Growing up, I had many difficult, traumatic experiences of bullying.
It started in primary school, where I felt left out and saw myself as ‘the girl who never gets picked’. Looking back now, it was all very minor, but at nine it felt like the end of the world. Moving to a different primary school gave me something of a safe bubble, but that burst once again when I started secondary school with the ‘big kids’.
There, I had my first encounters with keyboard warriors and the hate that comes from social media and anonymous forums. Despite having my GCSEs then A-Levels, my attendance dropped to the point I was missing almost a day every week.
The bullying not only tainted my learning experience; it had a big impact on my mental health. It was like I had no safe space, in real life or online. Without exaggerating, it was like a clip out of a teenage chick flick: I spent most of my time in the toilets waiting for the bell to ring so I could go straight to my lessons and avoid the common room, or worse ringing my mum begging her to come and pick me up.
I left school to try and finish my A-levels at home, where the internet proved to be both a distraction and a passion. I began filming some YouTube videos every now and again I’d make video uploads. Leaving school after my AS Levels to create on YouTube full-time was never the plan, but it allowed me in a far better environment to flourish, be creative and find myself.
Factor in the isolation and social distancing and it’s no surprise if there has been an increase in bullying online
It was through my followers that I learned my experience with bullying was far from unusual. Like me, a lot had experienced issues with social media, where, from anonymous forums to fake accounts, bullies aren’t accountable in any way for what they say and do.
The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t helped. Naturally, we’re all aware that young kids experience cyberbullying, but factor in the isolation and social distancing and it’s no surprise if there has been an increase in bullying online. Many people, whether children or adults will be bullied through comments, posts and messages and finding that safe space in lockdown has proved harder than usual.
Inspired by my followers’ stories, I decided to do something about it. That’s how, two years ago, my ‘DM group chats’ came to life, where I hang out once a week with a group of followers in need. Sometimes we chat for up to three or four hours, sharing stories, we talk about things you would with your friends. It’s all very casual and I’ve come to feel like a big sister to thousands of young women. I’d usually see their faces at events and meets up, but we haven’t had that this year, so it’s great to be able to use technology to bring us together instead of dividing us.
The thought of other young people going through what I did – especially if they don’t have an outlet or safe space, or have to go through it alone – breaks my heart.
More recently, I created a chat on instant messaging platform Discord, which over 3,000 young people have joined. It’s a safe place to pop in and out of for a chat, a moan or even a movie recommendation, monitored for safety, and I’m in there chatting daily too.
Creating my chats has not only brought me so much closer to the people that support me, but it’s given them something that I wish I had when I was younger: someone to laugh at a meme with, someone to ask which outfit they prefer on me. Things that, when you’re being bullied, you don’t tend to have.
The famous line that “you never know what’s going on behind closed doors″ couldn’t be more relevant right now. More than ever, we never know what people are dealing with – and in the middle of this pandemic, that hate comment you post out of frustration or boredom could have detrimental effects.
The thought of other young people going through what I did – especially if they don’t have an outlet or safe space, or have to go through it alone – breaks my heart. I know I can’t stop people being bullied, but what I can do is offer anyone going through it an ear and a positive community where they feel safe and welcome.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.