TW CW suicide child death bullying
Note: Media interest in our story is not welcome. Names have been changed, so don’t bother googling us.
My first-born son killed himself earlier this year, out of the blue, aged just fifteen.
For background, since starting high school in 2017 Iggy had been struggling increasingly with anxiety. In an initial consultation in Spring 2018, a child psychiatrist concluded that the anxiety attacks Iggy described to her were actually something more extreme: autistic meltdowns. Her initial impression was that Iggy was suffering from anxiety and low self-esteem, and the underlying cause was (in her words) Asperger’s Syndrome.
We arranged for Iggy to have six sessions of therapy with a private therapist experienced in helping autistic adolescents, which seemed to help. He was then discharged without any concerns.
Meanwhile, after the GP referral for autism assessment was rejected by both CAMHS and the community paediatrician, the school SENCO referred Iggy into the umbrella pathway for support. This led to his autism assessment, a lengthy process with much form-filling and many delays. Eventually Iggy began receiving extra support and reasonable adjustments at school. Things seemed to be looking up.
I was going through the adult autism assessment at the same time, although the process is quicker and simpler for adults in this area. There are no NHS diagnosticians for autism in adults around here, so the NHS outsource this to the private sector.
Iggy and I swapped notes on walks and car journeys about our autistic experience. We talked about eye contact, social awkwardness, anxiety, sensory issues. We were in Club Ausome together.
Iggy was very excited to be taking part in the Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award (DofE) programme through his school. He launched himself into his community volunteering placement. He joined a gym and started weight training, knowing that he would struggle to carry a heavy rucksack on the expedition due to being slender and hypermobile.
He and I went on increasingly long walks together, to break in his walking boots and build up his distance. Our longest walk was nine miles, which included the whole length of the Tardebigge and Stoke flights of canal locks and meeting the rest of the family for a pub lunch at the other end.
These walks turned out to be such a gift to me, because on these long country walks Iggy and I talked and talked. Side-eye conversations for hours. Now I can retrace our footsteps, and recall our conversations (my audio visual memory is great, an autistic talent of mine).
I can easily remember details like which canal lock we sat on to eat our picnic one day (it was a Mary Berry banana fudge loaf, because neither of us are sandwich fans). I also took a lot of photos, which helps cement those memories further.
Retracing the steps of one such canal walk with my husband earlier today, I told him of my intention to transcribe some of these conversations with Iggy into a blog. I don’t have time to write much at the moment, between work and family life. I work four days a week and I get overwhelmed easily.
Here’s a conversation I was reflecting on with my husband today. I will add more later, which is a brilliant thing about WordPress blogs.
Talking about high school bullying on one of our DofE walks, I told Iggy how I had been mocked at school for being unfashionable and “square”. How I tried to rise above it, tried to tell myself that I would go on to be successful and happy. That the bullies would no doubt end up miserable. That things would get better when I was a grown-up, as I’d have my own money for clothes and I’d be able to avoid bullies. And if I couldn’t avoid the bullies, at least I would have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do by then and be able to kick their heads in with my expert reverse turning kicks (he giggled at that). In reality, there are still bullies in adult life, it wasn’t just my clothes that made me different anyway, and I never got my black belt.
My advice about needing to find inner strength and self-belief to rise above bullying, that I stand by. “Indomitable spirit” as they call it in Tae Kwon Do.
It is a Utopian dream to make the world a better place, with every child brought up to respect human differences, with zero tolerance for bullying. But there are nasty people everywhere, and we need to develop strategies so we don’t let the bastards and bitches get us down. I’m not victim-blaming here, nor using that loaded term “resilience”. Bullying must be tackled, but we need enough self-esteem to be able to rise about taunts relatively unscathed, rather than believing what they say and growing to hate ourselves.
I also told Iggy about how his father, my first husband, despite being weird, was left alone by bullies because he developed his own unique brand of cool as a locally successful teenage DJ.
I was saddened by Iggy’s responses. Apparently he had managed to get the bullies on the school bus onside by allowing them to use the Wi-Fi from his mobile phone (me I had walked miles to and from school, as the bullies on my bus were intimidating). At school, bullies wouldn’t leave Iggy alone. Bullying was frequent, but subtle and covert, so difficult for the school to punish. Cruel taunts whispered whenever teachers couldn’t hear. Death by a thousand cuts.
Iggy really took it to heart. Bullies once teased him about a lock of hair sticking up at the back of his head after a haircut. For weeks he obsessively plastered it flat.
“I just do everything I can to try and blend into the background, so they don’t notice me” he eventually admitted to me. This was heart-breaking to hear, but no amount of me suggesting he embrace his weird and wonderful nature would make any difference.
There was never any suggestion that bullying was making Iggy’s life intolerable. Not even once did he try to get out of school. He trained for his DofE expedition, excitedly talked about his planned work experience, what he wanted to be when he grew up (an engineer in the car industry), he was looking forward to watching Avengers: End Game, he pestered me to order a rock tumbler to polish the marble pebbles he had been collecting on our walks.
My first husband dropped off a waterproof coat yesterday, asking “do you recognise this?”. It was the coat Iggy and I bought together for his DofE expedition. In the pocket, there were still some marble pebbles from one of our last walks together.
I can’t face watching Avengers: End Game yet, although I managed to watch Shazam with my husband and daughters on what would have been Iggy’s sixteenth birthday, our family film night with Iggy conspicuous in his absence. We all had a little cry about how much he’d have enjoyed it, how much we missed his easy delight at the things he loved in life.