Bronagh O ‘Loughlin, from Mornington, is a freelance writer who has contributed to Meath Live before

In this powerful piece, published in the Irish Times, last month, she looks back at a horrible time in her life when she was the victim of bullying.

Anyone who reads this will be moved to take a stand against bullying

My previous columns have touched on a number of the mental health issues I deal with daily or have dealt with previously. Most of my problems began in my late childhood and early teenage years. The vast majority of which is the result of trauma and this trauma has made it increasingly difficult to get past it. In my early to late teenage years, I was bullied, both in-person and online. It was incredibly overwhelming as it felt like I had nowhere away from it. What’s more, the friends I did have were also friends with the bully and would relay things to them that I had told them in confidence. The person absolutely tormented me and it still has an impact on me to this day. 

It felt like even when I was around other people, I was alone because I couldn’t trust them. It wasn’t limited to a certain space either like school – I had slurs shouted from the top of a double decker bus down to me on the bottom floor. People I met for the first time already had their opinions of me tainted before I even got the opportunity to introduce myself. Anything I did privately was quickly made a spectacle – any silly teenage behaviour and it was not only humiliating but incredibly uncomfortable. Most people of that age range in the local area knew me as the slurs that the person attached to me. Sometimes I could even hear people talking about me and see them looking and pointing too. 

I even joined the bully in some ways as I too hated myself and began to physically harm myself. This went on for a few years and sometimes were better than others where I was more so left alone but other times, it felt incredibly claustrophobic as though I didn’t have any headspace anymore. Prior to the bullying, I had experienced suicidal thoughts in childhood and these thoughts were only becoming more frequent. While the bullying did come to an end eventually and I was able to go off to college in Dublin and live a much happier life where I had tonnes of friends and people supporting me, it does still stick with me in some ways. I got the local bus to college too so there were some times where I saw her getting it or friends of hers.

The trauma from this specific time has stunted my growth in more ways than one. In particular, it was yet another thing that has made it difficult for me to trust people. Additionally, it challenged me greatly on my own journey to confidence, good self-esteem and self-love. It has made me fearful to this day. I still get frightened to leave the house and walk down the street by myself or get on one of the local buses or even, go out to a nightclub. This trauma coupled with my own introverted ways has meant I have very little of a social life. This trauma makes me constantly fear friending people or starting up relationships with people because I’m scared. I worry they are out to get me and will use what I have told them to make a fool of me. 

Even writing about this is incredibly hard, particularly when it comes to bullying because it has left real scars and there are so many emotions I feel when I talk about my experience. This girl tormented me, invading every part of my life and it wasn’t a brief time, it went on for a few years. Trauma is something that should be taken very seriously but unfortunately, it is suffering some romanticisation as mental health becomes increasingly ‘cool’ and ‘relatable’. The American Psychological Association defines trauma as ‘any disturbing experience that results in significant fear, helplessness, dissociation, confusion, or other disruptive feelings intense enough to have a long-lasting negative effect on a person’s attitudes, behaviour and other aspects of functioning. 

Traumatic events include those caused by human behaviour as well as by nature and often challenge an individual’s view of the world as a just, safe, and predictable place. Unfortunately, just as people are glamourising mental health issues, trauma is experiencing the same treatment. We’re constantly hearing people say they are traumatised or self-diagnosing their situations as trauma. Just as anxiety and depression have become trend-worthy so has trauma. I spoke with Dr Mou. Sultana, a Chartered Psychologist and Psychotherapist, who agrees that mental health issues and trauma are being romanticised, to break down the impact of trauma on an individual and why glamourising it is incredibly problematic.  

Speaking on its impact on an individual, Dr Mou says trauma affects people hugely. She says, “It depends on if it is acute, chronic or complex trauma. Some physical changes that could occur include changes in brain neural pathways, metabolism, hormones and immune system.” As well as the physical changes, there are psychological changes. Dr Mou. references the fight, flight, freeze and fawn model saying that emotional dysregulation, overthinking, intrusive thoughts, avoidance, cognitive inflexibility, blurred boundaries, co-dependency, perfection and controlling, numbness can all occur. In addition, that the individual may be more susceptible to further psychological difficulties.  

The dangers of romanticising trauma are real and severe. She says, “Mainly people who really need access to support and care will be affected. The narrative begins to circulate that says anyone and anything can be traumatising. This is to some level true, but only a useful hypothesis for clinicians to avoid bias and assumptions to provide better healthcare, not to lay public to romanticise and use this term insincerely. Romanticising trauma can also eat away at our internal ability to heal and decrease our sense of resilience, impacting our spirit”. Having dealt with a number of traumatic situations and reflecting on how they have affected me as a person, it angers me that anyone would romanticise trauma.

Trauma is called trauma for a reason because it leaves scars, bruises and stunts our growth, it affects our mental wellbeing significantly and how we carry on with our lives. It is an absolute road block or hurdle that those affected need to find ways to crossover. In addition, it can feel like relearning in a lot of ways, for example, for me relearning how to walk down the street without being terrified that slurs will be shouted at me. If people say they are traumatised and this is not the case, they are educating others that trauma is not a big deal. As humans, we learn through observing as well as hearing people’s experiences. 

Those who have not dealt with traumatic events will not be able to describe its impact correctly and therefore, the public opinion around trauma is affected. People begin to think such and such dealt with trauma and she is doing absolutely fine or even, they begin categorising certain situations as trauma when they shouldn’t be. The recovery process from trauma is lengthy and varies from person to person, however, no one who has dealt with traumatic events will suddenly heal overnight. Dr Mou. recommends avoiding Google at all costs when it comes self-diagnosing and to only use it if you are looking for a great therapist to help you recover. We need to stop romanticising trauma and see it for what it really is. Only then can we begin to support and help those dealing with it.