SALT LAKE CITY — What Herschel Walker thought was toughness was really a defense mechanism he'd created to shield himself from a painful childhood full of bullying, teasing and beatings from classmates.
"They hurt my feelings so bad that I couldn't handle it," Walker told the Skyline High student body in an early morning assembly Thursday. "I put these walls up, and I wasn't going to feel pain anymore."
In trying to protect himself from the pain of bullying, he developed Dissociative identity disorder, also known as multiple personality disorder.
"The first thing I thought of was Sybil," he said referring to a controversial 1976 movie. "I thought, 'I'm not Sybil; I'm not mean.'"
He learned over time that he'd learned to repress anger and pain, which also allowed him to endure intense physical pain, including having his wisdom teeth out without anesthesia and having his dislocated shoulder put back in place on the football field.
"I thought I was tough," he said. "I was using football and track and field as a coping mechanism."
He checked himself into a hospital and said it was the thing he's most proud of in his life.
"I couldn't handle all the pressure," said the two-time Olympian and Heisman trophy winner. "Now I had to face my demons."
He said it wasn't until Day 12 that he realized he didn't love himself.
"I stood in front of the mirror and told myself I loved myself," he said. "And that's what you gotta do. You've got to be able to say I love who I am."
He told the students that they would get knocked down in life, but they could always get back up.
He cautioned the teens about teasing and joking, and said they should look out for those who might be subjected to bullying. He encouraged those in pain to seek help.
"No matter what you're going through, no mater how bad it gets, there is help out there," Walker said. "It doesn't make you less of a person."
Walker, who was a contestant on the Celebrity Apprentice and is now an MMA fighter, was in Utah to sign his book at the Gateway and address soldiers at Camp Williams.
He took questions for some of the football players and even signed a few autographs before he left. He ended his remarks by telling the students that they should never feel alone or unloved.
"It's okay, we're not all perfect," said Walker, who struggled with obesity as a child. "We're all kids of God. We're all perfect. You don't have to play in the NFL or win a Heisman; all you have to do is love who you are."