Bullying Reunions Social anxiety

A Decade Ago – A Celebration

On 3rd March, 2002, I received an email. It began: “Hi, it’s Gill Balbes (as was) here. Was talking to Jane the other night and she was telling me about how she’d been in contact with you and that you remember me (as I do you) so I thought I’d say hello. Schooldays seem a long way off but it would be nice to hear how you’re doing.”

Schooldays certainly were a long way off. It was over thirty years since I’d walked out of the school gates, vowing never to have any connection with any of the girls I’d known over the previous seven years – a few even longer. It was only recently that I’d added my name to the Friends Reunited site, opening up the possibility of contact, although I didn’t expect anyone to write to me.

But Jane did write and I made a decision: that if I was going to correspond with anyone from school, I would make the relationship meaningful by being open about what happened to me there. If they didn’t want to discuss it, there wasn’t much point in reuniting.

Fortunately, Jane did agree to discuss it. She also apologised for what she did to me, although I didn’t hold her or any of the former pupils to blame as adults for their actions as children. I always knew the bullying (which I called teasing then) had had a bad effect on the rest of my life, but never thought the children were mature enough to understand what they were causing.

Jane soon put me in contact with Gill, who had more time to write. Gill and I corresponded almost daily for a long time, and she became a very special friend to me. It was Gill who told me about social anxiety. I didn’t realise the significance of it at first, but gradually two things became clear. I was not alone in being this way and it’s possible to improve. (I don’t think it makes sense to say there’s a cure, and I don’t think there needs to be one.)

Gill has been the catalyst for many changes in my life – for starting to write, for starting a blog, and much more. We have now met several times. After ten years, I still count Gill as a very special friend.


Do you have a friend story you want to share?

Please note: I have scheduled this post to appear on the right day, but probably won’t be available to comment for a day or two.

By Miriam Drori

Author, editor, attempter of this thing called life. Social anxiety warrior. Cultivating a Fuji, edition 3, a poignant, humorous and uplifting tale, published with Ocelot Press, January 2023.

10 replies on “A Decade Ago – A Celebration”

Miriam, This is a heart warming story and I wish I had one like it to share. Unfortunately my memories of school friends has no such happy endings. Your talk of bullying brought a flood of painful memories. I too was bullied in my first two years at my all boys secondary school. I stopped it by learning implacable and effective violence. I soon got a reputation as someone not to mess with and acquired a small flock of bullied boys who discovered they could take shelter under the wings of my fearsome reputation.
After I left school I met a lad who had been at my school and had been in awe of me and my growing gang of sensitive poetic souls, gays, non-locals and odd-balls. Brian became a good friend. A friendship that lasted until he left for adventure and infamy. My last words to him at our farewell dinner were: “Out of the frying pan into the fire buggerlugs? Don’t get kidnapped.” He went to be a teacher at the American University in Beirut. He soon joined a long list of people kidnapped in that troubled place. Six years later, I met Brian Keenan and John McCarthy near Oxford, where I then lived.
That was an uncomfortable reunion. Brian choose to distance himself from his past and those he’d once called friends. We now live in the same country, we are both writers but now we are strangers. I know why Brian did that and I forgave him. He thought he came back a different person and being reminded of the person he’d been was something he wished to avoid. I recently read some of the reviews for his latest books. It was uncomfortable reading. Brian has changed less than he imagined.
A sad end to what had been an important friendship for me.

Sorry but no happy friendship stories Miriam. But the future has promise…

David, I’m so sorry your friend spurned you like that. It’s very hard to be on the receiving end of such behaviour. As I said below, we all have to deal with our past in our own ways. I suppose you have to accept that Brian’s way is to continue to block it out.

In the programme Erika mentioned, three people who had tried to block it out finally returned to face it. I’m not sure I’d have agreed with the method that was chosen for them. More about that in another post….

I’m so glad that you got something good out of what were obviously bad days at school. You’re a better person than me. I joined Friends Reunited years ago in the hopes of connecting with the one person I’d been friends with at school (I did, which in itself is a good story, I guess). However, seeing the profiles of all those girls who had tormented and beaten me for years, now casually saying ‘anyone who remembers me, drop me a line’ made me want to leave nasty , public messages for them, asking if they knew what they’d done. I didn’t, of course. What would be the point?

According to a recent TV program I recommended Miriam above (in Hebrew), their acknowledgement (and perhaps appology) helps you put things in proportion and heal. I would let the whole world know what they did. Don’t have to be nasty, though.
Just my 2 cents.

Sarah, I’m not a better person than you. We all have different experiences and we’re all different and need to deal with our past in our own ways. A long time passed before I had the opportunity to reconnect. I probably needed that time anyway, and wouldn’t have been ready to take the step any earlier. I wouldn’t have felt good about accusing the girls and needed to see that they weren’t the same people any more.

I’d just like to say that I’m glad the opportunity to reconnect did arise and that it’s been a privilege to be able to really get to know you 🙂

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