[English] Surviving

In this article I share with you my story. The story that shaped me as the person I am today: someone I am proud of. In this article you’ll find my experiences and the consequences thereof. I have separated the article in a section about elementary school, about high school, my personal life and I end with the consequences of all of it. In the article ‘From surviving to living’ (will be published soon) I tell you about how I have learned to live with the things that I have gone through in life and the beautiful things life can bring. 

This article is also available in Dutch.

Elementary School

Voorburg, The Netherlands, Friday September 13, 1996. The day a not really planned life beings: my life. Of course, I can’t remember my first years, like everyone, so I won’t bother you with those. When I was three years old, I started going to elementary school, a thrilling time for me as a quiet and shy little boy. The first moment I experienced that introversion is a huge weakness. I rather watched my classmates before doing a task. That way I would know what was expected of me. The pressure to do good, was clearly already very high at that time. So, I liked having an example first and then, when I felt comfortable enough, would get to work.

Soon I noticed that I didn’t fit in, because I stayed in the background and not attract any attention. At that time, it didn’t bother me much. I had all that I needed: cuddly toy. Because I was quite young, I had a stuffed animal, named Duck(y), and I always had him with me. Duck gave me a safe feeling in all situations and because of him I knew nothing would happen to me, even when there was another fight at home.

Soon, one of my teachers was done with my duck, so he was taken from me and put behind lock and key, in the teacher’s drawer. Not the smartest choice to take a stuffed animal from a small child: the only feeling of safety was taken from me. At 8.30 AM he disappeared in the drawer and at 3.30 PM I got him back. The time in between was horrible: I didn’t know how to act. I couldn’t do anything other than be scared. The result was that I only crawled further back into my shell and disappeared into the background, becoming even more invisible. 

Halfway through the schoolyear I got a different teacher, who let me keep Duck with me, she understood I couldn’t be without him. This made me light up again and I was able to participate in class again. The problem seemed to be resolved. Unfortunately, it was of short notice. The previous teacher came back, and so Duck disappeared in the drawer again. And I shut down again.

This continued. Along the way I learned to live without my duck and could go to school without him. But I still stayed in the background as much and long as possible. I didn’t want to be the centre of attention: afraid to do something wrong.

From class 3 on it went completely wrong. I was about five or six years old. It was the time of Saint Nicolas (a Dutch holiday) and the whole school was filled with ‘Zwarte Piet’ (people with black painted faces, who are the helpers of St. Nicolas) and St. Nicolas, a wonderful time, for me as well. But my classmates noticed something in that same time period: “You look like ‘Zwarte Piet’! That’s funny!”. Day in, day out, year in, year out, I have heard this. At least until sixth class. However, it didn’t stop there. As the quiet boy I was an easy prey for all kinds of bullying that had to do with my weight: I was either too skinny, I probably was anorexic, or I was too fat, I should go on a diet, and all things in between. Bullying that had to do with my skin colour: classmates said they would have a job for me at a plantation, I should be taken on the boat to Spain, etc. But it didn’t stop with my looks. During gym classes I had all kinds of remarks thrown at me. I was never the sporty type and my hand-eye-coordination was never very good, so catching and throwing balls wasn’t my strong suit. So again, I was an easy prey. The consequence: often enough I purposely had balls thrown in my face or was kicked or hit during gym class when the teacher didn’t look. And again, it didn’t stop there. Physical violence was on the order of the day. After gym class I would be locked in the bathroom, after school they were waiting for me at the bike shed, or my bike was dismantled (I became a regular client at the mechanic) and would be followed home. 

It all went so far that, when I was seven years old, I started thinking about suicide, the only way out. Obviously, I was good for nothing, I was nobody… So I got told every day. When I was ten, I had already done several suicide attempts, three close to successful. After the third failed attempt I decided to quit the attempts: “you can’t even do this, stupid loser. They are right, you are nobody and you aren’t worth it, so just keep going, you’ll die eventually”.  A way of thinking that caused me not to try suicide for a very long time after.

When, in sixth class, I finally told my mom what had happened, she immediately transferred me to a new school. This was the perfect school: I came in a class where I could be who I really was, I wasn’t judged by my class mates for how I looked like or my performance in (gym)classes. In the three following years I didn’t have any problems at school. However, the problems came after school times. I lived in a neighbourhood where the schools were in close proximity to each other. So, after school, they waited for me, kids and classmates from my former school, and they followed me home, again and again. A couple of times they even came at my door.

Secondary school

After elementary school I went to high school, I did mavo/VMBO-T, (preparatory secondary vocational programme). Soon I found that it was pretty easy for me. Where classmates had a hard time to pass classes, I didn’t do much and passed with flying colours. So my main goal became to transfer to HAVO (senior general secondary education) at the end of the school year. Without too much effort I finished my first year and the next year I went to a HAVO class. 

Content-wise I didn’t have too much difficulty in the first class, on the social field, however, I did. Very soon my past got to me. The same sort of things that happened to me in elementary school, happened here again. The same bullying, but with new bullies. 

