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Kristen Stewart, Marie Claire

TESH/Marie Claire

Kristen Stewart has been to hell and back.

Recalling her tough time with fame in Marie Claire's August issue, on newsstands July 21, the American Ultra actress, 25, says, "I lit my universe on fire and I watched it burn. Speaking very candidly, it was a really traumatic period in my early 20s that kick-started something in me that was a bit more...feral." Stewart adds, "The public kind of burned me at the stake. But that's OK, I can take it. I'm not dead."

Long before she became a movie star, Stewart was regularly ridiculed. Recalling life as a 13-year-old, the self-described tomboy says, "All of a sudden, it wasn't cool to be one of the boys anymore." She recalls how one time, in middles chool, a male friend "loudly" announced, "in front of our whole group, 'Kristen's not a girl. What is she?' And I just died. It was a totally clichéd, very real insecure breakdown moment, when I was like, 'I f--king hate myself.'" Wincing at the memory, she says, "So many people say, 'Oh, it must have been so easy for you.' You think because I'm an actor that I didn't have a normal progression of self-hatred?"

"When I was younger, I really wanted to be with the adults, to be addressed as a grown-up," the Camp X-Ray actress tells the magazine. "I was the most open, forthcoming, confident little kid. I'm still trying to get back to that."

A successful turn in Panic Room, followed by her star-marking role in the Twilight series, didn't make life any easier. "Between ages 15 and 20, it was really intense. I was constantly anxious," she says of dealing with newfound fame. "I was kind of a control freak. If I didn't know how something was going to turn out, I would make myself ill, or just be locked up or inhibited in a way that was really debilitating."

How did the César-winning actress overcome her anxiety? "At one point, you just let go and give yourself to your life. I have finally managed that and I get so much more out of life. I've lived hard for such a young person, and I've done that to myself— but I've come out the other end not hardened but strong. I have an ability to persevere that I didn't have before," she says. "It's like when you fall on your face so hard. And the next time, you're like, 'Yeah, so? I've fallen on my face before.'"

Kristen Stewart, Marie Claire

TESH/Marie Claire

Today, she embraces her emotions. "I used to be embarrassed about how I cry all the time," the Clouds of Sils Maria star says. "Now I think it's a gift to feel things."

In hindsight, Stewart tells Marie Claire, "I needed to be slapped down a few times to learn that lesson. But I wouldn't trade it, to be honest. I'm really proud that I am able to move forward and not fall into every mental crater. That's a new thing for me. Age has made me smarter and calmer. And it is f--king awesome."