It was lunch period in ninth grade. I was walking toward the front door of my high school. For some reason the hallway was completely barren, everyone in the cafe or outside – most definitely out of sight. Around the corner waited two bullies.
They saw me, walking alone in the hall, so they decided to gang up on me. It started with an insult, a grab, a push, then a punch. I'll never forget what one of the kids was wearing – a white T-shirt, hand drawn arrow on the chest pointing up to his head, "I'm With Stupid" written underneath. It was almost like a scene in a movie. As they were both punching and kicking me in the hall, all I could think of while blocking and trying to defend myself was, "I can't believe this loser with a 'I'm With Stupid' T-shirt pointed at himself is attacking me right now." I pondered this for the rest of the day through my remaining classes, sitting in physical pain. I stewed in the emotions I always felt after an episode like this: It starts with embarrassment, humiliation. Soon after deflation, depression. That lasts a while longer and tends to linger. Then, anxiety that this will happen again, maybe soon.
Bullying was something I dealt with for most of my childhood. For a long time, I thought it was my own fault. Just before fourth grade my family moved cities and suddenly I was the new student in school: a pudgy kid with a weird sounding first name and an only child who was sensitive and self-conscious. I was definitely a recipe for emotional disaster and an easy target for bullies. Almost every day I went to school, I would either get beat up, picked on or laughed at. Many days I would end up in tears. In those days it was very difficult to make friends.
My parents were very loving and supportive, but I never really brought up this subject to them because I felt ashamed. When I was growing up there was a sort of culture that you would get it worse if you told "the adults" about it. Nobody likes a tattle tale. Eventually I would tell teachers when it became too much, and it would stop for a little bit, but it would always eventually come back.
After that incident in the ninth grade, I decided to make a change. I took a long hard look in the mirror and I decided, there and then, that enough was enough. I wasn't going to let these people compromise my happiness. Control my emotions. Make me feel inferior.
I identified what I was self-conscious about and took steps to correct it. I started to eat right and lost weight. I played more sports. I joined school clubs, found like-minded people, and as a result, came out of my shell and became much more social. I literally did a 180. I went from the quietest person in school to the most active. I started to feel confident, comfortable, proud of myself, happier. I felt like a completely different person.
My history with bullying is one of the major reasons I choose to mentor regularly. No child should ever be made to feel the way I was, or have to endure that sort of pain and sadness. Today I'm a proud mentor on a weekly basis to a wonderful group of young students at the Boys & Girls Club of Stamford, Conn. WWE has recently formed a partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America and I'm thrilled to be a part. The activities and topics in my group vary weekly, from learning about sharing and teamwork to recycling to math and our solar system. We cover a variety of topics, which is really cool. I can tell that the students are making friendships that I hope will last for a very long time.
The thing I always mention to the group is that bullying is never cool, and it is always OK to talk about what you are going through to your parents, teachers and mentors. You never have to suffer alone and you always have someone to talk to.
If I can reach even one child who feels today like I did then and help them get through that, then to me that is a life win. Nothing would make me more proud. Being a role model to the younger generation is something we all have an opportunity to be in some capacity and should not take lightly. I was bullied during my adolescence, and you know what, I turned out OK. I want children who are bullied to know the same about themselves.
You can help support Boys & Girls Clubs of America by volunteering, donating or visiting Charitybuzz.com/WWE through this year’s Superstars for Hope campaign.