Thursday, 14 July 2016

Silver linings | Use your tragedy to encourage others

I was eleven. I was away from home for the first time ever, and I was crying into my pillow.

But this wasn’t a case of ‘I miss my mum and three days of camp is soooo loooong’. This was boarding school, stuck out in the pine forests of the Himalayan mountains. I’d been away from home for ten weeks, and I was going to be away for another ten. There were no breaks.

There was also no phone, no internet, no messaging and no Skype (nup, it hadn't been invented yet). So my pillow got wet. Almost every night.

It would have been easier to cope if I’d been at boarding with my best friend. You see, that was where most of the problems came from. When we’d made the big decision in our family that I would go to boarding school, I was excited. Because I knew I'd be joining my best friend who had already been at the school for two years. I'd read enough Enid Blyton boarding school books to know that school was great - with your best friend around.

What I didn’t know was that she wasn’t going to be my best friend any more.

At the beginning of Grade Four Sally had become 'official' best friends with someone else. (Official best friends happens like this: “So, do you want to be best friends with me officially?” “Yes.” “Okay.” Bam. Done.)

And that someone else was not happy to see me. She had to assert her rights over her friend. And she had to let me know who was boss in this school. I’d been dumped, and now I was going to have my nose rubbed in the dirt as well.

She used the usual eleven year old girl tactics: exclusion, gossip, making fun of me and playing practical ‘jokes’. When I got upset, she told me I didn’t have a sense of humour. “Seriously, Cecily, you need to be able to take a joke.”

There were six of us girls in Grade Six, and we all shared a bedroom. There was no escaping from the sideways looks and snide remarks about my clothes or my hair, or the shape of my legs, or the way I blew the hair out of my face sometimes. 

She even picked on the way I spoke. “Don’t say 'drawer' like that. That’s wrong.” From the time we got up in the morning, to the time we went to sleep, I was her target. My only time out was when we were in the classroom, or doing my piano practice. I got quite good at the piano that year.

Things escalated. She got the girls to gang up on me, tricked me into going into my sleeping bag headfirst for a game, and then dragged me in the bag down the hall into the Middle Boys dorms. I was mortified. 
Suddenly, Enid Blyton's stories weren't so appealing. 

Then one evening I came back from piano practice to our bedroom. ‘Strange,’ I thought. ‘Why is it so dark in here?’ No one had turned on the lights. And it was quiet.

‘Where is everyone?’ I thought.

They were there. They were hiding from me, and then they jumped out at me from behind beds and cupboard doors, with sticks in their hands. They hit me with them, and then laughed. “Can’t you take a joke, Cecily?" And then to each other: "Ha. Did you see her face?”

I had no idea what to do.

As an adult now, it seems so simple: just tell someone. But when you’re eleven, it’s complicated. If I told, I’d be bringing more punishment on myself. There was no way a staff member would be able to supervise all of us, all of the day and night, and kids find ways and means to pick on each other, even when people are watching.

I could have gone home, but there weren't any other real options for me to be educated where my parents lived. Besides, if I left the school, I’d forever be ‘the girl who couldn’t handle boarding’, spoken of with scorn by my peers. It was a small English-speaking community and my disgrace would be felt forever.

Also, bullying was handled differently then, too. I don’t remember a single anti-bullying lesson in my whole school life – ever. There was a certain amount of aggravation that was expected; you simply put up with it and trusted it would stop eventually.

Being eleven, in Grade Six, was the loneliest, hardest year of my life, and my heart breaks for girls who suffer at the hands of other girls at that age. The desolation and the desperation that young pre-teen and teen girls feel is real, as is the unending search for ‘true’ friends and mentors who care and understand.

Remembering that year of my life is why I write for girls, and why I write realistic fiction. I want girls to know two things: there is always someone who cares, and there is always hope and a future.

Yes, things might be tough, but there’s a way through it. It’s not an easy way, but it is a way.

Young girls have so many opportunities to make choices that will affect the direction of the rest of their lives; through my writing I hope to help them make the good choices – choosing truth, loyalty, strength, kindness, resilience and persistence.

My miserable year wasn’t wasted. There were silver linings. Because of it I gained empathy and compassion and faith – and a calling to write for girls.

What are your silver linings? How are you able to encourage others with your writing because of things you've experienced?

Cecily Paterson is the author of four novels for girls and an award-winning memoir, Love Tears & Autism. Find her at or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as Cecily Paterson.



