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"How bullies changed my life": A reader explains why you should work through childhood trauma instead of burying it
"My nightmares of the robbery merged with childhood memories of being mocked, ridiculed and bullied." Journalist Nurene Jassiem talks about what she learned when a traumatic experience of being robbed as an adult brought back painful memories from her childhood.
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"I know the contents of this piece might disturb many, some may judge me for some of my actions and some who know me may have conflicting views about the events I recall, but in light of the ongoing spate of bullying videos and images being circulated, I feel it is important for me to share my experiences and highlight the lasting effects of bullying

Let me start by saying that I no longer harbour any ill feelings towards those who bullied me, and I no longer see myself as a victim so the point of this post is not to garner sympathy, but rather to educate others about the far-reaching impacts of bullying and how it may not affect the victim now, but it could affect him/her many years later. 

Contrary to popular belief, not all bullies are people of the same age. Sometimes a bully can come in the form of a teacher or an adult who should have protected you. As people we are tenacious and our minds have a wonderful ability to store information and to help us forget certain things. 

The flaw in the system though, is that sometimes our minds allow us to forget things without us ever having dealt with the problem properly. This was the case with my memories of being bullied. 

Wonderful family

You see, I grew up in a loving home with wonderful parents and two amazing sisters. We may not have been rich but we always knew that we were loved and our parents always made sure we knew that they loved us no matter what others said or did to us. 

I remember my dad always saying “Don’t let other people make your life miserable.” My mother in turn always said: “YOUR best is always good enough.” I thank the Almighty for blessing me with them as I believe my path to recovery would have been much more difficult without them.

In light of this blessed upbringing, my memories of being bullied were suppressed for many years – until a traumatic event at the end of 2015 year caused me to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and subsequently triggered my memories from when I was a child. 

How trauma triggered my memories of being bullied as child

The event in a nutshell: In November 2015 I was on my way home from the Waterfront one Saturday night when my car broke down on the N1 outside Canal Walk. I called my dad to come and assist me and while I was waiting in my locked car for help to arrive, two men threw my window in with a brick and attacked me, robbing me of my cellphone and other belongings. As I fought off my attackers, eventually running into oncoming traffic to make them leave, I felt scared, violated and also stupid. 

You see, I had been a journalist for roughly a decade and had been exposed to many dangerous situations over the years. Never once was I injured or seriously threatened. So this was my first “real” experience as a victim of crime.

I went for counselling and started having really bad nightmares. None of my medication seemed to be working and life became a blur of medication-induced slumber and being barely compos mentis when I was awake. I had been diagnosed with clinical depression a few years earlier but my mental health was well under control.

After the incident, and despite the counselling, I was afraid to sleep because of the nightmares and hated being awake because of the memories. Worst of all, my nightmares of the robbery merged with childhood memories of being mocked, ridiculed and bullied. A flood of memories of years of being bullied suddenly came rushing into my mind.

One series of incidents involved children pelting my sisters and I with stones as we walked in the road and them calling us “Alsatians” because we were Muslim. Another was of a teacher telling me that I would go to hell because I did not love Jesus (I was Muslim, it was a Catholic school and I was five so I didn’t know that Jesus was considered a prophet of God in Islam). Other incidents involved children who pretended I had an imaginary disease and running away from me whenever I came close to them because I was fat. I could go on, but I think the point is made.

In and out of clinics

By early December 2015 the situation had become so bad that my psychiatrist had me admitted to a chemical dependency clinic – aka a rehab centre. I had inadvertently become dependent and addicted to codeine, an ingredient used in many over-the-counter painkillers. The painkillers had helped me sleep – until they didn’t help any more. (This addiction is a story for another day). 

The treatment helped me in many ways and I thought I was becoming stronger. But barely two months after being discharged, I had to be admitted to a mental health facility. My nightmares hadn’t stopped, my cognitive functions became severely impaired and I was not the “Nurene” people knew and loved. 

Despite the love and support from my family and close friends through this troubled times, my mental wellbeing snowballed for months after the attack. 

After my second round of “institutionalisation” I had not recovered much. I hit a proverbial brick wall in terms of my treatment. My antidepressant and sleeping medication stopped working. Worst of all, I became a mental mess. I was in limbo between swarming thoughts and vacant stares.

“How could I be so stupid to forget these incidents all these years?”, “Why would a teacher be so mean to a little girl?” “Why did nobody punish these bullies?” and many other questions raced through my mind. 

As I worked through these memories with my psychiatrist and psychologist (I still am!) I grew stronger, but not before being declared medically incapacitated to work and isolating nearly everyone around me. 

And before those who are religious say, “You should pray,” I did! Arduously, endlessly, praying for the memories to be erased, praying for those who bullied me to be brought to book, praying for a dreamless sleep to come. I think my knees may still have some marks and my pillows are still not dry following all those prayers. I never gave up hope in Allah (God), my Creator, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. 

I literally spent weeks of not being able to eat and sleep as my mind struggled to comprehend what my one psychologist called an “existential crisis.”

Thankfully, I am a believer and my faith in Allah meant that suicide never even crossed my mind, but other victims of bullying are not so “lucky.”

Recovery

Alghamdulilah (Praise be to Allah), nearly two years later I am much better, I managed to work through most of the trauma and am definitely a much stronger person than I was before. I have developed a new sense of self-worth, but like a glass you glue back together, I will always have those scars.

Growing up many people said I was “aggressive” and “threw my weight around” (I’m a big girl), but in reality I was only defending myself in the best way I knew how: by bullying the bully. If those people had taken a closer look they would’ve seen a sad little girl trying to force people to accept her in the only way she knew how.

All this may come as a shock to those who have known me in the last two decades. I’m a tough cookie and I stand my ground. I have an intimate circle of friends and no longer consider myself a social outcast. But, other victims of bullying may – by no fault of their own – not have my tenacity."

Nurene's advice:

  • Don’t make excuses for bullies – the effects of their actions are far-reaching.
  • Don’t tell a child to “just ignore them,” because their nightmares won’t.
  • Do take your child to see a professional.
  • Do try an engage the bullies or their parents in a constructive way

Most importantly, do not wish the bullying away instead of dealing with it properly. Trust me: it will come back to haunt you – even if it happens almost three decades later. 

*Nurene Jassiem is an experienced journalist and TEFL teacher. She is also a part of G3d8te Musiek, an entertainment company that encourages children to stay in school and rise above the challenges of being “different”. 

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