updated 04/10/2014 AT 11:00 AM ET
•originally published 04/10/2014 AT 3:00 PM ET
Lauren Parsekian Paul turned a horrific pre-teen experience into a lifelong mission. After she was viciously bullied in middle school and even contemplated suicide, the activist went on to help launch the Kind Campaign, a non-profit movement created to end girl-on-girl abuse.
“I was put through the ringer,” Paul, the wife of Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul, tells PEOPLE of her turbulent middle school years.
“These girls did whatever they could do to make me feel alone and ugly and worthless. It crushed me. As a result of what I went through, I ended up dealing with severe depression and an eating disorder.” She continues: “I just completely lost myself. My grades dropped and I lost all my self-confidence.”
Now, Paul and Kind Campaign co-founder Molly Thompson have made it their mission to speak to girls in schools around the country (over 400 and counting!) to pass on their positive message.
“[Bullying] is such a universal issue. The emotional experience that females go through is the same no matter where you live. Our goal is to start a conversation in schools and let girls realize that we all play a role,” says Thompson. “Simply by being conscious of the things we say and do, we really can create change.”
Reflecting on her own struggles, Paul says, “Nothing I went through was extraordinary compared to the stories we hear on a daily basis. But it was a really traumatic time. I felt engulfed by a group of people I had to face at school every day and that pressure is something people deal with all over the country.”
The non-profit, which also screens Thompson and Paul’s documentary, Finding Kind, got a big boost last fall, when Aaron helped arrange a charity contest timed to the Breaking Bad finale; over $1.5 million in proceeds benefited The Kind Campaign.
“I was blown away,” says Paul. “Without us asking him to do anything, he took it upon himself. It was humbling.” She adds: “He has 15 nieces and nephews, so he just has such a heart for kids. But I think [overall] it’s a really relatable issue that everyone can get behind.”