Originally published on The Huffington Post
People who meet me today often don't believe that I was a victim of bullying for most of my young life. From the age of about 10 until I switched schools at the age of 17, I was teased mercilessly by the "cool" kids.
The taunts ranged from the banal (like making fun of my clothes... one that jumps to mind was the "bronze condom jacket," a not-so-clever or apt descriptor for a Speedo windbreaker that I wore a total of one time), to traumatic (the boy who I had a crush on for years asked me on a date so that he could stand me up at the roller-skating rink). I was lucky enough (*insert sarcasm here*) to have a nickname -- Cabin Boy, because I was flat as a board -- that stuck with me all the way through school... so much so, that I remember that a boy who started in our school in Grade 11 didn't even know my real name!
I'm not 100% sure what made me the perfect target for kids' meanness but, looking back, I think that it was because I wanted to be accepted more than anything. I was too open, too sensitive and tried too hard to make friends... until I hit Grade 10.
Cut to me sitting on the floor of my closet in my bedroom, contemplating the pain that I felt from being treated so terribly for so much of my life; I couldn't figure out why kids picked on me so much and I couldn't figure out what I could do to make it stop. I was brokenhearted and I didn't know how to survive another minute of it. Eventually, I thought about killing myself.
But as quickly as the thought surfaced, I made a decision that has affected the course of the rest of my life. I decided that I did not want to die. I decided that I would make it through all of the pain in my life, no matter what it took, and that I would come out on top. To survive, I built walls in my heart and my mind and began shutting down all of the good, vulnerable parts of my personality and psyche. I knew that I would have to toughen up to survive, so I did. In short, I locked my true self - the loving, giving, sweet child that I was -- in a steel cage, never to be seen again.
Fast-forward 12 years and I was living a life that most people envied. I was living in South Beach with my husband, working a very cool job at a fashion and beauty PR agency and living on the ocean. I partied with celebrities, I went to all the cool clubs, I had fashionable friends... and I was miserable. I was thin and pretty, having spent most of my teenage years cultivating a successful case of anorexia and obsession with my own physical beauty. I had all of the right clothes and went to the right places. I had created the perfect life to show my childhood bullies how wrong they were about me. All of my friends envied me... and yet, I hated my life.
I woke up at 28 years old and realized that I didn't feel connected to anything in my life. I had the perfect life and I couldn't appreciate or value any of it. So I left everything that I had accomplished -- my husband, my home, my job and dogs -- and moved back to Toronto, where I found myself single, alone and brokenhearted.
Having spent all of my adult life living behind a mask of success and beauty and then finding myself at the bottom of the barrel (of life) was a very tough adjustment for me. I had thrown my perfectionism out the window, without an idea of what I did want in my life or what made me happy and so, I found myself floating, rudderless, in a sea of unhappiness. I dated constantly, just to avoid being alone. If I were, I felt that I would be proving what the bullies had made me feel my whole life: I was unlovable.
Once again, I was at an important point in my life. I don't remember the exact moment that I realized that I needed help but I did and immediately, I started the search for a therapist to help me move forward.
Four years later, I'm unrecognizable from the person that I was before. I can't be bothered with fashion; I'm all about comfort now. I don't like going to "cool" places because I knew firsthand how exhausting it is to maintain an (unrealistic) image of perfection. I've embraced my inner nerd, falling back on the books and words that were so formative for me in childhood. I started a successful business. I have traveled the world for months at a time... and plan on spending all of my money going forward on travel and experiences that will make my life extraordinary. I've embraced myself, flaws and all. I realized that I have spent so much of my life pretending to be someone that I wasn't so I will no longer accept being anything but my authentic self. I am still single but I've realized that I'd rather be alone than with someone who won't love me for the person that I really am.
The most important part of my transformation is the feeling that I now have: I am really and truly happy for the first time in my life. Of course, I have good days and bad but I am finally living the life that I always wanted. I am being true to myself -- and to the girl that I was so long ago, before I donned the mask that I needed to survive.
But all that being said, I still struggle with the aftereffects of my bullying as a child. I still don't feel "good enough"; I never feel thin enough or pretty enough or successful enough. I have created my dream life but often, I can't appreciate how phenomenal it really is because I'm too busy focusing on what I don't have. Most importantly, I have never been able to fully rid myself of the walls that I built to protect myself. I have never been able to be completely vulnerable to anyone, because I am convinced that if I do, only pain will come of it. Even though intimacy is the thing that I desire most, I cannot yet find the courage to show my tender underbelly to the world or even to the men that I date.
Will I ever break down the walls? Will I ever fully open up to another person? Or have the bullies beaten me?
The answer is simple... I don't know if I will ever be able to break down the walls and open up to another person; however, I know, without a doubt, I have not let the bullies beat me. I chose happiness when I made the very difficult decision to leave my husband so many years ago and have become a new person. I still go to therapy on a weekly basis to work through the lingering issues that I experience because of my bullying and I am making progress every session, every month and every year. So, even though I haven't put my bullying behind me completely, I know that I have truly thrived, even in the face of something so devastating that I once thought I needed to die to rid myself of the pain.
And the best part is... so can you. Bullies only win if you let them. Even if it's the hardest, most painful thing that you've ever done, you need to choose yourself and happiness. Don't blindly accept other people's criticisms of you. Hear them and if they are true, make changes. If they aren't, toss them away. Do you... start today.
I promise you, it will be the most worthwhile thing that you do in your entire life.
Have you suffered bullying in your life? Does it still affect your life today? Are you experiencing bullying right now? I'd love to hear more about your thoughts and experiences. I am here to help in any way that I can you, especially if you are still being bullied. Email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org; I will be there for you because I, too, can feel your pain.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.