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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The moment after a loved one commits suicide

how to deal with the first moments after a family member commits suicide
Trigger warning: suicide

What happens at second 41?

If every 40 seconds one person takes their own life, who picks up the pieces at second 41? How to react the exact moment after this happens?

So here’s the thing. Sunday, the morning of August 31st 2014, I woke up with a lot of things on my mind.  First and foremost was the fact that it was my little sister Nicole’s birthday.  Six and a half years ago, on February 12th, 2008, she took her own life at just 23 years old. And there are so many things I could say.

  • She was too young
  • She had her whole life ahead of her
  • She didn’t know what she’d be missing
  • She had to have known how much everyone loved her
  • She surely knew how her family would feel if she was gone

The thing is… when Nicole decided to take her life, she wasn’t thinking about her age. She took her life because she felt she didn’t have her whole life ahead of her. She couldn’t picture the future long enough to realize that she was going to miss out on some of the most fun and best times ever. She had no idea how much she was truly loved. And most importantly, she wasn’t thinking about anyone but herself when she made the decision to end it all.

Suicide is NOT selfish

When I hear talk about suicide, one of the most common things people tend to discuss is strictly their personal opinions on how they feel about suicide. Too often, those affected by suicide aren’t in the right frame of mind to decide to get involved and take an active stance against it. This is where one of my many points comes into play.

Definition of selfish. Is suicide selfish?When you ask someone their opinion on suicide, I feel pretty comfortable saying that I bet they’ll tell you they think suicide is selfish. But is suicide actually selfish? Just look at the definition.

When you first start reading it, you might think “Yeah, actually it is.”  But then you keep going and you ask yourself “Personal profit?”  And then we have the words egocentric, egotistic, egomaniacal. Do any of those words sound like they describe someone who’s about to take their own life?  I honestly don’t think so.

  • Desperation
  • Despair
  • Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Fear

I could go on and on, but those are a handful of words that I would associate with the act of suicide. Having been through the things I’ve been through, I doubt “selfish” is a word I will ever associate with it. I used the word in my video, but in relation to those of us who are trying to prevent it.

It hurts

I remember that night Nicole called me. I couldn’t understand a thing she was saying. All I was getting was screaming and crying, and words here and there that sounded like “it hurts” and “want to die” and more screaming and crying.

She had tried to cut her wrist open. When we took her to the hospital, there’s only one distinct conversation I remember having with her. They were stitching up her wrist and while I held her other hand we had a little talk. I told her I loved her, that I was there for her.

Jenn and Nicole. SistersI held her hand while she cried and told me how much it hurt. But she wasn’t talking about her wrist. She was talking about her heart. And her mind. She was telling me how much it hurt to be alive. In that brief moment, I made a decision that some days, I find myself questioning and regretting.  I said: “It’s a selfish thing to ask… but please don’t go.  It’s selfish of me to want you to stay. But please stay”. But then I said: “It’s okay. If the pain is too much and you can’t hold on… it’s okay if you have to go. I love you. I would miss you. But I will never be selfish enough to ask you to stay in a place where you feel like you don’t belong.”

My therapist told me that I did an amazing thing, because I gave her the freedom to choose, and that it took courage to do it. Some days, I question my decision, and in the end it doesn’t make suicide okay.

So what do you do at second 41?

Just as it goes with any death. With any loss. The number one feeling is grief. But with suicide, the rolling wave of emotions a survivor feels is endless.

It’s different for every single person. There are those who feel like they failed the person who took their own life. And then there are those who feel like failures.

You find yourself constantly lost in thought and the number one thing on everyone’s mind is “What did I miss? What could I have done differently?”

The truth of the matter is that there’s nothing you can do differently. There’s nothing more you can do except to let them know how much you care. How much they mean to you. How much the entire world will lose, if they’re gone.

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you can’t convince them they have a reason to stay.

It’s not because they aren’t strong enough.
It’s not because they’re selfish.
It’s simply because the pain is too great.

At second 41, all you can feel is confusion. Second 42… panic. Second 43… denial. Second 44… pain.

And every second that ticks by, a new emotion will take you over, right down to your soul.  But when it’s all said and done and the realization sets in, try to remember what the person would want you to do.

