Do you ever wonder if you are telling the wrong story? Like maybe the story about the girl who was bullied and didn’t know how to find herself is just part of the story? I’ve wondered that for a long time, if maybe the thing I’ve been holding as my story for so long is just a part of my story. The big picture, if you will, is all about something I still don’t totally understand.
As a kid, I wavered between loving everything about me to wanting to fix all of the broken pieces. By the time I reached middle school, I’d left all thought of loving myself behind. Friendships and relationships felt contractual: if you do this or that, I’ll be your friend. If you dress differently, you can hang out with us. If you help me with the class I’m failing, I’ll talk to you in the hallway. If you behave or look a certain way, I’ll love you.
I didn’t fulfill a lot of those contracts. I didn’t know how. And I felt alone a lot of the time. I wanted my relationships to be different – I wanted to be different – but I didn’t know what that meant.
When I was a freshman in high school, I really wanted a boyfriend. I’d never been in a relationship before, and I assumed that having a boy to love me was exactly what was missing in my life. It became an obsession for me, and I never really learned how to build relationships with men that weren’t based solely on my (very bad) flirting.
I never got a boyfriend, and I assumed it meant that there was something wrong with me.
I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you that my lack of a relationship thus far in my life does not mean there is something wrong with me. And, if you’re where I am, there is nothing wrong with you. I know that can be hard to see, but I’ll tell you now that you’re wonderful just as you are.
Though I’d likely been depressed for a long time, it began to really manifest itself in high school. I continued to let the opinions of others influence my opinion of myself, and I dealt with it through self-harm and disordered eating. I gained weight dramatically, which just fueled my depression. It became a never-ending cycle that I’m just now learning to monitor.
I was a mess for a long time, but in 2009 I reached my first major turning point. That year, my uncle died. I learned of his death by suicide when I returned home after a week abroad, and it shook me. I’d contemplated suicide before, but I’d never thought about what it would be like for others. His death sent me spiraling; I didn’t want to end my life angry and sad, like he did.
I wanted to live, and love, happily.
That was five years ago. And here’s what I really want you to know: love is a long, hard road.
Over the last five years, the thing I have learned the most is that loving yourself is the first step. And it’s hard, so hard. And I wish I had secrets for you. I wish that I could send you a care package with special teas and chocolates that would make all of this easier.
There isn’t any of that, though. As far as I know, there’s only a lot of journaling, listening to good music, talking to people who have gotten through it, and waiting. There is so much waiting. But all of that waiting is so worth it when you finally start to see your own worth in the mirror.
One of the things that helped me the most was loving other people. And watching people love other people. The love you give to others will fill your spirit in a way you never expected. And it will be hard, but if you love just one person every day, your heart will grow that much stronger.
If you’re reading this, and you’re struggling, take a moment to focus less on the immediate and instead look at the bigger picture. In what places can you find the love you are seeking?
If you don’t see it, go find it. Go love someone else for a day or let someone love you. Don’t be afraid to ask for the love you need.
It’s never too late to love yourself, which is something I wish my uncle had known.
I hope you know that your story is about so much more than what you’ve been through or what you’re going through. It’s about how loved you are, by others, by yourself, and by me. Because even if I’ve never met you, I know you’re worth an exponential amount of love. And I hope you know that too.
Melissa Boles is a Student Affairs professional based out of Vancouver, Washington, who believes in love letters, coffee dates, and magic. She is learning to cook, to keep a plant alive, and how to love herself and others. She is available on her blog, twitter, and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She would love to hear from you.