Courtney’s Ugly Duckling Story

she found life again - Ugly Duckling Story


Trigger warning: Eating disorders, purging, self-harm, drug abuse, suicide

I just want to start off by saying thank you to Ugly Ducklings Inc for giving me the opportunity to share my story with all of you. Through my crazy year and recovery I’ve learned so much from the words I’ve heard from others and I hope I can somehow impact one of you as well.

My name is Courtney Leigh, (I love my middle name way too much to just leave it out) and I was born in Moscow, Russia. When I was six months old, I was adopted and started my childhood adventures in Springfield, Illinois. I was truly the “little princess” of the household. I had two older brothers, and for three years it was just me. I had the childhood almost any kid could dream of.

I had parents who were well off, so anything I wanted I pretty much got at the drop of the hat. When I was three, I began ballet and had parents who supported me 100%. When I was four, my parents went back to Russia and adopted my baby sister. And even then with an extra little girl in the house, we always got what we wanted. My parents, my family, anyone who knew us instantly could realize we had the dream childhood.

When I was about five or six I began to be bullied. It was about weight, my hair, my chubby cheeks, I was tall, anything these kids could think of it was brought up. I never wanted to disappoint my parents and tell them about any negativity in my life so that’s when I started hiding things from them.

Courtney's ugly duckling storyI always thought if I never showed emotion I would never have to deal with anything. Really smart for a six year old in my opinion. I think when you are so small and you want to be accepted you will do what is necessary to convince yourself you fit in.

The more advanced in dance I got, the more self image and perfection took over my mind. I was eight and probably one of the most muscular girls of my age in the studio. So instantly that translated into “you are fat”. My costume sizes were getting bigger, my thighs were touching, and I was miserable. At nine years old I decided to stop eating. From such a young age I always saw food as such a negative thing. I did not see it as fuel or energy, but only as: ‘this is what makes you gain weight’. At this point, the bullying got to where I couldn’t go to school. I’d get so sick from starving and being so sad I couldn’t make myself go to school.

This pattern of no school, not eating, and being upset, continued into the sixth grade where it was brought up that I may in fact have an eating disorder. I was taken to a dietician once, and hated it. I pouted my way out of counseling. It got to a point of being so bad my parents switched me into the private school district in our town. Good idea right? Take the girl who’s been bullied for multiple years and move her into a school where her class size is only 20.

I ended up joining the cheer squad, (you’ll see how important this is later). Needless to say it was awful, I was bullied, I was starving myself, and then I picked up self harm and purging. I ended up telling the school I had mono for nine weeks while I stayed home because my malnutrition got to a bad enough point I couldn’t get off the couch. I couldn’t even walk up the stairs to my room. I somehow managed to pull myself together physically, and somehow made it out of there alive.

My freshman and sophomore year of high school I decided to try out for cheerleading, and I didn’t make it. I joined a competitive cheerleading squad and instantly fell in love with the sport, and I finally found somewhere I belong. Cheerleading was the one place I knew I could go and be happy. Then my junior year I somehow got the courage to once again try out for the school cheer squad and I made varsity. I also started drinking, smoking, my cutting got worse, and so did my eating disorder.

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How telling her Ugly Duckling Story changed her life

Beautifully made
We are still in awe with this beautiful post by Emily, whose Ugly Duckling Story we shared a couple of months ago. Here’s part 1 of Beautifully Made. Make sure you leave comments for her below!

Ever since I shared my story with Ugly Ducklings Inc, my perception on events have changed and many of them I saw mirrored in my daily life.

The idea of Beautifully Made came up about a year ago, but I really had no basis for it when I was still battling within myself. However, I decided to re-launch this cause recently because the timing was finally right.

After I finally got my story out there it has been easier to smile and I want others to be able to feel that joy as well. Recently I revisited my old church where many teenage girls were talking about their life problems and that is when I realized that maybe the deep scars only brought by those closest to you are not that uncommon.

There were a massive amount that were abandoned by their fathers or were abused and each of them seemed to be taking it out on themselves. Whether with cutting, an eating disorder, or drugs, they were experiencing shame and pain beyond measure because of what someone else had done to them.

What Beautifully Made was created for is a safe haven for these young ladies to share their stories and gradually come to the point of acceptance. Teaching them that what may have happened was never their fault and to try and teach them to love every part of themselves.

When someone has hurt you to the point of destroying a large part of you, there is a space of darkness that eats you alive.

