The Damage of Insecurities

When I was younger, I never felt like I was enough. I was told that I was too fat, too mentally unstable, too dramatic, not ambitious enough. I was even compared to the neighbors’ children. I knew that I was loved, but I always felt like there was more expected from me, and when I would succeed there was still a higher expectation from me. I think feeling that way for the majority of my childhood has brought on a level of insecurity that I am now attempting to battle as an adult. 

I am not a skinny girl. The only time that I have ever been “skinny” was when I was first diagnosed with type one diabetes, and I remained “thin” for a few years after that. I can acknowledge that I have an unhealthy relationship with food. I use food as an emotional crutch, and I can easily say that I sometimes binge. I had a family member who was hyper-fixated on food, and there were always little comments made about my eating and exercising habits. While one could say that their concern was out of the goodness of their heart, it always felt like they would have rathered me to look like them rather than myself, and that was beyond hurtful and damaging. Sometimes I look at myself and I think that I am disgusting, revolting, hideous, and I just want to hide in my bed and not be seen by anyone. Then I think about how I need to limit my calorie count and exercise for hours every day, and I spend hours researching herbal remedies to help suppress my appetite and detox my body, and then I think “why can’t I just have a healthy relationship with my physical body?” When it comes to my physical being, I am either confident with what I look like or I wish that I could be a completely different person. I know we all experience some sort of body dysmorphia, but I can’t help but wonder what my insecurities and relationship with food would look like if I had a different experience growing up. 

Who I am as a person is someone who I have consistently worked on. There are a few memories that I have from growing up that have stuck with me. I remember one time I was in an argument with a parent while one of my grandparents was over, and that grandparent made some comment to my parent and they replied “I have tried to change her but she is already like her blank*.” The moment that comment left their lips I felt immediately not good enough. The person that my parent compared me to was someone that they despised, someone who they wished was completely different, and it made me doubt myself. They wanted to change me. They voluntarily admitted that they made an active effort to change me, who wouldn’t question who they were as a result? Another time where someone close to me made me doubt myself was when I was told that I would never be a success. I would never graduate from college, and essentially, I was going to be a loser. They were right about one thing, I didn’t graduate from college, but that was a choice that I had made when I discovered that there was more to life than working a 8-5 job. I figured out how to live life differently, and although I have zero regrets, the intent with their comment was made out of hostility. To insinuate that I would never be what society’s definition of success is and that I would never amount to anything caused some damage, and once again, made me question myself and what I am capable of. 

To say that I wasn’t loved by my parents would be disrespectful to them as well as untrue because I know that they have loved me for my entire life. The way that my parents showed their love was through providing, and as much as I appreciate and love them for that, who I have become today is who I chose to be, and not who they raised me to be. It would be fair to say that there has been problematic behaviors from both of my mom and dad, as well as extending family, that has affected me into my adult life. There were two people in my life who always brought me comfort, who always made me see my worth and the value that I bring to this world, and I am forever grateful to those two people. My grandma and my aunt were always the ones that I felt the safest around, and I am forever grateful for them, because otherwise I would have had a very lonely childhood. 

Due to the fact that I never felt like I got the love that I was looking for from my parents growing up, I know I have developed an insecurity with the people who are now in my life as an adult. For example, my best friend. I am constantly worried that I am not being a good enough friend to her, or that I am not doing enough for our friendship. Sometimes I worry that her relationships with other people hold more value to her than her relationship with me, and I worry that one day our friendship will end because of that. I know it stems from fear that I am not good enough, and this insecurity is one that I hate the most. I know that she and I have an incredibly special bond that is really hard to come by. We have been friends for well over a decade at this point, and we are family. But I am scared that one day she won’t be there anymore. I feel like it’s an internal battle. I know that we have a solid friendship. I know that we can have open conversations about literally anything and everything will be okay. I have trust in our friendship, and yet I need validation that everything is okay. I am even that way with my husband. If I feel even a slight shift in his energy I immediately think that I am not good enough for him and he wants to leave. I think that something is wrong and that he is no longer happy. Even after he tells me that everything is okay, I still worry. I honestly think that it stems from my best friend and my husband being the first healthy relationships that I have ever had, other than my grandma and my aunt, and I am terrified of losing that. This is something that I recognize is INCREDIBLY unhealthy, and as much as I hate to admit, on the verge of approaching codependency, and I need to learn that I can’t hold so much doubt and fear within my relationships with people. Although I feel like I am the type of person that may need more validation than the “average” person, it is unfair for me to expect those around me to provide that. 

The person that I am today is someone who I have made an active effort to evolve into. There are things about myself that I need to tweak, but that is why we are here. We are spiritual beings having an earthly experience, and to say that I have learned a lot would be an understatement. Of course all of my shortcomings are not my parents fault. I take a lot of responsibility for my faults and flaws. I sometimes wish that my childhood was different, but there is nothing that I can do about my past other than use it to positively influence my present and future. Insecurities are little demons that we all have to battle, and hopefully one day mine will be a part of my past.

