You all know I’ve been on this health journey for a good part of my life. I’ve spent many years finding my way through the prickles, trying to find a way to live without the pain and without the symptoms.
There’s another journey I’ve been on for the last ten years and it’s a post I’ve been reluctant to write. Talking about my medical problems has never really phased me. I’ve had to do that with multiple people since I was fourteen. Talking about what goes on inside my head and what goes on inside my heart is a totally different story.
It’s revealing and exposing and pulls all the strings of my insecurities and vulnerabilities. It’s not really something I talk about. It’s the kind of thing I paste a smile on my face and chatter a lot to eliminate awkward silences and try and appear 100% confident and secure in who I am.
It’s not the truth. But I’m working on it being the truth. I’ve been on this roller-coaster ride of a journey trying to teach myself how to love myself. Trying to be okay with who I am and trying to accept it wholeheartedly. It’s not easy believe me, but I wanted to share this post because I know, and I can see now, I’m totally not alone. Even the people who seem the most together deep down are riddled with self-doubt.
In fact, there’s a song that I really love called Nervous Girl. It’s sung by Lucy Hale and it’s so beautifully written. There’s one part of the song that I find just so accurate. The first time I listened to it I sat up and thought, “woah is this song written for me?” The first verse goes like this…
‘I’m that girl you think that’s got it figured out. But I walk around, with a head full of doubt. The cruellest words about me, come from my own mouth. … Yeah, I’m that girl, who wants what I ain’t got, who looks in the mirror and sees all that I’m not. Wish I could jump off this reckless train of thought”
The chorus ends with the words
‘I guess we’re all the same after all. Nervous girls.’
After that I started looking harder at the women around me. Those in my work place, those on my Facebook timeline… even those on the street or on the train. I realised there are so few girls who are actual secure within themselves. Girls who are confident and happy in their own skin. Why are we like this? Is it the media and tabloids and photo shop that has left us this way? Have we been conditioned to look down on ourselves?
I try to figure out where self-doubt begins. Is it in primary school where every second child is a bully? Or high school where the boys start to become attentive and make you feel small when they don’t even glance in your direction? Does it come from other girls making snide comments to make themselves feel better?
There was a game that some people used to play when I was a ‘tween’. It went something like this.
Girl A – “Oh my gosh, you’re so pretty.”
Girl B – “Oh thank you!”
Girl A – “So you actually agree with me? You think you’re pretty?”
Girl B – “Uhh…”
Girl A – “Wow, you’re so up yourself.”
I remember having this ‘game’ pulled on me when I was eleven. I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel. I didn’t want to be ‘up myself’. I very quickly learnt that I shouldn’t think much of myself, as that would be vain, narcissistic and self-obsessed. So I began looking for my flaws to remind me that I wasn’t great. Not at all. I think it pretty much spiralled from there.
A few years later I got sick. It made my view of myself that much worse. My body hated me. My body was rebelling against me and leaving me in immeasurable pain each and every day. Before I got sick I was really active. I played netball, basketball, touch rugby and I was on the dragon-boating team. I also went to (far too many) dance classes each week – jazz, hip hop, pilates, street, contemporary and musical theatre. I spent almost all my free time being physically active, or taking drama or music lessons.
Then suddenly I couldn’t do any of it anymore. I was diagnosed with my stress fracture in my back and a permanently inflamed ankle and all physical activity had to stop. That made my IBS and Endometriosis symptoms worse. My pain took over and I basically withdrew from the life of a teenager. I spent a lot of time with my family and occasionally still managed to go out and spend time with my friends when the pain wasn’t too bad.
I piled on the weight. I was always ‘big boned’ with ‘child bearing hips’ as everyone used to say, but with all the exercise I did my body was toned and athletic (although I was still a goopy, awkward looking teenager!) I gained 16 kilos over a few months. I was hungry all the time. A symptom of my leaky gut I believe. I could honestly pack food away like it was no one’s business. And I wasn’t doing an ounce of exercise except for the occasional doctor approved aqua jogging and rehabilitation pilates, both of which I really didn’t enjoy. On top of that, I’d been put on depo provera in that hope it would help my symptoms. It didn’t. Most of that weight was a crazy amount of water weight which had even gone to my brain giving me awful headaches all the time.
