If I’ve learned anything….

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Trigger Warning: the following materials may be triggering for some individuals - please read with caution.

How do you make someone else understand exactly what it’s like to hate yourself? They usually just don’t get it and the conversation ends up as something like this:

“There must be something about yourself that you love.. Or at least like”

“I mean, I get good grades, so I guess I’m not a complete idiot”

“So you like that you’re smart?”

“Well, I don’t really think I am smart”

“You must be lying. You must think you’re smart or pretty or funny… something”

“...”

For a long time, that was the conversation that I had over and over again with other people and with myself. I absolutely hated every part of my being. Actually, no. I didn’t hate everything but I was so completely numb that what I didn’t actually dislike, I simply had no feelings towards, it just was. I just was. And from about the time I was 12, this was my norm. It’s terrifying now to realize that my norm was a state of complete ambivalence, that I just couldn’t feel anything emotionally.

I guess you need some background.

When I was about 12, I started experiencing the normal path of puberty that most do. Bodily and hormonal changes were controlling everything and there was nothing I could do about it. I got glasses for the first time, had severe acne on my face, back, and chest, and my body shape was changing. These are normal experiences. I also had these huge Dumbo ears that I was always self-conscious of. This got more intense as I got older. But on top of all of this, I was dealing with an incredibly unhappy home life in which my parents either fought or didn’t speak (they separated and got back together for the first time when I was 8), the attention was always on my older brother who was the “troublemaker”, and I put and cried myself to sleep most nights. I also had an overbearing dance teacher whose idea of “effective teaching” was to scream and berate us. Then, some of my friends started bullying me because my body was slow to develop in comparison to theirs. So yeah, things in my life were tough.

When you’re an unhappy adolescent BEFORE adding in the challenges of puberty, things get much more difficult when you include normal emotional experiences. I started turning to alcohol to cope, but I witnessed my grandmother delve deeper and deeper into adulthood, so I was always worried that I would be the same way.

We can skip over the next four years because it was just the same pattern of unhappiness repeating itself time and time again. The only difference was that I would get more depressed and more anxious about my situation until I just couldn’t feel anything anymore. But I kept up a facade of being a happy-go-lucky adolescent, as I had been that way as a kid. I was completely terrified of anyone finding out about how I actually viewed myself and the world around me.

So now I’m 16, self-conscious of my ears and lack of boobs (couldn’t this just switch so I had big boobs and small ears?), still dealing with acne that no medication can seem to fix, but now I started failing some courses at school because I was so anxious I wasn’t actually learning the material. My mom decided that now was the time to do something about my acne, so I went on Accutane. One of the side effects of this was depression and I was already depressed. I was no longer able to hide it and I began seeing my first therapist. It was also around this time that I got my first diagnosis of “school-related anxiety”. This was incorrect. What I have come to find is that I suffer from major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

At 18 I dropped out of my first university program because I got sick and couldn’t go to class, so I was failing. It only took two months for me to feel like a complete waste of space. The short version is that I ended up with something called gastroparesis - a paralyzed stomach- and an esophageal ulcer. Basically, I couldn’t digest food and I had an acid burn in my esophagus because I’d vomit what I did try to eat. It’s been 8 years and I still sometimes have a hard time eating. My body image concerns don’t help this either. I no longer hate myself, actually I am learning to love myself. I still hate looking at myself in the mirror, but I’m working on this.

I could sit here and tell you how each year of my life was awful, how difficult it was for me, how I struggled day in and day out with normal things, how I hated the way I looked and didn’t understand my issues with weight gain (I would either binge on crappy food or not eat at all) but I think at this point you understand that. Instead, what I will do is mention a few key things that I have learned from my experiences:

It’s okay to have bad days. Bad days don’t make you a bad person and bad days don’t stick around forever.

Even when you’re finally in a place where you’re happy, you’ll still have bad days. That doesn’t mean you’re not happy, it means you’re human.

Find something you love and do it often. Put your energies and anxieties into whatever activity this may be (for me, it’s cleaning and yoga).

Force yourself to get out of bed and be busy. Indulge yourself and wallow in your issues on occasion, but most days, get outside and interact with the world.

Talk to someone. A therapist, a friend, a family member. It makes a difference when you can voice whatever it is that’s going on in your life.

Everyone deals differently. What’s worked for me might not work for you. That’s okay.

Don’t ignore what your mind and body are telling you. Listen to it, respect it, acknowledge it, and deal with it.

You are constantly changing and growing. Allow this process to happen, don’t fight it.

Accept and learn. Some things, we cannot change. I couldn’t change the fact that my parents got divorced. I couldn’t change the fact that I got sick. I can’t change my metabolism or how quickly I gain weight. But I did learn to manage my reactions to these things.

You are not alone!