I don’t think that I was ever kind to myself, even as a child. It’s hard to admit this kind of thing; it’s painful to reflect on your past and see that you’ve never treated yourself properly. It also leaves me wondering why I continue to allow such a thing to happen.
I don’t like to put blame on others, but in all honesty, I do feel deep pain when I think about how I was never raised to appreciate myself–pretty or ugly, thin or fat, and smart or fairly smart. Maybe it was the timing of when I grew up. Life today is filled with parents raising their children to be body positive and accepting, but that wasn’t the case then at all.
I was kind of just expected to do well in things, and it was not in my parents’ nature to make a big deal if I did do really well on a test or succeeded in anything, really.
I did get straight A’s. I went to college for free my first two years on a scholarship for graduating in the top 15% of my high school class. I graduated college with the highest honors. I knew this was an accomplishment, but I still didn’t feel as smart as others. I wasn’t ugly in my eyes, but I felt ugly compared to others. I wasn’t fat, but I didn’t fit the mold that society had created for me to fit in. I didn’t like sports, so I danced for 10 years instead. I wasn’t the worst dancer, but I also was definitely not Juilliard material.
I couldn’t find anything that I was good at or liked about myself. No matter what I achieved, I still didn’t think that was good enough. I would internally tell myself that I was a nobody, that I hated the way I looked, and that I hated myself as a person. I had personality characteristics that others would define as meek or lacking confidence, and I read deeply into that and believed it.
Through all of my twenties, I was anxious constantly, afraid to make mistakes at my job, and if I did, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’d say sorry over and over again, most times completely unwarranted, and I continue to do this in my life currently. It’s a hard cycle to break, and trying to undo thirty something years of seeing yourself this way is difficult.
You would think that I would have learned to be a bit more compassionate and sympathetic to myself since I became ill, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I took this situation, and I found ways to dislike myself even more. I was mad at my body for failing me. I was so depressed and feeling ugly on the inside that I told myself I was disgusting on the outside too. As I was trying different medications for the first time and also experiencing side effects of those medications, like weight gain, I was mad at myself for not being able to control it.
The only thing I can ever remember saying to myself that was remotely positive was that I was strong. It did take three chronic illnesses and two mental illnesses for me to see this. It took endless procedures and tests and horrific pain, but it’s the start of me trying to accept who I am and make something optimistic out of it. After being told by doctors that I was strong because I chose not to be put out for procedures that you normally would be put out for, that’s when it became apparent that maybe I wasn’t as appalling as I had told previously told myself.
It may only be one word that I’ve managed to let myself believe, but if I can take anything positive from this journey that I have been led to take, it’s that I saw the depth of how much strength existed in me. It came out because I was in the worst situation of my life, and for once, I acknowledged it instead of twisting it into something pessimistic. That one word was so impactful to me that I created a tattoo to put on my body that means to me “female strength”. Whenever I think I can’t face one more battle, I look down at my arm, and I am reminded that I can do it and get through it.
I hope that as time carries on, I am able to speak to myself in a kinder way. I may have only told myself one nice thing in my thirty-four years of living, but it was a word so powerful that I actually listened to it.