FOLLOWING on from the recent Anti-Bullying Week, we turned our attention to people’s personal stories and experiences.
Unfortunately, bullying remains a persistent issue and now with the increasing use of the internet and contemporary technology, it appears in new and ever-damaging forms.
Given our current social and political climate, tensions are running high, and this is a dangerous platform for bullying behaviours to develop.
Matthew Patton from Belfast revealed how he battled bullying from the age of 9, how it has developed over the years and the obstacles he still faces today.
His story is sadly one that many will be able to relate to, and he discussed coming to terms with himself and the reasons why such treatment from others continues to reoccur.
Matthew began having social issues with other children from a very young age, ultimately dropping out of school just prior to his exams aged 18 after a breakdown and violent conduct with another pupil. This culminated in a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome with a tendency towards Bi-Polar II after some counseling.
Speaking of this diagnosis, he said: “It took an escalated counseling session at seventeen to even get to the stage whereby it was pointed out.
“Whenever that happened, things clicked into place and all of the issues that were cropping up started to fit into a pattern of behaviours, and the problems that I had emotionally, identifying and relating to other people started to make sense.”
While this provided him with emotional clarity, it left him with a crippling depression that has recurred throughout his adult life.
“I couldn’t reconcile why people couldn’t just be nice. By the time I’d left school, I’d seen people bullying disabled students, students with learning difficulties and of course, with myself, what I’d consider emotional difficulties.”
Asperger’s Syndrome is still extremely misunderstood, and occurs along a large spectrum. Matthew’s social difficulties, his unashamed expression of personal views, and also other pupils’ dislike of his academic success all became fuel for vicious physical and psychological bullying. ‘I was once stabbed with a pencil in the chest and still have a bit of lead embedded under my skin.’
Matthew said, ‘I had an acidic solution thrown over me during an experiment, was threatened to be stabbed by an older student, and one particular bully ended up orchestrating an assault on myself with other boys from a different school whilst standing with my girlfriend at the time on the last day of school.
“I was attacked from behind whilst a large crowd gathered round to chant. No one stepped in to defend me.”
Frighteningly, this extended to institutional bullying at the hands of three teachers.
“This resulted in me exploding physically at times when I couldn’t take any further aggravation, as well as the fact that the faculty wouldn’t listen to my claims.”
Being unable to articulate his sense of feeling ‘different’ clearly perpetuated the problem, although these were not entirely self-made issues.
Matthew’s lack of religious beliefs and friendship with Catholic students also made him a target: “From having went to an all boys school the tolerance levels were completely backwards, and I wasn’t at all one of the boys.
“For me it ended up being natural, the conflicts I faced were normal for me, baseline. I knew nothing else…one of the biggest things that happens now as an adult is that people think mental issues are somehow less, or invented. People play them down a lot, which is good and bad” he said.
As social media is now used by 1.79 billion people worldwide, the capacity for anyone to openly expose their views or information about themselves has contribute to the prevalence of online-bullying.
“I’ve personally had the somewhat double-edged good fortune of growing up outside of our core techno-social media inspired culture, so my natural tendency toward introversion has been helped in a sense by this isolation, by living in the country rather than the city” said Matthew, adding: “I got an opportunity to strengthen my internal voice because I had less opposition.”
While as a school pupil this meant he was loud, brash and under no illusion of embarrassment despite the consequences, his lack of fear of speaking out in current times of hyper-connectivity has meant he is still targeted by bullies.
He said: “You can be swamped under the weight of common opinion, but you cannot stop saying how you feel and allowing it to be challenged just because it’s a minority viewpoint.
“Or because it’s easier and quicker now with social media for gaffes, miscommunication and rumour to spread like wildfire. As for the bullying side of things, to be honest I’m now twenty nine and sadly I still come across people who are bullies, both emotional and physical.”
While online presence and the increased opportunity for expression is an important mechanism for people, both young and old, it can coincidentally be misused. ‘
The social media thing, the explosion of it over the last ten years – it’s still in the experimental stage, right?’ Matthew said, adding: “Behaviourally we’re just beginning to grasp how dynamic and powerful it is…I think it is worth treading carefully, particularly with regards to over-sharing if you’ve grown up with social media without knowing what it was like beforehand; I have and I’ve still been victim to over-sharing at times when I really want to talk to just a core group of people.
“We just have to be careful because whilst we get to share the ideas, the physical human component of the interaction is lost, and the weight which that carries is pretty formidable. It’s a lot easier to insult someone online than in person, without really being able to see the damage it causes.”
It’s somewhat refreshing to hear that, despite his experiences, Matthew is still able to remain true to himself and hasn’t shied away from such expression.
“I do think though that (social media) has been fantastic in that it has given people a platform to realise no matter what we think, or how lonely our ideas might make us feel, that other people are willing to listen. Certainly as a person from a country that is only catching up in the sexuality debate, the Internet in general has been liberating.”
Although Matthew still suffers from anxiety attacks, he has thankfully discovered his own coping mechanism which have helped him deal with bullies.
He said: “When I was in my teens I built a framework in my head that I later learned turned out to be part-CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and part-meditation, so whenever I was finally introduced to counseling I learned quickly that things could have taken a much darker route.
“I’ve also tried two periods of anti-depressants, and found them personally stifling, although I would not advocate not using them. Each person is very individual in that regard, and I suppose the main point I’d take is that this path worked for me, and that it won’t necessarily work for everyone.’
Likewise, his lack of knowledge that he was even a victim of bullying to begin with lead him to his own survival techniques.
“I had no help, and no one knew how to help…So I helped myself. It was black or white. At one stage I’d become so depressed without even understanding what depression was, it was just ‘fix myself or retreat into a hole and die’. That feeling has cycled around a few times in my life, and thankfully whilst terrible it has ended up like match practice. It doesn’t get easier, but I know I can weather it.”
In an age where we are so vulnerable to emotional attack, Matthew offered this advice to any body going through similar treatment: “We all need to be able to deal with each other, to disagree and learn to be OK with disagreement, more so than acceptance. I always stop when something bad happens and try and think how I’m going to grow from it. Imagine myself past it. Accept it, and try my best to absorb the experience into who I believe myself to be.
“Make all of the negative stuff work for you…I’m always looking for new ways to facilitate a healthier mind. I’d say the most important thing to do is don’t become complacent. Take time with yourself, exercise, treat yourself even.
“Just don’t ever give up on yourself, be your own best friend so that you can be great to others. I don’t think it’s possible to deal with other people if you don’t give yourself some space to breathe.”
Matthew’s story tells us that while bullying and mistreatment may be a recurring issue throughout one’s lifetime, we can learn to deal with each other more effectively and protect ourselves from the effects of such intimidation.
Two of the boys responsible for the violent school attacks Matthew was subject to have since apologised for their behaviour , and while he has accepted their apologies, he said: “they don’t have a clue how it has added to the shape of myself as a person.”
It’s clear from his own attentiveness to self-discovery and ability to stand by his opinions in the face of both emotional and physical abuse that one does not have to remain a victim.
Now, more than ever, we need individuals who are prepared to stay strong in the face of adversity and work together in spite of our differences.
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