*Omitting name due to privacy.

Feel.

What does it feel like to have a mental illness? 

Every person has a different experience, but here is mine.

Mental illness is a type of monster that wants nothing more than to isolate you, torture you, belittle you, and test you.

Mental illness will make you doubt yourself more than anyone else ever could, causing your own self worth to diminish with every word spoken from your mind. 

Mental illness will keep you up at night. You think about every single thing that has ever happened to you, you think about and play out scenarios that never even happened, and you question every choice that you have ever made.

Mental illness will make you feel like you are in a world of euphoria, where you have never-ending energy and you can take on anything that comes your way. If you wanted to, you could save the world with your love, positivity, and energy. You can spend hours exercising, deep cleaning, calling and texting all of your friends and family, and not feel anything but extraordinary. You could quite literally do anything and everything, and you try to because you feel so good. But then, you crash. You spend eighteen hours in bed sleeping despite your partner trying to wake you up. You ignore phone calls and texts because you don’t have it in you to speak to another soul. When you do wake up, you’re a shell of a human being that just does the bare minimum to keep your body alive because at that moment your spirit is gone. This can last for as little as a day, or even months. You never know. 

Mental illness is either eating too little or too much. 

Mental illness is watching videos at four in the morning on “at home stick and poke tattoos” and considering buying the equipment yourself because you could “easily do that!”

Mental illness is wanting to tell your friends and family that you are sinking into a low but you’re too afraid to tell them because they go through this with you all of the time. Also, they sometimes throw your mental illness in your face when they are displeased with you.

Mental illness is staring at the scars on your body that you gave yourself and hoping with everything that you have that you won’t pick up that blade again.

Mental illness is knowing what is happening to you but not having any control over it.

Mental illness is taking medication and having a therapist because life would be awful without those things. 

Mental illness is relying on animals to bring you a glimmer of happiness and a sense of calm. 

Mental illness is living past memories so vividly that you have to remind yourself that those memories are in the past and you are safe right now.

Mental illness is constantly having to listen to people tell you to “grow up” or “deal with it” or “snap out of it.” 

Mental illness is sobbing in the shower or on the floor of your bedroom because you can’t stop thinking of the worst. 

Mental illness is a curse. It’s a sickness that eats away at you. It is always there, taunting you in the background just so you know that it is still there and can hurt you at any time. 

If you know someone with mental illness, please take it seriously. Ask them what they need. Make them tea, put on their favorite movie, give them their favorite book, make them their favorite food. Do whatever you can to make them feel loved and cared for and valued because when they are in a low they can’t see how incredible they are. The pain is unbearable, and even a tiny bit of effort and love from the people around them could quite literally save their life.

You Don’t Know What Is Possible Until You Try

Growing up, my Mema would always tell me that I should publish a book when I was older. I was very fortunate when my parents divorced because I would spend a lot of time at my grandparent’s house, and every night Mema would read me story after story until my eyelids felt heavy and my busy mind was feeling at peace. Mema would also tell me stories that she would come up with herself, as well as stories about where our ancestors came from. I soaked up every story like a sponge, and I am convinced that Mema’s gift for storytelling was passed down to me. 

I have always been quite imaginative. When I was young I was obsessed with American Girl dolls and Barbies, and the elaborate backgrounds that I would give each doll would often leave the adults in my life in awe. Someone, although I can’t remember who at this exact moment, recently told me that they would listen in on my play sessions because they were fascinated with the stories that I would put my dolls through. I could come up with stories in an instant, and they would be full of depth. My favorite time of year was when we could participate in Young Authors, which was where we were given a blank book that we could write down stories in as well as illustrate them ourselves. That made me feel so alive. Coming up with a pretend world with pretend people and bringing it all to life brought me so much joy and elation, and it also made me feel really proud of myself.

As I became older I learned of different ways to write down stories. One of my fondest memories was in third grade when we started to learn how to write an essay, and I remember writing a nonfiction essay about my aunt’s wedding. Apparently, I did well because my teacher read it aloud for all of my classmates to hear, and you could imagine how elated I was during that moment. My teacher loved what I had to say so much that she wanted everyone else to hear it, and that is one of the greatest feelings in the world. Although I am typically a humble human being, I do love when others enjoy my pieces. I always have loved it, and I always will love it. When someone loves and enjoys one of my pieces, it is one of the biggest compliments that you could ever give me. It brings more value to my life than platinum. 

