At the age that many consider “middle-age,” I think that I’ve earned a certain level of respect for my life experiences, my skills, my expertise in certain areas of life, and my self-proclaimed good judge of character and all that is fair and just.
I’m kind of hunkered down right now because I am sick, and so I was looking at stuff from when I was younger. Pictures, mostly, from my time between the age of 13 and 25. I thought about how much I hated myself back then. And when I say hate, I meant hate.
I hated my body, that my Cystic Fibrosis had begun to claim as its own.
From the time I was born, until I turned 13 mid-year in eighth grade, I was woefully malnourished. I was so severely thin that I was on a 4,000 calorie diet because of lung and GI problems due to CF. I looked similarly to the children on “Save the Children” commercials, shown to let us all see what starvation looks like, which is a stick body with a huge belly. My body was literally starving – I wasn’t digesting most of what I ate, and what I did digest, I used it to keep my lungs working.
Through fourth grade, I had stains on my teeth from medication, that led to kids picking on me and throwing toothbrushes at me. Once my medications changed, the marks on my teeth went away, but the marks inside me didn’t.
I remember getting fitted for new cheerleading uniforms in front of everyone, and some made others aware of my (CF-induced) swollen belly (which translated into me looking “fat”). Looking back, I saw that at just 100 pounds, I wasn’t fat, and with the uniform and all of its pieces, it actually helped keep my puffy belly more “controlled looking.” It wasn’t their comments that hurt, me, it was the realization that I didn’t fit the stereotype of pretty or beautiful.
As I hit adulthood, scars from surgeries began to pile up. I had reconstruction of my ACL ligament on my right leg. I have 2 long scars on my knee and several small “hole” scars from orthoscopic surgeries. Less than two years later, only nine months after meeting my now-husband, I acquired a huge scar from the 8″ + incision from sternum to belly button due to a ruptured appendix and erosion of my colon. What began as a quick exploratory surgery became a 7-hour tear-down/sew-up project that required a vertical incision down my stomach muscles. I hid the scars for many, many years. I felt hideous, like a monster. I was all cut up now and here we were planning to marry in less than two years. I felt like I ruined my body and that I was ugly for it, and would never look good to my husband. Thankfully, he says that scars just mean you’ve survived, and dang, we did!
My swollen belly stayed with me, and it always made me feel fat. At 42, I am now in the upper range of what is considered healthy for a healthy woman my age/height (but my doctors prefer it to be as high as possible because higher BMI is related to higher life span in CF patients.). But when I look at photos from age 22, 25, and even 35, at 32, I would kill to be 15 pounds less and look like I did in those pictures – where I originally felt so ugly that I would miss social engagements because I felt fat.
Of course, my actual belly continues to be swollen, so I looked more like someone who was starving – thin arms and legs and a huge belly – which was obvious it was due to my malnutrition. Yes, I realize how irresponsible it is to admit this – I don’t want to further the epidemic of self-hatred or the thought that you have to wait to do something or go somewhere until you reach a certain number. But I’m human, this world has some messed-up standards, and I am working on it.
So why am I telling you this?
We all have awkward days. Mine seemed to begin around 4 years old and never quite left, but I know wish that I had not wasted so many tears, missed opportunities for fun, or said such unkind to myself in the mirror, because I didn’t feel that I looked good enough to deserve friendship and fun. Of course, that led to me feeling like I’d never have friends, a social circle, a place where I belonged (besides the hospital), etc.
Imagine that. I felt that I too ugly and fat – which to me meant inadequate – to allow myself fun.
Now let me make this clear – I did not hold these standards to anyone else. I could have an identical twin or clone – everything the same – and still have believe that I was too hideous, and too much of a loser (see where this is going?) because I wasn’t as smart or cool or dressed like everyone else. I didn’t go to a fancy college; it took 7 years with breaks in between to finish my degree – on my dime – while my peers were out in the workforce 3-4 years earlier than me.
When I finally did finish, and found a job that I loved, after only five years, I was forced to retire due to my health. I had lost any identity I had built there. Again, I began doubting and beating myself up. And at 42, I still am not always very nice to myself.
I fail at running my home, being a good wife, being there for friends and family, maintaining activities or hobbies.
The Bottom Line:
So who am I know? I don’t really have a good answer. I’m still working on that, but I wanted to say this to those of you who don’t want to grow up with THIS sort of regret:
Stop hating yourself. No matter what it is that you think “brings you down” or reinforces self-doubt, take away both the resource(s) of these thoughts, whether it’s a person or a group of people or yourself, and the feelings of inadequacy that prevent you from making positive life changes or beginning new adventures.
Do you want to help others your age, or others younger than you who you’ve seen self-sabotage things because they feel that they aren’t good enough? I’ve written a series of Twitter posts with ideas to share. I have written and posted several of them below, but plan to keep creating them as I think of them. Feel free to add your own. Please remember the hashtags:
And if you can, take a screencap and send it to me through Twitter at @ToniV
Let’s make people’s futures better now!