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.

26. The Law of Diminishing Returns

*Special Valentine’s Day post for everyone who has ever been in love.*

We didn’t talk about it at the time and I don’t want to talk about it now. It’s much too late but also far too soon. Little steps. We’ve only just begun to make eye contact and greet each other. It will be a long time, if ever, before I trust you. I don’t actually want to trust you again. I still cry sometimes. This is the relationship you wanted, remember? Not me. If all we ever say to each other every day forever is “hi” and “bye”, then that’s still two more words than I’d want. And now you want a different future.

For a long time, I couldn’t think of a single thing I ever wanted to say to you that wouldn’t set us back even further. To get to a state of apathy and indifference with dignity and grace; to lose the hate and jealousy. To grieve and heal. To know nothing about you after us, ever again. Yet here you are, like a bad penny; unlikely to leave any time soon. So, we are stuck with each other.

Don’t think you know me, because you don’t. You did know me back then but we are not the same people anymore. That doesn’t mean I have forgotten or that I care. It means that what happened doesn’t define me, and that part of my life is in a bubble of a memory. I don’t want to stain it but I’m not going to do the same things as I did last time and expect a different ending. If the result of giving everything to one person is how I feel now, then I can’t go through that again.

Yes, it is awkward. No, I don’t hate you. I don’t even know who you are and I don’t want to. Why waste the energy? And yes, everything in my life now is “none of your business”. No, I’m not ignoring you “on purpose” and it’s not “all water under the bridge”. You burned that bridge. No, I’m not interested in what you’re doing this weekend, what you watched on TV last night, or what you are having for your tea. I just want to say, “why are you telling me this?” but I don’t want to even say that. It’s your choice to be here, but no you don’t have to “walk on eggshells” around me, and yes, you could “easily fuck it all up again.” Yes, I wish you weren’t here. and yes, I never want to see you again. So yes, I will always be “too busy” to “catch up”. Your opinions are irrelevant to me and I don’t find your jokes funny. I don’t want anything to do with you any more than I have to. The space you once took up in my life has been replaced with other things. I have no room for you, and do not wish to make any. I’ve already written a letter to HR and my Union Rep in case you decide to do anything stupid.

There’s no need to do that puffed-out chest, bravado thing for my benefit because it didn’t work last time. I don’t really care what people say they are going to do, I notice what they actually do. Other people around us won’t even realise that we used to know each other and they don’t need to know our history. They certainly won’t hear it from me. But I will set rumours straight, so don’t go around making up stuff. You knew exactly what you were doing when you did it, and you knew the effect it would have on me. Pretending things happened differently means you still are a liar. The least you could do now is own your own shit. If it bothers you being around me that much, why don’t you just fuck off? Go and work somewhere else. I don’t know how much clearer I can make this. I’m going nowhere. I’ve already moved once to get away from you.

I’m actually a little bit frightened of you and what you might do. I mean, I’m not leaving in case you follow me again. Maybe I should leave softly. A secondment or travelling. Sometimes I can’t sleep. Is this going to end badly? Am I going to be a photograph on the news?

19. A Letter to My Younger Self

I watched Amanda de Cadenet’s internet TV show series, ‘The Conversation’ a few years ago, and her advice to her 14-year-old self was to “keep her knickers on a bit longer.”

Like the song, mine will be too few to mention.

I will love. I will be loved. I will be in love with someone at the same time that they are in love with me. This will happen more than once. I will love someone who does not love me back and that will be agony. I will have my heart smashed a few times. Twice by the same person and I will still consider going back to them again.

I will definitely hurt people with things I’ve said. I will wish I could go back and do things differently. Sometimes, those words were bad timing and said out of jealousy, fear, anger, sleep deprivation, hunger, pain, lack of caffeine or nicotine withdrawal. Like me, those people might still be haunted by how those words made them feel, but not recall a single thing about the person who said them.

I will not report my assault to the police. I will choose not to go to the sentencing of my burglar. I will want to be able to potentially walk past him in the street, not recognise him, so not be reminded of what he did to me, and all those nights of sleep I never had.

I will be brave to leave, but cowardly not to give a proper explanation of why.

I sincerely hope that I will not be “the one who got away.” If I was, I will not want them to tell me.

I will win easily. I will lose badly. I will not try. I will wish I tried harder.

I will cry and laugh. A lot.

People will tell me that the best sex is with someone you love and who loves you, or that there’s no place like home, but sometimes I will want have to find out for myself. See the world with my own eyes. Listen more. Be curious and open.

Dita Von Teese:
“You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s
still going to be somebody who hates peaches.”

My weight and what I look like will always be irrelevant.  There! I have saved myself a few years of worry.  The world’s perception of me is will not be how I see myself. Comparing my day to day life with other people’s edited hightlight reel on social media will not be healthy. It will always be conflicted in my own head.

Enjoying my own company will be my favourite thing to do. I will be told by many people that I am a brilliant friend, annoying, generous, kind, fun, honest, open, compassionate, perceptive, with incredible insight and perspective but be weird enough for people to be cautious and intimidated the crazy bitch. Not everyone will like me and that’s ok.

No-one will ever know what other people are going through. It will take me a long time to realise, identify, accept, and work through my personal mental health and issues of anxiety and depression. When that cloud melts, and my thoughts become free, I will be more creative and find myself with an abundance of time to think about other things. The flip-side is that more of my life will now be behind me than in front.

“When my head clears, I will have more time.”

I will never blame my parents: they were young and did the best they could at the time with what they had. Peri-menopause hormones will give me the experience of being  a 14-year-old girl all over again, yet that time round, I will be able to see around the corners of decisions I might make. I can change the ending if I know the consequences in advance.

If I could name three things that I would do differently, they would be these.

  1. Not to take up smoking. Not because it is bad for me, but because it is expensive, smelly, really hard to give up, and my circle of friends will become mostly those who smoke.
  2. To get a job and save money for a long-term plan. (travelling, car, house deposit for security) commonly known by women as a ‘Fuck-off Fund” or “Running Away Money.” Spending money as I get it, or that I don’t have, will give me fewer life choices. Debt will cripple me with worries and stop me doing things.
  3. To cultivate a transferable skill that I am good at, to open up my opportunities, so I can possibly live abroad. Get fluent in a language, learn an instrument, how to cut hair, to drive or play sport.

Sometimes I will want to dip my toe in and sometimes I will jump right in. It’s my life. I cannot tell my younger self how my life turns out, because if I had the chance to live it again, circumstances would be very different.