After accidentally hearing classmates in the library say I would never have a boyfriend because of my looks and awkward personality; a ten year old me decided I was ugly. I say decided because it was something I had pondered about for ages and wholeheartedly came to believe and the snide remark by my peer was just the final proverbial nail in the coffin of my self esteem. I looked in the mirror and found my face and body too round, my eyelid droopy, my eyes too asymmetrical… was put off by what I perceived to be slight strabismus.
I decided that if I couldn’t be conventionally beautiful then I’d have to find other ways to be valuable. So I set out to become smarter than I was before. I had always prided myself on my grades, it was what I got compliments for. When I stood on stage and collected prizes, when authority figures spoke well off me I felt visible and seen and dare I say beautiful. I read every book I could get my hands on and even started reading the encyclopedia Britannica in my free time. It wasn’t just about a thirst for knowledge anymore, I wanted to know and know, until in the end my academic achievements defined me.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t pore over fashion magazines, gazing at the long, gazelle-like legs of supermodels, longing for their high cheek bones and doe-like faces. I must have replayed the bike scene in “Memoirs of a Geisha” hundreds and hundreds of times. Where the main character “manages to stop a man in his tracks with one look”, in this scene a man on a bike is so stunned by her beauty and her stare that he veers off track and crashes his bike. I wanted the kind of beauty that would bring a man to his knees too but the inner voice in my head kept telling me I wasn’t beautiful enough but it didn’t matter because I could be smart.
I decided that I’d make my mark on this world with my brain, and so I filled my days with my head in a book daydreaming about being a powerhouse of a woman; a surgeon, a scientist or an author… the list was endless.
Imagine my dismay when in high school I started showing traits of mental illness and found my grades going into a free fall. I felt like the very thing that defined me and gave me an identity was slowly slipping from my grasp like water and the harder I tried to keep pushing, to attend my classes and stay on top of my grades, the harder the depression and dysfunction hit until I was skipping classes and lying in bed all day. My thoughts were cloudy, I cried all the time, didn’t have the strength to focus on anything or anyone let alone myself. I went from priding myself for writing a great English Essay to giving myself a pat on the back for actually managing to get up and take a shower after days of not doing so. I felt ashamed for being a mess and it would only be years later that I would receive an official diagnosis; Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Major Depressive Disorder.
In the aftermath of it all I think I struggled to reconcile the new me with my preconceived notions of what made me valuable. Torn between weeks of impulsive, self destructive, rambunctious behavior and weeks of crippling sadness, I was spreading myself thin and did not have time or energy to focus on my studies but I falsely attributed it to me not being “smart” anymore. I felt unremarkable and worthless, like I was defective and now I even had a diagnosis and a stigma ridden label to prove it.
So Borderline became my new identity and through it I was absolved of any expectations or responsibilities because I was “mentally ill”. Soon my life was dictated and limited by it. I lost all my interests, goals and dreams. I didn’t want to paint, write, read or watch anything of substance. My opinions and ideas evaporated like vapor until I was a shell of the person I once was. I existed in a perpetual state of boredom and emptiness which I attempted to alleviate by being a self destructive “party girl” running from one crisis into the next and now that I look back I think that this time in my life was extremely important.
In a sense it took those years of harrowing mental illness, it took what felt like the complete annihilation of my inner being to realize what I loved most about myself. It was during a therapy session that my therapist asked me to go home and do something I loved that I realized there was nothing I was passionate about anymore and even though I was consumed with trying to prove my worth and value during my earlier years, there had been more to me than academics. I had loved to paint, I loved to write and read, I danced salsa, played basketball and sprinted. I couldn’t sit still, there was always something to do, something to see. I was curious and wanted to know everything about a person in front of me. I was in love with love…I loved to love people. Not just as a means to an end but as the end itself. I had an obsession with words…the way they sounded, when they rolled of someone’s tongue. I loved colors and could find the beauty or silver lining in any situation and most importantly I had felt a strong desire to help people and change something. Somewhere deep inside me I knew that that girl still existed and it was then that I knew something had to change.
This is not a pseudo introspective, wannabe intellectual story. I am not saying I have fully accepted myself and who I am. Nor am I saying that I am fully healed and have a solid sense of self. I am still a work in progress. I have days when I stand in front of the mirror (more often than not) and think to myself “daaaamn…hit the gym with your stretch marked zebra looking ass”, sometimes I get depressed and don’t have the energy to do the things I love but some days like today I lie in bed and trace those same stretch marks and realize that every scar, wrinkle, mark is fine exactly the way it is and I wouldn’t change a single thing.
None of us are “average” or worthless human beings. We are all extraordinary and have a purpose in life that makes us more valuable than we could ever comprehend. We are a collection of memories, experiences and stories. Our bodies are not just vessels to be coveted and admired but a living map of our individual journeys. Our bodies are our whole life stories and that of the people that came before us condensed into one. We are all collections of memories, walking picture story books and works of art.
Today I lay in bed and looked at my body…there’s a scar on my knee…from the one time I fell over a flower bed at 7 years old running after the ice-cream truck, ready to risk it all for a some dairy queen. There are wrinkles next to my mouth… because I’m always laughing, smiling and making odd facial expressions till my mom cuts the conversation short because “I’m being a damn fool”. There’s an unfortunate looking deer tattoo on my thigh from the one time I lent an amateur tattoo artist my skin because she seemed nice and I wanted her to practice and it wouldn’t bother me too much if she didn’t get it right.
My thoughts, emotions and memories make me who I am and my experiences have shaped the person I am today. Lending a listening ear or helping hand to a friend, sharing a memory, story or idea, giving love or cheering someone up by being “a damn fool” is my definition of beautiful. I sometimes wanted to erase the painful things that happened to me in the past or wished I didn’t have a mental illness but whether I like it or not, my mental illness showed me that I can be resilient and strong and I’ve become even better for it. (Plus I can probably tell you a wicked good story about my misguided adventures, that might make you laugh.)
I think that’s why I share very intimate things on my blog because I think someone, somewhere out there may be going through the same thing and this in a way is my contribution to the other voices out there that tell you, you are not alone. No human being is an island…our lives are all woven together in some shape or form and if sharing my experience will make at least one person feel better, then it’s worth it.
When I think about my friends, family, the people I fell in love with romantically; I realize that what makes them valuable or beautiful to me isn’t a razor sharp intellect or skin deep physical beauty. It is all their emotions and memories they choose to share with me, as well as well as the memories we create together. It is who they are as a person, what they do for other people, their values, ethics, integrity. The things they burn for; how they fight for their passions and dreams. The way they face adversities, fall down and get up even stronger than before. Beauty fades, intellect may too but some things are forever.
21 May 2018