They’ll want you to pick up the pieces and try to understand they didn’t mean to hurt you. They just didn’t know how else to make their own pain go away. So, you see? Suicide isn’t about being selfish. It’s not about hurting others or thinking about one’s self. It’s about freedom of choice and the need to make the pain go away.

September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. If you think someone you know/love is considering suicide, let them know they have choices. Let them know they are free to choose. But also make sure (VERY sure) you let them know they will never be alone. Let them know how much you care. You CAN save a life. Let them know you’re there for them and how much they matter.

Hopefully, you’ll never have to stand on the side of second 41.

- Jenn
(Ugly Ducklings Inc team member, and author of this Ugly Duckling Story)

She Misses Her Sister, And Wants You To Know Something

“There’s so many things, that my little sister has missed. So many things that she’s not been a part of…”

It’s September 7th, and although we kinda hate that there even is a week for suicide prevention, we are here to make our part in telling all those who still don’t see how serious this topic is, that it is happening. It is happening so often that it is scary. I didn’t really know this until I saw the video.

This is Jenn. She lost her little sister seven years ago after she decided to take her own life. Their relationship was truly special, and now that September 10th is upon us, she wants you to know something.

40 seconds were never so relevant, until now…

PS: Don’t ever hesitate to reach others if you need to. Ugly Ducklings Inc is a community of people who can offer support and encouragement. We are not professionals, but you can check our resources page to contact helplines. Try to find counsellors near you, or close friends and family who care. There will always be someone out there for you. 

If You Had The Chance To Change Your Life Right Now, Would You Do It?

If You Had The Chance To Change Your Life Right Now, Would You Do It? She Did

At the beginning of this year, I decided that it was time to make a change in my life. I didn’t like where I was or who I was becoming; I really needed a life change. One thing I decided I needed to do was take control of my health and fitness.

whole life challenge, colouring contest

Colouring Contest for “FIT”

I have this inspiring sister who is incredibly gifted when it comes to helping people with their health and fitness, but she never pushes herself and her ideals on anyone – and that usually means people ask her when they are “ready”. I was ready. And so it started.

That was in February. You may have noticed that I dropped off the planet a bit then –sometimes that is what it takes to really get things under control. It means managing your time differently. For me, it meant not putting health and fitness last, in the “I don’t have time” category. It meant gradually moving it higher up on the list until everything else could work around it, rather than it being fit in where it really didn’t fit.

I even used this idea for a “colouring contest” at a gym-opening I was at. They asked participants to draw a picture of what “fit” meant to us (shout out to FIT by Fun Fitness Fast – amazing place to go in the Burlington, ON area!).

So everything was going great on this front… and around rolls April. I had heard about the Whole Life Challenge in February from my friend Heather. In March during a discussion about health and fitness, she recommended I might want to try it out the next time… in April, her Facebook page began piling with information and promos about the Whole Life Challenge that was about to start in May. I signed up immediately, recruiting my sister and one of her besties to join me. After interviewing Heather for Ugly Ducklings in April, our very own Jenn also joined the team.

The challenge changed my life.

Sisterly texts... Day 1

Sisterly texts… Day 1

And, besides that, it was a lot of fun! I gained valuable information, education, and insight, self-esteem, and confidence.  I was able to let go of a lot of the notions I had in my head about what health and fitness “looked like” and for the first time in forever, I felt like I was in control of my life and my health.

Anyone who wants to make a healthy change in their life, for whatever reason, I highly recommend you grab a friend who lives close by and join the WLC (even a long-distance friend can be a total game-changer, I’ve learned). ANYONE can do this challenge, regardless of your current health and fitness level – it just requires you to be mindful and accountable for the choices you make. There aren’t any crazy workouts or fitness regimes – it is about making health and fitness work for you. 

The first thing I will say about the challenge is that Undisputed Fitness (the community we joined for the WLC) really knows how to build a tribe. There was so much support in their Facebook group and on the website –everyone on their team genuinely wants everyone else to succeed; they offer advice, recipes, encouragement and answers to the questions everyone has. It was such an honour to be a part of such an incredibly strong and gifted group of people.

I cannot thank Heather enough for all the love and support she gave me during this challenge (and just in general!), the conversation I had with coach Lorenzo just before the challenge ended was a HUGE game-changer and Nate was a fantastic team captain and creates the best Facebook memes.

