If you don't know the the importance of self-love, it's time to learn. If there was something I wished I had known sooner, it would be a thing called self-love. For years, I struggled with it, throughout my childhood, middle school, high school, and even the earlier college years. It sort of became this dark burden that I carried, something I began to come to terms with, in all honesty, about a few months ago. I supposed a lot had to do with just growing up, in general, and growing a stronger passion for awareness and advocacy work. I am still getting there as best I can. Like everyone else, I often need to take a step back and refocus on what is best for my own mental health. Something I learned is that self-love is something many people, including myself, battle with for a longer period of time than others. Timing is everything and so is a work-in-progress.
It was my senior year in high school when I asked my mom after dinner if I was “flat-chested.” She looked at me, speechless, and said why I would ask her something like that. She was horrified when I told her a few classmates had called me flat-chested earlier in school that day, and a few of them were my friends.
For the longest time, I was silent when a few close friends had called me “fat,” “ugly,” “pale,” “anorexic looking” or that they were “darker/more Mexican looking” than me. It hurt when a relative even told me how “white” I was or how it looked like I had cancer. I understood that nobody was “perfect,” but these comments jarred me because why were they being said in the first place? I never asked for anyone’s opinion on how I looked, whether it was the clothes on my back or the color of my skin. But I never stood up for myself and kept quiet by ignoring these comments. I was afraid to upset or piss off anyone for speaking up. I hated drama and thought it had only heightened from middle to high school because let’s face it, people can be so cruel. Which is why it's important to recognize the importance of self-love.
Suppressing my hurt feelings from, what I later realized was bullying turned into a physical matter when I started self-harming. It was an hour before I had to leave for the mandatory high school freshmen orientation, and I was already making a fuss about my appearance and what to wear and what not to wear. I felt pressured to look a certain way because high school had my stomachs in knots, worrying what others would think of me. It sort of built, the guilt and shame, and one thing led to another. After I cut for the first time, I did my best to forget about my soon to be the reality, even when a girl who used to bully me in middle school, saw the fresh cut on my arm and gave me a dirty look later at orientation. Cutting was the only way I knew how to cope with life, whenever I felt angry, sad, stressed out, or insecure. I continued to cut on and off throughout high school and sometimes wore bracelets or kept on a jacket to hide my arms. Sometime during my freshman year of high school, it seemed to be months from self-harming and the memories were long gone as if none of it had happened.
It was a hot spring day when a now former friend told me that I had fat arms, as I paid for my lunch at school. I had probably gained a few pounds, but comments about being too fat, from my arms to bottom, convinced me that I needed to lose weight—and fast. Around the same time, there were some family matters going on and I had already been working out, which was a great way to de-stress. But my intentions had changed when I recalled how working out had helped me drop a few pounds during my first semester of high school. It felt good when I was told in a matter of weeks how “skinny” I looked or how my bones were popping out because that meant I was no longer “fat.”
It took me until college to realize that working out too much is a form of self-destructiveness because working out three hours a day and not eating after a certain time, regardless if I ate whatever I wanted and had my three meals a day, was still an eating disorder. Something that I kept hidden was the times I grew physically exhausted from workouts or moments I felt dizzy and nearly passed out from straining or dehydrating myself. I had to learn and accept the way I looked and grow comfortable in my own skin (and that will always be a work in progress and I am still learning to accept that).
I never understood the meaning of funerals bringing loved ones closer or driving them apart until my sophomore year in college when my last living grandparent passed away. By the time my grandpa’s funeral arrived, a few relatives were already in a heated argument and it got uglier when a relative insulted and threatened the family, including me. Juggling classes and the stress from homework, exams, and the impending funeral and being around the family made me sick and I ran a hundred-degree fever all week. I felt ashamed because it had dawned on me that I was grieving over the family tension and not the actual passing of a loved one. The only way I dealt with the guilt was self-harming.
It was a wake-up call because I had already been in therapy for a few months at that point and something I learned from each session was to talk it out. I immediately scheduled a therapy appointment, although I was mortified because I already had the tools on how to manage and cope with life stressors. Self-harming was something that took me a while to talk about, and even when that day had finally arrived, I froze up when my therapist had asked if it was okay to discuss the first time I cut. No matter how terrifying it was to talk about because that meant it was no longer hidden and officially out in the open, I learned that there was a different approach to a sensitive topic. Something that stuck with me (even until today) was when my therapist informed me that talking about something was not necessarily about the physical details, but my thoughts and feelings about it. For self-harming, it was all about what went through my mind before, during, and after it had happened. It was a starting point and what, ultimately, helped me to try and deal with any hint of shame or guilt, especially when my therapist told me that I was going to be okay after my relapse from the funeral. That was the last time I self-harmed.
Today, I continue to find solace in therapy and I encourage it because sometimes talking something out with, as most have heard, a stranger helps and does save lives. Asking for help is never a sign of weakness - I used to think so because I thought therapy meant that I was damaged, screwed up, or unstable. Therapy does not mean any of those things. It is a place to get the tools on how to manage different life events. I continue to learn, as simple as it sounds, that everyone has their ups and downs from school, work, or relationships. For a while, I used to hold onto the scars—pain, anger, stress—always terrified to even acknowledge it myself, but I continue to understand that scars eventually do fade over time. There is always hope, no matter what.