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“I took a deep breath and did not harm myself that night. Running saved my life.”

By Jackson K

I grew up privileged in New York City. You wouldn't expect someone like me to have any real problems, let alone suffer, but I am thirteen years old, and this is my story.

Externally, my life was perfect. I had kind and loving parents, an amazing brother, and a healthy and happy family. But deep inside, I was struggling with something that I knew I couldn't fix. I cried alone every day, shutting myself in my room, repeating three words to myself over and over again: “I’m a boy.”

I cried alone every day, shutting myself in my room, repeating three words to myself over and over again: “I'm a boy.”

I spent ten years thinking there was something wrong with me I asked myself why everyone else was normal. I hated the disconnect I felt between my mind and my body. I flinched whenever someone addressed me by my birth name—the name that tied me to a female identity. I could not stand living like this anymore—putting on a feminine mask every day, only taking it off in my dreams.

One afternoon, a few days after my eleventh birthday, I took a particularly sharp pencil from my desk. I stared at it for a moment, then, without thinking, plunged it into my arm and made a deep cut. I pulled the pencil out and stared at the blood, horrified. I felt as if I were going to throw up—what I had done to myself scared me. I threw the pencil down and ran to the bathroom, desperate to wash my arm before my mother saw the cut.

Although I terrified myself each time I cut, I continued doing it. I don't know why. It started off with a pencil, quickly escalating to more dangerous objects, including scissors and knives. A few months later, I was home alone and started drafting suicide notes. I took a deep breath and brought out the same pencil that I had used the first time I cut myself. I could still see my bloodstains on it. Impulsively, I made a few quick slashes across my wrist. I choked back my tears, put the pencil down, took a deep breath, and washed out my cut. 

It left a scar.

I ended up telling my fifth-grade teacher what I had done, who told my parents. They were shocked and sent me to a psychiatrist. I would go see the therapist for an hour per week, but it was just a burden and I did not want to be there. I did not want to continue thinking there was something wrong with me, and speaking with my psychiatrist did not help.

The summer passed, and I was not cutting as frequently as I had been before—it was more a habit than an actual desire to cut. I started sixth grade, and it was okay. It was the same as fifth grade with a new teacher and new lessons. One day, I was walking along the hallway, going to get my lunch, when I saw a girl shove another girl against our lockers. I quickly ran to interfere and pushed the girl off. I told her, ”Don't touch her. I don’t care what you do to me, but don't touch her.” The girl who had been pushed against the lockers ran away, and I was about to follow her when the other girl shoved me against the wall. “What are you doing?” I said, confused. She didn't respond and instead continued shoving me, kicking me, and punching me.

This continued for several months. She would trip me, hit me, punch me, and more. I did not want to hurt her the same way she had hurt me, so I just stood there.

While this was going on, I was still struggling with my identity. I managed to come out to my mom, who told my dad. They both believed that it was a phase, and overall were not very supportive, but my mother took me shopping one day to buy me "boy clothes."

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Sixth grade continued, the bullying continued, and life went on. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and I developed an eating disorder and minor ADHD. That summer, I was alone in my bathroom, and I used my nails to cut the backs of my hands. I still have those scars.

Seventh grade began, and everything was still pretty much the same. I stopped seeing my psychiatrist and instead began cognitive behavioral therapy. That didn't help either. I kept cutting and started punching myself all over my body, bruising my face. Throughout the year, I just studied and kept up my grades, not really caring about anything.

I found a place where I felt safe and at home—on a track.

On March 21, 2017, I went to my first outdoor track practice. I was scared and a little bit intimidated because the other athletes had been running all year, starting from cross country. However, I was surprised to find that I could keep up with them and their intense workouts. I joined the team and found something that I legitimately enjoyed in life. My cutting and bruising became less frequent and I devoted all of my time to training. I found a place where I felt safe and at home—on a track.

Over the next three months, I was constantly training and working out and running. I was improving and got the opportunity to run at the Junior Olympics. I forced myself to recover from my eating disorder, knowing that I had to nourish myself in order to run. However, nothing else really changed. I had thought that track was some miracle; I quickly realized that I had been foolish to think so. On the last day of seventh grade, I had plans to kill myself, except this time I wrote no notes, for I thought that no one would care.

I texted my friend from the track in fear, wanting at least one person to know how much I loved her before I was gone. I told her what I was going to do, and she freaked out. She begged me not to, but I told her that this was something I had to do. She told me to think about how amazing things would be when I pushed through this tough time; she told me how much she admired my dedication to track and how I would be such a great captain next year. She disappeared from our conversation for a few minutes, only to return with a list of one hundred reasons for me to stay alive, most of them regarding track. I thought of never being able to run on a track again, never being able to feel winded and accomplished at the same time. I took a deep breath and did not harm myself that night. 

Running saved my life.

Over the summer, I took some time to recover. I started finding joy in things and I started genuinely smiling and laughing. Because both of my parents attended Harvard and I have wanted to attend since I was five, my family and I took a trip to Cambridge, and I got the amazing opportunity to see a friend's dorm there and sneak into some economics classes (I want to major in econ in college).

I spend my time helping others who need it, and I promised myself never to let someone be in as much pain as I was.

Eighth grade began. Eighth grade is NOT the same as seventh grade, and school is fun. I am working toward my dream of being at Harvard. I stood up to my bully, and I now have a group of friends I’m close with. I have a girlfriend, or at least what thirteen-year-olds call a “girlfriend,” and I am continuing to see my therapist. I have not self-harmed since June. I am captain of the cross-country team and will be captain of the indoor and outdoor track teams as well. I spend my time helping others who need it, and I promised myself never to let someone be in as much pain as I was. I follow the Platinum Rule—treat others as THEY want to be treated.

Yesterday, I started and finished Option B, and this morning I began Lean In. I was extremely touched and inspired. I am motivated to build resilience and help others do the same.

A few weeks ago, I was quietly humming and singing to myself as I cooked dinner. My mother walked in, paused, and smiled. She whispered, “You're singing again.”

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