Olivia's lasting message

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I’m honoured to call myself one of Olivia Penpraze’s close friends. I am going to tell you about the time I got to spend with Olivia (who we knew as ‘Liv).

On Olivia’s first day at my school I clearly remember thinking to myself how interesting and fun she looked. I was drawn to her bubbly personality immediately. As Olivia was in nearly all of my classes we became very close friends in such a short time. We used to spend every lunchtime talking about the most random things and overdosing on sour lollies. She always had a massive smile on her face and had a wonderful carefree spirit about her.

Her enthusiastic personality led people to believe she lived a typical teenage life with only small problems such as who was hotter out of Robert Patterson or Zac Efron.

As I got to know ‘Liv I learned that this was all a brave face that she put on every morning when she woke up. Deep down she was fighting so many demons that eventually took control and left her with no other option that she could see but to take her life.

In the last month that I spent with Olivia, I started to see the true Olivia, the one who used to cry herself to sleep most nights.

On one particular day she told me about how badly she was bullied as a young girl. The things she told me would bring me to tears. I was so upset hearing how horrible some people were to such a lovely girl.

From the many of hours I spent listening to Olivia explaining how she felt and what she had to deal with as such a young child, I strongly believe that the bullying she lived with played a significant role in exacerbating her depression and anxiety.

After telling her how much we all loved and cared for her, I asked why she still felt the way she did. She was saying to me that because she was bullied at such a young age she had grown up in such a harsh environment that she felt that she couldn’t accept people’s compliments or listen to any of the good comments about her.

It was only after Olivia’s death that I found out about her Tumblr account and the horrible things that people were saying to her. It was such a hard thing for me to see, as I was her best friend and yet had no idea about the online bullying she was still suffering. The online world was completely alien to me. I only knew about the terrible effects of her childhood bullying.

It is so easy for these people to type such evil messages to such a vulnerable girl when they’re half way across the world from ‘Liv. In my eyes it is the weakest thing anyone can do and I don’t know how they can live with themselves knowing they contributed to the death of such an amazing young girl who I miss dearly. I certainly hope people can learn from this and understand that this is not acceptable behaviour.

‘Liv kept her two worlds separate. This was because one of her worlds was so dark - I think she also did it partly to protect me from how horrible people can be. She didn’t want people to worry about her and to add stress to the lives of people she loved. Her depression eventually took control, which was so difficult to understand. She tried so hard to explain it to me but for someone like me who hadn’t seen that dark side it was really hard to comprehend.

To me, she was amazing because she never judged anyone and yet she was subjected to constant bullying. Before I met ‘Liv I thought that people that committed suicide were selfish and didn’t consider the effects they had on people once they left.

‘Liv knew it would tear us all apart but felt she had no option. She explained to me that she had been fighting this for so many years and now she had no energy or emotions left to continue the fight. It tears me apart to have lost her. I understand more now and it makes me admire the strength that she did have to fight this for so long.

I suppose initially it did bring awareness to our community and make us think about our actions but that awareness didn’t last and bullying is still happening. I suppose the scary part of the bullying is that before when you got home, it was a safe place. Now, thanks to social media, the bullying is entering our homes and nowhere is safe.

Here’s what would I like:

• For people to understand that bullying is not necessarily just calling people names. It is also isolating people and excluding them; making them feel hurt and vulnerable which leads to them feeling anxiety and ultimately leads to them feeling depressed and not wanting to even go to school.

• I believe that we as a community need to be continually reminded what bullying is, why people bully, what the consequences are and what the community needs to do to help prevent what happened to one of my best friends happening to others.

• Until something happens on a large scale, I fear we are all going to hear many more stories like ‘Liv’s.

• As a community we have made progress in changing workplace laws that target bullying yet within the school environment we seem to be slower in addressing this issue. This needs to change.