The topic of this very special week, dear reader – anti-bullying – is a subject very near and dear to my own heart, given my … well, my past experiences of being bullied. Some of you might have your own bullying horror stories to tell, therefore you know all about the damage it can do, physically in some cases, but in nearly all cases it causes significant internal damage to one’s self-esteem – damage that can last for years, even decades if no intervention is made. For your sake, dear reader, I will refrain from talking in great detail about my own experience, as it will be nigh impossible for me to remain objective.

I might be stating the obvious here or simply preaching to the choir, but the dangers of bullying to the victim and perpetrator alike simply cannot be overstated. The damage to the victim should be obvious – being the target of insults, intimidation, exclusion and perhaps at worst, violence that one feels helpless against can lead to feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem and serious cases of Anxiety, Depression, PTSD … and the longer it goes on, it can even result in self-harm. Bullies themselves are also at risk, forming detrimental habits well into adulthood, such as violence or substance abuse, though some do benefit from this horrible practice with the increase in artificial ‘social standing’ – being the cool kid, as it were. In any case, bullying needs to end – and action must be taken to prevent it.

Fortunately, in this day and age, there exist a number of options for victims of bullying to seek help. The Anti-Bullying Alliance, organisers of this most important week, are dedicated to fighting back against bullying in all its forms, and can offer advice and support to victims who visit their website. If you are being bullied for being disabled, invisible or otherwise, as I was, chances are you can speak to an advisor at a local or national charity. For example, in the case of Autism, you can speak to someone at the National Autistic Society, or if you’re local to Essex and live near to Colchester, you might speak to the good people at Autism Anglia via their Autism Advice Service. Ideally, if you’re at school or work, you will be able to speak to your teacher or your boss about what is going on and have it swiftly dealt with by those in a position of authority.

The main thing to take away from this, speaking as someone who, well, let’s just say has extensive experience of being a victim of bullying, is this; the absolute worst thing you can do is to stay quiet about it. The longer it goes on, bullying can cause serious adverse effects to its victims, including stress-induced sickness, loss of self-esteem and even risk of suicide. I’m writing this as a man of nearly 30 years of age. Despite all the great strides I’ve made in life, I still carry the scars of my childhood and adolescence. On that point, I cannot stress this enough; report it immediately. Speak to someone you trust, call a helpline, speak to an advisor, tell someone in a position of authority. The fight back against bullying starts when you make this first, all-important decision to speak up, which is why this point is so crucial.

And if you’re worried about appearing ‘unmanly’ or ‘weak’ or if you’re upset about ‘not being able to fight your own battles’, don’t be. Bullying is cowardly by default, as by definition it requires someone in a position of strength to pick on someone more vulnerable. So why should you, the victim, be worried about such ridiculous standards? If a bully threatens you, this goes double – a threat or intimidation is in obvious and grievous violation of your basic rights.

Ultimately, Choose Respect couldn’t be a more fitting theme for this year’s Anti-Bullying Week. No matter who you are, you are entitled to respect. If someone is making you feel lesser by insults, intimidation or violence, you have to make that first step of speaking up. For the act of speaking up in and of itself is an act of Choosing Respect. So if you are a victim of bullying, don’t delay, don’t debate in your head and most of all don’t let the bullies scare you … speak up about it, and choose respect. Not tomorrow, not next week, not when you feel less scared …  #chooserespect NOW!

And do not fear, as those of us who have been through bullying themselves will always support you.

If you would like to find out more about Anti-Bullying week and the Anti-Bullying Alliance, please visit www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk

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