Lately I’ve come to realize that the word "bully" is still hard for me to say out loud. As a singer-songwriter, I've spent most of my life trying to make art out of words. In live performance, my goal has been to do this in a way that genuinely connects with people on a deep visceral level – but that also hopefully makes them laugh, as part of that catharsis. This word, "bully", still isn't something I've learned how to laugh about yet. For me, it’s like "holocaust" or "cancer" for some people; just saying it aloud strikes horror and loathing in my gut in a way it's impossible to explain, but I know that if I could, it probably still wouldn’t make that feeling go away entirely.

There are very few words that I'm afraid of, or that make me physically feel vulnerable when uttering them aloud. After all, I'm not only a grown woman, but I'm a New Yorker. I'm supposed to be tough. Still, I am admittedly afraid of this word, and the irony is that so much of the joyful work I do nowadays is a direct result of the cruelty, frustration, alienation and sadness I experienced as a kid, who was very badly bullied.

I've always been "different". I remember being seven on the bus and having a bunch of kids oh-so-kindly point out that my nose was too big, and my teeth stuck out. That said, it always seemed to me there were plenty of other kids in my midst who were more different or remarkable than I was, on the surface. Maybe they were bullied too, and I just didn't know it.

One day in second grade, the two most popular girls in my class decided to bully me, out of the blue. Somehow, instinctively, I knew what they were doing had that name even though I'd never experienced it before. They shoved me around, they called me an F-ing bitch, they kept telling me over and over "you think you're so great, don't you!" because I'd received 100% on a test, and was a teacher's pet (apparently). I didn't realize I was one, until that moment.

From that day on, second grade became absolute hell. Of course, I will always remember the names of these two girls – one of whom was petite, blonde and very pretty, while the other was big-boned and used her stature itself as a weapon of intimidation – but for the sake of this remembering, let's call them "Sarah" and "Molly". Sarah, even at age 7, was aware of her beauty. She flung her hair around like a Pantene commercial, and Molly, conversely, used her prowess in gym glass to let everyone else know just how much stronger she was and that it'd be no problem for her "to kick your ass anytime". The day they both started bullying me was also the day that mysteriously, I became last to ever be picked as anyone's partner in gym. It was as though they had a psychic ability to let everyone else know, without words, not to touch me because my unpopularity was contagious.

At its best, being bullied by Sarah and Molly meant being excluded from invitations to birthday parties or being "bumped into" so all my books fell out of my arms like a scene out of "Mean Girls". At its worst, my head was held down by them and several other of their "worshippers" (who, mainly, just didn’t want to be the one being bullied), who flushed my waist-length hair in the toilet right before class photos were to be taken. By fifth grade, they were waiting for me, with an extended "gang" (but they were always the real ringleaders) every morning I was dropped off to school, and they would tease me that even at age 10, I was "too much of a baby" for my mom to let me sit in the front seat of her car. The fact that my mom drove me to school because I could no longer bring myself to take the bus since it had become, essentially, an hour of extra emotional torture every day, was of little relevance.

During these years, my mom used to point out to me that it wouldn't have mattered if I'd sat in the front, the back or on the roof; they would've found something else to tease me about. When I cut my own bangs (crookedly, of course), this proved her point. Likewise, when the school music teacher singled me out to play a recorder solo, that was an open invitation for Sarah, Molly and by now, there was a third bully, we'll call her "Lisa", to shove me around bathrooms and stairwells because I "thought I was such hot sh-t", for being musical.

Often, I felt like crying out, "Are you kidding?? I think I'm nothing, no one, and definitely not anything special!" But I never actually believed that, deep down... they just made me feel that way, in those moments. In sixth grade, by which point my pursuits of ballet and music outside of school had become fairly serious, I was so picked on for being different that the school decided to have a meeting with me, my parents, and the parents of these "so-called bullies". Sadly, during that meeting – in which I was petrified that afterwards, things would only be worse – the principal criticized me for being a "tattle-tale which is no better than a bully" (a few days prior, I'd been honest and told one teacher that one of these girls had been saying the F-word to me dozens of times a day, as a form of taunting). In the same breath, she encouraged us all to "work it out" and said she "trusted us all to be little ladies and behave." I knew I was more doomed than ever when we all walked out of that room.

