For my entire childhood I pretty much felt continually like I was a weirdo because that's how my schoolmates made me feel. I was singled out because I liked the color pink or because I cried when Kurt Cobain took his own life.
I wanted to fit in but I ended up being an outsider. When my mother collected me from school at the end of the day, I just kept quiet. I was too ashamed to tell her how I felt.
Many years have gone by and it took me a very long time to understand why this happened to me. I was an outgoing, innocent, sweet and intelligent young girl. I didn't harm or offend others. I was an excellent student. But gradually everything started to fall apart. My grades began to drop and calls from the school principal requesting that my parents meet with her/him to discuss my behavior became more frequent.
Bullying affects everyone differently. In my case, this feeling of social dislocation stayed with me for years. It was a source of immense anguish and sadness. No matter what I did, I felt like I was not good enough.
When I transitioned from high school to university at first it was great. People were more open-minded and were definitely more interesting for me. I tried hard to feel like a normal young adult, but again, my childhood demons followed me and I eventually dropped out.
I was severely depressed for a long time. I tried to fight the sadness with parties, men and alcohol. I went out every weekend, and spent them drinking until I lost consciousness. I turned into a party animal but I thought about suicide more times that I am comfortable to admit.
My inner fury and sadness had some perks though. They motivated me to write, read books and discover alternative music and movies from an unusually young age. But while I developed my intellect, my social skills were null.
And then I started traveling. Suddenly, people I met abroad were much more open to know me, and they were more welcoming and appreciative of my life experience and knowledge. My personality was an asset and not a crutch.
The funny thing, if there is anything funny in this story, is that now people point out how confident I am. The truth is that traveling made me a new person and indeed gave me a lot of confidence. For the first time, and 35 countries later, I feel good, I feel really good.
I've met so many amazing people and I've finally stopped thinking that all women are evil. When you've been bullied from a young age, you see things differently. I now understand why it happened to me and the answer is simple: for the same reason it happens to most kids who are bullied. We're all different and some of us, from a very early age, are naturally predisposed to swim against the current. I am different, but in a good way.
Traveling and meeting other travelers inspired me to go back to university and study what I always really loved: journalism. Traveling inspired me to write about my journeys. Those childhood scars may never fully heal but now I feel like a have a purpose and that is to inspire others to leave their comfort zones and safe spaces and go and see the world. Now I am confident enough to talk about my experience with bullying. Finally.
Traveling literally saved my life.
Follow Fran Opazo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lavidanomade
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.