Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Self-Esteem, PCOS, and All That Flab: Part 1
* This is part 1 of a series of posts that explore my struggles with self-esteem, weight, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and the very difficult task of trying to be my fullest self in a world that constantly demands more than what I am. Because this subject is so vast and most of my life has been spent swimming in its waters in some form or another I thought it best to break it up . . . also so as to not bore you to death!
Some of you may not be able to relate, but I hope that you will find it interesting anyway. And perhaps you will be better able to understand someone in your life. Some of you may be able to relate and I hope that you will know that you are not the only one -- that the journey may be long, but progress is progress. Remember that no matter how small it may feel, you still are not the same person that you were yesterday. And that is something to celebrate!
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It's not easy being a woman. It's not easy to be a man either, but considering I am of the female persuasion, I will only expound upon the trivialities of the former. From appearance perfection and maintenance to work/home-life balancing act to female medical issues, we really have our hands full. If there is a single woman out there that isn't often exhausted by all these demands then I'd really like to meet her! I'd like to meet her and tell her that I don't believe her.
I've written before about my dark and dangerous romps through low self-esteem. "Romps" is a deceiving word. "Romps" implies something enjoyable and delightful. And my many years struggling with self-hatred were anything but. I know I'm not in the minority with my self-esteem issues. I certainly don't mean to make mine sound unprecedented. But it's an important part of my story . . . in fact, it's one of the MOST important because a person's self-esteem is connected to every part of their life. And when it's bad, it affects EVERYthing.
My issues started when I was in fifth grade, which also happens to be the year I got my first "boyfriend." Imaging that. Just a small dash of sarcasm here. I vividly remember sitting at the long desk in the computer lab as several of my friends descended upon me like vultures, circling their prey. "He likes you, you know!" "Yeah, he does! He wants to go out with you!"
"Huh? What are you talking about?" I asked. After a few more puzzling exclamations and questions I found out that one of the boys in my class liked me and wanted to "go out" with me. Which in fifth grade terms that means being linked to another in a boyfriend/girlfriend sense, without the dates, without the kissing and hand-holding (well it did at least in my fifth grade world), and without even talking to each other. Basically it meant that you would shyly glance and smirk at one another across the gymnasium while your friends giggled and shouted compromising remarks in their direction.
It felt pretty cool being liked. And better yet, I really liked him too. It was, in my 11 year-old mind, perfection. Life could not get any sweeter. I had never even considered having a boyfriend until that day. I honestly even wrote in my diary that I wasn't sure if it even made sense for me to have one, being so young. I knew most other girls had already had one at some point, but I was never one to follow suit and conform. I was also never one to try to grow up very quickly. I have a slight bit of the Peter Pan Syndrome, which manifested in not getting my driver's license until 8 days before my 18th birthday, having my first "real" date at 17, and having my first kiss at 21 (don't laugh!).
Everything was going swimmingly until just a couple short months later . . . when to my surprise, my "boyfriend" was crushing on another. "Don't worry," I was told, "He wants to go out with you AND her. He'll go out with her for two weeks, and then you for two weeks." Come again?! What's this . . . a pimp-daddy in elementary?! "Hell NO!" I didn't actually say that . . . I didn't use any curse words yet at that age. But that would be the current equivalent of what I said then. I'm proud to say that even at 11 I had self-respect enough to not go along with that plan. I was incredibly offended by the thought of it and so . . . lost my first boyfriend. That was the day that things changed. That was the day that I had a realization: Something is wrong with me.
From that day on, though it began very gradually, I started thinking that I wasn't good enough, that I was deficient and unworthy. I began to take any instance possible in which I could reiterate these beliefs and I ran with it. Psychologists always talk about the "tapes" that you play over and over in your head -- tapes that reinforce your beliefs about yourself. These were my tapes. Up until this point I was a very secure and confident young person. I knew who I was and I liked it. Once I began to seriously doubt my value everything fell apart. Oh, it wasn't some cataclysmic disaster. Everything seemed exactly the same . . . only, it wasn't. I internalized everything. I suddenly felt too stupid and too scared all the time -- too scared of feeling stupid. This began a whole new set of problems, the likes of which I am still struggling to overcome today. I began to have a lot of social anxiety. Nothing that could technically get classified as a disorder, but still definitely a problem. I can't tell you how many things I never did because of anxiety, fear, depression, and feeling stupid. I would've done many more activities in school, maybe gone to a few more dances. More than that though, I would have been more myself.
Because I hated myself, I tried to stifle it in some ways. More commonly, however, I simply avoided any situations that made me scared or uncomfortable. I had played sports in elementary, basketball and track. When I was young I really enjoyed doing that, especially since I had two older brothers who also both enjoyed them and were athletic. I never joined any sports activities after sixth grade. In junior high I had strong urges to play, but never did, for fear of everyone thinking, "Ugh, she's so stupid . . . and fat . . . she completely sucks." It may sound ridiculous to someone that's not really struggled with any self-esteem issues, but those are real thoughts that go through your head. And there is not a soul who can talk you out of what you believe will happen.