One Teen’s Struggle with Perfectionism and Bulimia (Narrative)

I am a six or seven out of 10 on the scale of self-esteem.

I am not some teenage girl on the Disney Channel who writes in a diary and cries about a boy who doesn’t like her. No, that’s not deep enough. That downgrades my issues.

I don’t have a diary.

I don’t write, “Dear diary, so-and-so doesn’t like me back.”

No – when I have a bad day, I scream, punch pillows, and listen to angry music at the highest volume until everything else fades away.

Or I smoke weed.

Or, I used to throw up until I passed out.

Have you ever seen that on the Disney Channel?

I am a six or seven, but this wasn’t always the case. There is one thing I need you to clearly understand about me before you walk away: I HATE who I was a year ago. Who I am today, right now, is not who I was even a couple months ago.

I have struggled with bulimia since the fourth grade.

I’ve always kind of had people make fun of me for my weight. I’m not fat but I’m not thin. Boys especially like to point this out every chance they get. Like recently a guy told my friend that I was a chunky girl. He said that only black guys would ever like me because they’re the only ones who could handle my “thickness.”

What? Excuse me? 

I would usually take a comment like that to heart, but this time I didn’t let it affect me. This time, I confronted him… well, yelled at him actually. I’ve come a long way.

But the main source of my bulimia doesn’t stem from cruel comments about my weight.

It all started in the third grade when my dad moved away. My mom was kind of unstable. Sometimes she was more than kind of unstable; she was CRAZY. Other times she would just come home from work, go to her bedroom, and shut her door for the night. About a year ago, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. But at the time I had no idea. No idea at all what was going on with her.

So I raised my sister and me. Even though she is older, I helped her with her homework and did her laundry. She’s kind of a princess. I was always the one making meals, doing the chores… all that stuff. It got to be too much. A fourth grader shouldn’t be cooking dinner every night and making lunches every morning, you know?

I felt like I was losing control of my life. I had to put myself and my energy into something.

So I put them into throwing up.

Later I discovered that one of my friends had anorexia. I didn’t know at first because I was too trapped in my own head to focus on other people’s problems. When I found out, our relationship changed. We were both obsessed with our eating disorders and would root each other on.

She’d call and say, “Did you eat lunch today?”

I’d say no.

She’d say, “Good. Don’t. And here’s why you shouldn’t eat dinner either.”

It was not a healthy friendship at all, and I can see that. Now, anyway.

My relationship with boys wasn’t healthy either. In middle school, I got a bad reputation for being a slut. I craved attention. The feeling of having someone who “wanted” me took over. When a guy noticed me, I would think, Oh my God! A guy actually WANTS me? I would do anything then, you know? And guys turned into huge assholes, using me all the time.

Between boys and bulimia, I was a mess. When I started coughing up blood and passing out, my mom and dad decided to take action. They sent me to a hospital and from there I went into residential treatment.

My anorexic “friend” would call me while I was in rehab. She’d be like, “Oh my God. Are they making you fat? I bet they’re making you SO fat.”

But they weren’t making me fat; they were making me myself again. An amazing thing happened there: I found tools. Things I liked. I got back into horseback riding and played volleyball. I quit cheerleading. THANK GOD. Cheerleading was so incredibly negative.

I had to just kind of get to know myself again, you know? Find out what I liked because I had NO idea. After trying to please my parents and boys for so long, I didn’t know how to make myself happy.

I was completely absorbed with attaining perfection.

I forgot who I was.

Now I know: I love volleyball and horseback riding. I like feeling completely out of mind, not consumed by any thoughts. I like having something to put my energy into other than throwing up, something to strive for, something to focus on. I like having healthy and reasonable goals.

Before rehab, my goal would be something like: Okay, if only I can lose five pounds and get down to 110. Then it would change to: Okay, now if only I can lose five more, you know? Not good. Now I can set goals like moving up to the next level in horseback riding or achieving first place in my next volleyball competition. Much better.

I’ve found myself in a lot of ways, but I still feel that nagging pressure to please people. Like my parents. I’m always afraid of letting them down. When I’m really depressed, I won’t go to my mom and say, “Hey, I’ve been feeling really down lately.” I don’t want her to worry, you know? I’ll tell her almost anything, but not the emotional stuff. I don’t want to disappoint, scare, or upset her.

I want both of my parents to be proud. Proud to call me their daughter. I want them to tell their friends, “Yeah, my daughter, she gets straight As.” As opposed to like, “Oh… my daughter? She likes to drink and she is failing all her classes.”

Pressure to please my parents keeps me on track. To a point. I want them to help me control the things I can’t on my own. Like homework. I don’t do it or turn it in unless someone is breathing down my neck. I’ve just never been motivated.

But other times my parents are too controlling. They can’t tell me to clean my room. I get really pissed off. That’s MY area. They definitely can’t take away anything in my bathroom. Especially my makeup. One time they took it as punishment and their plan backfired.

I kicked a hole in the wall.

Other times they tell me what to do or who to hang out with. That’s when I act rebellious and go out drinking on Friday night, things like that. I mean, it’s understandable they don’t want me to drink and do drugs. I don’t take it to heart, but I do understand.

Don’t get me wrong though. I don’t want to fuck up my future, you know? I want good grades. I want to go to college. I just want to have fun along the way. Party on the weekend, study on the weekdays.

Then there’s that other group I aim to please: BOYS.

Basically, if I know I’m going to see a guy during or after school or whatever, I either straighten my hair and put on makeup or hide my face. I feel so much pressure. Even if we’re just friends, even if I’m not into him or he’s not cute, I want to impress him.

