HUNTLEY – The insults started as quickly as the hair loss for Camille Paddock, who in the third grade grappled with a newly-diagnosed disease and the wrath of her classmates.
Her peers would look and call her "baldy" or "hairless cat," as Camille tried to understand what alopecia areata really meant after her mom found bald spots on her head. The name-calling continued into the eighth grade.
Alopecia areata is an auto-immune disease that causes balding and, in some cases, total hair loss. Although not life-threatening, the disease typically causes dramatic physical changes.
Determined to overcome the bullying, Camille started a Facebook group in September 2012 called "Cam's Dare to be Different" to reach out to other kids who experienced bullying.
Now a freshman at Huntley High School, Paddock has been fielding requests from area high schools to speak about bullying after she addressed students at Carmel High School in Mundelein last fall.
Paddock took a break from her busy schedule to speak with reporter Stephen Di Benedetto about bullying and the personal experience that led her to rally against it.
Di Benedetto: What effect did the bullying have on you?
Paddock: It made my self-esteem go down. It made me feel ugly. I stopped hanging out with the few friends that I had left. My grades dropped, and I was a straight A student. It affected me in every way possible. I quit cheerleading. I was on a good team that I finally made. It put me into a depression.
Di Benedetto: You said the bullying stopped in the eighth grade. Did it stop on its own?
Paddock: We had to go to the school many, many times. After being let down from the school, I actually wrote a letter to our school superintendent, and he actually came in and talked to me and talked to all the people who were bullying me and got it to stop.
Di Benedetto: What was the motivation behind starting the Cam's group?
Paddock: I created it because there are so many other kids out there being bullied like me. I was not the only one. I know that some kids may not be as strong as I was. I just wanted to let them know that there are other people out there, and they don't have to feel alone. I wanted there to be a place for them to go to, to just vent and talk.
Di Benedetto: How has the group helped you with bullying?
Paddock: It helped me deal with it. I've talked to more and more kids. It helped me heal. It helped me get back to a better place. Also, because I was bullied and I am now helping these kids, it's better because I've been through it, and I know how they feel. I think that helps to know that you are not alone.
Di Benedetto: Do you view it as a mission to speak out against bullying?
Paddock: Definitely. I don't want anyone to go through what I went through, and I know a million kids do. I don't think adults and schools really realize what effects it has on kids who are being bullied. Kids are killing themselves because of it, and I definitely think this message needs to be spread.
The Camille Paddock Lowdown
Family: Mom, Melissa; Dad, Berne; sister, Grace; brother, Jack
Favorite hobby: Shopping