Hello everyone, my name is Anita Dennison and I am a 20-year-old student and award winning anti-bullying campaigner from Newry, Co. Down. This is the story of how I turned my horrible bullying experience into a positive for other individuals and their families. I hope my story can help you through any tough time you may be facing.
Growing up, I never thought that I would save a life, mainly because I hated blood, guts and gore. Becoming a doctor clearly wasn’t for me. It wasn’t until I became a campaigner that I realized that you don’t need a defibrillator or a medical degree to save a life, having a caring heart and a listening ear is simply more than enough.
It all started at the end of my time at primary school. I remember being punched in the stomach and winded by a student in the year below me, as a result of me standing up for a friend after she was insulted.
I was excited about starting high school as I loved learning about new things and I was a really sociable person, so I couldn't wait to make new friends. Despite having the most incredible support networks behind me, I was bullied for the way I looked, my choice of not being pressured into wearing make-up till this day seemed to give people a window to bully me, calling me ugly, disgusting and telling me I'd never have a relationship. I remember one day it got so bad that a boy in my year came up behind me and tried to set my hair alight with a lighter. Being bullied, verbally and physically made me feel as though I didn’t deserve to be here anymore and things worsened in 2012.
In 2012, I had no thoughts of how I could save a life and I certainly didn’t live the sweet 16 lifestyle. It was the year I hit rock bottom, my whole life fell apart as I was the victim of a year long hate campaign on social media as a result of an incident at my school. I was beaten up in front of 200+ students, despite having the most amazing teachers, friends and family around me supporting me at the time, I would wake up to anonymous messages such as, “don’t bother coming into school today, everyone hates you” and “why don’t you do us all a favour and take your own life?” Taunt after taunt, day after day, I soon lost any ounce of confidence I had and my self-worth became non-existent. I fell into depression, I didn’t want to be around my loved ones, my friends. I quit my hobbies from dancing to Tae Kwon Do, all because of nameless individuals online who hadn’t the self-confidence to say any of this to my face. I kept thinking, “Why me?” “What have I done to possibly deserve any of this?” and “Am I the only one?” I asked myself this time and time again. A huge part of me knew that I wasn’t, but I needed to find out just how significant this problem really was. I did some research and according to Childline, more than 160,000 young people are bullied each day in schools across the UK and Ireland. 160,000 young people feel threatened in an environment where they are meant to feel secure. Sadly, so many of these young people wanted to give up, throw in the towel, just like me. They walk around the school corridors with their heads down, wishing for the 3 o’clock bell so that they could escape their own version of hell. They go home, “safe and sound” until they open their Facebook page and get threatened once more. Their parents are telling them that they are spending too much time online... If only they had the confidence to show these messages to their parents... If only their parents knew that behind that “smile” hides many sleepless nights of fear and dread... If only they had a voice…
So, I decided, that I wanted to be there for them. I wanted to be their voice. In November of 2012 whilst suffering from depression and anxiety as a result of my online and offline torment. I found strength from the support that I had around me and I decided that enough was enough. I found myself asking, “What can I do to transform my situation, give myself a future and possibly just possibly help somebody else?” On November 21st 2012 I created my own website and Twitter campaign (@bully_dont). Posting positive messages on bullying, mental health and self-confidence helped me to become confident once again, mainly because I read them as though someone else had posted them. Within 3 years hundreds of followers soon turned into 6,000+. I was receiving comments from Australia to the USA, such as, “Thank you so much for your support, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here.” “You are my hero, please never stop what you do.” Within only a few months, my social media nightmare soon turned into the best thing that has ever happened to me.
Turning a negative experience into a positive one is something we all can only dream of and I for one am very proud to say that I am living the positive aftermath of what was a very tough time in my life. I want my story to be seen as a positive for you all. I wanted to show you all that no matter what you may go through in life, there IS ALWAYS hope, positivity and indeed life at the end of every dark tunnel. Unable to find it? Sit back. Relax. Don’t give up on yourself, ask for help, and let others help you to discover your very bright future ahead. Don’t be afraid to seek the support you need, but more importantly that you deserve. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it shows that you have tried to stay strong for too long on your own and now you just need a bit of encouragement to help you along the way. We ALL need encouragement every once in awhile, you are NOT alone! I know that it’s by no means easy to overcome any obstacle in life, but do your best to focus on the positives in your life. That family atmosphere that you have around you, your amazing friendship groups, and that job that you have worked your backside off to get, for those negative individuals and their comments don’t define who you are.
I never thought that I had the strength to overcome my tough experiences, but with amazing support I managed to pull through. As a result of my campaigning I have received a Diana Award and I was shortlisted for the Spirit of NI awards, both in 2015.
For so long I was looking for my purpose in life, and I know I’m not the only one. We were all born with 3 things; the purpose to be our unique selves, the strength to overcome any obstacle we are ever faced with and a blank map that with every step we take creates OUR pathway in life, nobody else’s. Be sure to live your life for you, don’t let anyone else control it, you are the master of your own future.
Remember: You have had a positive past (you have experienced a few hiccups, but you overcame them), you WILL have a positive future, this negative present is just a blip on your road to success. Stay strong. Stay focused. Stay hopeful.
I now share my experience at different talks and events across the UK and Ireland in the hope that my experience can help someone else who may be suffering. In November 2015 I had the amazing opportunity to deliver my very own TEDx Talk in Omagh, County Tyrone. I hope you enjoy and can find some hope and strength from my words of advice.