From the moment I can remember, loving myself has always been a struggle. I have changed the outfits I liked wearing because I detested what I saw in the mirror. 'If I could not convince myself, how would I convince others?', I used to think. I have written about so many things that I never admired. But when someone else did, I was satisfied that indeed, it may have been adequate. I prepared strenuously for exams but couldn't explain the concepts I studied overnight, to others. The thought of being wronged, mocked at for expressing myself, ceased me from doing what I would've enjoyed. I always tried to alter myself based on social validations and couldn't be proud of who I was.
Until recently, I didn't even make a conscious effort to it. I attributed this behavior to various factors, the top of the list being the environment. Be it primary or middle school, college or internships, clubs, or competitions. I would repeatedly hear people telling me what my capabilities were. I was told I could only sing a specific genre of music, that I was weak in academics. I got publicly humiliated for auditioning in a dance competition. I was instructed not to wear certain clothes cause it does not accentuate my features, advised to apply gram flour and turmeric powder on my face (a.k.a, your regular Indian face mask) to get fairer.
All that it took for me to give up was someone telling me that I was a halfwit, or someone saying I couldn't sing.
What I can be, seemed to be something I could never identify, but it was always subtly dictated by the people around me. A single failure would be exaggerated and used as a reason to pull me down further. Appreciations were minimal and in some cases, none.
There are so many opportunities that I consciously let go of because I believed I was all that I was known to be by others. I quit an International Debate Team selection workshop because I thought I was dumber than the lot. It didn't strike me that I could learn, get better, and give an honest shot. I convinced myself that faking sickness and running away was the only choice. During school, when I desperately wanted something, I would work for it. I thought I was giving my fullest, but I didn't understand that it wasn't even one-tenth of the effort I could put. Now I realize the real reason behind the way I was.
All that it took for me to give up was someone telling me that I was a halfwit, or someone saying I couldn't sing. Maybe these people didn't care enough to say it out loud once more but in my head, I heard it every single day.
Again and again and again. The thought became an inherent part of me like breathing. I knew for sure, that's all I can ever be. I cannot score more; I cannot be a musician; I cannot be beautiful. I let myself be the one that didn't bother striving hard. I preferred to get stuck in that one place I never wanted to be.
It took me several years to destroy the cycle. First, I decided to break it to seek vengeance. I wanted to succeed in all the things the world had warned and discouraged me in. I studied and scored well in all the subjects despite my lack of interest. I did crazy crash diets and lost weight battling headaches almost every single day. I did public speaking, Carnatic music, and theater but when I did win, I was not elated. The feeling of victory and the joy of attaining my goals were not how I envisaged it to be. I didn't even introspect on whether I rejoiced what I was putting myself in. I did not relish the process one bit and repented persevering through.
From a young age, I acted in a particular way, felt optimistic about one thing, and loathed myself for the other. Someone had already decided what would be apt for me, and I was a failure every time I didn't follow it. If I tried anything else, I felt embarrassed. I didn't want to disappoint the people around me, because if they were happy, I thought I could be too. While trying to prove these people, who presumed they were right about me, wrong, I ended up yearning the same affirmation I was trying to let go. I didn't give myself a minute to reflect on my thoughts and actions. When I looked back at all my supposed accomplishments, I had no idea if I was fond of its ups and downs. I didn't know if it were something I would take upon on an average day and not feel guilty about it. The funny thing was that I still never got acknowledgment from those who thought they ran my life. Not only did I let them but I also profoundly believed they would change their opinions, and that would be the instant I gained happiness.
The most significant encouragement, as cliche as it sounds, is remembering my past self.
These years made me realize how I could be more than just a girl who found ways to love herself through others. Although external acknowledgment could be a great motivation, I learned that while climbing up to a better place, the most significant encouragement, as cliche as it sounds, is remembering my past self. It's an internal battle of boosting my self-confidence after accepting what made me lose it in the first place. It's about reaching that point in life where I no longer feel the need to compare and force myself to do something to convince other people; people who never cared. Where I could do whatever I desired while soaking in the pleasure of the moment instead of drowning myself in sorrow. I needed to shatter my identity into pieces I've collected from others and rebuild it in terms of my definitions.
I write this while embarking on a journey of self-appreciation and love, where I can pause, savor, cherish and remember the things that I passionately care about; a journey where I live for myself. I write this while training myself to praise what I see in the mirror instead of my surreal imagination while taking my baby steps to create a life that veritably screams, "Me."
To the ones struggling to come out of a place that they know they don't belong in: your hardships are incomprehensible. It is probably way more comfortable to sit and live a life you regret rather than getting up and working every day to find yourself again. But trust me, there is no better feeling than achieving something you never thought you could, even more than others thinking you can't.
It is not as easy as I make it sound now, but it'll be worth it for you'll love yourself and your life more; smaller achievements will make you happier. You'll learn to be okay with all the hatred there is. You'll learn to filter and hear what benefits you for you'll understand whose opinions about you matters the most: yourself.