Help victims of bullying have a better Christmas
For the first time in four years, 16-year-old Anna is looking forward to Christmas.
“This Christmas is going to be different for me,” she says. “When I was too scared to go to school I became really isolated at home.
“I couldn’t leave my bedroom, so I literally met no-one apart from my family, and they had to come up and see me one by one so I didn’t get overwhelmed.”
Christmas should be magical for every child, but thousands of young people are missing out on that sense of community because they have been traumatised by bullying or some other ordeal in their lives.
The festive season brings their isolation to the fore and closes a year which may well have been terrifying for them.
Anna missed out on four years of schooling and became so isolated that she couldn’t even leave her room to join her family for Christmas dinner.
Her mum Julie explains: “We haven’t had a normal Christmas for a few years, because Anna’s anxiety has been so severe that she couldn’t go out, and found interaction even at home too overwhelming. As a family, we haven’t been able to throw ourselves into the normal Christmas spirit.
“We couldn’t go to parties or the panto, or troop off together to see Christmas films at the cinema. We had to stop having people around, and Anna couldn’t even join in with the family downstairs.”
When Anna joined Red Balloon in January this year, she hadn’t been to school since she was 12.
She has anxiety and panic attacks, and this led to her being bullied and developing agoraphobia.
Red Balloon, wth its centres in Milton and Cambridge, supports young people who self-exclude from school and are missing education because of bullying or other trauma.
They provide an academic and therapeutic programme to enable students to get back on track and reconnect with society.
“My last Christmas at school felt almost unreal, and difficult and stressful – and I normally love the holidays. On the last day before Christmas - I had my first collapsing panic attack; and after that I was simply too scared to go back to school,” says Anna of her state of mind at the time.
Being stranded at home, hermental health spiralled, Julie says: “Anna lost her sense of belonging. There wasn’t anywhere where she felt safe and comfortable. Her world became very, very small. It broke our hearts.”
Anna now receives online tutoring for her GCSEs with Red Balloon and is getting her education back on track. She also receives face-to-face counselling and has made such great personal progress that she can now leave home to join some fellow Red Balloon students in community activities. A huge personal triumph.
Anna said: “After trying home-schooling for four years, my mum found Red Balloon. As soon as we saw that it catered for people with anxiety and depression, as well as those who’ve been bullied, then we knew it was right for me.
“Everyone made me feel really comfortable and showed me that they weren’t really worried about my education straight away. First they wanted me to be OK.
“One of the best things has been the face-to-face therapy Red Balloon offers. It doesn’t feel like therapy; it just feels like chatting to someone about your life.”
Julie adds: “Now Anna’s at Red Balloon we’ve got somewhere she belongs. It’s almost like an extra family for her, which is really
lovely. She feels safe, doesn’t feel judged or pressured.
“She’s missed out on the social development because she’s not had access to other kids, but now she’s around other children who understand her, and to see her interacting with everyone brings tears to my eyes. Her world is opening up again.”
“This Christmas feels a lot different,” Anna says. “It feels like there’s a lot more I can do, and I think I’m ready to socialise more. I’m on Red Balloon’s Winterfest party planning committee; I designed the invite. We’ve called it a Winterfest, because we’ve got some people who don’t celebrate Christmas.
“This Christmas I want to see friends that I’ve made at Red Balloon. I want to go out on snowy walks with my dogs, and be like any other teenager. Most of all I want to eat Christmas dinner at the table with my family; that will be such an achievement for me. It’s the best present I could give myself and my family. Being stranded in your room at Christmas is so lonely.”
This Christmas, Red Balloon is asking for people to help children like Anna by making a donation today.
A gift of £48 will help pay for a fortnight’s face-to-face therapy and £15 will help provide a well-being session so students can regain their confidence and re-engage with learning and life.
Visit justgiving.com/campaign/redballoonchristmas19 to donate.
More by this authorGemma Gardner