand and say,

“Fuck this, I’m opening a bottle.”

I clumsily pour two glasses of red wine into two short water glasses. I’m not using wine glasses tonight. We need the stability of tumblers.  A dribble splashes onto the table, joining the numerous other coffee rings, wine stains, pen marks and drips of fat from over the years. I tear off two pieces of kitchen roll, hand one to her and half-heartedly mop at the spill.

It might be a long night.

55. This is my truth, tell me yours.

“You know the time to act is now.

Before the sands of time run out.”

‘ Game On’ by Catatonia

Whenever I’ve yearned for real change in my life, I have had to take a leap of faith and just do it. Dithering and procrastinating gave me more excuses. Over-thinking and micro-planning what could go wrong or reasons not to do it. Fear of change. Am I bored? Did I really want something else or did I just want the pain of this situation to end? I knew I craved more but wasn’t prepared to put in the effort. I knew what I didn’t want but didn’t know what I actually did want.

Life never quite works out how you imagine it would. Roads not travelled and all that. I can try to do anything I want but can’t actually do everything I want.

I’m told I’m both a brave and an incredibly stupid “cards on the table”, “this is how I feel” bold statement kinda person. Go big or go home. People who are important in my life know they mean a lot to me, because I tell them.

And I fail so, so often. I get it wrong such a lot. Then rumination, insomnia, resolution, acceptance, peace. The past is the past. I was a different person then. It’s so much easier to forgive than to hold onto the bile of a grudge.

When I read an article about ‘The Top Five Regrets of The Dying’ by Bronnie Ware, it struck a chord. The biggest (or only) regret I still have is not thanking those people who cared about me when I was at my lowest. It spurs me daily to pass on the baton of kindness they showed me to others.

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Somewhere between taking things slowly, savouring every mouthful and the joy of life is for living is where I want to be.