Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Self-Esteem, PCOS, and All That Flab: Part 4
* This is part 4 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!
For Parts 1, 2, and 3 please scroll below . . .
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I hated gym class. It was the bane of my existence in junior high. In elementary it was fun, but after that it just became 50 minutes for me to feel like a fat, pasty freak with purple, blotchy skin under the unforgiving fluorescent lights, hanging a couple stories above me. It was honestly a nightmare, especially when it came time for showers. I couldn't imagine a worse scenario: me forced to expose my inferior body in front of twenty other girls, half of whom were thin, tan, acne-free, and confident. I did everything I could to avoid it. I would use tons of deodorant and perfume, hoping that it would serve as an acceptable substitute, fearing that someone would notice how I never got in the showers and would relentlessly taunt me with disgust. I couldn't win: it was either be made fun of for my body or be ostracized for my hygiene.
I've often wondered how many other girls in my class or in my grade felt the same way I did, or if they even chose also to forego the showers out of shame. If there were some others I couldn't tell. If they existed they were better at concealing it than I was. One of the defining characteristics of bad self-esteem is that you often feel alone, and I was no exception. Even though I knew better, I often felt as if I was the only person who winced at the sight of their own body in the mirror, who wrote poems of self-loathing, or who wondered each night if there would ever be someone that would love me and think that I was beautiful. My head knew better, but my heart was very . . . silly.
One of the most unfortunate side-effects of having a low self-esteem is that you live a very self-absorbed existence. It's not the typical form of egocentrism, but it is egocentric, nonetheless. It is self-absorption in the opposite direction -- in the negative sense. Everything that happens around you is a confirmation that what you do and who you are is not good enough. In reality, probably very little is actually about you, but when you think you are the most pathetic thing on the face of the earth, then suddenly you are able to connect the most unrelated of subjects. Hey, that takes talent! But unfortunately, it does nothing to serve you well.
* * * * * *
Back to the gym . . . in seventh grade I had the blessing of being in a gym class with several of the most popular girls in the grade -- girls that I couldn't stand. One in particular really made me boil, since it appeared that she had it out for me for some reason or another. She would often make pithy comments to me, pointing out one of my deficiencies but masked in a seemingly benign question of curiosity. One of these such questions was during a gym class while we were nonchalantly playing a game of basketball. Remember the afforementioned first boyfriend in fifth grade, from Part 1? Well, he went on to junior high and high school as one of the top dogs in our class. He was very popular and very liked by all the girls.
This girl came up to me casually and said, "So, like, I heard you went out with _______ for like a month. Is that true?" My initial reaction was, "Okay, well, like, um, it was like, um, THREE months!" And then I wondered, why is she asking me this? Why does she care? I quietly just said, "Yeah, in fifth grade." She paused for a split second, raised one eyebrow, and smirked as she trotted off, mumbling, "Mmmm, hmm." Then I realized, she asked me because she couldn't possibly understand how that could have been true . . . how one of the most popular boys had gone out with one of the nerdiest girls. Whether she believed me or not I could not tell. Whether or not she shared that information with the other girls, I don't know. But I'd be pretty naive to think that she didn't. I mean, come on, she was a thirteen year old girl!
I'm sure this girl doesn't even remember this little incident. It was an inconsequential moment that was probably forgotten as quickly as it occurred. But for me, it was stored into my vast vault of confirmation that I was deficient and unworthy. For a long time I harbored resentment toward those girls who I was jealous of and who treated me less than kindly. But I have come to understand that by doing so I give them power over me. I give them control over who I am and how I view myself. I have learned to let go and forgive since those days. And I have even come to believe that they maybe weren't as bad as I thought they were. Maybe they weren't as kind as they should have been at times . . . but they were kids. And most likely, at least many of them, have grown into kind and caring adults. Maybe not . . . but I don't need to worry about that.
* * * * *
Nearly every moment of my life during those years I was worrying about what people thought of me, if I was pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, talented enough, outgoing enough, interesting enough, liked enough . . . I spent all my time, all my days, worrying about whether or not I WAS ENOUGH. And you know the sad part about it all? My answer was always . . . NO. I often even wondered just how good enough I was in the eyes of God, the one being that was supposed to love me unconditionally. I couldn't even accept that. I couldn't fathom how anyone in their right mind, even God, could love inferior, incapable, inefficient, little me.
People often say that unless you love yourself, no one else can really love you. I don't believe that's true. I hated myself for many many years. And you know what? A lot of people still managed to love me. I'm sure it wasn't always easy for them to love me, but they did. Now perhaps a more accurate theory is that unless you love yourself no one can FULLY love you. Think of it like the blooming of a flower. You can give it lots of water, sunshine, and special fertilizers to help it grow strong and beautiful. And any of these offerings will show signs of its nourishment. But the flower cannot fully bloom unless it has rooted itself deeply within the soil. Until then the flower will always be a lesser version of itself, never completely blossoming into its fullest self.
That is sort of where I am . . . trying to blossom into my fullest self. I am on my journey to self-actualization, as the psychologist Maslow termed it (hey, I gotta use all those years of studying psychology somewhere, right?). It's not an easy road, this pathway of authenticity. In fact, it's sometimes scary, at times depressing, and very often frustrating. Not everyone will like the real me. Not everyone will be happy with the changes. As my dad says, I'm changing the contract. And as much as I hate all of that, I know that I have to do it. I don't care about the color of my petals, the size of my leaves, or even how beautiful of a blossom I will have . . . all I care about, is that I fully bloom.