This entire team is so badass.

whole life challenge - making almond milkI also learned so much about myself and my environment. I learned to be conscientious of what I am putting in my mouth.

I haven’t stuck to the “compliant nutrition” since the challenge ended – but I am way more educated now about the foods I am eating, what is in them and how they make me feel. You think almond milk that you buy at the store is a godsend?

Read the ingredients – you can’t even say half of them. I made my own!
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Shannon’s Ugly Duckling Story

Ugly Duckling's Story - Shannon

My Name is Shannon. I am a daughter, sister, wife, and mother. I am outgoing, loving, loud, and stubborn.

I am all of these things but I am also a Survivor.

When I was 23 years old, I met the man who would be my partner in life and my soul mate, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Things could not be any better!

Then, during my annual women exam, my doctor was concerned with the pain I had been experiencing, and ordered a CT scan and ultrasound. That was when they found the tumor. While scared, I knew that my mom had had some cysts and things so I assumed I had them too. A few days after having the growth biopsied, the doctor called me with the news.

- “I’m sorry Shannon….but it’s cancer…”

Wait WHAT?! No.. this wasn’t right! I just found the love of my life; my life was on the right track for once! Since the cancer had already progressed pretty significantly, I really didn’t have too many options.

Shannon's Ugly Duckling StoryI had surgery to remove the tumor, but they had to remove a large portion of one of my ovaries and fallopian tubes. I then proceeded to have radiation therapy because in my young mind nothing would be worse than to lose my hair. I also chose not to have a full hysterectomy. At the time it seemed like a rather stupid choice, however later it would prove to be the best thing I could have done. The next 8 weeks really went by like a blur: a whirlwind of cancer treatments, doctors’ appointments, working a full time retail job and at the same time trying to maintain the relationships I had built.

Fast forward to 2012

I had been happily married for 8 years, and after 3 years of infertility issues and being told I would never carry a child, we were blessed with a beautiful little boy who had just turned 2. I had renewed my faith and trust in the Lord and felt life could not be any better!

I had done it! I had beat cancer, defied the odds and had a baby, I had a wonderful new career and my marriage was truly a happily ever after with my prince charming.

In August of 2012, I went for my women exam like I do every year and told my doctor I had some tenderness, as well as other symptoms. Concerned, my doctor ordered a full range of tests just to be safe. I went home that day sort of on pins and needles, however trusting in God to see me through.

The next week we took our son for his 2 year checkup, and that’s when our world started to change. After talking to our son’s doctor, he confirmed our fears for our little man: that his delays were not just that he was a late bloomer, but that he might be autistic.

For a while I felt so angry. How could God do this to us? Was he punishing me for all the bad things I had done? Then, I realized that he had done nothing to us, he only gave me my heart’s desire to be a mother in the form of a sweet little boy whose brain worked a little different than everyone else’s. It was this special little boy who would give me strength in the darkest hours to come.

The next day my test results returned. Again, I received the worst phone call a person can get from their doctor.

- “I am so sorry Shannon, but the cancer is back…”

My journey to remission has taught me so many things about myselfI was stunned and dazed. WHY? I did not spend a lot of time trying to figure it all out or process, it was just too much. I just gave it all to God and hit the ground running. I made an appointment with an oncologist for later that same week.

Since there was no tumor this time and only cells, we were able to just do Radiation treatment for 6 weeks. While exhausted I was still able to work. I successfully completed my 6 weeks and things were looking good. I even took a trip to Jamaica to celebrate!

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Ugly Ducklings from Netherlands, Switzerland, and Argentina together

Ugly Ducklings Inc members get together

There are people who are very skeptical when it comes to cyber friends and meeting people you’ve only talked to via a computer screen.

Well, The Ugly Ducklings are an exception…

This past summer, Maaike, Maressa, and Marie had the incredible opportunity to meet each other, defying long distances (in the case of Argentina, especially), and other tiny obstacles. Below you’ll read the three diaries of these three duckies who got this great chance to meet.

Maaike story, summer with ugly ducklings

Having some of my best friends living abroad is a unique experience to say the least. Everything feels exactly the same as with friends living close to you, except for the *bloody* concept of distance (who came up with that anyway?).

