Monday, April 22, 2013

Life Story

After going to It Happens Here (IHH) tonight at my college campus, I realized how many people have not spoken up about being hurt, and living with the pain, both physically and mentally.  What surprised me the most was how most of these rape victims viewed themselves.  While some were scared and embarrassed and ashamed, others learned to love themselves unconditionally and be the best person they can be because they deserve it and owe it to themselves.  I started crying because I realized that these individuals have more respect and love for themselves after being raped than I do and I have not suffered through an experience nearly as traumatizing.  

But what I realized that made me feel better is that I have suffered too.  And I want people to know.  I've hidden this for so long because I've always felt embarrassed, or even worse, that I had no one to tell because no one cared about me enough to understand and respect me for sharing.  Now I know that the only way to heal myself is to use my story to help others who are going through a similar experience.

I grew up in a normal family, in a normal neighborhood, going to a normal school in a small town outside of Boston.  My childhood was fairly awkward, however, because my mom dressed me in uncomfortable turtlenecks and weird-fitting pants and ugly sneakers and when I could choose, I picked even weirder non-matching clothes.  I wore my dark hair parted in the middle, flat and lifeless clinging to the side of my head, so it was no wonder that I was not very popular.  I was (and am) an introvert, and simply worked by myself in class and on my homework and always minded my own business.  

I had always had problems with keeping friends.  Ever since I was little, I needed to have a close best friend.  I think this is where it all started, some sort of insecurity where I needed to feel important to someone, that I needed reassurance that I was someone's first choice.  I would start to become close to one friend and put all my time and energy into the relationship in order to solidify this one relationship, and I would be so incredibly jealous if they offered attention to other people that I felt more deserving of.  The friend would easily lose interest in me, and I would be left heartbroken and forced to start fresh.  This occurred until 5th grade when I became close friends with Caroline.  

Unlike previous friends, Caroline put me first.  We just understood each other, and she was more cool that I was and definitely less awkward so I'm not really sure why we were friends but she helped me mature in a way and grow out of my shell.  Right when I finally seemed to be on solid ground and had a good friend group, my parents announced that we were moving to California because of my dad's job.  

For the rest of that year I didn't really feel anything.  I was upset at first, but now I realize that I couldn't fully process what moving across the country and starting middle school in an unfamiliar place would mean.  Even after several trips to apply to different schools, the concept of leaving Massachusetts didn't fully make sense to me.

I don't remember much from my first year after moving, possibly because I repressed my memories because I was upset, or possibly because nothing interesting ever happened to me during all of 6th grade.  After winter break of 7th grade, my life became more interesting as I had my first boyfriend, first kiss, and a huge group of friends including my three best friends who I grew closer to that year.  I even made one close friend, Tessa, who was similar to my previous friend Caroline.  Everything seemed really great for all of 2007.  

However, disaster struck in eighth grade when my friend group experienced some major middle school drama involving friends leaving my group to hang out with other cliques and one of my best friends started treating me horribly when she started crushing on a boy who used to be my friend but had recently started bullying me.  In retrospect, I think I blew things way out of proportion at the time because I had a lot of family drama going on because my parents had tried countless ways to help me feel more integrated into a new lifestyle and had unintentionally made me very depressed.  When this boy, Tim, saw this vulnerability in me, he started picking on me and making fun of everything I did.  When my friend supported this behavior I almost lost it and turned to music to keep me sane.  

I had started writing songs as a past time in 6th grade but it now became a vital emotional outlet for me. My grades dropped and I was getting straight Cs which depressed me even more.  I stopped doing my work and instead laid in bed all afternoon with the blinds shut.  My parents were so busy with their work that they didn't realize just how upset I really was.  I felt like I was going out of my mind.  Almost everything that occurred during eighth grade made me more and more upset as I lost more friends because I was no longer happy and had no one to talk to.  I acted really immaturely because of how upset I was, which ended up hurting me in the future.  Most of my friendships were fairly superficial because no one liked to talk about REAL issues, about how people hurt and how not everyone is happy all of the time, we've just gotten really good at pretending.  

Towards the end of the year I had thought about committing suicide.  Every night before falling asleep I imagined what everyone's faces would look like when they reacted to the news of me dying.  I imagined placing a knife to my veins and slicing through them, but my parents had forced me to join swim team and I couldn't risk people seeing cuts.  Before we got an alarm system on my house I would escape at night and just run while crying when I couldn't fall asleep.  I would hide out, realizing that no one knew I was gone.  I could just disappear and no one would notice or care.

I never saw a therapist.  I somehow managed to come out of this situation alive even though many of those nights I spent crying I tried to drown myself in our pool.  What stopped me every single time was my sister.  Never have I ever loved anyone as much as I love her.  It doesn't matter that we fight and it doesn't matter that we've had our differences at times because we understand each other and she looks up to me and I would never do anything that could jeopardize the possibility of her living the best life she can live.  I just wish I was strong enough to have this same love for myself.  

