"I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me That Even Though I Have Differences And A Disability, That I Was Perfect Just The Way I Was"

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A Conversation with Actress and Activist Hayley Gripp

I had the pleasure to interview Hayley Gripp. Haley is an American actress, humanitarian and internationally published writer. In 2013, Gripp made her debut in the entertainment industry as a print model; To this day, continuing to land national ads for brands such as "Verizon Wireless", "Murad Skincare”, “TOF Cosmetics”, “Disney" “Air B N B”, “Radisson Hotels”, "As Seen On TV” etc. As an actress, Hayley has shot multiple commercials, has been a celebrity taste tester on Cupcake Wars, landed prominent roles on: "CSI: Las Vegas", a reoccurring role on the Lifetime original series "Killer Kids", a role in the Lionsgate feature film "The Vatican Tapes” and is currently filming the sitcom “The Ginger Girls". A big advocate for anti-bullying and education, Gripp played a prominent role in getting the anti-bullying law “The IDEA Act” passed and has spoken to over 200k across the country on the bullying epidemic. Gripp was born with Tourette Syndrome and severe ADHD, and has been vocal about the challenges those disabilities have had on her life. In 2017, Gripp launched her lifestyle blog and quickly gained status as an influencer who spreads positivity. In the past few months Gripp has landed paid influencer sponsorships with multiple household named companies. Just this year, in between acting, Gripp took on a major role in marketing in The Jonathan Foundation. The Jonathan Foundations advocates for children with disabilities. She is currently enrolled in a prestigious advocacy training program through COPAA, and hopes to be a voice for the voiceless children lost in the education system.

What is your backstory?

