Edit 3/31/17: The founder of Project Semicolon has passed. This is a very sad day! This is just another reminder of how real mental illness is and how much of a struggle it can be. Please, if you are having suicidal thoughts and are feeling overwhelmed, please reach out! It takes a whole system of support to persevere. Your story doesn’t have to end.
LONG, LOOOOOONG time, no see. I feel like sometimes through the facade of social media we sometimes lose sight of ourselves. Day after day our feeds are flooded with many of our friends, family members, and acquaintances high light reels.
We see these people smiling in photos and always having a great time. We sometimes lose ourselves in that we begin to compare these high light reels, these selected and filtered moments of other’s lives, and compare them to our whole life, bloopers, sad scenes, and all. This can really create a feeling of isolation and worthlessness, especially to those who already battle with those very thoughts in their everyday life.
I have debated sharing my story for a while, but if it helps just one person then I am grateful. I apologize in advance, this is a very lengthy post.
This is my semicolon story.
My battle began with issues of self-image. I can remember always having a concern over the number on the scale, even before middle school. Upon entering middle school, I can still visualize the moment I decided to go on my first of many “extreme” diets. I was eleven.
A male friend of mine poked my stomach on the first day of sixth grade and said, “hey, you lost your blubber over the summer.” It was at that point that I lost a piece of myself. I began obsessing over everything going in my body.
I ate lettuce wraps with carrots. I measured every single calorie that went into my body. The most alarming thing is that I would cancel plans with friends so I could work out and monitor what I ate. At twelve years old I could hardly stand the sight of myself in a mirror.
Growing up, my mother always told me I was beautiful. She even would address my weight concerns with my pediatrician who would assure me that I was healthy and as long as I ate fruits, vegetables, watched my sweets, and exercised I would continue to be healthy.
I developed these rituals to squeeze in exercise during every spare moment I had. It got to the point that it concerned my parents so I would secretly exercise behind closed doors. Whenever I used the restroom or before bed I would manically do push-ups, sit-ups, and dips. I even hid a set of dumbbells under my bed.
About six months later my obsession with exercise and health fizzled out for a bit. With that came a new habit. I would chew food up and secretly spit it out into a napkin. I’d do this to an entire plate of food and would even grab a second plate and do it all over again. I wanted to convince my parents that I didn’t have a problem. I did anything to try and convince them. While convincing them, I think I was secretly trying to convince myself.
The exercise pretty much ceased until one day late in the school year. That one day was in gym class during 7th grade a kid poked me in the stomach and asked if I was pregnant. Suddenly, I was back in 6th grade again. I did all I could to laugh it off. On the inside, I was dying.
I began taking several hour long walks and runs and begged my mom until she finally agreed to get me a gym membership. Once I began working out, I became pretty antisocial. I would workout 6-7 days a week for 2-3 hours at a time. Again, I measured every bit of food. I even had a scale I would use to measure my food to the gram.
I would pace in the kitchen as I prepared my food in order to burn “extra” calories. I could not even go out to eat with my parents and enjoy it. I was once a kid who drank soda and ate a big ol’ burger out. I now became the kid who only drank water and asked for salads with no dressing. I would go to the lighter faire options, eat around the cheese and toppings, and pretend like everything was okay. My weight dropped almost 30 pounds in just 2.5 months.
When I entered 8th grade, these obsessive habits with food transformed into ones in which I only ate the outside of foods and would trash what was left inside. I found myself backing off on the exercise as time progressed. I started growing closer to this individual I’d met the previous school year.
At that point, I began spending less time in the gym, less time doing meal prep, and more time hanging out with this person. In some sense I felt like I was finally getting better. I was no longer counting the calories (though I had a pretty good idea how many calories were in most foods). As you may have guessed it, this person I invested myself in was a guy.
We had a lot of fun hanging out together, but their definitely was a steep downhill from those fun times.
This is where the words don’t just roll off the tongue. I have accepted my body image issues as well at my eating disorder. I have accepted that it happened and that I truly did not love myself. It’s the issues that I developed later in middle school and into early high school that I have a hard time owning up to.
That boy I mentioned earlier, well, I started to equate my self-worth to everything in our relationship. When we had a good day, I felt on top of the world. When we fought, I was completely and fully convinced that I was the root of all our issues. Yeah, at times I definitely did not make matters better and maybe at times I was actually the bad guy. Maybe I provoked him, maybe I didn’t. What we had became unhealthy and I could not see that.
This was more than just feeling bad after a fight. This was feeling worthless. This was feeling like that boy was doing me a favor by dating me. This was having your mood, your state of mind, and your self-worth, dependent solely on another person.
This feeling of worthlessness, it wrecked me.
I spent many of nights crying myself to sleep. I would think to myself “why do you keep messing up, why can’t you just do things right for once?” I often hid in my closet and cried into a pillow.