I just get so nervous. I get nervous they talk about me the way they talk about other girls to me. They are SO brutal. Like when this guy was getting with this really, REALLY pretty girl. She was so beautiful and he was sitting there like, “Oh my God. She is such a troll. She’s so disgusting. Her face is disgusting.”

What? Well you’re the one hooking up with her. 

It makes me wonder what they say that I don’t know about. I would never have the heart to tell another girl, “Well so-and-so said this about you,” you know? I don’t think people would want to tell me either. The whole idea just makes me uncomfortable.

Regardless, I have had an on-and-off boyfriend for five months or so. He is really, really incredible and treats me well. For the first time ever a boy treats me well! But no matter how sweet he is or how much he tells me I’m beautiful, he can’t see me with curly hair or frumpy clothes. I feel like I have to look perfect. I know he doesn’t care, but I’m uncomfortable still and won’t change soon.

He is a guy after all.

I don’t trust guys.

I’ve been fucked over too many times.

Thankfully, I do have two people in my life I trust completely. I can tell my big sister – the princess – anything. 100%. She’s my best friend. My older cousin too. She’s been through a lot of the things I have and she’s on the other side now. She always has a solution for me.

While you’re not my sister or my cousin, I will still trust you with one embarrassing fact: I watch reality TV. Maybe Disney doesn’t go deep enough, but reality TV takes it too far. It teaches you everything that can possibly ruin you and glorifies everything that should not be held high.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Bridalplasty? It’s a reality show where all these women compete for plastic surgery before their weddings – bigger boobs, nose jobs, stuff like that. But the thing is, these women are already beautiful. So beautiful just the way they are.

It is the worst show self-esteem-wise but my favorite to watch. I think because watching it makes me feel like I’m not alone. Everyone, even these perfectly beautiful women, find things wrong with them. So I started thinking, Maybe I’m in their position. Maybe I’m beautiful but just can’t see it because I find all these things wrong with myself.  This crazy show made me realize everyone has their issues and no one is completely happy with who they are.

I’m not, but I’m getting closer. Today I am in the best place I’ve been in a long time.  I’m a six or seven out of 10. I am upper middleclass. I am Caucasian. I am 14. I am a freshman.

How could I also be 10 out of 10 on the scale of self-esteem? I would have to drop every unreasonable expectation for myself.  Perfect skin. Perfect hair. Cute outfits all the time.

If you ask me if I think I can reach 10 out of 10 someday, I will answer softly that I think I can. And if you ask me if I want to reach 10 out of 10, I will answer even more softly that I do.

Maybe someday I will want it enough to speak in more than just a whisper.

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How Teens Define Self-Esteem

I love to ask teen girls to define self-esteem. Some of them give very poignant definitions of self-esteem. They mention how they feels about themselves and how others view them as well. They use words such as self-image, self-love, respect, confidence and dignity. Others talk about self-esteem in relation to what it is not. As in, it’s not putting yourself down, telling yourself that you are fat, doing what others tell you, and it’s not letting people walk all over you. Some of the girls are more comfortable giving examples of how they see self-esteem in their life instead of giving me a definition. Some tell me stories related to positive self-esteem. I hear stories of doing well on a test, having a boy like them, or scoring a goal during a sporting event. While others relay stories about negative self-esteem. These stories usually start with the phrase “let me tell you about the worst day of my life” and usually end with somebody fighting, crying, lying to a parent, throwing up/passing out at a party and/or all of the above. A few have told me how their self-esteem depends upon the situation they are in and therefore couldn’t give me one concrete definition. A chameleon approach. As in, with their academics they feel more confident, but when it comes to fitting in with their peers they feel less comfortable and have lower self-esteem. And lastly, some girls simply used free association to define self-esteem and say words like: body image, maturity, respect, confidence, and liking yourself. What I find so surprising is that they can articulate that the core concept of self-esteem comes from within, yet when trying to build that self-esteem, they look externally. To friends, to trends and most likely to boys. Obviously, some of these answers vary depending upon the girl’s age, life experiences and ability to articulate self-esteem. However, by and large they seek outside themselves for validation of self-esteem. We need to challenge their thinking and offer them ways of approaching self-esteem internally. To focus inward and give useful feedback, tools and techniques that can help build their self-esteem today, tomorrow and the next no matter what life throws their way.

Can Acupuncture Improve Self-Esteem?

Chinese acupuncture is an ancient form of healing which began in 12 BC. The Chinese had discovered a practice of identifying key pressure points in the body and when pressed with a needle could cause relief. Today acupuncture is very common practice for many of us. People go to acupuncture to relieve headaches, bodily aches and pains, as well as a way to deal with anxieties and depression. So why can’t acupuncture improve self-esteem?  I recently brought this topic up to an acupuncturist and she agreed. She stated that acupuncture would be valuable and helpful for teens with self-esteem issues due to the positioning of their chakras i.e. energy sources and their levels. Acupuncture would be able to rebalance them for maximum health quite easily because of their age. At a time when hormones are running wild, acupuncture may be able to regulate their mood for a more balanced and productive life. Therefor, they wouldn’t experience the emotional extremes during those already difficult years that wreak havoc on our self-esteem. When looking at it this way, acupuncture for teens kind of reminds me of  a car getting a tune-up. It takes less work to maintain a new car (i.e. younger body) than an older one and you get faster, long lasting results.

So, should we be sending our teens to acupuncturists?