Hello, My name is Hayley Gripp. As you read this story, you may think.. How has this girl been through so much in life, and how is she so happy? The answer is simple.. I choose happiness. I was born with something called Tourette Syndrome, but didn’t show signs until age eight. Although I was showing signs, I was not diagnosed until age ten. Tourette Syndrome is a bio-neurological brain disorder that causes your body to make uncontrollable movements and sounds called “tics”. It is embarrassing, uncomfortable and interferes with every day life. Along with Tourette syndrome, I was diagnosed with ADHD, Depression and learning differences. At the time, I didn’t realize that my biggest challenge in life would come two years later. A challenge that would help shape me into the person I am today. At twelve years old I walked into a new school.. excited for a fresh start. The first thing I did was tell the class I had Tourette Syndrome. My teacher kept me up in front of the class and said to be “careful” being my friend because of my disability… She singled me out for my Tourette syndrome, and told the class I was a disabled student. She brought me up in front of the class every following day for two years, asking the students what I forgot that day.. or about my tics. She also tried to fail me academically, because I didn’t bring an extra copy of something. I had never been bullied by a teacher. I didn’t know how to react, so I put up a wall to protect myself from the pain. I still wonder at how I got through middle school and actually passed.When I began high school I was finally given an IEP, a learning specialist and accommodations that helped me to become a successful student. My teachers were so supportive, and I was finally in a great school. I’m not going to lie when I say the first six months of the new school were rough. I was still dealing with the trauma from my middle school teacher. After the first six months of high school, I started to perform better academically. Although my grades were good and I was thriving at my school work, in my junior year of high school, I couldn’t understand why I was unhappy in life. I couldn’t make friends due to the wall I put up, and my tics on Tourette’s was still severe. After meditation and a lot of deep thought, I realized I held a grudge against my peers and teacher. The anger was eating me up inside.. Slowly turning me into an emotionally absent rock. On paper I was a success story, but in real life I was lost in a world of hate. At that moment I decided to forgive my tormentors. My mother asked if I wanted to press charges against the teacher.. but I chose to end the cycle of hate and fight back positively. I aligned myself with the Tourette Association of America and trained as a youth ambassador. I spent a week training in Washington DC. Through the Tourette Association of America, I was given the tools and training to lobby with my senators and get the IDEA act passed. This Act prevents any teacher from bullying or abusing a student with disabilities. I wanted to protect others in my situation, as there were no laws to protect me. For the next year I went around to schools and educated others on Tourette Syndrome. I had begun to open up and make friends, and after letting go of the anger and negativity, my Tics on Tourette’s had decreased by 65 percent. Finally, everything was falling into place. When I was seventeen and a half.. my world was shaken once again. My father died very suddenly. At this point in my life, I could drown in my sorrows or rise above and look at every blessing I had. I chose the latter. Choosing and doing are two completely different things though. Six months later I had a full ride to a private university for theatre and writing. Unfortunately, because of my success in the latter years of high school, and the fact that the last year of high school many of my accommodations were no longer in my IEP, I was not given accommodations to help me become a successful student. I also dealt with another difficult teacher who did not accept having a student with disabilities.. and turned my desk into a prison cell. After a year (and yes I did pass my classes with good grades), My dads last words to me rang in my head. They were: “Hayley you need to stop doing everything for everyone else and go after your own dreams.” I left college and became a nanny for a year and a half.. working on bettering myself as a human being.. and figuring out what I wanted in life. I don’t recommend this path for everyone, and am still a huge advocate for education. So please don’t take me dropping out of college, as words of encouragement! Every person is different. After that year and a half, and right before my twentieth birthday, I Pursued a childhood dream of acting. Soon I had booked roles on CSI, Lifetime, Hallmark and multiple commercials. I found success very fast, but not happiness. I wanted to spread awareness about antibullying, and show others with disabilities that they could follow their dreams as well. In may 2014 when I was twenty one, I was hit by a driver driving 65 miles per hour who ran a stop sign. This triggered my Tourette’s to be worse than ever before, caused post traumatic stress disorder and had me in doctors for nine and a half months. Yet, at the hospital with injuries.. I had nothing my forgiveness for the woman who hit me. I choose to live a positive life.. everything happens for a reason. I try to learn from every experience.. the good and the bad. After a year of recovery i was ready to very get back to acting. Unfortunately, the day before i was do back on set, I was attacked. I was attacked by someone I knew.. a friend of the family. In ten minutes, everything I had ever worked for was stripped from me. He took my confidence, and made me feel ashamed of myself. In all honesty, if I could go back and tell myself to not believe my attacker, and to open up to my family right away.. I wouldn’t have as many trust issues and still battle to this day with self worth. Three months after the attack, I did tell my family. I refused to press charges, and only wanted an apology. Unfortunately, after my older brother confronted my attacker, nothing happened. I did not get the closure i so badly desired.. and my heart was filled with pain and anger. The surprising thing is that is wasn’t so much at the attacker, but at myself. Since the attacker stripped me of my confidence, I could no longer walk into a room and audition. Prior to the attack, I would walk into a room and have no problem booking. With this realization, I decided to take another break from acting and utilize a skill with writing, content creating and pr. I worked for a pr firm for six months.. and soon began running it. After six months, I moved to New York City and became the youngest head of branding and marketing for an organic cosmetic company.. than nine months later when my project was complete, I worked with the first ever sustainable non profit in La. After four months and completing a project, I moved to Minnesota and worked as a personal chef and worked with Hope 4 Youth homeless teen center. Minnesota was a place of peace where I reflected on everything that happened in my life. At this time I also realized that I am the person I am today due to the amazing support I had from friends and family. In Minnesota I once again learned to love myself, and regained my confidence and self esteem. I can’t change my past, but I could shape my future and choose how my past affects me. After living in New York and Minnesota, I came back to California in September 2016. Although my true love is helping others. Upon my return, I worked as an in home nurses aid for nine months. I put my dreams aside to help a woman struggling with a fatal neurological disorder. At first I thought it was an incredible job.. But do to my kindness, people take advantage of me. After experiencing extreme verbal abuse, I gained the confidence to quit. This was momentous to me, as I am not a fan of confrontation, and not always the best as standing up for myself. To this day, I enjoy working on my lifestyle blog, traveling across the country to raise awareness about the bullying epidemic and was named the director of marketing for a small non-profit called The Jonathan Foundation -which advocates for children with disabilities. In the next few weeks I begin an intensive year long training through COPAA to be trained as a certified advocate. This will allow me to advocate directly with the children in IEP meetings. Oh and last but not least, I am slowly getting back to acting and just filmed a commercial! I take it one day at a time. My true love is an always will be giving back and I plan to keep my main focus on that. For the first time in a long time I will say that I am truly happy. Happiness is a choice. And I chose to be happy. I used to hide in the dark, but today.. I walk in the light. Life is worth living. Every person is valued and appreciated. Every flaw and imperfection is perfect in its own way. Whether you have a learning disability, a learning difference or are just facing adversity.. You don’t need to change for anyone else. No matter what adversity you face, YOU CAN do anything. I’m living prove of that.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

Well I am the type of person where everything and anything random and hilarious happens to me. A funny thing that recently happened was that I was working on an article about the dating app “BUMBLE”. I had to go in the field and on two dates so I could truly understand. Both dates were set up one night after the other and both seemed like successful put together men. The first night one of the guys brought a friend and my actual date ignored me. I ended up leaving early when his friend began to pet me like a cat and put dead flowers in my purse. The second date told me when we met that he had two lap dogs he pushed in a stroller.. Oh and stated that every morning he rinsed out their lady bits so they don’t get UTI infections. I gulped my drink and left. Field work is always super interesting!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Are you working with any meaningful non-profits?