On the exterior my once colorful wardrobe transformed into drab black, heavy eyeliner, and essentially what was called “emo” at the time.
It wasn’t just me trying to be trendy, it was actually a reflection of what I was becoming.
Oh, this is the part I really dread thinking about.
These nights of crying left me feeling empty. There was this pain that I just could not get rid of no matter how hard I tried. It was at this point that I first cut myself.
It didn’t hurt.
You hear people say the emotional pain hurt so much that self-harm actually made them feel better. Well, it did, but very temporarily.
Through all of this, I still did not see that I wasn’t worthless. I did not see that this wasn’t normal. I did not see that I needed help. I believed this was normal, I was just going through a phase, teenagers are emotional, and fights happen.
By day I was an “A” student involved in extracurricular activities and by night I was hiding in my closet.
I am not sure when it finally clicked that things shouldn’t be this way. I couldn’t see that some people, some habits, some thoughts, were all toxic.
When I entered high school, I still hadn’t learned to love myself, as a matter of fact I am still learning just that to this very day.
When I was 14 I met the boy who would become my fiancé a little over seven years later. We ran cross country together and had freshman English together. We met after our first race when he offered me his water bottle when I was clearly distraught from a bad race. Even then, he was already taking care of me.
After practice his mom would take me home. We were just casual friends.
One day, for whatever reason I decided I would sit by him in English. We joked around. It was awkward at first so I looked him up on the popular social media platform at the time (MySpace) and essentially stalked him. I memorized his interests like I was studying for a test. I even listened to the weird indie music on his page.
I began dropping these bits of information as if I identified with them in our conversations. Eventually we had been talking for almost two months when I told him some deep dark secrets that I’d told no one.
This 14 year boy must have felt like I was insane. I unloaded my emotions on him in English. I can still visualize that moment. But you know what, he didn’t judge me. He didn’t tell me I was wrong. He didn’t tell me I was dumb. He listened.
He was the first person to listen to me without judgement. He was also the first person to help me see I was a victim.
You see, that boy from middle school was still in my life at that point. He pinched me when I said something he didn’t like. He’d squeeze my hand so hard the ring on my finger would bruise the finger just beside it. There were small bruises up and down my arms from him yet I still felt I was the cause of all those issues. I made him hurt me. I believed casual talking was flirting and so I began to recluse.
Had I not met the man (young man at the time) who would later become my boyfriend (and much later my fiancé), I don’t know where I would be today.
I am not sure I would have been strong enough to get away. I may have fallen deeper into myself.
I remember my first fight with my fiancé, he was angry and I crumbled. To the floor I went, sobbing. I immediately blamed myself and felt scared. It was this moment I knew I was falling in love with this guy. Instead of getting angrier, placing blame on me, and hurting me, he picked me up. He hugged me. He assured me all would be okay.
To this day I still battle feelings of worthlessness but not because of the guy I am with. I no longer hide in closets. I no longer have to pretend I am happy when I am not.
With that, I am happy to say I haven’t cut myself for almost seven years. Though that doesn’t mean I am not sometimes tempted too.
I made huge strides in learning to love who I am when I feel into a job at a summer camp. What I presumed would just end up being a job, ended up a learning experience. I found a place I long for. I found a place that I can always go to and they will welcome me with open arms. I found a giant family of people to hear me without judgement.
Each day I battle myself when I look in the mirror. I see myself and I see flaws. I don’t love myself like I should and thus I work every day to love myself. I may love my fiancé to the moon and back but if I do not love myself, something will always be missing in the love I give him.
He’s been my right hand man through it all. Though at times he does not understand where I am coming from, he surely tries his best to.
As I near the end of my education, I’ve faced anxiety, low points, and an overall lack of enthusiasm. But I am much stronger now. It has been a 10 year battle with me and myself, but I am finally ready to stop facing this battle alone. Though I am a warrior, it’s time to call in for back up.
I am finally ready to get the help I need. This is my semicolon.
I posted this blog a year ago. My story continues to go on, as a matter of fact I am stronger than ever. In the past year I have made a commitment to taking care of my mind, body, and soul. Each day, I eat what I want in moderation as long as it is balanced with nutrition and each day I get exercise, even if it is just a short walk. When I look in the mirror, I make a conscious effort not to nit pick. It is tough, but over time it gets easier.
This has been liberating. I am physically and mentally stronger than I have been in years and I feel like I have really taken back my life. Now, this is not saying I do not struggle. I do. I have very low days, but instead of those low days turning in low weeks and months, I have gained the tools necessary to keep on moving on. What works for me, won’t necessary work for everyone, but the first step is deciding you don’t want your story to end.
For more information on Project Semicolon, visit this page: http://www.projectsemicolon.org/