Social Media Star (and Adoptee!) Jacob Sartorius Gets Real About Life Before Fame: 'I Felt Very Lost'

"It's an ongoing journey and I'm finding my answers along the way," Sartorius tells PEOPLE

Jacob Sartorius
Jacob Sartorius.

Jacob Sartorius has always known he was adopted.

"I was adopted right around birth," Sartorius, 19, tells PEOPLE rather matter-of-factly in a recent interview. "Due to the circumstances that my birth parents were facing, it just made the most sense. They really did what was best for me."

However, what the multi-talented musician, actor, and social media force with millions of followers has not always known is how to combat the leftover feelings he has held deep inside about his adoption and the life he has lived since then.

"There's been a lot of questions and pain along the way," admits Sartorius, who went viral back in 2016 via his debut single "Sweatshirt." "I've wrestled with issues of identity and abandonment pretty much my whole life."

One of the many ways he is currently combatting these very real feelings is seen within his debut film Breathe: The Documentary, which follows Sartorius as he travels to Amsterdam to meet with Dutch wellness guru and motivational speaker Wim Hof.

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"Sometimes it's hard to know where I belong," explains Sartorius, who made major headlines while dating Stranger Things actress Millie Bobby Brown back in 2018. "It's hard to feel fully connected to something. But I make the conscious effort to not let it get me down and to live my life in a positive, productive way."

Jacob Sartorius
Jacob Sartorius.

This positive position on life in general has long served as a mantra for Sartorius, especially when it has come to his adoption. The Virginia native who grew up loving baseball and action figures was 7 years old when his parents explained how he came into their life.

"My parents explained it in such a loving way," he remembers. "They never wanted it to be a secret. It was tough to hear, but it was also one of those things that has literally made me who I am."

Nevertheless, word soon spread around Sartorius' elementary school that he was adopted, leaving him bullied over something he had no control over.

"The kids would make jokes," remembers Sartorius. "That really hurt me. I felt very lost."

Jacob Sartorius
Jacob Sartorius.

Luckily, Sartorius soon found a haven on the stage, choosing to participate in musical theatre during some of those tumultuous years.

"The whole goal of theatre is to free others from concern, and I immediately was drawn to that," remembers Sartorius, who has gone on to become a People's Choice Award, Kid's Choice Award and Teen Choice Award nominee. "I met people through the theater program that had been adopted. It was the support that I needed at the time."

As Sartorius got older, he says he became increasingly curious about his birth parents, so much so that he made the decision to make plans to meet his birth family.

"They came to one of my concerts," remembers Sartorius, who released his latest EP Lost But Found last fall. "I got to hang out with them backstage. And it was one of the most eye-opening experiences for me. I had a lot of questions and some things that I wasn't sure on, so it felt super great to talk to them."

Today, Sartorius says he finds it downright crucial to be open to his fans about his life journey. However, Sartorius is the first to admit that speaking one's truth to millions of people is far more difficult when there are so many filters at his fingertips to dilute the pain.

"I still have a lot of questions about where I came from," he says quietly. "It's an ongoing journey and I'm finding my answers along the way."

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But he's also realizing that his adoption was probably the best thing that could have happened to him.

"As I've gotten older, I have come to the understanding that my birth parents did what was best for me," he says. "They made every decision out of love. Otherwise, I wouldn't be where I am today."

And today, he looks to share his story more than ever before.

"Adoption rocks and kids that who have been adopted are some of the strongest people I know," he says. "I want to be a part of this wave of people looking at me and saying, 'Wow, he wears this whole adoption thing on his chest, and this is something that he's proud of compared to it being something that could be looked down upon."

He pauses for a moment.

"Whether it's adoption or bullying or anything else, I think it's about accepting yourself for who you are and embracing your past."

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