Trigger warning: this piece discusses themes of abuse and trauma.
It took a while for me to register how much of an impact my childhood had on the person I am today. Everything I do is based on what I learnt and was told as a kid.
Growing up and being told I was, ‘unwanted, worthless, too emotional, emotionless, freak, b*tch, fat, too skinny, ungrateful, too happy, too sad, sl*t,’ had more of an impact than I ever thought. I learnt from a young age to suppress most of my emotions, to not talk to or trust people, to be kind and helpful and to never expect anything back, to respect my elders even when they constantly put me down, never eat in public because people will think you're a pig, but also let them see you eat a little every now and then so they think you're normal.
As a child, I could never understand why I was so exhausted all the time. Now, I think I finally realise that I spent all my energy on keeping up my appearance and keeping people happy, giving people everything and leaving nothing for myself. I gave and gave and never got anything in return. I became a shell of myself. I wasn't allowed to express myself, I was told what I could and couldn't wear. I wasn’t allowed to dislike food and, if I did, I had to eat it anyway. I wasn't allowed to colour or change my hair. I wasn't allowed to draw or write the things I wanted. I wasn't allowed to turn my room into my own space. I wasn't allowed to be different from my family.
So, it was no surprise when I went to the inpatient unit for the first time and they asked me questions about myself, all my answers consisted of, ‘I don't know,’ because I genuinely didn't know. I couldn't even tell them what my favourite colour or hobbies were outside of reading or drawing. I didn't know what I wanted to do or what my life would consist of.
It wasn't until after my first inpatient stay that I started seriously thinking about it, outside of my roles of being a mother, daughter, sister, employee and student, I had no idea who I was. I started with the basics of what I like and what I don't like, and then slowly bumped it up to what I want my life to look like. What do I want for myself? What example do I want to set for my son and younger siblings? Unfortunately, I didn't get very far into that before my next admission to the inpatient unit.
During my time there it was difficult. I hated being there. All I wanted was to leave and gain some of my independence back but it was also some of my best times. It gave me a lot of time to think about life and myself. Since then, I have found out so much about myself. I got the chance to express myself. I dyed my hair and had fun with it - I had purple hair and then bright pink, I changed it a lot and slowly found a style of clothing I liked. I tried different things and finally started growing a list of likes and dislikes that I am still continuing to this day.
Even the silly little things helped me figure myself out. For instance, I discovered that I absolutely hate almond milk and I hate massage chairs but I love the way a hot cup of coffee feels in my hands sitting out under the stars. I love the feeling of rain on my skin. I love wrapping myself in a fluffy blanket in the cold. These are all things I didn't know about myself before but slowly I figured them out and it fills me a little knowing I’m not a complete stranger with myself.
I know the person I am becoming and can't wait to see what else I can figure out. I am slowly learning to trust people and also learning to trust myself. I am learning to let people in a little bit. I am still trying to challenge my beliefs about myself and that is a constant battle but I am trying. People always say, ‘don't give up, you will make it through the other side,’ but it’s so much harder than just not giving up. It’s hard to make it through to the other side when you can't see the other side. It's hard to keep going when every ounce of your being just wants to give up. I don't have a lot more advice for that other than keeping hold of the things you value, the things you want to achieve or the things you haven't done yet.
My list consists of wanting to see my son lead a full life, seeing my little sister grow into herself, to give her advice and helping her along the way, the fact that I have never had a Christmas in the winter, I want to publish a book, I want to know what it feels like to just get in the car with no set destination, to watch the sunrise while swimming in the ocean, to be able to go to a concert. These are the reasons I try and hold on, and despite some slips ups, I always try and get back up to continue the fight. It’s a battle I am willing to continue so I can experience everything this world has to offer. I want to be able to say I lived my life and took everything the world had to offer.
I have seen the bad and the good in this world and I want to keep living until the good outweighs the bad. I want to keep living so I can tell stories to my son and other future kids. I want to keep living so I know what it feels like to stand in the pouring rain and dance. I want to know how it feels to be so happy you feel like you might explode. I want to know how it feels to live life without the fear of my own thoughts. I want to live so I can spontaneously book a plane and travel. I want to live till I can say I know exactly who I am.
It took me so long to realise that the views I had about the world and the reactions I had were completely normal for everything I went through. It didn't make them any less painful or change my point of view, but they finally made sense and I had a better understanding of how I could change them. I realised that so much of my childhood was spent trying to survive and trying to protect myself that I built a habit of constantly having these walls up, of constantly looking over my shoulder and keeping to myself.
I didn't know what it was like to have a childhood. I didn't know what it felt like to enjoy a moment or even to know what it felt like to sleep soundly. I was forced to grow up before I was ever ready and take on adult responsibilities while still being treated as a child. I was never allowed to be my own person but now I’m discovering so much about myself that I never knew and, honestly, I can't wait until I am no longer strangers with the girl that stares back at me in the mirror.
If I could speak to my younger self, I would thank her. I would thank her for the pain and suffering she endured just to make it through to the next day. I would thank her for everything she did to help get us to where we are today. I would apologise for the amount of pain I put us through in the future. I would apologise for not speaking up sooner. I would let her know that we make it out alive; it definitely won't be easy but we do make it eventually. Looking back, I can see how much I have grown, I can see the downfalls I had but how I got back up and walked past them. I can see the pain and the suffering but I can also see the times when I had a genuine smile, even if it only lasted a second, it was something. I can see how distraught I would get over the littlest things but then also see how I overcame those.
I hope one day I will be able to look in the mirror and smile at the girl staring back. I hope one day I can forgive myself and believe all the good things people have said about me. I might be stuck in a pit of pain and depression, I might be in a state where I just don't want to live, I don't want to fight but I have something that I didn't have all those other times; I have a glimmer of hope. I have a little part of me that wants to experience life.
It’s scary. it’s scary to have a little bit of hope but it’s also a little bit freeing. It’s scary because I know how quickly it can shatter but it’s also freeing because it’s something I’ve never had before.
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