(1/5) TW: Bullying and harassment.

“At the age of 6, I acted in my first movie produced by my mother. Within the next 2 years, I acted in over 4 movies and even won an award for one of them. One day, while in a crowd of devotees, a Lama who had come from Nepal recognized me as a dakini. This came as a surprise to both me and my family. I was only 8 and could not really understand the drastic changes that’d take place in my life soon. People had already started writing bad things about me online; some questioned how a child actor could be meritorious enough to be a dakini, while others started a false rumour that I’d been married to a Lama in Nepal. In all this, I was only 9 years old.

Although I was known to many already, it was at 15 that my life truly changed with one strange event. I was studying for my class 10 board exams and tried to ignore it when someone with a fake account texted me on Facebook. The person claimed that there was a pornographic video of me circulating around. I was shocked and strictly denied it. The account then forwarded me the video and started harassing me, demanding nudes in exchange. Scared and confused, I ran to my mother and showed her the video. She, too, was shocked and after watching it several times, she told me with certainty that it was fake. In the video, the girl had a body that looked similar to mine, but her face was blurred.”

(2/5) TW: Bullying and Harassment.

“The next day in school, I found that many of my friends had heard about the video already. I denied having anything to do with it and told them it was fake. But everyone at school had either seen the video or heard about it and believed it was me. My classmates and schoolmates started treating me differently. During the exam, some would stare at me while others ran away when they saw me coming their way. A group of boys, none of whom I knew, asked if I still had the blue sweater that the girl in the video had been wearing. Hearing this completely broke me. Everyone had started believing that it was me in the video. I even heard that a few boys were asking their friends to pay them to see the video. There were also rumours going around that I had died of suicide over the shame and disgrace.

After my board exams were over, I locked myself in my room. I started eating a lot of junk food to cope with my stress, but instead of gaining weight, I lost a lot of it. After vacation, I was promoted to class 11 and had to change schools. It was harder for me to cope there. The rules were more strict, and I kept getting into trouble. For instance, a lady teacher thought I was wearing a half kira and she opened my kera (belt) in front of everyone to check. There were times when some teachers thought I was wearing makeup to school, even checking with a wet tissue. Some even commented on my weight and asked if I was taking diet pills or using drugs. Eventually when it got too much, I told my mother who then complained to my class teacher. The comments finally stopped.”

(3/5) “After my daughter told me about the video, I watched it several times and assured her that she did not need to worry. I knew it was fake. But she was scared. She said everyone at school had seen it and were talking about it. I was confused but furious.

The next day, I went to the police to file a report. The police too wondered why anyone would believe it was my daughter. The girl in the video was clearly a foreigner. Her face was also very blurry. In the next few months, I watched my daughter change. She was no longer the calm and sweet person I knew. She was always agitated and breaking things at home in rage. I mildly suggested she consult a psychiatrist but she refused.

A few months later, I got a call from the hospital. It was her counsellor calling to tell me she was being treated for a mental illness. I rushed to the hospital where I learned that she was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder and eating disorder and that she occasionally suffered panic attacks. Due to her extreme weight loss, she had missed her period for several months. She had been visiting the hospital without my knowledge.

I tried my best to be there for her. And now I wondered if and where I had failed. To take care of her during her recovery became my top priority. The counsellor suggested that we admit her to the hospital. I refused initially but her anxiety attacks late at night had me scared. I knew then that I could not help her the way I wish I could. She was then admitted to the hospital for a month.”

(4/5) TW: Bullying and harassment
“I found it impossible to go out after all that. I’d start shaking when I was in a public space. At home, I got angry for no reason and took it out on my parents. I went from weighing 46 to 39 kgs and had almost no strength to walk with my head upright. I was afraid to go online, as faceless accounts would frequently text and blame me. They would say “doesn’t this embarrass you? Your parents must be going through hell because of you.” Some made lewd comments and even solicited sexual favours.

I went to the hospital one day, without my parents’ knowledge, and visited a nutritionist. I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. They referred me to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with severe anxiety disorder. This explained my panic attacks. A counsellor was also called in to help with the treatment. I continued treatment for a few months without my parents knowing. My doctors asked me again and again to inform my mother and I finally relented to their request. I was sad that she had to find out this way.

When I was admitted to the hospital, the doctors and nurses were good to me. They even gave me a personal room to stay in because they thought I would find it hard to fit in with other patients. My father took leave from work and stayed with me the whole time and my mother was at home, conducting Rimdros and praying for me everyday.”

(5/5)
“The past year has been very troublesome for my family and I, especially my mother. She was the most supportive person to have in my corner. She kept reminding me to not care about rumours. Only my family knows that this has affected them as much as it has affected me. She was there every step of the way and helped me be strong. In this ordeal, my mental health was what suffered the most. I couldn’t accept that I was mentally unwell and shrugged off every suggestion to seek help. Now I understand that I am better for having gotten help, although much later than I should have. There is no shame in getting help and the earlier you do it, the sooner you could get well. The Internet has endless benefits but it can also be a dangerous place where individuals with malicious intentions use fake identities to prey on your insecurities and innocence. I got the worst of it, and I hope no one else has to go through what I did. My mother said, she doesn’t wish what we went through on the worst of her enemies.”

Editor’s note
“This story is an example of how the world today easily believes everything they see or hear online. This raises a serious threat for safety in the digital age. Humans of Thimphu implores everyone to be more conscious of their online presence and do anything in their capacity to prevent malicious acts to protect themselves and others. Additionally, schools need to do more to protect innocent children from cyberbullying and educate about healthy consumption of the internet.
This story was written with due permission from Dechen’s parents. Please note that neither Humans of Thimphu nor her family hold her school responsible by any means, details of the incidents at school were included as part of the many factors involved to provide a full account of her faltering mental health.”

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