You cannot just ring your friends on the other side of the world to ask if they feel like going out or to meet up. Conversations are only possible via text messaging applications or social media, and face to face contact is limited to online video chats. It’s weird feeling so close somehow, but so far away at the same time.

But sometimes… sometimes luck is at your side.

That moment when all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, and you can actually be together with friends you love so very much. It happened to me this summer when I was the most fortunate girl in the world to be able to spend some time with my dear friends Maressa and Marie (a.k.a. Sisters from other Misters).

Last summer, Maressa and I were on a road trip for a week in her home country Switzerland (and we also shared our experience with The Ugly Ducklings here!)

Right away we agreed that we would meet up again next summer too, regardless of where that would be. Well, since Maressa never visited my home country, the Netherlands, we agreed that she would visit me this summer. We planned some day trips and even visited my second home, London, where I used to live in 2012. It was once again an amazing experience that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss for the world.

meeting ugly ducklings from other places

With our Ugly Ducklings t-shirts!

Then there’s this other peculiar case of faith I need to tell you about. Our dear Colombian friend living in Argentina (still following?), Marie, happened to attend a wedding in Rome in July… at the exact time Maressa was in the Netherlands. Everyone can do the math, right?

Exactly! Marie also took a flight to the Netherlands. I’ll spare you the details, but the journey to Europe entailed a lot of work and stress for her. But finally, she made it and the three of us were reunited.

I really have to say, it felt so natural to have these girls with me. So perfectly normal. Like we’re not living 450 and 7107 miles (!) apart, but just next door to each other. I was then also extremely sad to see them leave.

I had an amazing time with my Sisters and loved to show them my homeland. Also looking through their eyes at my own country and its culture taught me so much. It’s good to reflect upon these things from time to time and to open your eyes to your own country’s beauty and its unique aspects.

Friends enrich your life and having friends living so far away makes you appreciate that fact even more.

Maressa and Marie, I felt extremely privileged to be able to show you my country and to have you around me. Het was gezellig! Love you girls to the moon and back!

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How telling her Ugly Duckling Story changed her life – Part Two

Telling her Ugly Duckling Story changed her life

Wait for just a single sec! Before you read Part Two of Emily’s story, head here

The first meeting of Beautifully Made was eye opening in its own way and not in the way that I had initially expected. The young ladies who attended were those that I knew back in my high school days and had not talked to in over two years.

Actually, the last time I remember genuinely having a conversation with them was at a funeral for someone we all knew either from church or school. After the death everyone fell apart, whatever problems we each had were pushed to the forefront and we just spaced apart.

Incidentally, this is what we talked the most about because many of them had pinpointed the death to the most difficult moment of whatever addictions and demons they had.

This seemed to bring out a lot of confessions that at the time they would never confess to. All of them were “recovered,” but they never would tell others because of shame, and the fear of being thought of as “crazy.” None of us agree with the term “recovered” because there is no end to recovery.

There are good days and bad days, but the point is this mere fact is why we all needed to be a part of this support group.

It’s the fear of judgement

We all need a safe place where we are not called “crazy,” but can identify pieces of ourselves within one another. What keeps the majority of people from talking about hard moments in their lives is the fear of the judgment and the cruel words that always seems to follow that judgment.

Let go of fearEven when people receive the treatment that they need, words still hurt; we just learn better ways to cope with the pain we feel. This became extremely apparent to me the next morning when I was talking to a woman that I often see at the gym I attend.

She had overheard me invite her daughter to the meeting and she approached me the next day to confess that she used to have an eating disorder and she is still having a lot of difficulty with her addiction.

She was afraid to come to the meeting because of her fear of others knowing she had a few problems.

My eyes are now open to how common such fear is and what actions need to be taken.

Those with any kind of addiction or emotional problems should not be looked down on in shame just because others do not understand the battles they have had to face. There is a certain level of ignorance that is still held by many in the world today concerning psychological issues, and all things related with how the mind works differently for different people.

Anyone struggling with a mental health issue should be able to reach out freely without concerns of stigmatization.

I will be the first to admit that sometimes I do not know how to solve this problem, but maybe, just maybe this could be the very first step to making it happen.

