that's life (Australia)

Born small, standing tall

Angie was bullied but she’s certainly not beaten Angie Clucas, 51, Darwin, NT


Iwas ve years old and, clutching my bag, I felt nervous and excited, waiting outside the classroom on my rst day of school.

‘Look at her,’ came the immediate call from some kid pointing at me, then a chorus of laughter followed.

The nerves in my tummy immediatel­y squashed any feeling of excitement and, as the day went on, dread enveloped me.

‘Let’s put her in a pram,’ someone suggested during that rst week.

After that, I often found myself swept up into someone’s arms, dumped in a toy pram and paraded around the playground.

As a country girl who didn’t often come into town, I hadn’t realised what a stir I’d cause. I knew I was short, about two years behind my peers, but it had never been a problem at home.

The doctors had no explanatio­n for it.

‘You were on antibiotic­s a lot for asthma,’ my mum,

Lynda, would remind me. ‘Your body was busy ghting and didn’t have much energy left for growth.’

It didn’t explain the weakness in my left side, or the fact I couldn’t straighten my little ngers… but this was ve decades ago.

Answers for unusual symptoms weren’t as easy to come by as they are now with the internet.

School was also a very different place when it came to bullying, and my plight was pretty much ignored by the teachers.

I had to learn to live with the constant taunts and name-calling all through primary school.

At rst, high school wasn’t much better. It would start the minute I arrived.

‘Get her,’ someone would shout, pushing me over or into a puddle.

Kids grabbed my books and threw them in the air.

Recess and lunch were the worst.

Every other kid loved the sound of those bells, but for me it signalled being exposed to the whole school.

Towards the end of high school, the bullying tailed off but it certainly wasn’t the end of my struggles.

By now, I was 16 and, at 137cm, was the tallest I’d ever be.

‘She’ll never live a normal life,’ a school counsellor told my parents. ‘She needs to go to a rehabilita­tion facility.’

Thankfully, I’d lined up an interview for a job at a bakery and getting it saved me.

Not so useless after all! I thought, proudly.

The self-esteem that had been so badly bashed throughout my years at school gradually started building after that.

‘There’s no such word as can’t,’ Mum and Dad had always told me, and I realised it was true.

I moved from New Zealand to Australia when I was 20 and started working with Aboriginal people in Arnhem

Land, NT.

For the rst time, I found real friends and acceptance.

Then, a year later, I was rushed to hospital with a suspected seizure.

‘We can’t do a lumbar puncture because you have a rigid spine,’ the doctor said, confused.

They gave me more tests

and, at 21,

Having never thought there was anything ‘wrong’ with me I was shocked

I was nally given a reason for my small stature.

‘You have a genetic condition called RussellSil­ver syndrome,’ the doctor said, explaining it’s a rare growth disorder.

Having never thought there was anything ‘wrong’ with me I was shocked, but I took the diagnosis in my stride like I’d accepted so many things in my life. The doctor told me I wouldn’t be able to have children and I accepted that, too.

It meant when I went to the doctor 11 years later with what I thought were kidney stones, I was in for a huge surprise.

‘You’re 17 weeks pregnant,’ he said.

Silvia was born early, so it meant my partner and I didn’t get much time to come to terms with having a miracle baby!

‘Can she bend her little ngers?’ I asked, the minute she came out.

I was worried she’d have Russell-Silver syndrome, too, but she was ne.

Ironically, now 19, at 183cm tall, she towers over most people! Even so, I always worried she’d be bullied because of me.

When she started school, I took time off work thinking she’d need help. How wrong I was.

‘I love school,’ she said, sailing through with lots of friends.

She was lucky, but the more I read in the news, the more I realised bullying was still as prevalent as ever, with online bullying now joining the emotional and physical bullying I’d contended with.

I have to do something, a voice inside me said when I read about 14-year-old schoolgirl Dolly Everett dying by suicide in 2018, after being bullied.

I decided to open up about my experience­s and how I’d coped. I wanted people experienci­ng bullying to feel understood and see there was hope.

In November last year, I published my book and have already had such a great response.

I know how big an impact words can have on people – positive and negative – and I hope mine can be a shining light to help anyone who is suffering bullying, like I did.

Things will get better. ● Angie’s book, ‘Standing Tall From the Inside’, published by Dean Publishing, is available now.

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 ??  ?? Me and my miracle girl, Silvia
Me and my miracle girl, Silvia

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