Catalyst for Change (pt1)

While watching a Shane Dawson mini-documentary series I realised that I’ve never talked about my past.

It’s like my story starts in 2010 when I was diagnosed. Obviously I didn’t pop out of the womb at the age of 28, choc full of angst.

I was born in 1982, in an unremarkable hospital in Adelaide, South Australia. Soon after my family moved to Queensland’s Gold Coast.

For the most part – I had a good childhood – I’m sure I’ve said it before, but my parents did the best they could. They were different times. And there was no way anyone could know that from very early in my life – I was already under siege from a fairly invisible illness.

I’m not going to bore you with every stand out memory fro my childhood. I will say that I was sick a lot and being a child that never really fit in – I was never believed. Back in the day heard it all from lactose intolerants, to gluten intolerance, to stress. Yes, that’s right, they said a 6 year old was so stressed it manifested in physical symptoms.

I suppose I’m bringing this up because I learned my first few life lessons in my formative years when my body was going ballistic with no treatment. And they were fucking hard lessons.

A child of 4 doesn’t understand anything of education… well, they didn’t 30 years ago. So when 4-year-old-me was asked to choose between two seemingly similar pictures of schools – I chose the one who’s uniform had more green in it. It was my favourite colour then and it still is today.

That school was a fairly high profile private school on the Gold Coast. My parents weren’t well off – only my father worked and he had a regular job. My grandparents however had an empire at that stage and wanted to extend the offer of private schooling to all the grandchildren – not just my uncles kids, who lived in Sydney, close by. So I went to the interview for the school with more green in the uniform, it turned out that not only was I offered a place – but I was offered a part scholarship. I don’t understand how they could gain an idea of scholastic potential from a child of 4 – but apparently they did. I started the next year – still age 4 until September, a year, sometimes two behind my classmates.

Before I even started I was set up for failure. I want to make something clear right now. Yes, I don’t have kids so many are going to say I have no right to make any assertion here. Take it from me putting a child from a lower socio-economic background into a school for the privileged is a bad idea. Starting a child of 4 in grade 1 – regardless of IQ testing, is also a bad idea.

So there I was – already 2 strikes and I hadn’t even had my first day.

I can’t tell you much from those first 5 years other than I was bullied – badly. By students and teachers. It started properly in grade 3 and steadily escalated until my eventual explosion over an “incident” in grade 7.

The events from that period of my life that are lodged in my mind occurred in year 5 – so I was 9 years old. I might be jaded but I don’t believe what I’m about to talk about should be life lessons for a 9 year old.

I was already being tormented badly – over everything from the colour of my hair, to my dance leotard coming from Best & Less. Nothing I was, was ever good enough for any of the other kids there. I had the wrong shoes… my uniforms were second hand, my text books were second hand, my stationary was wrong, my lunches were homemade… my scrunchies were wrong…. It was one thing, after another, after another. Financially my family got into the situation where I couldn’t get my hair cut by a professional – my mother did it instead – so you can imagine how that went for me…

Kids have always been cruel and I suppose even though it shouldn’t happen, when it did, no one was surprised – and because my parents couldn’t donate to the school – nothing was done to protect me.

You would think though – adults would know better. It turns out – that bullying is a learned behaviour and the kids were learning it from their parents and perhaps more concerning the teaching staff. Yes, that’s right, the teachers were bullying a handful of students. Not for behavioural issues – but because we didn’t fit in.

This was circa ’93 – there were few computers, so assignments of that era were all hand written which gave the students the ability to be creative as well as factual. I wasn’t so good at the creative back in those days – my skills lay with technology which I discovered much later in life. My mum was a visual artist – but not too good with the content part – so we actually bonded somewhat when she was able to help me.

I remember this one paper – it was a history paper about the first fleet… she drew and coloured for hours – they she helped me age all the paper. I was so proud of that damn assignment. One thing that has remained consistent throughout my life is my attention to deadlines – I have always made them.

The day after it was due – I remember that particular teacher had us all stand – and called names on papers one by one. I was left standing with one other student who didn’t submit a paper. I protested – and he screamed me down and insulted me in front of the whole class that was already harassing me to the point I was in tears almost every morning at the thought of going through it again.

This was the first time I’d stood up for myself to an adult. While I didn’t have close friends – I was with a girl who was a bit of an outcast, like me, when I submitted the paper. We must have arrived at the same time or something – those details escape me, the rest is burned into my mind.

She accompanied me after class, I’m not sure I every thanked her, I wish I had the chance to now – she vouched that I submitted the assignment in question. The teacher bitched and whinged like a child, but went through the papers again. Low and behold – mine was clearly there… the burned edges of the document stood out. No apology was forthcoming. This man embarrassed me in front of a bunch of 10 year olds… and he never once showed regret, either publicly or privately. I remember this was the first time I ever really felt that feeling in the pit of my stomach – hate. This was my first true moment of hate – and it has effected me for a decent percentage of my life.