The summer after eighth grade gave me time to recollect myself and spend time alone and with my family.  When I started high school, I genuinely felt better.  I felt like I had a fresh start, and my friend group seemed to be back together, with the addition of some new people who entered the school this year.  During my freshman year, while I no longer felt depressed, I still had some major self-esteem issues.  After acting so immaturely in eighth grade, I became obsessed with trying to be perfect.  I created weird rules about hygiene and cleanliness and how I should present myself and what type of outfits I should wear and buy and how I should eat my food.  I had always been a picky eater, but my tendencies had become more obsessive recently.  This set of rules I developed eliminated any chance that something bad could happen to me and that I would always be prepared for anything unexpected, and I still use most of these today.  I wear chapstick obsessively, I always chew gum after every time I eat something, I wash my hands an excessive number of times a day, I have to eat skittles and M&Ms in pairs of the same color, I have a special rules that determine times when I can shower, and I have many other obsessive hygiene "rules" that cannot be broken because if I break them, I feel so incredibly uncomfortable that I don't even have words to describe how I feel.  Although I did not realize at the time, but I had turned my depression around and instead of getting rid of it, I had transformed it into OCD.  I had the same low self-esteem, but instead of being upset about it, I became determined to change myself and try to be perfect because I hated the person I was and I hated everything that had happened to me in middle school. 

In an attempt to become more perfect, I decided to join a sports team, and gave water polo a shot.  Because I had never really been athletic and only done swim team for a few months before quitting, I figured water polo was the right sport to try because it was the only team sport offered at my school that wasn't full of kids who had been playing since they were in diapers.  Due to my natural swimming ability and perseverance, I learned the game fairly quickly although there were many aspects that were awkward because I didn't have very good hand-eye coordination.  By the end of the JV season, I had developed a lot as a player and for the first time in my life, saw how my effort payed out in the end and that I had accomplished something completely on my own that I was passionate about.  Right then was when I fell in love with the sport.  I joined club water polo and to this day I know that it was one of the cures of my depression. I cannot go on enough about how important it is for me to have something to work for on a daily basis, something that I love that shows me that I can be valuable for something.  Water polo represented so much more than a sport to me.  It represented passion, strength, and empowerment.  Without water polo, my life would be so much more empty.

Despite my rapid success with water polo, the social scene in high school was much less forgiving.  I had remained close with Tessa since 6th grade, but I started to become closer friends with this girl Lauren.  Little did I know at the time, but Lauren had some major self-esteem issues as well which she never explicitly stated but I quickly began to notice because she acted a lot like how I acted.  In her own insecurity she talked about others behind their backs to me, noting on how different girls dressed and "look at how much weight Esther gained over the summer".  The more she talked degradingly to others, the more I realized that she probably thought the same things about me.  Instead of standing up against everyone she spoke against, I remained silent and instead internalized everything.  

For the first time in my life I began to become conscious of my body image and weight.  Growing up I had always eaten healthy because my mom was kind of a health freak, but now that I could buy whatever I wanted from the lunch truck I had some important decisions to make.  I began partaking in erratic eating behaviors which I had forgotten about since I had gotten over my depression.  I would binge eat large amounts of carb loaded snacks because I was a picky eater and hated veggies and fruits, and then hate myself for it.  I wouldn't throw up, but I would just degrade myself for hours after about how fat I was and how I couldn't ever eat again and how I would promise not to binge ever again, but then the next day I would find myself alone in the house after school and a bag of Cheezits and a box of Thin Mints would be destroyed and I would be lying on my bed crying, scratching and digging my nails into my skin trying to pull it off of me, trying to get rid of this body I hated so much.     

Other than this eating problem, over the course of high school I remained relatively mentally stable until junior year when my baggage seemed to come back into my life.  I made my first true really close guy friend who I confided in about everything and told him about my past.  I gave him so much trust which I now realize he never deserved.  He manipulated me emotionally and forced me into hating myself even more than I already did.  I continued all my OCD habits and erratic eating but when I started dating my then-boyfriend, my guy friend became jealous and hurtful and would pick fights where he would yell degrading comments at me.  Eventually I couldn't take it anymore and cut off all contact with him.  His retaliation? Becoming Tessa's boyfriend and dating her from them until the present.  

After so many failed social interactions, combined with my introversion and low self-esteem, I went into senior year feeling completely burned out.  I was frustrated with myself and frustrated with my tiny high school that I felt I had no escape.  I was getting sick of my friends who acted fake and the few real ones I had were not enough to stop me from feeling very alone.  I couldn't even converse with random people on a normal basis because I was so incredibly self-conscious and stricken with fear.  The only people I knew how to talk to were my closest friends, but like I said, there weren't many of them.  I couldn't feel this way going into college so I decided to go see a therapist for the first time.  After determining that I had social anxiety, my therapist and I worked on ways to help get rid of this by teaching me tips to boost my self-esteem.  For the rest of senior year and the summer before college, I worked on learning to like myself, and I really benefitted from the therapy.  Although I don't completely love myself now, and there are days when I get really frustrated with myself, I've come a long way and have learned a lot.  I would strongly recommend therapy to anyone, even if you don't have a mental disorder.  Therapy is a great way to release emotions and thoughts you have that you may not feel comfortable telling someone who knows you and has a biased view of the situation at hand.  

Although I may not be in a completely stable place right now, I can truly say that I am proud of myself for what I have gone through and that I survived.  I can't wait to see where I am headed in the future and know that some day I will look back and realize that I have accomplished so many amazing things in my lifetime.  Although I may have felt differently 5 years ago, I know how I feel now.  And I'm happy to be alive.

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