ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: PETALING JAYA: Her smiling disposition belies what Diyaa Mani (pic) has gone through during most of her school life.
She has been the victim of name-calling and hurtful comments, cyberbullying, has had things thrown at her, and was hazed badly at university.
Diyaa, who is now 28, said the hazing at university in the name of "orientation" almost cost her her life.
She was not allowed to sleep, bathe or even conduct the necessary bodily functions for a week. And her seniors exploited the fact she is asthmatic.
"My inhaler was taken away, and the seniors decided it would be fun to hold it out of my reach when I struggled for breath," she told The Star Online.
Diyaa recalls being forced to run up a steep, wet slope in her socks to retrieve her shoes that her seniors had forced her to throw. In the process, she slipped and injured her arm.
She also fractured her foot after stepping into a hole after these seniors deprived her of sleep.
When she decided she had enough and stood her ground against the bullies, Diyaa said she was "boycotted" and had nasty rumours spread about her.
The torment she underwent at university caused her to have stress-induced seizures.
"I thought I was losing my mind. I once woke up on the floor of the shower, wondering how I got there.
"I didn't remember experiencing the seizures. Or rather, I didn't know what signs to look for so when they happened, I had no way of knowing," she added.
Diyaa only found out that seizures were responsible for her blackouts when she went shopping and woke up on a supermarket promoter's lap.
"I was referred to the hospital and all the scans determined that I didn't have epilepsy.
"So the specialist took consideration of my psychological well-being and, based on recent trauma, she determined that it was stress-induced seizures, which further tests confirmed," said Diyaa.
Thankfully, her seizures have since stopped thanks to counselling and meditation, she said.
Looking back, she regrets not lodging a police report against her bullies at university.
"Do not make the mistake I did. No one should make you do things against your will that can potentially endanger you," she said.
Diyaa said that she was bullied throughout her life, with first memory dating back to when she was barely five years old.
She recalled being told by people that her parents trusted, that her mother and father did not love her because her skin was darker than her younger sister's.
"It may seem silly now, but for a child it can be quite devastating to be told that your parents don't love you anymore," she said.
Diyaa started to develop trust issues at that age, which strained her relationship with her parents when she was a child.
"What those people did set a precedent for the depression and anxiety I am suffering to this day," she said.
In primary school, she was the target of emotional bullying.
Diyaa describes herself as quiet and introverted. She would rather immerse herself in a good book than socialise with a large group.
"I was not conventionally beautiful, and although not fat, I was bigger and taller than most girls my age," she said.
Diyaa said the community at her school in Kedah was "hostile" towards her due to her Punjabi/ Tamil mixed heritage.
"I was treated a little better than an abomination," she said.
"I also spoke English and Malay better than my mother tongue, which was a big no-no according to the community we lived in.
"I was labelled a show-off and arrogant even before they got to know me," she said.
Diyaa said she was verbally and physically abused in primary school, with one of the bullies tearing up her English exercise book in front of her.
"There were some fights, but they were not too serious at that point," she said.
But some of her bullies followed her into secondary school.
"We ended up in the same class. The bullying continued," she said.
Due to health issues, Diyaa was later moved to another secondary school closer to her house.
This school was known for gangsterism, and the bullying against her "intensified".
She said she had things thrown at her every day, like spitballs and stones.
An incident that has stuck with her was the time she was cornered at the bicycle shed at the school.
"I was getting my bike to go back home. Some guys called me a slut because I was not a 'pure Indian', and they attempted to rip off my uniform," she said.
She said she managed to fight them off, but later had one of the boys' mother see her at school to scold her for "not acting like a lady" by beating up her son.
"The fact that her son was trying to tear the clothes off a girl didn't matter to her," said Diyaa.
Diyaa said she has suffered from bad migraines since the age of 13.
She would also have emotional outbursts and hysterical screaming fits. Her studies suffered as a result.
She said she used to tell her teachers and parents about the bullying.
However, "the bullying would stop for a short while before starting again," she added.
She also claimed that some teachers started to ignore her and allowed the bullies to continue their antics.
"I didn't tell my parents after a few times, as they seemed distressed," she said.
Diyaa was also "at a loss" after her teachers started to ignore her, but a few friends kept her sane.
She has undergone counselling to face her issues, which she says is a "work in progress".
"The dark part of my past is reducing in its significance as this new part of my life is taking up my time," she said.
Diyaa is now a part-time tutor and a freelance writer, editor and proofreader, but she still has not escaped the torment.
She says that she was recently a victim of cyberbullying and received rape and death threats on social media after writing an article for women's rights Facebook page Karutthu Kannammaa. ('Karutthu' means opinionated, while is a female Kannammaa).
"I did a piece against cyberbullying, and the admins of that page allowed me free access so that I could gather the materials I needed for the article," she said.
"I made the mistake of not censoring the screenshots I took to support my article, which displayed my name," said Diyaa.
As a result, cyber "trolls" accused her of "being against Hinduism" and revealed her identification card number and address.
"The irony is not lost on me – being cyberbullied for writing an article against cyberbullying," said Diyaa.
"Currently, my family and friends are my strongest pillars of support. They helped me stand up to bullies many times, and they encouraged me to write about it," she said.
She is also braver and is not afraid to stand up for herself.
"Voice out, and never be afraid. What can the bullies do in the end? Once I started to stand up for myself, they couldn't stop me anymore," she said.
"They wanted to see me fail, but I am successfully running my charity project, the Diamond Project Malaysia.
"My life is good because I dared to stand up against bullies, I dared to fight back," said Diyaa.
Stop the Bullying Part 1: A long and tragic history
Stop the Bullying Part 2: The long-term, wider effects of bullying
Stop the Bullying Part 4: The Bully Confesses
Children see, children follow