Only when you accept what happened, forgive whoever had done it, and release that pain can you really go forward.

That is the objective that I am trying to accomplish with this growing group. No story is too deep and damaged that you cannot recover from it.

The core of what we stand for is within Psalm 139, it is a very good projection of what we will all try to understand about ourselves and the world around us.

Psalm 139

We are starting as a small group meeting at a friend’s house and a Facebook page, but I am hoping that we can make the idea spread.

This is not just a problem in the small state of North Carolina, it is worldwide. Even giving just the smallest bit of hope to those going down similar paths that we have previously walked through can mean all the difference.

Even if you are still recovering from old wounds you can help influence others for the better.

I guess I’m just trying to say that whatever you have been through or are going through, every piece of you is beautiful.

– Emily

Emily is 20 years old, and lives in North Carolina. For years she struggled with depression, an eating disorder, and self-harm.  About five years down the line she decided to share her story in the hopes of helping others with similar struggles.  After the idea came about, the rest is history.

Sherry’s Ugly Duckling Story

Why I'm an Ugly Duckling banner

March is here and it’s the time of the year to create awareness on self-harm and the effects it has on so many teenagers, young adults and people from all walks of life.

That’s why we wanted to post the story that we got from Sherry* almost a year ago. Don’t hesitate to leave a message for her after this post, as we’ll pass your comments on to her. Remember that you can also check our Resources page in case you or a friend of yours need any help.  

Trigger warning: self-harm

My father left me when I was a month old. He had a choice whether or not he wanted to see me and he chose not to. I always thought it was my fault.

The one person I always had sticking up for me was my Grandma. She always made me feel loved even if I was having a hard time with my mom. On the 9th of March, 2007, I was told that she had terminal cancer and that I wouldn’t have much time left with her.

I cried for about three days straight and then, being the little 7 year old I was, I promised that I would be strong for us both until we had to say goodbye so that I could spend time with her while I could. On 18th March, 2007, my Grandma passed away but I never got the chance. This is the reason why I haven’t cried in the last 6 years.

I started looking for my father but could never find him. When I was 9, two years after she died, I started self-harming because I felt like I couldn’t handle everything that was going on in my life.

In January 2011, I saw the promo for Once Upon a Time and the first thing that caught my eye wasn’t the magic or the happy endings. It was the fact that a little boy that was close to my own age could find a lost parent and be able to have her in his life somehow.

My love for this show also helped me believe that I should value who I am…

Emma Swan showed me that even the least expected person can help others and that, even though it is just a show, that I am not alone. I am not the only person that people who know me call me strong but wants to fall apart.

I still self-harm but not as much because this show helped me realise that I am not alone there are other people who have been in this situation that can help me.

This is why I’m an Ugly Duckling.


*Name changed per poster’s request.

Jenn’s Ugly Duckling story

The ducklings who struggled and the swan that survived
Trigger warning: self-harm, cutting, suicide, alcohol abuse

I honestly don’t know where to begin and I’m certain this is going to be long. I hope that’s all right.

First and foremost, my name is Jenn. As a kid and into my teens, I was always extremely introverted. Shy seemed to be my thing and I have no idea why, now, looking back. I never had trouble making friends. But my group of friends were always extremely small and tightknit.

And outside of school, I never spent time with anyone but my parents and my sister. I was just happier that way. Fortunately, I was never bullied in school. I don’t know if we just didn’t have a lot of that in the school I went to, or if I was just blissfully unaware because of the fact that I so often just kept to myself. If I had to guess, I’d have to go with the latter.

Throughout high school, instead of hanging out with my school friends, outside of school, I spent my afternoons, and nights, and weekends on the internet, in chat rooms, talking to people online. People I didn’t have to see. People I didn’t have to worry were judging me. My self-esteem pretty much sucked, even though I was never given a reason for it to.

I found a community of people and learned about fan fic and “shipping” and realized that there was this whole, seemingly, underground world that I felt like I just fit into without question. In my late teens, I made a friend who I am still friends with to this day. I can officially say that I have known her for over half my life. We’ve visited each other several times over the years and she has continuously been a person I could count on no matter what was going on in my life.

