I used to keep a diary (and by diary I mean I opened up Microsoft Word and wrote a couple of sentences about how I felt that day). It’s been nearly a year since I wrote anything in it but I just found it and decided to have a read and see what ridiculous things I used to write about. I completely forgot that when I used to keep this ‘diary’ I was completely miserable and not enjoying college in the slightest and just generally hating everything.
I’ll take you back to semester 2 of my first year of college, around the time I started keeping track of my thoughts. My anxiety was at an all time high, I was having panic attacks at least 3 times a week and avoiding going to classes because of it, I was eating a Chinese takeaway at least twice a week (which doesn’t actually sound all that terrible but when you put on weight and you’re already miserable with yourself, it’s awful). I remember crying myself to sleep every second night until I got home at the weekend. Semester 2 of my first year of college was, as you’ve probably gathered, an awful awful time for me.
But the reason I’m talking about the diary I found is because there was one post in particular that just got to me. I wrote it on the 22nd of March last year and it has just one simple sentence;
“It’s easier to like yourself when other people like you.”
I don’t recall exact details of what was going on around then, but I do remember how I felt about myself. Like 99% of the world, I struggled (and sometimes still do I guess) with self esteem issues. If you had asked me to pick out my least favourite thing about myself when I wrote that diary entry, I honestly don’t know how long we’d have been talking about all the things wrong with me. Don’t get me wrong, I can still give you a long list of things I’m not too fond of about myself but what I’ve managed to learn in the last year is that there’s more important to just let it go and to stop being apologetic for the way I look and to start to actually like myself.
I guess the whole reason the diary post got to me was just because I can’t remember what it’s like to be that sad about things. The last year hasn’t been perfect, and it’s taken a long time to get over a lot of my own problems with…well, me, but it’s been worth it. I’ve surrounded myself with some really excellent people who have unknowingly made me feel better about myself just from really simple things that they do. I’ve become one of those people that enjoys working out (I know, I kind of hate me for that too) simply because it makes me feel better about myself. I’ve got things to look forward to, I’ve got the company of wonderful people, I’ve got it pretty good.
But the main thing I’ve learned is that it’s more fun being unapologetically happy than anything else.
There was another diary entry I found. It was written exactly a month after the other one I’ve already mentioned and it too is only a sentence long;
“Fuck anyone who says you can’t choose to be happy.”
It takes a lot more than just waking up one day and deciding you’re gonna be happy, but when you get to the point where you do want to make a change, fucking do it and don’t look back because I promise you it’s not gonna be easy and it’s certainly never gonna be perfect, but it’s most definitely worth it.
By the time I was 13, I had friends who had started dieting, and what makes that sentence worse is that I thought it was completely normal. By the time I was 13, some of my friend’s biggest fears was putting on weight. By the time I was 13, I had friends who had fully convinced themselves that what they saw in the mirror was the most disgusting thing they had ever seen.
Where have we gone so wrong that young girls and boys – children – are growing up learning that it’s ok to hate themselves? When did it become more acceptable to bring yourself down than to accept and agree with a compliment someone is paying you? Why is having confidence and self worth such a rare thing these days?
Don’t get me wrong, I wish I had the type of body that fits into the clothes American Apparel sells (although I kind of wish I had the kind of money you need to shop there more). Whenever I’m outside that shop, it’s like a dramatic scene from a film where I wistfully think about how I want to be small enough to wear the clothes before I see my reflection in the window and start picking apart my body. I still hate clothes shopping because I hate trying on a pair of jeans that end up being too small because for some reason, every time that happens, a small part of me is embarrassed about having to get a bigger size. It’s infuriating that it’s been ingrained into so many people’s minds that being bigger is the worst thing in the world; surely being disloyal or manipulative or selfish is far worse?
What scares me is that if you were to ask any person you know what their biggest insecurity was, they could probably go for hours listing every little thing they hate about themselves but if you asked what they liked about how they look, how many of us would genuinely be able to give an answer?
Take it from someone who, at the age of 14, brought an extra towel whenever she went for a shower so she could use it to cover the mirror and not have to look at herself because she disliked her body that much – it’s far more fun to not give a shit about how you look. And yeah, that’s far easier said than done but I promise you it’s worth it. Being happy with who you are and being comfortable in your skin is a work in progress and it’s hard. It’s far easier to sit at home and hate yourself, but it’s far more important to be happy with who you are.
So I’m gonna share a story today.
Back when I was in second year, a shy awkward 14 year old who listened to Bob Dylan and Paramore religiously, I had a bit of a hard time. It’s not a year I look back on fondly. I remember the point that it all started going downhill was around the time we went on a trip to the Gaeltacht for a weekend and I genuinely said about 10 words that whole weekend. The reason for my lack of conversation was that I had gotten some really bad news and was terribly upset about it and when bad things happen to me, I’m one of those people that will not tell you. I will use the old “I’m just tired” excuse and keep it to myself because I have always had the “well my problems aren’t that bad and other people have their own things to be dealing with” kind of mindset.
After we got back from that trip, I started distancing myself more and more from the group of friends I had. I sat alone at lunch and always made myself look really busy so no one would bother me. I usually sat alone in the canteen and if I thought I was starting to draw attention to myself because I was alone at lunchtime, I’d go outside or to the PE hall. One of the places that I ate in a few times was Mr Heveran’s classroom. I remember I asked him could I sit there one day because I ‘had work to catch up on’. Being the fantastic man he is, he let me sit there whenever I asked. I’m honestly not sure if he’d even remember me coming to him those few lunchtimes but I was always grateful for it.
I can’t remember how long I sat alone at lunch for but I do remember I once called home pretending to be sick because I just did not have the heart to do it that day. That was the same day a girl in my year wrote to me on MSN (back when MSN was all the rage) to make sure I was ok. We had chatted a few times before and somehow the topic got onto how I sat alone at lunch sometimes and she asked me to sit with her and her friends the next day.
I guess the moral of my long winded “I know what being alone is like” story is that the smallest gestures do make a difference. That sounds so incredibly cheesy but I was in such a terrible place until someone reached out and made an effort to make sure I was ok. So just be kind to each other because you don’t know the depth of difference your actions are making, and what better legacy to leave than one of kindness?
My friend Lauren wrote a really excellent piece on the misconceptions about depression (http://ellaur.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/depression/) and it inspired me to write this post, so go check it out if you haven’t already!