Called "ugly" and bullied so badly verbally and physically she attempted suicide and left the country, mother-of-four Suzy Heazlewood now uses her horrific experience to be an anti-bullying advocate, standing up for victims in what she calls a bullying epidemic sweeping the country.

"I do believe everything happens for a reason. Although at the time it may feel like a living hell, I'm now fulfilling my dream."

Heazlewood's bullying torment began when her dream job turned into a nightmare.

At age 41, she had been a postie for 28 years, taking breaks when she had her children.

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She always loved skincare and cosmetics and started to take Puraz skincare capsules.

Suzy Heazlewood, the 'Puraz' lady, was bullied so badly she tried to kill herself.
Suzy Heazlewood, the 'Puraz' lady, was bullied so badly she tried to kill herself.

When she sent in a testimonial to the company, it landed her a dream job.

"I had been a postie riding a pushbike out in the New Zealand sun for years, so I started to take the capsules, hoping to help my skin.

"A year into taking them they were looking for testimonials, so I sent mine in. Puraz liked it so much I ended up becoming the presenter of the adverts on the Good Morning show as well as brand commercials that aired throughout the day."

It was a dream come true for the postie who until then had never evolved her passion about beauty products into a job.

"I had been passionate about skincare my whole life, when I was 4 I used to go to my neighbour's house and 'borrow' all her makeup and creams."

She had expected some public scrutiny and recognition, but what she had not expected was a cruel backlash from some female viewers, which started online but then became public wherever she went.

"I expected to be recognised and I would give my time to anyone who wanted to have a chat, but I had no idea to the amount of backlash I would receive for doing my job and being me.

"I encountered severe online and public abuse from women. Some of the things I was called not just online but to my face was 'ugly, creepy, don't need a mask for Halloween, ugliest woman on TV ... If I met her I'd want to blow her face off , there's that ugly Puraz bitch she doesn't look that great' ... 'She looks 60 not 40' ... the list goes on ... all in earshot."

Her husband was in a band at the time, and when she attended his gigs, she was pushed around by women on the dance floor so much that he had to jump off stage several times to rescue her.

"These were women my age."

Another occasion out in the ladies' toilets with her friend, some women threatened to have our faces bashed in, in the ladies' toilets because I was the Puraz lady.

"I think the worst one was being threatened to have my face blown up ..

"Remember it had come from a woman who lived in Milford and I was the Milford postie at the time ... I kept thinking my gosh is this the day I'm going to have my face blown up ... I guess it got so personal and nasty especially about my looks that I started to get severe anxiety."

She took herself off all social media but the public abuse continued. Her anxiety worsened going to malls or public places.

"The public scrutiny I could not escape. My whole family suffered throughout the nightmare as they were at times witnesses to it and also to the effect it was having on my self esteem."

Her children were affected and sometimes witnessed the abuse.

"My daughter had to knock a camera out of a lady's hand who kept trying to take my pic but saying how ugly I was."

The names she was called were endless — she had a "list of hate" of all the things which were said, which she has since burned.

She changed from a confident mum, known as "bubbly Suzy", to feeling suicidal.

"The pain I was carrying and the dangerous slippery slide of anxiety was starting to consume me ... suicidal thoughts were happening on a regular basis."

She became so low about the situation that she attempted suicide twice — once it was her daughter who saved her.

Her and her husband decided to move to the Gold Coast to pursue a new life.

"We knew that if we stayed in New Zealand, I would not still be here on this planet it was affecting me that much."

In Australia she began working in a pharmacy as a skincare specialist.

"One huge thing I noticed when working in store was that when I would hold the mirror up to women the first thing they would do was tell me what they hate about themselves ... We women are our worst critics to ourselves ... which is why I believe so many women compete and try and tear other women down."

She carried on with the adverts for a while, flying to New Zealand, because she did not want to give up despite the abuse. She recalls once even at Auckland Airport a person said to the security guard next to her 'there's that lady off the television ... she doesn't look that great at all ... ' this was all in earshot."

In the end, it became too much and she gave up the job that she had wanted so badly.

"I hadn't wanted to let the haters win. In the end it got too much and one of my sons wrote my resignation letter."

The best thing she ever did, she says, was going public.

"I did this to purge the pain I had been carrying around and to say 'It is not OK'. I would stand up for anyone else in this situation so I had to make a stand for me."

She says one of the things she found hard was that the perpetrators were women. After going public, she was inundated with both well wishes and also stories of other women who had experiences similar to hers.

Charlotte Dawson reached out to Suzy Heazlewood. Dawson died in 2014 after being tormented by cyber bullying
Charlotte Dawson reached out to Suzy Heazlewood. Dawson died in 2014 after being tormented by cyber bullying

One of those was Charlotte Dawson, former New Zealand model who suffered depression and committed suicide after a torrent of online abuse.

"Beautiful Charlotte Dawson who had experienced similar abuse especially online told me 'Suzy, don't let the haters get you down' and to 'stay active'. To me she was the only one who really knew what it was like as we both left New Zealand because of it. Sadly she is gone."

After Dawson's death in 2014, Heazlewood decided she wanted to do more to spread the anti-bullying message.

She now runs a foundation, Continuous Bullying Takes Lives, and worked closely with the Charlotte's Law campaign started by Dawson's friends, Lara Harwood and Em Mastronardi, who campaigned to make make cyber bullying a criminal offence.

"I am doing all I can to create awareness around the bullying epidemic. 'Darkness needs light ... the world is big enough for us all to shine'. It has led me to being active about 'Bringing back the Sisterhood' where women celebrate each other, not slag one another."

Together with her son Jim, she has her own business, Suzy H Skin Nutrition, with the slogan, "Helping you love who you see in the mirror".

Proceeds from the organic coconut oil in the range go to organisations to help against bullying, suicide and grief. She is also ambassador for Feeling Fab, helping women cope through any form of grief (especially abuse and bullying).

"We hold a pamper day once a month to help the self esteem of women who have been through or are going through it."

The positive feedback she receives has been healing.

"It has restored my faith in women and my country. Women now see me as face of anti-bullying and tell me their own experiences. I am happy to be a platform where anyone can express their pain, and rise above it."

Her goal is to carry her message into schools.

"I do believe the adult playground is just as bad. Our workplace bullying statistics are shameful and we wonder where kids are learning it from? Thanks to social media and the internet bullying is at epidemic proportions as are sadly our suicide statistics."

She wants people to know she is sharing her story as a survivor not a victim. Now a grandmother of three, she says not a day goes by when she is not thankful to be alive.

"Years on I am still promoting my anti-bullying message. More importantly I am still here.

She advises bullying victims to find their voice.

"Bullies feed off fear, so my message is always have a voice. Both the victim and the perpetrator are coming from low self esteem and both need help.

"Loving who you see in the mirror and being proud of who you are right here and now is to me as important as eating 5 plus a day! Oh and a glass or two of bubbles!"

"If you are being bullied ... please tell someone!"


SPEAKING OUT
Suzy Heazlewood is sharing her story at the Ladies' Charity Luncheon in Tauranga, with MC Matilda Rice.
When: Friday, June 8. Doors open 11am, event starts 12pm. Tickets: Email wendy@communityevents.co.nz or see www.eventfinda.co.nz


WHERE TO GET HELP
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111. Or if you need to talk to someone else:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline:
0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (Mon-Fri 1pm to 10pm. Sat-Sun 3pm-10pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Samaritans 0800 726 666.