Imagine recounting the worst experiences of your life in front of huge crowds on a near-daily basis. Imagine having to answer questions about that trauma in endless interviews — both live and recorded — and having the details of your pain published in 14 different countries and read by millions of people. Imagine having the world know how you felt.
For Gallatin junior Aija Mayrock, that openness is her daily reality. She wrote the number-one bestselling book titled “The Survival Guide to Bullying: Written By a Teen,” after she was bullied for nearly seven years. The bullying started at the age of eight in the same way all bullying does — with a shallow reason. When the targeting started, she had a lisp, and anything that makes people different also makes them an easy target.
“I think the hardest part about asking for help is that we have this universal fear that no one will truly understand us,” Mayrock said. “And even if I can’t understand my friends’ full extent of their pain or of their journey, I can still understand what it feels like to go through something difficult and dark.”
But instead of succumbing to her pain, Mayrock found her turning point at age 16. After reading the story of a boy her own age who had taken his life after years of being bullied, she decided that she had to make herself into the hero other kids needed. That night, she began what would become “The Survival Guide.” Mayrock started with what she calls “roems” — rap poems — that echoed the cadence and powerful ability to communicate in the same way her rap idols did.
The roems grew to chapters and chapters to a book. Now, “The Survival Guide” has been published around the world. Mayrock, in between classes and assignments, travels to hundreds of different schools, juvenile detention centers, television shows and even the United Nations General Assembly. As of today, she has spoken to over three million people. Although some people find it difficult to discuss trauma even once, she enjoys the opportunity to speak about the pain of her past on such a frequent basis.
“I appreciate those moments, because I don’t ever want to feel like what I went through was so long ago,” Mayrock said. “I never want to feel like I don’t know their pain right now. I’m blessed that I’m not going through it anymore, but those millions of kids around the world, that’s their reality every single day.”
Despite her demanding schedule, Mayrock’s commitment to helping bullied children never wavers. She thrives off the busy routine of performing her roems at Madison Square Garden and speaking at junior high schools — and even dreads the quieter moments when her schedule isn’t filled with events.
“I have so much love for the moments where I get to meet these kids or parents or educators or whatever and [speak about] my book,” Mayrock said. “I never want to not be able to meet them and hear their stories and connect with them.”
And connect with them she does. Just as most people check their emails, she dedicates a chunk of time each day to check hers. But rather than 15 or 20 minutes every day, Mayrock scrolls through her email, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for hours — they’re always full to the brim with thousands of messages from fans reaching out to thank her for her book or to commend her hard work.
She responds to each one. Whether it be a teacher in Brazil who is teaching her article published in Seventeen Magazine about the time her bully dressed up as her for Halloween, or a fan being bullied in their own home who found strength in Mayrock’s roems. She even provides selfies and photos of herself to readers who run fan accounts on Instagram, giving them exclusive unpublished photos to post and providing endless support during both their best and worst days.
What’s most tremendous about Mayrock is not her unending enthusiasm or her worldwide success as an author and speaker. Rather, what makes her incredible is her boundless capacity for empathy with readers and fans — and for their bullies, too. It’s taken her a lot of practice over the years, but she truly believes that everyone deserves respect, even if what they say is hurtful. When people lashed out at her on social media — which had been one of the most horrific ways she was originally bullied — she extended empathy instead of hate.
“I try to just realize that everyone has their own struggles,” Mayrock said. “Everyone has bad days, and everyone says things without thinking about how it could actually hurt another person.”
Mayrock’s sincerity and strength epitomize who she is, even as she sits in a cheery cafe, coordinating countless speaking events and national tours, her “to-do” list includes notes to catch up with good friends right below reminders to email her agent. Heart emojis punctuate her messages to fans. On her finger, a thin gold ring reads “love” in jeweled script– exactly her belief.
Email Hailey Nuthals at [email protected]