Words. They can tell a magical story, be used to express the deepest of emotions or utilized to teach the most valuable lessons. Words can make us laugh when we hear a joke, make us smile when we hear a song that reminds us of the good old days or make us sad when we hear a phrase that was perhaps uttered by someone we miss dearly. Words can inspire us. Words can transform us; they can take us down or build us up. Yes, words can be very powerful, and sometimes none more powerful than the words that hurt us.

I know this to be true because I’ve carried hurtful words with me most of my life, and for a long time I let them define me. It’s taken me years to realize that I am not those words, and I still have times when I need to remind myself that, but it is a work in progress and I’m finally at a point in my life that I feel ready to let new words define me. Positive words. Empowering words. Words that will make me proud of who I am.

For years I heard the words ugly, stupid and worthless, amongst others, to describe me. For years I was told I wasn’t good enough, that nobody liked me or wanted to be around me. What is sad is that these were words that came from peers in elementary school, some of them were supposed to be friends. And what’s even sadder is that I believed them. When you hear something often enough, especially as a child, you believe it to be true.

I was ashamed. I never talked to anyone about what I endured day in and day out at school, not even my parents or older brother. To this day I have barely mentioned it to them. Reading this article may very well be how they find out exactly what I went through. And let me just say for the record that I come from a very loving family. I truly can’t explain why I never turned to them when I needed it. I just didn’t.

I hated elementary school. Those are some powerful words right there, huh? But it’s true. I really cannot say that I have many fond memories from being at that school. I remember being in a constant state of self-consciousness. I remember dreading going to school. I remember spending many times in the bathroom crying at recess. I do have some good memories of that time, although they are outweighed by the negative ones. The good times mainly involved the few girls I can look back and say they were my friends. The ones who didn’t make fun of me, and ones who sadly also endured ridicule from other kids.

When I started high school I looked at it as a chance to meet new people who would accept me for who I was, and escape the peers from elementary school. I was ready to put it behind me. Little did I realize that I was taking it all with me. Sure, I made new friends. I can honestly say that I met some wonderful people in high school, some that I still keep up with, but many that I do not. And I know this is going to sound so incredibly cheesy, but the reason for not keeping up with some past friends has nothing to do with them and everything to do with me. Yes, I am basically using the “it’s not you, it’s me” line here, but let me explain.

Believing that I was worthless affected the way I formed friendships and relationships. I never really completely let people in. There are very few people in my life who really know me, all of me. After being bullied as a child I find it difficult to truly show people who I am. As a kid, teenager, young adult and even now I struggle with showing my true colours for fear of not being accepted. I developed this habit of opening up just enough to feel safe, and it has left me constantly feeling like I am on the outside looking in.

This feeling of not being good enough has even entered motherhood with me, as I often wonder if I am a good mother. For the first year of my son’s life I believed that I was a failure. Now I know a lot of that was connected to postpartum depression but I also know that it stems from how I have felt about myself for most of my life.

I have discussed all of this in therapy, and there are a few trusted people in my life that I have opened up to about this part of me. It has taken a lot for me to see that I am not any of those terrible words those kids once used to describe me. I still have times that I doubt myself or put myself down. I mostly see it in my life as a mom when I have parenting moments that I’m not proud of, like when I get frustrated or angry with the kids and perhaps could have handled it better. But I remind myself that I am human, and that I am not always going to have picture-perfect parenting moments. Every day I strive to be the best mom I can be for my kids and while I didn’t start off motherhood thinking so, I know now that I am a good mother.

But there is another area of my life that I tend to put myself down and that has been in my career. For nearly 20 years I have had this dream of what I want to do professionally – be a writer and editor – and after years of telling myself that this is what I have been working so hard to accomplish I have come to a very important realization. I have been my biggest roadblock because over and over again I have doubted my skills, abilities and talent and stopped myself from applying for jobs that deep down I knew I would be the perfect fit for. I have often wondered why I haven’t reached my dream job more than 15 years after graduating college and it’s come down to this: if I don’t have confidence in myself why would a potential employer feel confident in hiring me?

Somewhere along the way in my life I have become my own bully. And it’s time to put a stop to it.

So after years of struggling, soul searching, therapy and learning to be more positive about who I am, I have finally reached a point in my life that I can use positive words to describe myself and actually believe them. I am ready to stop being my biggest obstacle and let go of these past demons.

Why am I sharing this now? Because my hope is that it can help bring awareness of what bullying can do to a person. Bullying does not just affect a person’s present day life but it also affects them for years to come. At least it has for me.

As a mother I want to teach my son and daughter to recognize bullying, and to speak up about it if someone is picking on them. My hope is that if they find themselves being bullied (and my wish is they never do) that they feel comfortable enough to speak to me, my husband or any other adult they trust. I want my kids to know that they define who they are and to never let anyone tell them otherwise. I want to teach them about kindness and accepting others for who they are. I also want to teach them about how powerful their words can be and that there will be times in their lives that they will need to choose their words wisely.

I have briefly started this discussion with them, but haven’t delved too deep as they are only three and five years old. I plan to continue talking to them about this and keep the lines of communication open. But I have been wondering if there are other ways that I can teach them about bullying and since my kids love music I thought this song would be helpful. It’s a song by pop duo Honey and Jude that is titled Weirdos and Freaks and it sends a powerful message to bullies with lyrics like “How does it feel to know that you can’t break me down?”

I love the uplifting lyrics of the song and especially admire Honey and Jude for using this anti-bullying anthem as part of their #BeautifulFreaks campaign to bring awareness and take a stand against bullying. Being a child of the ‘80s the topic of bullying was not widely discussed back then, so now as a mom seeing campaigns like this makes me happy. Bullying has become a topic more openly discussed and hopefully kids today (my own included) will feel comfortable talking about it and standing up for themselves. I applaud Honey and Jude for being a voice against bullying and being role models kids of all ages can look up to.

Listening to Weirdos and Freaks reminded me that the words my past bullies used to describe me were just that, words. They did not truly represent who I was, and they certainly do not define who I am. The words I would choose to describe me now are smart, caring, silly, creative, strong, brave, geeky, feisty, pretty. It’s a strange combination of words to use, I know. You may even call me a freak, but that’s okay. To that I would respond I’m a beautiful freak. Deal with it!