  1. What a beautiful post Cecily. Thank you. My heart went out to what you endured that long lonely year. Must have felt relentless. Children can be very cruel. It's wonderful to hear how you used your experiences to bring hope to other young girls. A beautiful story of how God uses our sad times for good. I too use my own difficult experiences all the time in my non fiction writing. And I do agree, it helps us to empathise with others' in their heartache when we have suffered in any way. Congratulations on all your writing Cecily, and the very best with it.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story Cecily. Yes, God does indeed use our hard times and lessons we've learnt to help others. I'm sure many girls have been , and will continue to be blessed by your writing.

  3. That must have been a tough time in your life, Cecily. I'm so glad you can use that experience to help young girls find a way through bullying. I ready your muddy puddles story, and can now see why you spent so much time drawing Coco's peer group pressure scenario. Good work.

  4. Girls can be so cruel. I experienced a time of bullying in that same grade, Cecily, but I had one friend who stuck by me all the way. So glad you're writing for girls, now. God has indeed given you 'beauty for ashes'.

  5. Cecily, I have to say I had a very 'unchristian' reaction to reading about those girls who gave you such a hard time--I wanted to belt their heads together! And of course, my heart went out to you. But I love to see how God 'redeemed' that horrible year for you, and gave you the desire to write your excellent books, as well as that empathy, compassion and faith. I was much, much older than you when a painful period in my life propelled me into writing and gave me so many more insights into myself in the process, for which I am now very grateful. So now, through my non-fiction in particular, but also through my novels, I really seek to lead others on a journey with God into knowing themselves better and becoming the person God created them to be.

    1. I am with you Jo-Anne! My reaction to those girls who gave Cecily a hard time wasn't a good christian attitude either!

  6. Like Jo-Anne, my heart broke for that young girl. I love that those harsh experiences have had such wonderful fruit in your writing. My year at boarding school (at 14) was less intense, the 'peer tactics' because I was unashamed about my faith less focused, more subtle - but I leaned through those experiences to trust God and to hold on to him tightly. My daughter's 4-5 years experience of bullying has made her more resilient and stronger - though we thank God for the teacher who finally listened and tackled the issue rather than ignoring it. Keep on writing your stories - you are doing a great job :)

  7. Cecily such a fab post. I read Love and Muddy Puddles and shared it with my work colleagues who have daughters, both of whom aren't Christians - they loved you writing and could relate for themselves and their daughters. God has certainly given you a gift, a silver lining! Love ya work!!

  8. Wow! Cecily I love this post :-)
    I can relate to this on so many levels, from being bullied brutally at school (both primary and secondary) ... then again in the work-force. At times it felt like I had a sign on my head, to alert people who perhaps didn't know me that well, to just go ahead. I confess, I haven't read any of your books as yet, but as of today, that must change. My TBR pile, both physical and on my Kindle is enormous, however I shall make this a priority. A lot of what I am writing about in my brother's fictional memoir is centred around bullying. People who are different often seem to attract these types of personalities. It is wonderful that you have been able to put this horrific experience to some good purpose. I pray Jesus will inspire me to do the same.
    Love and blessings.

  9. Thanks Josephine-Anne. I'm sure you will have something you use your experiences for - to do good with. x

  10. This reminds me of Gen 50:20 "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."
    In a similar sense, your writing may now save many girls' lives in more ways than one.

  11. Hi Cecily. I can relate to your story on a number of levels. At around the same age, 10-11, my best friend was invited to join a group of girls and part of her initiation into the group was that she must drop me as her friend. I remember crying all the way home the day she told me. When my mother asked why I was crying and I told her she said, "Oh, well, never mind. Jesus loves you and that's all you need to know." She did add that she and Dad loved me too but at the time I was hurting too much and didn't think what she said was very helpful. Several weeks later my friend's mother asked why I hadn't been to visit and why she hadn't been to visit me. My friend broke down and told her mother, who then asked, "How would you feel if Lesley had done that to you if she had been the one invited into the group?" My friend waited at the school yard gate for me the next day and asked if she could speak with me. I very ungraciously asked if she was allowed to do that but she told me what her Mum had said and asked me to forgive her. I did of of course and we were friends right up until she died about 20 years ago from breast cancer. I've never forgotten what my mother said though. When I've been 'rejected' occasionally since I just think - oh well, Jesus loves me and that's all that's important really.
    Thanks for sharing your story - a great reminder that God does use these things for good - to shape us into the mould He wants us to be - to be a blessing to others. All the very best with your future writing. I must get a copy of your books as well. Bless you!