When I was in school I had a tough time. I was bullied every day until I dropped out of the education system aged 14, feeling isolated, lonely and eventually depressed and anxious.
I was bullied for something as simple as the kind of music I liked, and for things I couldn’t control, such as my height. I thought being the tallest girl in class was a good thing as it made me unique, but when people started bullying me for it, I realised it was used as an excuse to single me out for being “different”, which tore me down emotionally.
The pressure to look a certain way was huge as everyone wanted to copy celebrities and people they followed on social media. The bullying was made worse because I was one of the few girls at school who didn’t look like a certain type of online influencer. I didn’t dress like them or do my make-up like they did, whereas so many girls in my school were obsessed with looking like them – this meant I stood out even more.
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I began to withdraw, and because I wasn’t interacting with my friends, I fell out with them. They thought I was avoiding them, when in reality I was trying to avoid harassment from other students. They soon started to talk behind my back and I developed anxiety because of this. I didn't think I could trust anyone.
I loved using social-media platforms like Tumblr, where I could read about the bands I enjoyed or learn more about things I liked. I felt safe using Tumblr and I could be myself on there, but I avoided Facebook as I was so scared the bullies would use it to continue to harass me outside of school.
Everyone had a mobile phone and it was hard for teachers to control people using them. We had to put our phones into a box at the start of class but you could see how impatient and anxious people were, and how happy everyone was to get them back during break. Messages, often making fun of someone in class, would be sent round to everyone, which created a horrible atmosphere in class. This made me even more determined to stay away from Facebook. I was so scared they would find me I didn’t even have a profile with a fake name, as I knew I couldn’t stay hidden from them forever.
What started as skipping a few classes led into going home at lunch and eventually just not going to school altogether. I was once a top pupil, but I fell so far behind in school that I had to be homeschooled, which meant I was even further isolated.
I unfortunately lost someone close to me during this time, too, and ended up developing depression. At such a young age, I doubted my future and, after months of not even having the energy to go downstairs to attend homeschooling, I dropped out of education altogether with no qualifications, friends or confidence.
For four years of my life, I didn’t really talk to anyone and the highlight of my day would usually be watching a TV show. Those four years felt like the longest of my life. Then I found The Prince’s Trust online. At that first meeting at the Wolfson Centre in Glasgow, I couldn’t make eye contact as I suffered from a lot of anxiety and depression. But very quickly the centre became a safe space for me as it’s a place in which I know I won’t be judged, I’ve made lots of friends and I’ve made life-changing decisions. I’ve even spoken in front of 500 people, whereas a year ago I struggled to talk to one.
One day, I hope I can help at least one young person the way The Prince’s Trust has helped me. Attending college, as I do now, is something I never thought I would be able to do when I left school so young. I’ve started a modern apprenticeship, but this is only the beginning of my journey.
Abbie Kirwan is a college student in Scotland