SLEEP is a wonderful thing. It provides time to relax and recharge and escape the everyday grind. But with morning comes reality, and for Hannah Swinnerton, that reality has been one of sheer terror.
Getting up each day was difficult because she knew what awaited her at school: heartless, relentless and terrifying bullying.
Hannah can’t recall exactly when it started; in her mind it was a constant. For her entire school life, Hannah was bullied. From prep to year 12, Hannah would head off to a certainty no child should ever have to face.
Everything suffered. Her grades, as she was often absent from school. Her mental state, as she struggled with low self-esteem and weight issues. The more she struggled, the more introverted she became. And the more she detached herself from other kids, the more she was bullied.
“I just used to stay by my locker all the time. I had no friends to hang around with so that is what I did,” Hannah said. “That just made things worse, as kids started teasing me for hanging around my locker.
“I’d have things thrown at me, sticky tape around my lock, people shaking my locker so everything fell out when I opened it, glue in my locker, and countless other things just to make me feel terrible.”
Students bullied her to her face, but also by other means. “There was really no escape. It wasn’t just during school hours, but also through Facebook, MSN, text messages and prank calls.”
In 2012, while Hannah was in year 12, things got more serious.
There was talk of suicide which led to the police performing a welfare check.
It came to a head later that year when she stood up in assembly at Western Port Secondary College and read a speech to the teachers and pupils explaining her experiences and how they had affected her.
“The thoughts that go through my head are that I’m useless and I don’t belong,” Hannah told the entire school. “The feelings I have are horrible, sad, angry, lonely and alone.”
At the end of the speech, teachers were crying, and some students approached her to apologize for their actions.
Things began to turn around for Hannah around that time too. For one, she went to the doctors and was diagnosed with depression. Something she is now able to manage.
More than anything though came a mental change from within on how she dealt with her circumstances.
“I decided I was no longer going to be a bullying victim. I was now going to become a bullying survivor.”
After contacting a counselling service, Hannah was referred to anti-bullying foundation Angel’s Goal.
Established in Tasmania by bullying victim Chloe Cunningham, the foundation’s Facebook site contains photos of young kids who did not make it through the relentless bullying providing a harsh and heartbreaking reminder of just how devastating the effects of bullying can be.
Chloe contacted Hannah after reading her story and there began a road to rebuilding for the young Hastings girl who had suffered so much.
“I have become really involved in Angel’s Goal,” Hannah said. “It has been great for me.”
Hannah has become involved in fundraising for the group in Victoria and even travelled to Tasmania to meet Chloe face to face.
One of the biggest steps Hannah took was to write down her story.
“I wanted to release it all. I wrote it all down and shared it with my family, friends and on Facebook. It was a great relief for me and I felt like a burden had been lifted.”
Day to day, Hannah is back in charge of her own destiny.
“I think that many of those kids that bullied me, once they grow up will realize how unfair it was. My goal now is to use my experiences to make a positive influence on other kids’ lives.”
Hannah has also joined a gym in Somerville where she trains.
“I want to get fitter but I also find it to be a great stress relief,” she explained
She’s also studying for a diploma of counselling and hopes to one day become a counsellor.
The 19 year old is not planning to pack up and move away. “I really like Hastings. I still see some of the kids that bullied me, but I don’t mind.”
These days, Hannah spends her time absorbed with her hobbies, which include swimming, boxing, cooking and shopping. There are also the pets to look after. “I have two dogs, one cat, birds and fish. They make me very happy!”
Hannah now has her sights set on a bright future. She speaks glowingly of her family who have always stood by her, and of the wonderful, fulfilling future she now see ahead of her.
“After all,” said Hannah “I am a survivor.”