My "low" was when one day, the one good friend I'd had through all of those years decided she was going to join the bullies in turning on me, to save herself from being picked on. It was crystal clear that that was what had happened, because her switch was so abrupt, and she just kept parroting things they were saying to me, and names they were calling me. Then, sometimes, she’d "apologize" when they weren't around and say she didn't mean it but they were helping her be more popular now so she had to be nice to them. Ultimately though, all I felt was betrayed and depressed. Somehow I'd been able to muscle through, when I knew it was basically a few bad apples ganging up on me. But when my "best friend" joined in their "just teasing", it pretty much sent me into despair.

During these years, I'd often gone home crying, or burst into tears when my parents would ask me "how was school today?". But after one particularly relentless round of insults and threats toward the end of sixth grade, I went home, broke down, and told my family I just couldn't go back to school because I was too scared of the girls who were bullying me. Somehow, thank God, they took me seriously. In a lot of ways, it felt to me like it had taken them too long to understand that no adults around me were protecting me, that even though I was a good kid, got good grades and had hobbies I enjoyed, I was, by then, utterly defeated and depressed. Nonetheless, my strength in that down-moment was my honesty. I was brave enough to tell my parents, who I knew loved me even if they didn't understand me necessarily, I had finally had enough, and miraculously, they not only listened, but they really heard me. We "stuck it out together" for the rest of the year, which I was able to do more easily now that they promised to let me switch schools. The next year they transferred me to a new school, where I thrived, had many friends, and literally, was "reborn." Overnight, I was able to become myself, just by virtue of meeting a new group of peers. I know that part of the reason I still dress the eccentric, colorful way I do now is because I was so relentlessly picked on for being different at my first school; it’s a form of vindication.

When I hear about kids being bullied, whether because they're LGBT, from another country, or for any other "reason" (as if there is ever really a reason), I take it so personally. I want to reach through the internet, or into the newspaper, or most recently, when I saw the movie "Bully", and tell them that the most important thing is to tell an adult they trust what is happening. I also know, of course, that particularly for LGBT youth, that isn't necessarily possible, with a parent. But if there's one thing I can offer, looking back upon my own experiences as a victim of bullying, it's this: confiding in someone about it, as it was happening, was how I survived. Throughout most of my ordeal, I had at least one adult voice of reason assuring me that bullies do what they do because "they're insecure" or "because their parents just aren't paying attention to them". Whatever the reasons and however illogical to me, the fact is that I was telling someone about it, and I don’t know if I'd have survived it otherwise. I always had a sympathetic adult ear – even when it couldn't help me come up with a clever comeback, or help me wear the right clothes or hairstyle or get worse grades to help me "blend". I knew I was loved outside of school, and that was a lot. So I always wish/hope that young people who feel ignored by their parents or teachers will somehow have the strength to reach out to another adult they trust, whether a counselor, or someone at their religious institution. Just talking about it in a safe context eases some of the burden.

What made "it get better" for me was having something I loved to do outside of school, that helped me express myself and raise my self-esteem. Looking back, it almost seems to me that the more isolated I felt in school, the harder I threw myself into my dance studies, or into writing poetry and music. Those "hobbies" became my best friends. They taught me that even if everything felt awful and hopeless, if I put effort and discipline into developing my creative abilities, self-expression could be a powerful armor against fear. I am still learning that lesson, but it got much better for me a long time ago. I know that the ability I have to empathize with others' stories and experiences in my writing is directly proportional to the insults I endured, as a kid. It helps me listen better now, than if everything had been easy, or if I'd been wildly popular. I'd never say I am glad that I went through all that, because it absolutely, utterly sucked. But I got through it, and now I wouldn't trade one moment of my life after junior high school, even the tough parts. It ALL got better, the moment those bullies were no longer around me, and I am so incredibly grateful that I never gave up, and let them "win". I'm grateful that somewhere in there, even on my darkest days, I knew I had something valuable to share someday, and that there was even one adult I could talk to about what I was going through, who empathized even if they couldn't stop it. It gets better because you eventually meet people just like you, or different from you but who appreciate who you are precisely for that difference. The world is wide and beautiful, and whether it's listening to or playing music, creating art, practicing sports, or writing in a journal that helps you see past a bully's current presence in your life, I promise, it does get not only better, but wonderful, magical, and now and then, downright transcendent. And even though this wasn't an easy story to share, I'm proud of myself for venturing back to that painful place I've worked so hard to forget, if only to remember just how much better it gets – and to never take that for granted!