The Descent Down and the Climb Back Up: My lifelong journey of happiness, self-love, and utter confusion

For my English final this year we were asked to write about our journey through Poly. This is my story. Please enjoy!

 

6 am is the earliest I had woken up in a long time. The sun was not up, the birds were not chirping, and Oswald wasn’t even on yet; was there a point to being awake? My mom rushed around the house trying to get my sister to stop crying and attempting to get me to wear something that matched; apparently striped rainbow pants and a polka dot t-shirt doesn’t go together, but to my four-year-old mind, I looked great! I walked out to the kitchen sporting my outfit proudly and grabbed my orange bucket hat off the table; this completes every look! My mom let out a big sigh, but what was she going to do? It was my first day of Pre-K and man did I look good; there would be no getting me to change my stubborn mind. I sat down at the table fully expecting my daily plate of heaping pancakes with syrup on the side but instead I was greeted with toast. “TOAST!” I screamed. My mom obviously couldn’t deal with my complaining because she shot me a look of death and next thing I know the toast was in my hand and I was gladly eating it. I was shuffled outside mid-bite to take my first day of school picture. I hated pictures and my mom hated that I looked like a wreck in all of them, “Just one decent one for the grandparents, please?” I didn’t know what she was talking about; my frizzy hair and sleepy eyes were beautiful. That is the last compliment I remember giving myself. It seems like the day I started school was the day that I began the descent into self-doubt and self-hate. Each day the compliments that I gave myself dwindled and the flaws I saw in my body, my mind, and my actions became more apparent.

My first day at Poly is a vivid memory. I sat on a bright rainbow rug (the green row, obviously) and we read a book about animals. I ate my peanut butter sandwich (with no crusts, of course!) and was the tagger in PE. So young and innocent, an authentic smile plastered across my face, and real laughter shooting from my mouth. As time went on, however, that smiled faded and the laughter became forceful. As I made my physical journey from Pre-K to kindergarten to first grade and finally to second grade, I was also making a mental journey as well. A few days ago I found my journal from second grade and wow did I have awful handwriting. That’s not the point though (even though it seemed like I was decoding the Rosetta Stone), one of my journal entries went like this:

Dear Dairy (commentary: yes I called my diary “Dairy” it was her special name and I felt hilarious for coming up with it),

I am already in second grade. I am getting so old! So basically I have learned a lot about states and Indians wait no native americans (sorry Mrs. Ganter) and puffins too they’re a bird which is cool (I’m a very deep child, can’t you tell?) (due to privacy I have removed her name) (she was a girl at my school who I was utterly jealous of) is still the prettiest girl. I’m just the fat one so we need to figure out something to do about that. My legs spill over the chair in class and my belly jiggles when I play tag with the other girls. I eat too much chocolate. I’ll only eat one piece a day instead of four that’s smart. Ok well I Hannah Montana is on so I have to go now!!! BYYYYYY (I really didn’t know how to spell “bye” but I do know so at least we made that progression).

I was shocked. Not actually that shocked but I was sad. Had my seven-year-old self really had those thoughts? Has it really been ten years of hating myself? Second grade flew by though, as did the rest of lower school. I kept to myself most of the time. I didn’t eat as much chocolate and made my mom buy wheat bread. I navigated through school by hiding in classrooms and bathroom stalls. I conversed with teachers instead of students and read stories of people’s lives instead of living my own; I was too scared of what might happen. I cringed through fourth grade as my test scores were announced in the front of the class, and no it wasn’t because they were good, and my papers were handed back to me with sad faces on them. I powered my way through fifth grade year just hoping that middle school would be better and spoiler alert, it really was not.

I entered sixth grade with a sense of excitement: free dress, a new schedule, different teachers, and new friends. The first month was fun but those feeling quickly dwindled as girls in my grade started bringing in fresh pressed juice, had skinny jeans that hugged their perfectly thin thighs, and my incapability of doing math became blatantly obvious. I found myself making daily trips to my mom’s office so I could have someone to talk to. I was alone and I thought I didn’t mind it, but I realized more and more over time that being alone is not “normal”. Sixth and seventh grade were blurs, and I’d prefer to keep them that way. I got braces (which were not as cool as I thought they would be), my boobs got so big I was nicknamed DD (for my size, later changed to GG, not my proudest moment), and I had this knot in my hair that forced me to wear a bun everyday with a bow on top; I was basically a Flintstone!