- 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.

Rest in Peace Robin Williams

Robin Williams was the voice of the Genie. Try to fight depression

Don’t you feel like you just lost a long-life friend?

Someone who taught you how to laugh, how to cry? How to laugh and cry at the same time?

Robin Williams passed away yesterday, August 11th, and according to media reports, he had been fighting some depression demons for a long time.

You think that people who are always doing funny things and making people laugh are just showing the rest of the world what they are experiencing inside… well, sometimes it’s just their own way to cope with the problems and aches they have inside.

Don’t ever hesitate to reach out if you feel depressed

“I’m sad”. We all go through moments when we cannot deal with our inner feelings and we look for ways to escape. Perhaps we can’t seem to see an exit door. Here, at Ugly Ducklings Inc, we have been fortunate enough to create a supportive community, where people in need might come to us and ask for advice. At the same time, we have some amazing group of people who are willing to say some words of encouragement at the moment they most need it.

After the sad news of Robin Williams’ passing, and how everyone has felt touched by his leaving us, it is very important that we reinstate, and encourage you to look for someone who can help you, as there will always be someone willing to be there for you. As Sky Williams said in his video “A message to the Depressed”, always try to look for someone who is near you, a friend, a therapist, a relative. If not, you can try the different hotlines available.

We have a list of resources that you can turn to if you need to. Just click here.

And to all those who have been in close contact with depression, either because of a friend, a relative, or because you yourself are suffering, this message is for you…

“I’d like to live in a world where happiness is as easy as buying a soda in a vending machine. But it’s harder than that.”

Special thanks to The Telegraph and MindFullUK for sharing this beautiful video.

I feel empty and alone

I feel empty and alone

Hello ducklings!

I have a problem that has been bothering me for quite a while.

I turned to a member of the Ugly Ducklings team and I got the idea of ​​publishing my problem here, since you are all amazing and you can probably help me.

A while ago I realized that I felt “empty” and alone, and I was filling my life with activities and hobbies that I did not necessarily want to do. But anyway I gave them a try. However, I realized it wasn’t really something I liked and I quit.

Since then I’ve been trying to find myself again.


But it is very difficult because that’s something I must do alone I think. So I started to engage in new activities that I like, in order to find where I want to go in life.

It went well, but when I’m home alone or at work where there is no people who are talking to me constantly I start feeling very apprehensive and nervous.

I’m worried, because I can’t focus and I keep thinking that time passes very slowly, and that makes me feel like I want to run away. When I’m alone in my house it’s not as drastic as when I’m at work, but still, I have days when I think about whether I’m doing things right or not.

Anxiety comes to me like a storm, so I end up eating a lot of sweets. The last time I did that was two days ago. I’m triying to stay calm and think positively and I would really love it if you guys could help me with any kind of advice or encouraging words.

Thanks in advance!

- Ariel*

Ariel is a fellow ugly duckling who has been part of the community for around a year. She is 19 years old, and she wrote an Ugly Duckling Story that we posted a few months ago.

If you have any words of advice please add them as a comment below. Thank you. We will make sure she reads them.

Public shaming because of something you’re eating!?

Public shaming for eating food

Your body. How conscious are you of it? Of the way you look? Of the way people might see you?

It’s the society, really, and I think that media has a huge influence in this too. The constant input of photos, TV shows, and films showing slim figures and girls who might not seem from this world (and some are really not, as they are significantly modified thanks to graphic editor programs) make you think twice about your figure.

But then there’s other girls -and boys too, don’t forget boys- who don’t feel like they have to subscribe to this image of what a “perfect body” is, and they feel perfectly fine with their current weight.

And what if you are eating something while walking to work? Or perhaps indulging in a scrumptious cupcake that you promised yourself as a reward if you finished your paper on time?

What if someone stopped you or caught your attention while you’re in the bus, nibbling on a yummy snack, just to make you feel bad about what you’re eating? That’s one kind of street harassment no one talks about these days. 

That’s the reason why we wanted to share this with you. No one has a right to criticize you or make fun of you because of what you’re eating in public. Don’t let them get you. Click here to watch this interesting discussion on the subject.

How would you respond to someone who mocks you because of your figure or what you’re eating? Tell us in the comments.