Chris Sherlock was born and bred in Galway city, where he lives today. Chris was forced to leave school when he was only 13 years old and just three weeks into secondary school after being the victim of brutal bulling. Passionate about media, radio, broadcasting and music, he is now presenter on his own radio show ‘Chris Sherlock On the Wireless’. Chris is a strong advocate for anti-bullying, speaks to school students and has told his story in Mental Health for Millennials (Vol. 4) which deals with topic such as death, grief, suicide, sexuality, depression and more.
This is Chris’ story.
The transition from primary school to secondary school was going well enough. I had the normal First Year nerves – it was a new building and only a handful of kids from my old school were going to the new one so I didn’t know many people.
I was looking forward to making new friends, but kind of nervous at the same time. As a young lad, I wanted to fit in and make the right impression. I was a bit shy, and when I’m outside of my comfort zone I get very quiet so I thought I would slowly ease into things.
I think the lads in the school, and especially the older kids picked up on that and within my first week of starting school, I was the subject of name calling and just general harassment.
I tried to ignore it and hoped it would go away. I was hoping that the less I interacted, the less it would happen and they’d just get bored and stop.
During my second week, I was on the phone to home during my lunchbreak – just to check in with my parents and let them know how things were going.
All of a sudden, these guys just pushed me up against the wall and before I knew it, there was a hand around my throat.
I was shocked and just in complete fear of what was actually happening. They were taunting me and saying whatever they could to get a rise out of me. I did manage to squirm out of it and told my mum I’d call her back. I covered up and told my mum I’d just dropped my phone.
That was the start of my secondary school journey and it was the beginning of the end of my secondary school journey.
A few days later, I remember feeling a bit sick going into school. I must have had a gut feeling that something bad was going to happen. It was just after the lunch break, I was on the fifth floor of the main building of the school. It was an old building with hardcore flooring and winding stairs between floors.
There were three lads blocking my way and stopping me getting through the door. The school bell had gone and I was getting panicky as I didn’t want to be late for class, and I was still getting used to the layout of the school. All of a sudden these lads just pushed me against the door and I was cornered. They pulled my bag off my shoulder, pulled my polo shirt over my head and pushed me down the flight of stairs I had just come up. I remember looking up from the bottom and seeing them laughing.
I was in a bad way. I was shaking from head to toe and from my hand to my elbow was pumping blood. I held my hand tight to my chest, left my bag and ran to the school office. The school nurse was shocked and was asking me what had happened but I told her I tripped and fell down the stairs. I was afraid of being a disappointment to my parents. I was afraid of the same lads coming after me again. I didn’t want to make matters worse. The consequences of being ‘the rat’ in school was that they’d come after you again, and again.
I was sent home and had a few days off. I remember trying to go back into the school on the Monday and just breaking down. I was at the school gates with my mother, and I just froze and burst out in hysterics. I told her I couldn’t go in, and told her why. I honestly felt that if I went into school, it could be the end of me.
We went home and I talked it out with my parents. We went into the school the next day and reported it. The lads who were involved got detention for a few days, and one or two of them got expelled for a couple of days. They were brought to the school office when I was there, and I was in horror because they would then know it was me who pointed them out. We were told by the Principal that this was my ‘First Year beating’. It was just the consequences of being a First Year, he said. My dad immediately turned around and said, ‘Hang on a minute, he was nearly killed!’
I was actually so upset in that moment because it was clear what kind of role models the school had and wanted. It was all about the sports accolades they could achieve. Pardon the French, but I couldn’t give a shit about their accolades! I just wanted to get an education, do well and move on.
From that day on, I left school. I was given tuition for nearly a year even though it was meant to take me up to my Junior Cert but there was Government cutbacks.
I was seeing a child psychologist at the time. I wasn’t sleeping. I was thinking ahead of what could happen next. I lost trust in people. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had PTSD. I was shy then, but I got more and more withdrawn. School is meant to be your safe place and adults are meant to protect you.