As I got older, I never strayed away from writing. I would always type out little stories here and there, I would make an attempt at poetry every now and again, or I would just journal. In high school, I participated in journalism for three years, and although it was different than what I was used to it gave me life during a time where I felt like I wasn’t living at all. It gave me purpose, it taught me about deadlines, and it still gave me that feeling of happiness whenever I would see one of my articles in the school paper. It was magic for me. It was an outlet, and it showed me what gave me passion. Journalism was the best part of high school for me, and I will always be grateful for that. 

Once I graduated high school I went on to college, where I changed my major more times than I can count. At first, I wanted to go into journalism, but I was told it was a dying career and that I should avoid doing that at all costs. Then I wanted to go into education, but after speaking with a middle school teacher during my observational hours, she told me to run for the hills. I realized that education wasn’t for me, so I moved on to the next thing. My parents really wanted me to have a career in something that would pay well, but more importantly, would provide excellent health care. Being a type one diabetic is not cheap, and I need the best insurance plan in order to afford my doctor’s visits and medications. So for years I took classes and went into programs for different healthcare fields, and I was unhappy with every single one. It got to the point where I was spending all of this money on school and books and I finally just stopped going to school. I didn’t want to continue with school until I figured out what it was that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. In the back of my mind, I always think about going into a field that will pay me well and offer good benefits, but at the end of the day, nothing was going to give me that happiness that I desired. That is until I realized that there was something that I could do that I could love and be proud of. 

I love writing. I always have loved it, and I always will. I love having thoughts and writing them down, and reading it back feeling totally captivated. I revel at that moment when my family and friends read my pieces and enjoy them. Every time I press publish on my blog, that spark that keeps me alive gets a little bit bigger. I love creating and sharing, and I love connecting with others when I write something that they might relate to. What I am doing now is what I should have been doing all along, and although I can’t get the time back that I wasted trying to figure out what I should do I can embrace the fact that I have finally figured it out and I am doing it now.

You see, a big life lesson that I have learned is that you can hear and accept what people have to say to you when you are given advice, but you are the only one who knows what is truly best for you. Had I stuck on the path that I had originally taken, I would have not wasted all of that time in between. I always had that gut feeling that I would find my way back to storytelling, and it brings me so much happiness that I have found my way back to my passion. To me, hating my job and my life is too steep of a price to pay for having loads of money in my bank account. I am not oblivious to the fact that money is essential to living, but if you are willing to work at it, then following your dream can be possible. You don’t know what is possible until you try. This whole story leads down to one thing: Follow your instinct. Follow your passion. Follow whatever keeps giving your spark life.

The Magic of Holidays

This holiday season was the first time in four years that I was able to spend it with all of my family members, and it truly was spectacular. When I was younger I would always correlate joy, happiness, love, and peace to the holiday season, and that was mostly because that meant that I was going to be able to spend quality time with my family. The number of laughs that we all share, the conversations about past stories that kept me completely enthralled, and just spending time with my loved ones always felt so special. The magic of Christmas was never about the gifts for me, it always stemmed from the love that I felt when I had my loved ones around me.

When Stephen and I made the decision that we were going to move down to Dallas we didn’t even think about what the holidays were going to be like. We had a dream to move and we were willing to sacrifice everything to make that happen, but little did we know that the cost of the dream of moving was exorbitant. We knew that leaving home and everyone else behind was going to be sad, but nothing prepared us for how truly soul-crushing and lonely that whole experience was.   

Being away from family was always difficult, but nothing made you realize how alone you truly were until the holidays would come around. I went from having an immense amount of excitement starting at the beginning of October to being filled with sorrow and dread. I am already a severely depressed person, so the thought of being alone during the time of the year that I used to crave just made me even more devastated. I had Stephen and my furchildren, with whom I cherish more than my own life, but sitting alone watching movies while everyone else was enjoying one another always made me sink into another low. Perhaps being alone made me realize as much as I always loved spending the holidays with my family maybe I also took it for granted. I missed the magic, I missed my family, and I missed that wholesome feeling that I felt whenever it was the holiday season. 

When Stephen and I made the decision to move back home to Chicago in March one of the first thoughts I had was “I can’t wait for the holidays!” The thought of being with all of my loved ones and feeling all of that love fueled me with eagerness and excitement. When the beginning of October came around, I started to feel that magic that I always used to feel growing up. When Thanksgiving finally arrived, it felt superb to actually get in the car and drive forty-five minutes to my grandparent’s house. Seeing my dad making mashed potatoes and having my Mema squeeze me the moment she saw me filled my heart with so much happiness. This is what I have been missing. This is what I have been wanting. This is what I have been desperate for. Then it was Christmas time. I have been filled to the brim with that magical feeling for a few months now, and this was the moment I have been waiting for. Christmas Eve and Christmas day was the happiest I have been for a very long time. I was with my parents, my grandparents, my husband, my in-laws, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Hell, people who I didn’t really know. But it was incredible being surrounded by all of these people just celebrating one another. When I was with everyone I found myself laughing again, telling stories about the past that kept me completely captivated and spending quality time with the people who I love so incredibly much. This year, the holidays felt exactly like I remember them feeling before we moved away, and for that, I will always be grateful and appreciate this time of year. 

