Living with Cerebral Palsy, self-esteem and I weren't always the very best of friends. Around the time I was ten years old, I became somewhat aware of the fact that I was different. It mostly stemmed from being sent to talk to the social worker in elementary school, who explained that I needed to work on "liking myself" and my social skills. At that age I spent quite a bit of time partaking activities either somewhat or completely alone, and apparently that was considered not to be a good thing. It was at that time where I started to wonder if something was indefinitely wrong with me.
Junior high often made me feel trapped in a superficial bubble. Girls plastered on layers of make-up and made it look professional. Many wore Holister and Abercrombie like it was the school uniform. The common question or topic among friend was who was "going out" with whom. And none of it really mattered to me until the rumors about me started to fly and the comments on the internet got nastier by the day. According to whomever wrote those words, I was ugly and my legs needed to be fixed, among other things.
And though I tried to act as if I didn't care, those words haunted me on a regular basis. I became extremely angry, and that anger would eventually manifest itself into a depressive state. I hated myself for not being strong enough to rise above all the bullshit that was going on. And I even hated God for creating me with a handicap; at the time I believed that if I didn't have it, none of this stuff would be happening.
But that's not to say that there weren't any high moments; once I began attending church and youth group activities, my confidence rose ever so slightly. I was surrounded by people that genuinely cared for me, and I began to build a spiritual foundation that I had hoped would be the answer to what I was searching for.
Yet, I was still fighting a battle on the inside; a battle to let go of my previous negative experiences and move forward. It continued into high school, where I frequently compared myself to my own friends because they appeared to have it all together while I was still a complete mess. There was also a bit of envy there because they either were in relationships or got a lot of attention from the guys. I, on the other hand, felt like a wallflower; watching, but never accomplishing anything.
I did go to counseling several times, neither of which yielded positive results. I felt as though most of the adults in my life were telling me to completely change who I was, and that aggravated the crap out of me. I didn't get it at the time, but they weren't necessarily telling me that I needed to change; rather, it was my attitude that was the problem.
Starting my freshman year of college, I decided that I no longer wanted to be that insecure girl that had taken over my life for almost a decade. I wanted to "get my head out of the sandbox" as I called it, and go explore what else was out there. However, I was extremely niave; I had been told that I would have to occasionally deal with bitchy girls and guys that only wanted to have sex; but for the most part, I believed that people would be mature and more accepting.
Unfortunately, I was in for a rude awakening. At first everything went smoothly; I was meeting people and socializing a lot. I didn't have to explain myself at all. But eventually, the differences started to show, both in me and those that I surrounded myself with. People made judgments against me based on pure speculation. Words meant one thing, while actions displayed something entirely different
It was all very much an emotional roller-coaster; I had to break down several times in order to stop being stubborn and actually get the right kind of help. And by "right", I mean someone that was willing to hear what I had to say instead of shoving advice down my throat.
From talking with a therapist, I now see many of the patterns that I had created over the years; among them, I was very much dependent on someone or something to make it all better, and to ultimately heal; I often glossed over or completely swept my problems under the rug, as opposed to working through them. How I saw myself was very much based not just on how others saw me, but from my personal experiences and mistakes that I had made.
I've learned that the biggest issue with confidence in general isn't self-hatred, but not wanting to appear to be egotistical or arrogant. Nobody wants to be around a person who is negative all the time, nor do they want to be around those that think they're God's gift to whomever.
It really isn't all that complicated or difficult; the way I see it, you don't always have to have a specific reason for thinking or feeling a certain way. And not just that, but you can't fully live out what you do for others unless you're willing to do the same for yourself.
Like everyone else, I believe that I am worth taking the time to get to know, and that my story is worth telling. I am beautiful not just because of my skin, but because of what I hold in my heart. There are a lot of qualities that may set me apart from others, but are benefiting me in ways that I may not see or understand at the moment. I am strong and I know how to persevere. I have fallen, but have always will find a way to get back up.
In terms of the voices one hears (commonly called an "inner critic") I don't think there is a way to completely get it to shut up. Whether it be your own internal voice or someone else's, you will always do and say things that will draw criticism. The key is how you hear that voice.
For example, my brother often likes to tell me what I am and am not physically able to do. He didn't think I would get through my first semester at college, and that really bothered me. These days, regardless if he is intentionally trying to put me down or not, I see it as a way to motivate myself. Nine times out of ten, I always end up doing something that I never thought I could.
I have made a lot of progress, but I still do struggle. Due to the mild nature of my physical condition, I do my best to live my life as though I don't have it. I push myself frequently, at times almost to the point of exhaustion. I have to remind myself that it isn't about picking a "side" but doing what is ultimately best for me, even if it makes me look weak.
It is all very much a daily process; I know that I don't wake up every day, fully appreciating who I am and how I got here. It takes a lot of accountability, which is why I say that I am not proud, but humbled; I would not be where I currently am without love, support, and faith. When someone compliments me, I simply say thank you and try to compliment them in return.
Each of us is responsible for what we put out into the world, and that energy will ultimately come back to us as some point. I can't predict what obstacles I will face in the future or what path I'll take, but I do know this: regardless of what anyone says, I am good enough and I am worth it. Maybe that won't always be true in the eyes of some, but that's OK. No matter what I do, people will see me how they choose to see me. The only person that I am in control of is myself. And the one voice I will chose to listen to is my own.