25-year-old Aucklander Jesse Greenslade has written an open letter to the Herald about being bullied as a child and teenager. Jesse says he was a target while at school because he did not fit in with the social norms. These days, Jesse says life is "quite good" - certainly better than the torment he felt as a teenager. In writing this open letter, he wants to reach out and help others: "It is important to ask for help, but it is the hardest thing to do. You don't have to suffer in silence." - Monica Holt
I look in the mirror and wonder how I managed to survive the torture and humiliation I faced when I was a teenager. I ask myself, how did I do it? How did I manage to survive the cruel and unbearable years of being a teenager? Bullying started on my first day of primary school, and continued for 11 years. Eleven years of isolation, ridicule and humiliation. Eleven years of finger-pointing, being laughed at and being lonely. I looked in the mirror with my top off wondering why I didn't look like the other boys, with their muscular physique and athletic bodies.
When I was young I thought I had a demon. That demon is neurofibromatosis (NF). NF encompasses a set of distinct genetic disorders that causes tumours to grow along various types of nerves. This condition made it hard for me to participate in physical education classes because I was uncoordinated and a lot slower than other children. It also prevented me from learning as quickly as my peers. I learned over the years to accept this demon.
School years were hell, one of the scariest, most embarrassing, isolating and life-changing experiences of my entire life. I felt isolated, lonely; I had no friends, nobody to talk to. No teacher to support me, nobody outside my family was willing to listen or help.
All through primary school, I constantly felt judged for being me. I had no friends; I seldom spent time with anyone my own age, I felt pressured to conform, to be like the other children in my class; I was forced to do activities that I was not capable of doing.
Even though I had NF, which could limit my physical ability, the school likened me to others in my class, and was pushing me to be like them, punishing me for not being able to achieve, being disciplined for being different, being disciplined for not doing activities I was not physically able to do. Being reprimanded for being me was the greatest detriment to my character.
Intermediate school was tough. I was in an all-boys class. I felt different. I was not like other boys, I wasn't athletic, I wasn't macho. I had no friends, I was socially excluded. "Jesse you are a retard," they used to say.
Starting high school I was still socially isolated during and outside school. I would very rarely hang out with anyone. I was different to other teenagers. I never experienced what normal teenagers go through. This, for me, was the hardest part of my teen years. In Year 12 I started chemotherapy treatment. Strange as it may sound my life got better as a result of this. Having the opportunity to be part of CanTeen, an organisation that supports young people living with cancer, has given me experiences and training opportunities that I never thought I would be able to experience. They supported me when I was down, and during the hard times gave me skills to overcome being stigmatised for being different.
Recently diagnosed with a condition called hyperprolactinaemia, has added more insult to injury. Added more complications to my health.
I tried to bottle up situations of grief and anger from the past few years; this hasn't helped my recovery. Why is it that in life you always need to explain your feelings or reasoning to others? Why can't they just listen and be at peace with your feelings and aspirations?
NF has its challenges, but I believe it has made me who I am today. A person with love and empathy towards others. A person with understanding that is willing to help and support people.
People often refer to a medical condition as a disadvantage or a punishment. I see it as a reward, that I had an understanding of diversity. Life for me is like a book in which each page and chapter holds something different, a new story or adventure.
To all the teenagers out there who have been bullied or are being bullied, you are not alone.
Stand strong and fight for what you know is right. You are not alone and you will get through this, be proud of who you are.
What you are experiencing is only temporary. Talking to someone and being honest about what is going on can change the situation you are in. And to the bullies, next time you judge someone or stick a label on that person think about their situation and about what you are about to say or do. Your next action could have an impact on their life forever. Some scars do not heal.
Young people reading this who have had a hard time at school with bullying or who may be fighting with depression need to push on.
Asking for help or talking about your feelings is the last thing anyone can do for themselves.
I am hoping people reading this feel inspired that anyone is able to overcome having their mana trampled, having their actions and themselves scrutinised.
Jesse has authored a children's book, First Week Blues, about bulling in schools.
Help at hand
If you or someone you know needs help there are a number of places you can turn for support and advice. If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111. You can also see your GP for non-urgent help.
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (4pm to 6pm weekdays)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)