Eighth grade is not so much a blur but rather, it was a series of unfortunate events strung together on loop in my memory. If you know me, you know that I am always looking for the next “thing”, and as much as I hate that word it is so true. In lower school ALL I wanted was to be in middle school but once I got to middle school ALL I wanted to be was in high school and so on. I was never content in my place and the event in eighth grade definitely catalyzed that feeling. My dad went to school at the crack of dawn, so it became my habit as well. I didn’t mind it though; I played games on the computer, g-chatted with my friends (yikes, still can’t believe I thought that was cool), and read books in the library. One morning however, I logged onto my email and found an email from an anonymous account. I opened the email and found the most vulgar, sexually explicit, and vivid descriptions of my body, what this person was going to do to it, and how my body made them feel. Each and every word is stuck in my mind like glue. I felt so dirty. I ran to my math teacher and cried in her arms. I didn’t know what I had done to provoke this. I wore long cargo shorts and big t-shirts to school everyday. I never showed my legs, or my chest, or my belly or anything. I hid my body because I hated it and now I began to hate it even more. This event sparked everything for me. So small tangent but it’s relevant, when stonecutters are hammering away at their stone and they make tiny blows with no crack, but then all of a sudden the one hundredth blow splits the stone right in two, it was not that last blow that split the stone, but rather a combination of all the blows together. That was how it was (is) for me. Tiny little blows to my self-esteem, my intelligence, my self-love built up a sensitivity that was then ripped a part by this one incident.

My journey from that point on was a painful one. I spent the rest of eighth grade

in my mom’s office. I was angry and sad, but most of all I was numb. I didn’t know how to react to something like this. My innocent thirteen-year-old mind had been plagued by the sexual fantasies of a boy and his dick. I entered high school and the competition became more apparent. My internal struggle externalized itself and manifested in ways that I would later have to face. I spent my days in the bathroom or strolling through Whole Foods reading labels, making sure my sugar and caloric content remained at a minimum. My nickname of GG faded as I became known as “the health nut”. I was introduced to the gym and the idea of exercising and never looked back. But I still didn’t like myself. I blamed it on Poly, on my parents, on my sister, for God’s sake I probably blamed in on my dog, I was so unhappy. Every morning was a struggle to get me out of bed, get clothes on my body, and get me into the car. My grades were awful and I started my descent into nothingness. This part of my pilgrimage is the part where it is negative 10 degrees, your tent blew away, your oxygen mask is running out, and a storm is coming. Everything piled on at once. I didn’t want to deal with it so I decided I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t spend another day sitting in the science bathroom stall eating my lunch. I wouldn’t spend another day hunched over my desk pulling my fat. And I most definitely wouldn’t spend another day at this school. So I left.

When I applied to go to France I thought it would be the greatest year of my life. No parents, no one telling me what to do, and most importantly, no Poly. When it came time to leave, however, I really didn’t want to go, but I didn’t want to stay either (this is why men say women are complicated). My time in France was cut short, as I was suicidal and on the brink of death. My pilgrimage through life had done a complete 180 and led me straight into Tartarus. Surprisingly enough, when I returned home all I wanted was to go back to Poly. I realized all the things I had missed about it, the teachers, Arden lawn, the big lockers, and the music blasting on the patios. That desire could not become a reality as treatment decided to claim me as its own. So off I went, to some white picket fenced house up in La Cañada where I stuffed myself silly and talked about my feelings, it was just GREAT! Without treatment however, I would not be experiencing senior year as I am now. I would probably be in a hospital bed somewhere with a feeding tube stuffed down my nose, or worse, dead. Instead, I am at school. I go to class, I have applied to college, and I laugh with my friends.

Back when I was struggling with my eating disorder, my goal was always a weight or a certain body type. When I was in middle school my goal was always to either get an A or be as pretty as the other girls. My goal now is simply, happiness. I look at my past experiences not with anger, regret, or sadness, but rather I look at it as lessons learned and memories made, whether they were good or bad. I am still working on my goal, it will be a long journey with more bumps in the road, but I can see my destination now. I am living for myself, as well as others, and not just for the approval from others. I want to help others, as that feeds into my happiness. My body image club, SPEAK (self perception, esteem, acceptance, kindness), is one way I want to reach out and let other people know that they don’t have to have the same experiences I did. I have dreams and aspirations now that reach further than a number on a scale or a test score. I want to become a doctor not because I want to show off to my peers, but rather because I want to use the talents I have been given to help those who truly need it. My life today is still full of ups and downs the only difference now is I’ve got past experiences to let me gently go through the downs and then fiercely pull me up. I don’t go to the science bathroom anymore to cry or purge, instead I go to pee. I sit in my dad’s office working on a biology lab or talking through his lessons instead of sobbing into his shoulder. I eat plenty of chocolate because one piece isn’t enough (and plus, it’s good for your heart!) I am living because the journey that my body and mind has endured, while painful, is a beautiful one and one that will continue to carry me every day.

 

2 thoughts on “The Descent Down and the Climb Back Up: My lifelong journey of happiness, self-love, and utter confusion

  1. Ed Caragher

    Dear Shea,
    This is a beautiful remembrance of some really hard times. You are strong and very intelligent , I know you will accomplish all that you desire. Thank you for this super insightful history lesson. Please keep sending us all these precious insightful messages. We all love ya.
    Grandpa Ed

    Reply
    1. scaragher17@students.polytechnic.org Post author

      thank you so much grampa! love you lots and so grateful for you in my life xoxo

      Reply

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