Jenn, ugly duckling story.I spent my last couple of years in high school and even after I graduated, I immersed myself in television shows like Buffy and Roswell. And at some point I even decided that I didn’t want to just read fan fic anymore. I wanted to write my own. I’m not quite sure I ever went through that ‘awkward teenage’ phase that so many teens seem to go through these days. I guess I was a late bloomer. It was during all of this, going into my early 20’s when I started to realize that I was more drawn to the females in these stories. In the TV shows that I was watching. And I began to see that there was a reason I never wanted a boyfriend and felt completely put off by the one that I dated in my late teens.

It was my friend who helped me realize that whatever was going on with me was okay. That no matter what, she supported me and loved me. And come to find out, I was lucky all the way around. I found myself occasionally making comments about girls here and there and I never had to officially ‘come out’ to my parents. Unfortunately not everyone is lucky and for that my heart truly aches.

But. Even with all the support, albeit silent, I still found myself struggling with day to day things. Like simply being happy. Through most of my 20’s I struggled with depression and the only time I ever felt okay was when I would dig into my shows and lose myself in this somewhat ‘underground’ world of fanfiction and fairytales. It was my way to hide. But it wasn’t a way to heal.

My little sister, four years younger than me, was a little bit more social than I was. We didn’t have a whole lot in common, but at the end of the day… she was my sister and my best friend, and I couldn’t tell you a time when we were *ever* at odds with each other.

We always had each others backs. Whether it was silently, or by spending time with each other. Our parents split up around when I was 21 and my sister, 16 going on 17. It was around that time I noticed that she had started to hide herself away like I had been doing all my life. I knew she was depressed. But so was I. Regardless… we battled it out together.

That’s what sisters are for, right?

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Let us be there for you

Ugly Ducklings help you. Resources

Hello Ugly Ducklings

These past few weeks I have been working on something very special for you. I would like to introduce to you, the Resource Page.

What is it you ask?

The Resource Page is designed to give you help, because let’s face it, sometimes we need someone else to give us a hand every once in a while. And that is okay.

Since The Ugly Ducklings can be there for you to support you and send you encouraging words and heartfelt advice, we wanted to add a page that had some professional resources for you to turn into, if you ever need them.

You will notice that it has all kinds of numbers and websites with information on things such as bullying, abuse, self-harm, and many more.

Perhaps you don’t need this (and that would mean a huge *phew* for us), but if someone you know is going through a tough time, then the Resource Page will assist them.

I know that it can be hard asking for help, but please be aware that The Ugly Ducklings are here if you need us. It’s never too late to turn around.

Please take a look at the contents of the page, and feel free to let us know if there are any more resources you would like us to add (especially if you are from a country other than Canada, the UK or the US).

Click here.


PS: Mariah is one of Ugly Ducklings Inc’s assistants, and is in charge of this page. If you need any extra help, or have questions, leave us a message. 

Sitting Ducks with Robyn Hussa Farrell

Interview with Robyn Hussa, Mental Fitness Inc
Erin and I recently had the opportunity to be sitting ducks with Robyn Hussa, the CEO and Founder of NORMAL Nonprofit.

We just love Robyn and as you may know, Ugly Ducklings Inc has supported NORMAL from our take-off and we are so thrilled to have gotten this time with her so everyone can learn more about what her organization does.

We started the interview the way any interview should start… getting to know Robyn with a little “Swans Revealed”! She told us about Audrey Hepburn and how she got inspired by her.

Robyn runs a multifaceted organization. In part 1 of our chat, you’ll find out how NORMAL got started, how we got to know about them (thanks to Meghan Ory’s contribution), and what types of things they are combating in American schools.

We know that many of our Ugly Ducklings and Swans struggle with issues like self-harm, eating disorders, and bullying at home and school. We asked Robyn a vital question: what are healthy coping mechanisms? She had some really helpful things to say!

Finally, Robyn answered some of YOUR questions, and there was a touching moment, after we asked Robyn how Ugly Ducklings could contribute. Plus, a bonus part where she explains all about how to get the script of NORMAL the musical.

– Marie and – Erin

new contest donation | Normal In Schools
Josh Dallas photographGOODY DRAW: Mental Fitness Inc. (formerly NORMAL) is committed to helping all the Ugly Ducklings out there become Swans, and are currently focused on developing the first ever Mental Fitness Institute in the US.

Being entered in this contest is simple: make a minimum donation of $5 to Mental Fitness Inc’s new Indiegogo campaign.

  • For every $5 you donate, your name will be entered in a draw for the Charmers pack or the Ugly Ducklings pack!

If you want to be entered, just email proof of your donation (forward us the confirmation email, or do a sceenshot) to