I haven’t always been the radiant woman that people know and love.
In 1997, I was diagnosed with arrested, non-shunted borderline hydrocephalus. If you’re wondering what that all means, “arrested” means that it has stopped, “non-shunted” means that I don’t have a shunt (a special tube inserted between the brain and the abdominal cavity to drain the excess fluid) and “hydrocephalus” is the medical term for “water on the brain”. Everyone has cerebrospinal fluid, but for those of us with hydrocephalus, we happen to have too much.
That my diagnosis is “borderline” means to say that I’m sort of on the edge between “hydrocephalus” and “normal”. It’s there, but it’s so slight that it’s sort of not really there, either. The fact that it has arrested itself also means that doctors are no longer concerned about it (or at least unless I go and do something completely bloody stupid which results in a severe head injury) and I’m free to live a normal life. There was some suggestion that perhaps I should have been shunted in my childhood, but hey, it’s stopped now, so what’s the problem?
Unfortunately, my big ol’ juicy brain has left me with a couple of problems. One is that there is some suggestion that I have some damage to the amygdala (hello, heightened anxiety) and the other is that I have a very slight facial disfigurement with muscle weakness on the right side. It’s nothing that most people really notice, but my inner critic (and maybe my school bullies) were certainly aware.
For my inner critic, it liked to tell me that I had a “runny egg” face and for my bullies, “muntface”, “spaz” and “ogre” were particular favourites. Still on another occasion, a young lady claimed “she probably says she’s female because monster isn’t an option”, which was of course rather pleasant to hear. Playground beatings were a regular occurrence for me, too.
If you’ve ever seen the iconic 90’s movie, Casper, perhaps you’ll remember the scene: Casper enters the Lazarus machine that is supposed to turn him back into a young, alive boy but unfortunately, the machine malfunctions and turns poor Casper into a fried egg instead. As Casper asks Kat (played by Christina Ricci) if he is in fact alive, one of his eyes slides down the side of his eggy-face.
In my mind, I’d convinced that I looked a little bit like that.
Where did that negative self-talk get me? Why, several weeks of intensive psychotherapy, of course!
But what did I learn most of all in that therapy? I learned that it didn’t matter what I looked like, what mattered was who I am. People don’t remember whether your eyes are perfectly symmetrical, whether your nose is proportionate to your face or whether your ears stick out a little bit, they remember you for who you are.
I also learned that, when you look around, lots of people have little bits that aren’t quite perfect about them – suddenly I felt far from alone!
Once I realised that, I began to change my focus. Instead of focusing on my face, I was able to focus on being kind, on being supportive, and on being honest. Instead of my face, I focused my energy on being me.
Suddenly, it didn’t matter to me what I looked like anymore, people saw beyond my looks and people started to see me for me. The bullying stopped no sooner than I stopped reacting to it, and I became even more empowered when I saw my bullies for the insecure, damaged individuals that they truly were. I found my look, I found my confidence, I fell in love with my lop-sided smile and my tendency to smirk rather than throw down a full on cheesy grin. I learned to take selfies that made me feel good, and that weren’t necessarily about about thousands or millions of likes. They were still good pictures for as long as I liked them.
About a week ago, I saw an advert for a self-esteem campaign by skincare brand Dove which focuses on young women and their self-esteem, and almost instantly, I knew that I had to write something on the subject. As a woman who grew up with crippling self-esteem issues, I knew that I had to speak up and say that it is possible to turn it around and have the confidence that I have today. Learning to love yourself is hard, but it is possible with some self-compassion and a good dose of determination for the rougher days. We are – each and every one of us – our own biggest critics, and I guarantee you that the one thing that you hate about yourself won’t be noticeable (or is even an endearing quality) to someone else. In today’s world, young people particularly are most at risk of unfair judgements on social media and we need to do what we can to support them . If you know a young person who is struggling to love and accept themselves, remind them that what matters most is who they are inside. Glowing skin and slimmer waist filters may make a person more popular, but a cold and unkind personality can never, ever be blurred out.
An Exercise For Better Self-Esteem: Mirror, Mirror
I’ll be honest, I used to hate doing this exercise. In fact, so much so that on the fictitious list of Ways To Torture Helen, it was probably at the top. Still, for the purposes of helping you (and potentially others, too), today I’m going to talk you through it:
- Begin by standing in front of a mirror. If any critical judgements of yourself come to mind, that’s okay, just let them be. Don’t interact with them in any way, just become aware.
- Now, take some time to observe what you can see in the mirror. Explore it, and find one thing that you like from your reflection. Focus on it for a minute or two. What is it you like? Why?
- Now say it out loud, “I the way that my _____ because _____ “.
- Once you get more confident, you can try and find a few more things that you like about yourself. Aim for three, five or even ten. If you can’t find ten physical things about yourself, try exploring who you are as a person, too. Tell yourself in the mirror what it is that you like about you, eg “I like that I’m kind because it means I’ll help other people and that makes me a good person”, “I like that I’m funny and I can make people laugh”. Tell yourself these things! Look yourself in the eyes, and really honestly and meaningfully compliment yourself.
- Try to do this daily, and to really commit yourself to the exercise. You probably will hate it at first, but as your confidence grows, you’ll find that you won’t run out of things to love on – that I promise!
That’s it for today’s post! I want to know in the comments, what is one thing that you love about yourself? Yep, the hard work starts today!
Until next time,
Take care & have fun,