I was doing ok, and slowly getting back on track but I had the pressure to return to school. The child education welfare officer for Galway actually started calling out to my house himself and said, ‘Chris you’re going to have to go back to school in Second Year.’ He even said I could go back to the same school. I said, ‘If you want to see me live, you wouldn’t ask me that’.
Although I was told I could go to another school, he couldn’t tell me that the bullying wouldn’t happen again and that I’d be protected if it did.
I wanted to go back to school, I wanted to get an education. But how do I explain to this guy that I’m not sleeping. I’m up til 4am having nightmares and at the time, as a 13-year-old, literally wetting the bed. They saw me as a number, and they wanted me back at school.
He finally told me that they were cutting the tuition funding and that I would have to go back to school. I got so stressed out. The anxiety was through the roof. I was at boiling point.
I remember walking along the Galway canal one day and I thought, I’m not going to be a burden to myself any more, I’m not going to be a burden to others, I’m not going to be a disappointment to my parents any more. I thought if I was dead, my parents wouldn’t have to worry about me anymore and could move on with their lives.
I got onto the bridge and would have been in the water in a couple of seconds. I can’t swim so that would have been it. All of a sudden, two lads from my neighbourhood walked by and whistled over at me, inviting me to go back to their house to play videogames. That simple act brought me back to the present moment and stopped me in my tracks. They were around the same age as me so I don’t know if they understood what I was about to do. I have told the story, but I don’t know if they’ve heard or read it. I still talk to them to this day but I haven’t brought it up with them.
My parents didn’t know about the suicide attempt till my psychologist brought them in to tell them. They told me that they weren’t disappointed or upset and that if I ever felt like that again, I was to talk to them. I know they were both really worried and trying to deal with it together.
I was literally left to my own devices after the suicide attempt as regards education. There was no pressure to go back to school. I got a little more tuition after that but it only lasted another year or so. That was the end of my formal education.
I had a lot of anger I had to let go of. I would have liked to have least gotten my Junior Cert and had more education behind me because I did struggle a bit but I moved forward and got by with what I had.
We had a computer at home, so I would educate myself. I would learn about things I was interested in like photography and if I struggled with words, I’d look them up. I kept an eye on the radio or TV and learn topics from there. I’d ask my parents or my brother if I didn’t know something.
I did get depressed and bored because I’d be left at home, but I did try to be productive. To the average parent, it’s probably a shower of No Nos, to let your kid watch TV all day. But I’d watch TV and learn so much about broadcasting – from the presenter to the production. I thought, I want to do that! I want to work in broadcasting. As my confidence grew, I realised I could be who I want to be. I left the bullying behind and moved forward with my life.
One day, I saw a poster calling for presenters for the NUIG radio. I went into them, did a demo and pitched myself. I’ve been in radio for the last six years. My career is just getting started, and I’d love to move into television.
As regards to bullying in schools, a lot more needs to be done. Even little things can be introduced like, what I discussed on Newstalk – the terminology that’s used. Let’s call a spade, a spade – like, they want to say ‘he experienced bullying behaviour’ instead of saying ‘he was a victim of bullying’, That’s nearly like saying, the bully themselves ‘experienced bulling behaviour.’ I didn’t ask to be bullied, therefore I was the victim of bullying.
Schools need to come up a lot more in the chain of priorities. I’ve done school talks before and have received brilliant feedback from teachers who told me that it’s the personal stories that make young people become aware and act on it.
What about a ‘Talk to Teacher’ comment box in every class so students can anonymously tell their teacher if they’re being bullied or know someone who is. Little changes can make a big difference if done right.
Mental Health for Millennials, the fourth of seven volumes, edited by Dr. Niall MacGiollaBhuí and Dr. Phil Noone is published by Book Hub Publishing based in Athenry, and is available from Charlie Byrne’s Book Shop in Galway or via www.bookhubpublishing.com