“Growing up, gender stereotypes were still very much still a thing. In elementary school, the boys liked to tell me I couldn’t do certain things because I was a girl. Being a girl meant I was too weak, too dumb, too fragile, too incapable, too different from them to ever be successful.
As a child, I would be labeled ‘different’ because of who I was. But I got this label before I knew who I was, before anyone knew who I was, and this would stick with me for the rest of my life. I was always changing how I portrayed myself, hoping this would make me more wanted, even on a friendship level. I got tired of being me, because I was different and different was bad, so I tried to be anything or anyone but me. I struggled with feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth.
My life felt like it was out of control. I felt alone and believed no one could possibly understand because how could they? I didn’t understand. I also didn’t want to tell anyone. I was so scared this would ruin things, I would be in trouble (because I also grew up in a time where kids had nothing to stress about, so if a kid had a problem, they were just ungrateful brats), or people would look at me like I was broken or damaged.
Everyone always told me I was a happy, outgoing kid, and I was determined to keep that persona while quietly shrinking. I began to isolate myself little by little. It started with not speaking my opinion as much. I let others talk and listened, but never being honest. I just told them what I knew they wanted to hear. I was afraid if I said anything else, they wouldn’t like me anymore. After fully understanding I wasn’t good enough for many people, I was desperate to keep the few friends I had. I was the kid who always listened, was always there, and never argued.
My life felt like it was spiraling. I felt so fake, but I was too scared to be real because I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t want to be alone with myself or with my thoughts. I believed who I was, was wrong, and I didn’t want to be with the fake me. I was getting lost in this cycle of uncertainty and this constant battle of hypocrisy within myself. I was eleven. All these negative and confusing feelings were hard to deal with and I thought about telling people I didn’t care anymore what they thought. Maybe being honest would be the best thing. But I convinced myself I needed to be perfect. If I was anything less, I was nothing. If I told anyone how I felt, they would look at me as a failure. I already felt like I had so many negative labels. I didn’t want a failure to be one of them.
This confusion, hurt, conflict, and need for perfection took a toll on me and by the end of sixth grade, I had developed an eating disorder. No one knew but me. I thought if I lost weight and stayed small, people would like me better. I felt like I was losing my best friend to another girl who was thin and I figured if I could be smaller than her, maybe I would ‘win’ my friend back.
The smaller I got, the easier it was to be invisible. If I could learn to be unseen, then people would have to leave me alone. If they couldn’t see me, they couldn’t bother me. I could also use it to disappear when I felt like I wanted to be alone and unseen. I knew I didn’t need to lose weight but I didn’t care. I said I’d do it the healthy way and figured since my mom worked in the lunchroom at my school, I wouldn’t have a choice but to be healthy about it.
The eating disorder itself might not have been there in the beginning, but the thoughts controlled my mind and I spent every night trying to figure out ways to get around my mom working there. My eating disorder was there, affecting my life well before I started showing it in my weight or what I ate. I learned different tricks and such to go unseen from my mom for all of middle school and by high school, I didn’t have her working in my school, and starving became that much easier. It became like a game to me and the weaker my body felt, the happier I was because I felt like I had more control. But I was miserable. I pretended I wasn’t and I let myself believe I wasn’t. It still seemed like my life was falling apart, but I kept telling myself the more weight I lost, the better it would get. I just hadn’t lost enough weight yet.
But even with the weight loss, nothing got easier. I became severely depressed and self-conscious. I was always wearing sweatshirts and jeans because I was too embarrassed with my body to have my skin show. My body image was horrible and I was like a zombie. I went through the motions of the day and got to the end without ever really understanding how I got there. I spent my free time counting calories and seeing how much food I ate, thinking up convincing lies if anyone were to ask. It was exhausting and being depressed didn’t give me much energy. Being that I was starving myself, I didn’t start off with much energy. So when starving wasn’t giving what I needed to avoid myself, I hit a breaking point. A family incident pushed me over the edge and I self-harmed for the first time.
After that first time, I promised myself I would never do it again. But months later I broke that promise. And I broke it a few more times. I considered telling someone I was sick, anyone who would listen, but I chickened out because I didn’t think I was sick enough. I wasn’t covered in scars, so I was afraid if I told anyone they would tell me I was lying and was looking for attention. After all, there were people who were really sick. So I kept starving, kept self-harming, kept going through my days like a zombie. This became a game to me and later on a way of life.
Right before the start of 10th grade, my mom put together the pieces that I was starving myself. I felt like my world had shattered. I was put into treatment. All my control was taken away, and I was now being forced to do the one thing I had worked so hard not to do: eat. I managed to recover for a small period of time, but as my eating got better, my self-harm got worse. I was going to school with an ace bandage wrapped from knuckles to shoulder on my left arm and wrist to elbow on my right. I couldn’t go more than the 30-min max without self-harming to get through the day.
I even went as far as to steal things from my classrooms to self-harm with. My self-harm ranged from cutting to carving and friction burns. If I didn’t feel pain, I didn’t know I was alive. I had spent so much time believing I wasn’t enough. I believed from a young age I would never be anything because I was the wrong sex. I was too different to be included in things or shown decency, at an age where decency should be all you know. I changed who I was before I knew who I was, and I lost any identity I had.
From then on, I held on to my illnesses as an identity. I switched my mindset from ‘I want to get better and I want to be happy and healthy and live my life’ to ‘I need to be sick because this is all I have and this is who I am.’ I had never known anything else. Getting better meant losing who I was and that fear motivated me to stay sick. I felt like I needed my pain to survive.
I became very angry. I was rude, I was disrespectful. Manipulation was second nature and I lashed out at any and everyone who tried to help me, because to me they were now trying to take away the only thing I had, the only thing I had known when my life was dark and out of control. I went from being angry at myself for not being what everyone wanted to being angry at the world, because no one understood me. No one stepped up to help me when I first started slipping. I lashed out at others because I forgot how cunning I was and how hard I tried to make sure that no one knew I wasn’t okay.
The people I were lashing out at weren’t the ones to blame and neither was I. I made mistakes and so did others. No one is perfect. Not even me. And the reality is, I never wanted to be perfect. I wanted to be perfect for others so they would want me. But if they only love me because I act how they want and do what they want, then they don’t love me. They love the person I’m pretending to be.
I lost so many years trying to mold myself to be lovable to others that I never learned to let myself grow. I lost time loving myself. I desperately tried to be so many things for so many people, not realizing the most important person I should have fought for was myself. It’s okay to fight for people and it’s okay to change your ways because you’ve grown and learned. But you should never sacrifice yourself to show loyalty to another. At the end of the day, you’re the one that has to go home with you and live with you on a daily basis.
Treat yourself like you would any other important person in your life. If you take care of yourself and value yourself, you’ll never need anyone else. You’ll be able to have people in your life because you choose to, not because you need to. Don’t put your worth in someone else’s basket. Only you know your real value.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rowan K. of Long Island, New York. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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