As of 2017 I have begun to brand myself as a positive influencer. That way I can do my advocacy work, marketing and acting and have it all under one criteria. I have used instagram as a platform to empower others and spread positivity. With each post I say something meaningful, uplifting or empowering. I also try to answer as many DM’s a day as possible. I encourage people all over the world to follow their dreams, and often times give advice to people who are bullied. In 2017 I was named Director of Marketing for The Jonathan Foundation. The Jonathan Foundation www.thejonathanfoundation.org is a non-profit that advocates for children with disabilities. This non-profit is so important because they help parents receive the therapies, accommodations and basic rights for their children with disabilities. Many parents are not aware of the laws that protect them and their children. The process to fight for your child is also very expensive, so we help with the financial burden as well. In less than two weeks I will begin SEAT (special education advocate training) training for COPAA.. Essentially it is a year long course taught by attorneys and will enable me to be able to advocate for children directly, not just do the marketing for the foundation. I also work closely with the Tourette Association America www.tourette.org, which trained me as a youth ambassador. I give speeches to schools, rotary clubs and doctors and educate on what Tourette Syndrome is, and proper intervention. Lastly, I travel around the country and give anti-bullying speeches.. sharing my story. I also support a smaller charity that gives scholarships to children with Tourette Syndrome, www.scholasticsupport.org. I am affiliated with many anti-bullying organizations that support me including www.saynobullying.org, www.stopbullyingnowfoundation.org, www.kindnessu.com and www.thestopbullyingproject.com! Anti-bullying advocacy is something I hold very close to my heart.. as I have been bullied throughout my life.

Wow can you tell me about a person who was impacted by your cause?

Yes, a few years back I mentored a little boy with Tourettes and autism. We were connected through a mutual pediatrician. I educated his family and gave them hope. At the time, they were still unsure of everything. But the amazing thing is that a while after helping their family, the parents started the non-profit www.scholasticsupport.org (a non-profit that gives scholarships to kids with Tourette), the family is heavily involved with the Tourette Association America and they are the first ones at all of the fundraisers. It’s amazing to see that my encouragement and proof that there is hope.. helped to turn these parents into incredible advocates for their child. With The Jonathan Foundation www.thejonathanfoundation.org, we see success stories every day. It would surprise you how much of a difference it makes to get children the proper therapies and accommodations they deserve. I myself am excited to get trained by COPAA to become an advocate and start making an even bigger difference in children’s lives.

What are my five things i wish someone told me when i first started and why?

  1. As I grew up, I dealt with self esteem issues and thought that I was inadequate because I was different. My family loved me, but it was still difficult. As the symptoms of my disability got better, we kind of just didn’t talk about it.
  2. I wish someone would have told me at 24 years old, not only would I know true happiness, but I would also have tons of supportive and loving friends around me. So far, 24 has had it’s struggles.. But I have never been happier. From my Tourette showing up at age 8, until my Tourette getting better at age 16, I had very few friends and was not always happy. I know for a while I only had one or two friends. People were afraid of different, and didn’t want to associate with someone considered “weird”. It was definitely difficult.
  3. I wish someone would have told me to let go, to take more chances and to live life to the fullest. Growing up, I was always very cautious. This was probably due to to not wanting to upset others or give them any reason to judge me. With a disability I was always judged. To this day, I love traveling, trying new foods and having new experiences. Recently I tried an escape room with a friend and it was an absolutely amazing experience. A friend helped me to get out of my comfort zone, and I am so so glad I tried it!
  4. I wish someone would have told me that I had so many struggles in life because I was meant to help others. I may not have liked it, but it may have made the struggles easier. I went through severe Tourette -not having control of my body… AND being bullied for something I couldn’t help. I’ve also had to deal with the greif of my fathers passing, a severe car accident and many other things. But at the end of the day I still choose to see the good in the world. I believe everything happens for a reason and I can take something and learn from my experiences.
  5. I wish someone told me to STOP trying to always be perfect. To this day it’s a constant battle. Growing up and feeling inadequate, I now go above and beyond in everything I do. I beat myself up if I think someone is upset with me. The worst feeling for myself is thinking someone is angry or I did something wrong. I remind myself every day that I am only human, and its ok to not always be 100%. The people who care about me will still love me like i’m at my best even when i’m at my worst!

Is there a person in the world who you would love to have a private breakfast with? Why?

I have always been a HUGE fan of Kate Winslet. She is beautiful inside and out. I remember first seeing her in Titanic when I was 6 years old. I said to my mom, “Mom, she has red hair just like me. I’m going to grow up and be on the screen like her”. I admire Kate Winslet for a few reasons. The first is that she is probably th sonly person who will openly admit she likes boots as much as I do. Yes, its comforting to feel so grounded. Another is that she doesn’t conform to what society demands. She marches to her own beat, whether it be being a leading lady who isn’t a size 2 or 4 (I have a somewhat similar body type), When I saw “The Reader” I was speechless and had to watch it three times. Her performance was nothing short of brilliant. I also love the Kate supports Cardboard Citizens.. a theatre company for homeless people. Theatre is so therapeutic and everyone deserves to practice the arts. I also love that she founded The Golden Heart Foundation after working on a documentary about parenting and autism. I am a huge supporter of charities that support children with disabilities AND charities that educate parents on better parenting. A dream would be to have a cup of tea with Kate, for she is someone I always looked up to.