Weeks later I learned my second big life lesson. I used to hang round with a bunch of girls back then – I never fit with them. I wasn’t pretty or good at sport… but they hung out with me out of pity? Or to get help with their work? Or because my mum packed two packs of crisps in my lunch everyday – knowing full well I never ate them – I just passed them off as a bribe for socialisation to these two girls. This particularly fateful day, I’d gone to the bathroom alone. I didn’t often travel in a pack – because I don’t know, people didn’t want to be seen with me? Or I just wasn’t a sheep like most girls are at that age? My two ‘friends’ walked in, moments later. And they stood at the sink… saying the most horrifying things about me. It went on for 3-4 minutes – but it felt like an hour. I eventually left the stall in front of their horrified little faces… They kept telling me it was because they knew I was in there? Cool – so you wanted me to hear those things? Thankfully I was never that stupid…

This whole time, through all these events, I never cried in front of these people, not once. That’s not to say I didn’t cry though – I cried rivers of tears at home in my room. These events and others like them pushed me further and further away from the societal ideal for a “little girl” I stood up for myself more… and more… I became angrier and angrier…

The bullying became physical in 7th grade. The teachers knew… I came into class, broken and bloodied and it was always my fault for being out of uniform. I said I was never good at sport? I was never athletic? But I was always strong. Stronger than I should have been.

One fateful day, late in my 7th year of harassment… the girls were getting changed out of their sports wear back into day uniform. We were forced by the school to change outside the bag racks so we didn’t take up toilet space. Yes, that’s right, an exclusive private school couldn’t manage to put proper change rooms on for girls who where starting to go through… well – all sorts of things. This one day… a boy pulled my clothes off while I was changing. I was left there, standing in my Best & Less underwear – with at that stage no bra. I was half naked. There was a roar of laughter… and pointing. This young man had made his first step toward being a sexual predator and I was in trouble again for being indecent. My year 7 teacher screamed at me to dress properly over the laughter. So I did. I dressed methodically and carefully, expressionless. I walked over to the boy and I hit him so hard… I almost killed him. I broke his nose in such a way the bones dislodged and went back into his head. Any harder and they would have contacted his brain. I remember the blood… there was so much blood. I remember him sinking to the ground, screaming and clutching his face. I remember him rolling around at my feet – and I just stood there – until the teacher that had witnessed it all, dragged me away.

My mother was home and took the call – thank god. She came down and in a very colourful way “negotiated” with the principal. It was a mutual decision that I should leave. The explosion was not recorded and chargers were not pressed in exchange for silence on our part. We never really talked about what I did that day. Or subsequent days, where I was pushed into a corner.

I didn’t just snap – it had been a slow, slow process, spurred on by all the little rich kids that got away with whatever they wanted and the teachers who thought themselves God’s to us. My education at that school was I was powerless – until one day, I figured out I wasn’t.

While my expulsion wasn’t recorded – the private school had other ways of making life hard. Only one private school on the Gold Coast would take me – knowing full well what I had done. My parents decided that given my aptitude for violence – a rough, public school was not the nurturing environment I needed. In hindsight – I probably would have been just fine.

My second school had a zero tolerance on bullying – but that was never an issue. 6 months after I moved there, one of the other boys from my old school arrived – he had been so close to the incident he had the other kids blood got on him. No one at that school ever messed with me. But they were different people so I’m not sure they would have, regardless.

I have very few regrets in life… my biggest is that I have fallen out of touch with few people that were actually, real friends. This is 100% my fault. I didn’t make good decisions after university and we just drifted away.

At the age of 12 years… I was already so angry it bubbled over and out often. People may read this and think it set me up for success, I found my feet and my strength. But in reality I was filled with mistrust and hate – a hate that would live me for the next 20 years.

I can’t get those moments back now – where I was so blind with red hot anger. I can’t go back and look at situations with different eyes. One of the most challenging things is, while the hate is fading and I am learning to look at situations in a different way… the trust that was broken back then has never really returned.

Here is the thing. I don’t want to be back in that place… where there is a problem for every solution and the hate just comes off me in waves. I tend to connect best with other damaged people – we have shared experience so we tend to bond quickly. The problem is – many of these people are still living in that really negative, hateful space. And I honestly can’t relate to it. While we have a common past – I made the conscious decision to start letting go of that years back. It’s not easy so I do understand who people still exist there… but the more I grow and move on… the more I realise I can’t be that person anymore. I don’t want to talk about how much I ‘hate’ someone… or the painful events in my past. I don’t want my memories to take me there.

I want to live in that moment, laying in the snow in Japan – feeling like I was inside a snow globe, surrounded but wonder…

This change in me that started back in 2010 has evolved and I’ve found the circle of people who are close to me has shrunk considerably. Once again – this is no ones responsibility but my own. In saying that – I’m not sitting here filled with regret over the action I’ve taken to foster this change. In fact – I have no feelings about it.

This is the path I’m on – if your on a different path, we might have parted ways at a fork. No hatred. No “magical event” that made it happen… I just found myself “here”, but your not beside me for one reason or another. And that’s ok. It’s okay to have different stories… different ways of getting to where you need to be.

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