You know the weird thing though? I was happy. Sure I was really good at not loving myself, putting myself down wherever possible, but I was okay with who I was. I was big and I didn’t obsess over it. I didn’t freak when I got on the scales or make charts about how many inches I was around my waist every month. I didn’t monitor what I put in my stomach, and at this time I had no restrictions on food, this was all before I cut out gluten, so I was eating junk to be honest.
I remember a tee-shirt I bought that year. I wore it a lot. And I’ve looked back on it many times and thought it a little ironic. The tee-shirt was black and had large pink writing that said ‘Love Yourself’.
And the thing was, although I wouldn’t have admitted it, or accepted a comment like ‘you’re really pretty’, because it was drilled into my brain how bad it was to accept something like that, I DID love myself. I was okay with who I was. I was happy.
The following year I befriended a girl who destroyed all those mental barriers in my mind. She drilled into me on a weekly basis that I was far too big, that my nose was slightly off kilter – weird things like that. If I tried to eat crisps out of the giant bag of crisps she was eating, she’d take them away and give me a plate of rice crackers instead. She made sure I knew I was heavy, and therefore I didn’t look good. It wormed its way into my head like a parasite. It laid its eggs and that message infiltrated my brain 100%. I was bigger than I needed to be, and that was a bad thing. The fact I was happy didn’t register.
While I didn’t actually do anything to try and change things – I didn’t know how – I did let that parasite fester, feed me messages of self-doubt, self-hatred and shatter any self-esteem I had left. As it turned out, the following year my doctors changed my medication and I lost almost twenty kilos, making me skinnier than I had ever been. But the seed had been planted. I was no longer big, but it would never be enough. Other parts of my mental state were lacking. I was too much of a dork, I wanted to be smart, I wanted my lips to be smaller, i wanted my nose to be a little different or my teeth to not have any gaps… there was always something. That seed of self-doubt. That parasite that ate away self-love.
It wasn’t until I met my first love four years later that I realised in order to truly love someone else you need to be able to love yourself. That was the first time I realised it was okay to like who you are, to accept yourself, to accept compliments, to not care so much about what other people think or what the scales say (especially what the scales say – for the most part scales are a really bad way of monitoring weight loss).
It’s been a journey since then. Trying desperately to remove these ‘parasites’ from my brain. Trying to learn that loving yourself doesn’t mean you’re narcissistic, self-obsessed or up yourself. It’s not easy to try and find the way to self-acceptance. But Mindfulness has been a huge help in that. Accepting myself, accepting the present moment, and accepting things as they are, not wishing for them to change in anyway.
I’m not saying I’ve killed all those ‘parasites’. It’s a long journey but it’s an important one. It’s important you love who you are, accept who you are because otherwise you can be susceptible to others trying to make you bend at their will, you settle for less and you are worth so much more than settling for less than you deserve. You are worth the world. Each and every one of us are loved, each and every one of us are important.
I have my ups and my downs, but I try to bring my focus back to the here and now. I have a family that loves me, a great job and wonderful friends. I get to talk to all you lovely people regularly, I fill my spare time with projects I love to work on and we, as a species, live in this incredibly beautiful and wondrous world. That’s what is important. Not the fact that I have gaps in my teeth that braces failed to fix, or a crater in my forehead from chicken pox, or stretch marks on my hips and extra weight on my thighs.
The people that love me don’t care about that. I’m the only one who cares. Well me and strangers that judge me on the street – but why care about the thoughts of someone who doesn’t know me for me, who just sees me in passing and will forget about my existence in the next 5 minutes. I used to worry about what each and every person – friend or stranger – thought of me. Now it doesn’t matter quite so much. Now I see, that’s not what is important. What’s important is that I’m happy in my own skin. That I hold my head up high and that I smile confidently in the mirror knowing that I can tackle anything that comes my way.
My next goal is to be able to look in that mirror and actually say that I love myself – I’m taking small steps.
What about you? Have you been on a journey to self-love? Do you want to start one? I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially as my heart is racing 1000 miles per minute after completely stripping all my walls down for you all!
Be kind to yourselves. Love and light to you all xxxx