I am Jesse, I am 23, and I have a condition called neurofibromatosis (NF), which encompasses a set of distinct genetic disorders that cause tumours to grow along various types of nerves, anywhere on, or in the body. I would like to share with you my story, as someone who has experienced chronic bullying.

My school years were the hardest. Although I enjoyed school I was often bullied during lunch, and even in the classroom. I was bullied about my weight and stutter, about being sick, about having no interest in sport, etc. I generally felt isolated, like I had no friends and nobody to talk to.

I felt different to the other children in my class. They called me a "retard" and "gay". All through school, I constantly felt judged for being me. I had no friends; I rarely hung out with anyone my own age.

Felt pressured to perform to the same level as peers

I was placed in an all-boys class at intermediate, which I found particularly difficult. Despite my NF, which limits my physical ability, I often felt pressured to perform to the same level as my peers, and then punished or judged when I was unable to do so.

By the time I turned 16, my peers began to mature as well and accept our differences. They started to respect me as a person for who I was, not who they thought I should be.

I tried for many years to bottle up the grief and anger I felt at being bullied and found it in no way helped my recovery. I cannot stress the importance of talking to people around you about what you’re going through. Asking for help or talking about your feelings is the best anyone can do for themselves. Without my mum, who has been a huge support, I would not be where I am today. She has guided me on my journey and gives me the motivation to continue.

Extremely proud of ability to celebrate people’s differences

Although my school years were a struggle, I have no doubt they have helped me to become the person I am today. I am extremely proud of my ability to celebrate people’s differences and my drive and willingness to help and support those who need it most. My experiences even prompted me to become a peer sexuality support leader, as an opportunity to make a positive contribution to other teenagers who were perhaps going through struggles of their own. People often think of having a medical condition as a disadvantage or punishment – for me it has proven to be extremely rewarding.

I feel my life is like a book, each year is a different chapter – a chance for a new beginning and a fresh start. And I hope that other teenagers reading this feel inspired, knowing that no matter what life throws at you, you can move past it and become who you really want to be.

You can hear more about Jesse on the RadioLIVE website.

Jesse has written a book, First Week Blues that teaches children about diversity and acceptance. The story is about a little penguin called Blue who is starting his first week at school. Blue is different from the other birds in his class – they think Blue is weird. They laugh at him and exclude them from their games. As Blue's first week progresses, he finds out that all the other birds have differences.

Through a social, emotional learning approach, the book promotes tolerance, vulnerability and acceptance, and celebrates diversity. The book aims to boost a child’s self-esteem and help them realise that being different is a positive trait. The story builds on children's inner strength by promoting self-acceptance. 

Jesse's book is available from retailers such as Fishpond, Amazon and Wheelers.  

Bench seat

“Kōrero Mai, Kōrero Atu, Mauri Tū, Mauri Ora – Speak Up, Stand Together, Stop Bullying!”