Growing up, I was the farthest thing from the classic girly girl. I had short hair, wore baggy clothes to class, and my favorite place to shop was the men’s side of the store at the Gap.
Not only did I look like a boy, but I acted like one, too. I grew up playing ice hockey (a predominantly male sport) and was a nationally ranked goaltender.
None of this was a problem until I entered middle school. I started attending an all girls’ school, where it quickly became apparent that I was “different” from everyone else. That’s when the bullying started for me.
In the sixth grade, a group of girls would harass me almost every single day. They said cruel things to my face and behind my back. I pretended it didn’t bother me, and tried to blow off all my steam in ice hockey practice. No one bullied me there, especially my classmate’s older brothers.
But the girls were persistent in making my life miserable. Every single time I entered the locker room to prepare for sports practice, they would all get up and leave. Whenever I sat down at the lunch table, they would grab their trays and move to another spot. This constant harassment infuriated me. I kept asking myself, Why don’t they like me? Why can’t I be like everyone else? Why do they hate me so much?
When I came home from school, my parents would ask how it went. I put on a face and told them everything was great. I never wanted them to know that inside I was crushed. I was so ashamed — I was supposed to be “tough” and here I was, letting these girls steadily erode my confidence. I was never afraid of 80 mph pucks flying at my head, but going to school every day turned into the most terrifying thing in the world.
In the eighth grade, I hit rock bottom. Everyone was starting to use the Internet as the “hottest” form of communication. No one would call the house phone anymore; they would use AIM.
A couple of girls in my class created an anonymous screen name account and sent vicious messages saying that I should kill myself; that no one cared about me. I kept asking them to stop, but the harassment continued. I completely shut down and started to let their words become my words.
I showed the school administrators the horrible messages I received, hoping that they would take action. Instead, they did nothing. I told my teachers about what was going on, and even sought counseling. Still, nothing changed.
I finally told my parents about my increasing depression from being bullied. I admitted that I even contemplated taking my own life. They were shocked at what I had silently endured for so long. I’m sure it was hard for them, wondering how they had missed noticing that something was so wrong.
It wasn’t until I opened up to them that my whole life changed.
Together, we worked out a plan. Because of the severity of the bullying, and the toxic environment it created, not to mention the impact on my health, we decided that it would be best for me to finish my eighth grade year at a different school.
With high school on the horizon, I was committed to rebuilding my life and sense of self. My parents were my biggest support system through the whole process and I believe it made my family stronger.
For a long time, my biggest fear was disappointing them, but after opening up, I realized they couldn’t be more proud of me. I am so glad that I didn’t give up, and that I was persistent in seeking and receiving the right help.
Getting help saved my life.
I was able to break free from a bad environment and flourish at a new high school. I was able to discover new passions and make a bunch of new friends. I am now a theater major at UCLA, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.
Being in college has opened my eyes to so many things. I’ve realized that bullying isn’t limited to elementary or middle school. Bullying is everywhere. We live in a society that preys on people’s insecurities and faults.
Just look at the tabloids: there are so many headlines about Kylie Jenner’s plastic surgery transformation or Brangelina’s supposed divorce. Those writers are fed by rumors that can destroy lives.
But you can help stop bullying by starting to love yourself unconditionally.
This is the biggest piece of advice my parents engrained into me. Once I started to appreciate all aspects of myself, the good, the bad, and the ugly (especially the bad and ugly), everything changed. Because I started to love myself, I attracted people who loved me.
Even at UCLA, I still hear people talking badly about me. Rejection still happens. In middle school, this would eat me up inside. Now, it has little to no effect, because I know that the negative comments are not about me and my truth.
Through this emerging perspective, I’ve actually started to feel empathy for these bullies … what lurks behind their closed doors that drives this behavior? But it’s not for me to judge, fix or own … it’s their deal. Their once-powerful grip on me has moved on.
My dad talks with me about the importance of being free of judgment of others, and, most especially, of yourself. You are a creator, participant, and observer in life who has free will and the gift to know, trust, and act upon the truth within you. It is your choice to embrace it or not.
One of the coolest things we’ve discussed is that I have the ultimate power to create my own reality in life. I am in control of my emotions and my actions. I am the driver, and the world is my road. It all depends on what I choose to let affect me, and what I choose to act upon. When I chose to love instead of hate myself, my whole world changed for the better.
I encourage all parents to share this with their children and to help them build a strong foundation at a young age. The better sense of self you have, the easier your life becomes. Trust me.
For more information on addressing and preventing bullying in your school and community, please visit PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center.More On