As you may understand (or maybe not), that with the smallest inconvenience one can fall back into old patterns, like depression and insecurity, when you have been through the things I have been through in elementary school. At high school this happened, like during gym classes. At my high school you were given the choice to go to gym class in shorts or in trousers. Because I really loved shorts, I decided to wear those to gym class. During the first class we had to play ‘tug-o-war’. Unfortunately, soon heard remarks about my legs: “don’t break those skinny legs of yours”. I was the first and last day I wore shorts in gym class. Until this day, 11 years later, I don’t do sports in shorts, even if its 30 degrees Celsius. And all of it just because of a remark, that wasn’t even very outstanding, but because of all that I had been through a remark that did a lot of damage. 

Next to the remark about my ‘skinny legs’, I have had a lot of other things dumped on me, literally sometimes. Physical violence became a standard again, and it wasn’t a surprise to me when they would be waiting for me after school or whispered a threat in my ear. This lasted for at least four years, of the five years that I had been at that school. For me it was like reliving elementary school. 

Like I said, in the second year I started HAVO and I became part of a nicer class, which made it possible for me to finish high school in five years. Even though the bullying from my MAVO classmates in breaks and after school continued. 

Around the third class I started to understand what it means to have real friendships. Not because of my class mates, but because of my colleagues at one of my first jobs. I’ll tell you more about this in my article ‘From surviving to living’. 

My personal life

Now that you have a brief overview of what my school life looked like it is time to go deeper in to my personal life. In this part I want to try to keep some anonymity, so I will talk about a parent with a neuter gender. 

Like you may have read in the article where I introduce myself to you, I was raised with an alcoholic parent. This played out through my entire life actually. I know this parent as a quiet person, one that doesn’t say much. Until there is alcohol around, at that moment there is no silence at all. And not in a positive way. When alcohol was used, which was basically always, it could go two ways: they would talk your ears off, or there would be a huge, far going fight, usually for no reason. As you may understand, this isn’t a perfect place to grow up. I never knew where I would end up when I came home from school or work, but neither did I know in what state I would find this parent when they came home or what would happen when a bottle of whiskey was opened. I can’t really remember this parent being actively part of my upbringing, only when they were drunk and we ‘did everything wrong’, but that’s it. Only when I was fourteen years old this parent started to have an interest in my life, a little late. So, basically, I was raised by one parent, even though there were two present. How this one parent raised three children, I have no idea. 

This home situation has caused my insecurity to uphold and has only become stronger in my adolescence. Next to that, in my childhood home a big part of my personality has been taken away from me, I am not the person I was when I was younger. I may tell you about this in a next article, but it’s a bit too much for now. 

A big turning point in my life was April 2018, I was 21 and was in the second year of college. On a Saturday night I had another big fight with the abusive parent. Consequence of this was that I immediately had to leave the house, because I knew that in this fight, I was not safe at home anymore. If my other parent wouldn’t have been there that night, I would surely have ended up in the hospital. 

Because I wasn’t safe anymore, I decided only to be home at tactical moments: during diner and in the mornings, at the moment the alarms would go of. These were the moments both my parents were home and it would be noticeable that I wasn’t home. The rest of the day I was out: I was at school, I was at work, I was at my internship, I was with friends or I was on the street. In a period of five months I didn’t sleep in my own bed. At night I would usually sleep in my car or, when I really didn’t know what to do, I slept on a bench near the water. I knew that on the street my life would be safer, relatively. At that time, I didn’t tell anyone about it, to prevent rejection. I hadn’t even told my best friend, the only person I dared to trust. I’ll tell you more about this in another article. 

The Effects

I can assure you that I have been through a lot, those things you don’t wish would happen to anyone and surely not at a young age. These are things you take with you, for the rest of your life. It has had a huge impact on my life. I have made a short timeline to paint you a picture of what I have been through and what effects it has/had on my life:

  • 2000 – 2010: Elementary School

    Feeling of lack of safety, insecurity, lack of self-confidence, underweight as a result of stress, burnout, depression, deep depression, thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts, anxiety, thoughts like “I’m not good enough, I’m nobody, I can’t do anything”, introversion is a weakness and therefore I am dumb.

  • 2010 – 2015: Secondary School

    Feeling of lack of safety, insecurity, lack of self-confidence, stress, burnout, (winter)depression, deep (winter)depression, thoughts of suicide, fear of rejection, fear in regularity, loneliness, thoughts like “I’m not good enough, I’m nobody, I can’t do anything”, introversion is a weakness and therefore I am dumb.

  • 1996- May 2019

    I do what I want to, I chase my dreams, stability, I am worth being, I know who I am, I know who I am not, I know where I want to go, I am strong, I have life experience which I can use to reach things, I use medication and that’s not a bad thing, introversion is one of my strongest features, accepting who I am: gay, a strong core of real friends I can fall back on , I have my own view and opinions which I won’t keep in, I want to help people that are in the same shit I have been through, but also people whom have not gone through these things, that I can inspire to chase their dreams.

The last part of the timeline is suddenly very positive, and in the next article I will tell you more about that. Yes, I have been through horrible things in my life, and yes, they have nearly killed me. But I have conquered them and can live my own life now, a life I am very happy. If I can do it, you can do it too, so keep reading!

I am very interested in your opinion on this article. But also curious about your thoughts on my experiences and if you maybe have experiences yourself which you would like to share. I would love to help you out wherever I can, so leave a message!

Thinking about suicide? Contact your local suicide prevention line. Living in The Netherlands: 0900 0113, US: 1-800-273-8255, UK: +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90, Germany: 0800 181 0771 or call your local emergency service when your life is in immediate danger.


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