By Hayley Gripp
When I look into a mirror, I catch a glimpse of a pretty girl with red hair. But the longer I study her, the more I begin to truly see. Slowly, I begin to visualize her haunted dark brown eyes; and one by one, the invisible scars from being bullied begin to reveal themselves. But when I look again and the pretty girl smiles, I see hope and happiness. Have you ever noticed that people see what they want to see? Have you noticed that people are scared of what society does not consider normal? Well I believe that being normal is overrated. There is no race for perfection, as perfection already exists. It is our flaws and quirks that make us who we are.
My name is Hayley Gripp, and I am a survivor of bullying.
Today I am 21 years old, but eleven years ago I was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and severe ADHD. What I hadn’t yet realized, was that not being able to control my body (the tics on Tourette Syndrome) would be the least of my worries. My worries would start 2 years later in seventh grade. After ten minutes in the classroom, my new teacher was very blunt about not accepting students with disabilities.
Two weeks later, she would not only begin to humiliate me in front of the classroom, but she would slander me to the other students, and tell them to avoid me like the plague. I remember that for the two years she was my teacher, I did not smile. For seven hours a day, my desk was my prison cell and my teacher was my warden. Imagine having a teacher bully you for a disability you cannot control. At twelve years old, I did not know how to fight back, so I put up a wall to protect myself from the pain.
Four years later, I was sixteen years old. At this time, I was tired of holding on to the grudge against my teacher and the peers who bullied me. Finally, I decided to break down the wall and forgive them. Once I let go of all of that anger and pain, everything started to get better. Not only had I started to make friends, but my tics on Tourette’s started to go away. With everything falling into place, I decided to fight back positively. I was trained as an ambassador for the Tourette Syndrome Association and helped get the IDEA act passed in Washington DC. This Act prevents any teacher in the state of California from abusing and bullying students with disabilities.
Soon I began to educate others across the country on Tourette Syndrome and anti-bullying awareness. But that happiness was short lived when my father suddenly passed away a year later. At this moment I had a choice. I could drown in my sorrows, or rise up above, and look at all the blessings in my life. I chose to think positively; I thought, wow I was so blessed to have an amazing dad for seventeen and a half years.
Six months after my father’s death, I decided to attend The University Of La Verne. But after spending a year studying writing, I decided to leave and follow my dream of acting. To pay the bills, I was a full time after school nanny for a year. But in August 2013, at age 20, I finally started going out on auditions. Within 15 Months I had shot twelve commercials, was on ‘CSI: Las Vegas’, had a reoccurring role on a Lifetime television series, was a celebrity taste tester on ‘Cupcake Wars’, shot a national Verizon Print ad and walked the runways for both Fall LAFW and Fall NYFW. With my dream of becoming an actress and model finally coming true, I found happiness once again.
But even true happiness can’t erase the previous scars from being bullied. I will never forget the things people said or did to me, but I will forgive them. One thing that many people said, that has stuck with me to this day, is “Hayley you will NEVER work in Hollywood”. I proved those bullies wrong, not for them, but for me! I still go around to schools, charities, events and doctors offices to share my story of overcoming Tourette Syndrome by forgiving my bullies. So far in my role as an ambassador and advocate, I have spoken to over 25,000 people. Giving motivational speeches and mentoring kids is what I do when I am not on set. On February 1st 2014 I hosted a red carpet anti-bullying event called ‘The First Annual NO BULL Music Showcase‘. I also hosted the anti-bullying music video release party for the band Galvanized Souls and their hit anti-bullying song ‘Carry On’.
One of the secrets to my happiness is surrounding myself with positive people. I have a great family and amazing friends. Knowing that I have friends who support and love me across the country is the most incredible feeling.
My greatest aspiration is to leave a positive impact on this world. I have overcome many obstacles in my life, but I never ask for pity. I share my story to inspire others and to give hope. Instead of saying “It can’t get worse”. I like to say, “It can only get better”. I believe we were born to make mistakes, but we were also born to learn from them. It is never too late to say, “I’m sorry”, but it is also never too late to say, “I forgive you”. Bullying is a chain reaction, and once you break that chain, ANYTHING is possible.
Hayley Gripp is an actress, model, Tourette Syndrome ambassador and anti-bullying advocate. She is a young adult board member for the Tourette Syndrome Association, traveling the country, lobbying in Washington DC and educating the public on Tourette Syndrome. Hayley resides in Los Angeles and New York City, and when she’s not on set, Hayley tours schools promoting and speaking on anti-bullying around the country. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook and check out more of her work on her website.