Bullying at school left mark on victim

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

The psychological scars inflicted by school bullies can have life-long effects, however successful and happy the victim might become in later life. Photo / Thinkstock
The psychological scars inflicted by school bullies can have life-long effects, however successful and happy the victim might become in later life. Photo / Thinkstock

Adam Wagstaff, 25, is still affected by the severe bullying he suffered as a teenager over his homosexuality.

He can't bear to walk into a room full of people he doesn't know, for fear of how they will think of him.

He bought a house on the North Shore to distance himself from Howick, his childhood neighbourhood.

He avoids the area for fear of seeing someone who made his life hell at school, and taunted him with names such as "faggot" and "poof".

His sexuality and the mocking by "jocks" led to breakdowns, attempts to take his own life and chronic problems with his self-image.

Mr Wagstaff says the bullying began when he was a 5-year-old.

"Being quite a feminine person was the reason. I went to a Catholic school and a lot of the teachers didn't do anything about it."

His intermediate years were not as bad, but it was his time at Howick College that brought him most grief.

"It wasn't until high school that I realised that being a gay guy was going to make my life hell.

"I came out in seventh form but just my family knew. I didn't tell anyone at high school.

"I had things thrown at me but nothing [physically] worse than that. I was smart enough to avoid those situations. I'd walk to school at 7.30am just so I would get to school before everyone else. I would always just expect something to happen. After school, when that bell rang I would run out."

He needed counselling and was later put on anti-depressants.

"It was always the athletes, the jocks, the rugby players, the stuck-up guys who were wealthy and had the pretty girlfriends."

Today Mr Wagstaff is a successful young man working in a leading insurance company. Last month he made things official with his long-time partner, Tim, and the couple own their own home. He credits Tim, and his family and friends, with helping him.

Mr Wagstaff says he knows now most of the bullies were trying to make themselves look cool. But he's more successful than most of them, he says proudly. Yet the effects last.

"If there are a group of people I don't know in a room, I can't walk into the room. It scares me to think about how they will look at me, judge me. I can't handle it."

Adam declined to be photographed for fear of reprisals over his sexuality.

- NZ Herald

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