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23rd May 2022

Elle’s Story

18th May 2021

Trigger Warnings: bullying, mention of the word sexual assault, trauma.

Hi everyone, my name is Elena Ramona I am a 31 year old musician and mental health worker based in Surrey. Writing this blog will be difficult, but so necessary because raising awareness on this topic is important.

School… who likes it, who hates it, who even remembers it? I have big mental blanks from my time at school from junior school all the way up to secondary school.

Let me create the setting for you. I grew up on the Greek Island of Skiathos with my Greek dad, English mother and one brother. Though idyllic and somewhat peaceful, the education system was very limited due to lack of resources and staff. My family made the decision to send myself and my brother to the UK to ensure we got a decent and fulfilling education. When I arrived at the school, I was 11 and it was a huge culture shock – even the weather was different! I found it difficult to express my emotions and fears. Almost immediately I began to feel like an outsider. I remember the first day I was there. I was so scared, the schedule, the people, the uniform, it was all so different to what I was used to. This made me a target for bullies as I was clearly different in behaviour and somewhat appearance too.  Most of my classmates were tall and slender and could fit in to the latest outfits, whereas I would have to shop at M and S because my body shape was curvy from a young age and I was an early bloomer. I remember dreading non uniform days with a passion.

My family was far away, and I wasn’t able to just go home and escape, however I would talk to my mum every night, she was always there to listen. At school I found it very hard to express my emotions and communicate how I was feeling, and this led me to begin acting out in class. But this made me even more of a target for the bullies. They would comment on my appearance, my odour, my mannerisms, and my “imperfections” such as body hair. They would call me ‘Greek freak’ and ‘Eleina a loner’. To this day I prefer being called Elle due to the trauma this name calling inflicted on me. Elena Ramona is my stage name and I go by the name of Elle outside of this because I don’t connect with any other name.

Don’t get me wrong, at the time when I was getting bullied or ridiculed, I would answer back and throw shade most of the time which probably in the long run made it worse. There was a group of kids in my year who ruled the roost. This created a domino effect, and I noticed my “friends” began to ditch me or not want to be seen in public with me because of this. I experienced inappropriate sexual behaviour from a couple of peers and my “friends” turned a blind eye to this because I was not popular. This behaviour happened in the classroom. This broke my confidence and trust even more. It was a very difficult time of my life. Your body and mind are going through so many changes as a young person, you feel awkward as it is, and you just want to belong. At this time, mental health was basically a taboo subject and there were no lessons on consent. I was afraid of being judged and further ridiculed so I hid all my anxiety inside. I turned to alcohol and drugs in my mid-teens to escape from the reality I was facing. Going through the motions everyday alone was difficult and I felt invisible. The school did not support me with my alcohol and drug use; they felt it was easier to ask me to leave than investigate my issues. In turn this however set me free.

I came to Guildford in Surrey in 2008 to attend college at the Academy of Contemporary Music. You could say I reinvented myself. I began to make friends with understanding, sensitive and loving people. I felt like I finally belonged, and that was such a feeling of elation.  I am still friends with these people today, however trusting people was still difficult. After leaving ACM I stayed in Guildford and worked in retail for 6 years, I also made more lifelong friends in my place of work. After my time in retail, I got a job back at my old college ACM.  Working there was very different to studying there. I got bullied during my time there and it felt like I was back at school, because I still hadn’t dealt with the trauma from school. This hit me hard and my mental health deteriorated further. The college were not sympathetic towards my difficulties and it reminded me of being that “naughty” kid again that teachers pushed to one side because it was easier. I couldn’t believe a professional place could resemble a playground so accurately. Bullying can affect someone as an adult hugely. If you are told something or feel a certain way for long enough it becomes your reality even if it’s not true.

At breaking point, I decided to reach out to my GP and access support. In early 2019 I was diagnosed with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder). This at first was scary and confusing however it did explain a lot to me about my emotional outbursts and quirks. After my diagnosis, my life began to get slightly easier, I didn’t feel so alone. Knowing there was a name for it and other people could understand and feel the same way made me more aware of myself and I was slowly able to let people know about BPD and help educate my friends and family as well as myself.

In mid-2019 I got a new job with a mental health charity in the Guildford area as an Administrator and Development worker and I have not looked back. My new workplace is really supportive of me and my struggles, they help me raise my flag high with pride. I am not ashamed of my battle scars anymore or what got me here today for without them I wouldn’t be who I am. I am on a journey of self-acceptance and self-love; I still find it hard to trust people and have terrible social anxiety with new people. This journey has bumpy roads too, but I am willing to drive through those because they make me appreciate the smooth roads. I believe it is all worth the fight. I am worthy of this journey and of this life and so are you. I am currently on the waiting list for intense trauma therapy and that is ok.  The bullies and abusers may have taken some of my past, but I refuse to let them steal my future.

If I were to tell my younger self one thing it would be, keep going. This is not forever and one day everything you have been through will lead you exactly where you need to be at exactly the right time. My final message to you the reader is, if you are experiencing bullying in your classroom, your place of work or anywhere please do not suffer in silence. Bullying in any sense of the word is not ok. Please speak to someone you trust or reach out to a support service because you are worth the help. I promise you that.

Photo by Zoë Etter.

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