The magic of the holidays doesn’t stem from the gifts you receive. No. It stems from the love that you feel when you are with the people you adore and cherish.

Mema

Grandmas are the gift that we are given at birth for whenever we want to feel true love and happiness. Some of my fondest and most treasured memories are the ones that involve my grandma, Mema, and those memories are the ones that I turn to the most.

Mema is a one of a kind woman. Her heart holds no darkness, her smile is contagious, and if you feel like your soul is riddled sadness, her hug will make that feeling disappear within seconds. I don’t recall much negativity ever leaving her mouth, and she always knew how to turn a negative situation into a positive one. She is the one that you go to for guidance, because she is one of the wisest human beings that I have ever known.

Mema has been a huge part of my life since the very beginning. I remember constantly being with her and my grandpa, Pepa, when I was younger, and every moment that I was with them became my new favorite moment. I have a few cousins and a brother who are around that same age as me, and the nights that we would spend with Mema and Pepa were always so much fun. We ran around the house having the time of our lives, we painted gourds and made birdhouses out of them, we played dress-up, and we played in the kiddy pool. Memas house was a house of joy, but joy doesn’t come from the things that are there or the activities that you are partaking in. It comes from the people who are around you.

As I have stated in the past, I grew up in northern Illinois, about a hour and a half outside of Chicago. My most favorite season has always been fall, and in northern Illinois, our falls are breathtaking. The colors of the leaves, the crisp fresh air, and the smells always sent my senses straight up into cloud nine. Fall was also a season where a lot of work had to be done to maintain the yard. My grandparents old home was on an acre or so of land, and when the leaves would fall from the trees we would have to gather them all. My Pepa would drag an old kiddy pool around, and we would rake all of the fallen leaves into the pool. After we collected the leaves, we would pile them high next to a fire pit. The pile of leaves was always so much fun. Mema and I would jump and play in the leaves for what seemed like hours, all before the leaves met their fate in the fire pit. Some of the leaves would be lucky enough to survive the harsh fires of the pit, and they would be chosen to go into the pumpkin bags. Now the pumpkin bags were only used before Halloween, and they were so cute. The bags were these large, orange bags with pumpkin faces on them, and when you filled them with leaves they looked like giant pumpkins. When Mema would get those bags out, it truly felt like fall had arrived. Playing in the leaves was always so much fun, and I can’t wait to have kids so I can recreate that memory for them.

Mema and I

Mema and I have always had a really close bond. When my parents divorced, my brother and I stayed with my grandparents and dad every Friday and every other weekend. When my parents first separated, I was in second grade, and my Mema was such a comfort to me. Every night that I was with them I would sleep next to Mema, and every night she would comfort me to sleep. She would rub my back, rub my tummy, read me story after story, make up stories for me, and teach me all about my genealogy. The stories that Mema would tell me about who we are and where our ancestors came from always fascinated me, and no matter how many times I asked about it, she would tell me with a smile on her face. That is the thing about Mema. She is willing to do anything and everything for anyone, and you never feel like a burden. I always knew I was going to have a good nights rest when I was with Mema.

Mema always knew how to keep us busy. Whenever we asked to go walk around a store she would take us, she taught us how to garden, she helped us learn how to read, she taught me how to wrap gifts, and she taught me how to cook and bake. Mema and I would often take long walks around our neighbor, and during those walks we would talk non-stop. I remember some days she would let me do her make-up, which I would even take seriously sometimes. In the summertime, she would take us swimming at either the pool or the quarry, or we would go to a nature preserve to try to catch frogs. Sometimes, she would set up a tent in the backyard, and we would all sleep outside. Those nights were always such a treat. Mema and Pepas house was always a house filled with fun, adventure, laughter, and love.

After a while of living with Mema and Pepa, my dad bought a house and we moved out. I was excited about this new adventure, but I also didn’t want to leave my Mema and Pepa. After a while it felt normal to not live in their home anymore, but I still missed living in their house. As I got older I became busier, and I saw them less and less. As a teenager, I wasn’t too focused on spending copious amounts of time with my family. I was focused on hanging out with friends and with Stephen, and it is something that I regret. It is something that I especially regret now that I live one thousand miles away from them. I wish I saw them more when I still lived at home, because there are days now where all I want is a hug from my grandma.

I am grateful for many things, but one of the things that I am mostly grateful for is my relationship with my Mema. Even now when we talk on the phone it brings me back to when I was a child and when we would talk for hours. If I could be a woman like her I would consider myself to be lucky. I admire her, I love her, and she is one hell of a woman.

Thank you for my childhood, Mema. I hope you understand the impact that you made on me. I love you.