In Summer’s own words:
Peyton Heart Project Ambassador Essay: By Summer Thornton
“In grade school and middle school, I was bullied because of my weight. I never really paid too much attention to it, but I developed a habit of not talking to a lot of people, so I’ve always had only a few friends. It wasn’t until my junior year that I finally became accepting of myself and how I look. This past year or so, I came to the conclusion that I don’t have to please everyone. School and academics have always been important to me, and while I have always maintained good grades, I have never felt as successful as other students, and that impacted me a lot. Bullying hasn’t really affected me personally in these past few years of school, but I know other people who have been bullied for a variety of reasons. Coming from a small town school, diversity isn’t too great, so when someone different starts, they become an easy target, which is terribly unfortunate. Since I joined AHANA (African, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American), the issue of bullying had really been reintroduced to me. The group is essentially a support group and safe place for people of different ethnicities where kids can share stories from their daily lives about how they’re being treated, and how we can combat the effects and causes of bullying. Hearing their stories and what they go through has really opened my eyes and ears to what goes on in our school and what people say. This was kind of the major turning point that led me to bringing the Peyton Heart Project to my school.
This one is a tough subject for me as I really don’t like talking about it because I always feel ashamed of it, but self-harm was a big issue for me in middle school. I used it as an outlet to deal with my anxiety issues. I’ve come to terms with my scars and how they make me feel, but I will always be slightly afraid to talk about them because of how it impacted my family. I’ve been able to help other friends through this issue, and that helped me through what I was going through as well. I haven’t self-harmed in years, but there are still a few people who I know who will come to me for advice and support who are going through the same battle I had endured. Many of these kids deal with bullying at my school, family issues, and other mental health issues. I’ve always been willing to help anyone through this issue, no matter who there are.
The topic of suicide is another personal issue. I believe it was back around the time I was in middle school where I had attempted to take my own life. This is another hard thing for me to talk about because of my family, but it’s also hard because I never want to be known as “the girl who tried to kill herself”. One of my biggest fears is being treated as if I’m not “okay” or stable. The stigmas that hover around suicide make it hard for anyone to talk about this type of subject. Suicide has also impacted other people who I know, too. There is this young woman who graduated when I was a freshman or sophomore, so a few years ago. This young woman’s own history and story about her experience really inspired me to open up about my own. Since my own attempt, I have grown and recovered, and have even helped others through the same type of situation. Some of the people who come to me for some help or advice are the same people who come to me for other problems, and once again, I am always open to listening to and helping others.
For a while, I knew I was different from the other kids. I was always nervous and scared to do basic things like talking to someone when I needed help or even answering a question in class. Even to this day, I still struggle with anxiety once in awhile, and it’s usually when I haven’t gotten enough sleep and get swamped with work, school, or a combination of the two. Depression was a major issue for me, and I would confide in my school counselors once in awhile but for the most part, I’ve been able to combat both anxiety and depression by myself through techniques I’ve learned to calm myself down. I’ve witnessed plenty of anxiety attacks amongst my own friend group, and I always try my best to be available to help them through whatever they’re experiencing by coaching them through some breathing techniques, or recommending activities that may help to calm them.
I heard about the Peyton Heart Project through my chemistry teacher, Nancy Smith, this past year in school. Eventually, we formulated the plan to make enough hearts to hang one on every locker in my school during the week our Diversity club was promoting the Words Can Hurt campaign. We hung them on every locker on a Thursday after school, and on Friday. Everyone came in to have a heart on their locker. That day also happened to be the National Day of Silence to support LGBTQ+ groups, so all I could do was listen to how these kids were reacting to what we had done. By the end of the year, many of them still had their hearts. They put them on keychains, on backpacks, and in their lockers. Some even said that it made their day, or it was just the “pick-me-up” that they needed.
This project means a lot to me because of my history with these various subjects. I want to work and spread it even more throughout my hometown and eventually to whatever college I may decide to go to. I want to be an Ambassador for the Peyton Heart Project because I have always had a desire to help others, and through this, I can help more people who I never thought I could. I will continue to bring the project to my community, not just inside my school, but throughout the town. This project has also helped me open up about my sexuality because of the idea of making rainbow hearts to support people who identify through LGBTQ+ (and to those who don’t know yet: Surprise! I’m gay!) Discovering this project has opened my eyes and changed my life, and I hope to do the same for other people, too.”