My journey with depression

Early this year, I sobbed alone in my apartment as if someone had died.

I had just dropped my boyfriend off at the airport, so he could go back to California and visit his family for a month while studying for the Guam bar exam.

This was the first time I truly felt alone in months, since we’d moved in together last September.

It was embarrassing, crying so hard over something so small — I mean, we’d been apart for a whole year before we moved in together, so this was cake. It wasn’t like anything bad was going to happen to me, or to our relationship, and it wasn’t like I couldn’t take care of myself on my own.

It was scary, because I knew that him going away wasn’t the real reason I was crying — but I wouldn’t find out why until I started therapy months later.

My breakdown was my wake-up call to realize something was definitely wrong with my emotional and mental well-being. It was one of the moments that pushed me into finally getting professional help.

I can’t remember the last time I truly wasn’t depressed.

I think back, and it may have started in high school. I remember I was for sure depressed when I moved to California with my family at the beginning of my senior year of high school, when I had to start all over at a new school with zero friends.

I get scared when I think back even farther, because I remember crying hard to my mom at night in elementary school, stressed out about whatever little Chloe found troubling at the time. It’s scary thinking I might not remember a time when I wasn’t depressed.

This year has been a rough one for me.

In January, Nate and I had to spend about a month apart while he was in California (though I did see him for a couple days when I also was in California to see my family). I realized how much I started relying on him for emotional stability since we’d moved in together, and how much anxiety I got about being apart since we’d just gotten over a three-year long distance period.

I relied a lot on our relationship to make me happy, and when I wasn’t happy, I thought things weren’t good with us either.

After working through my own issues and seeing a therapist, I realized it wasn’t about him or us — my depression was something separate from my relationship. But I started taking out my frustrations at home without thinking, which definitely wasn’t fair to him.

Transitioning into living with a romantic partner can be tricky, and I guess it doesn’t help much either when you’re depressed (go figure) and don’t have your families around.

In February, my uncle and I had to take my 92-year-old grandpa to the hospital, where he stayed for days (more than a week, even? It felt like this period went on forever). My mom flew here that same day from the states, and we made arrangements to care for him while he was in worse shape than ever.

I had already booked my flight to visit my parents and siblings in California, so reluctantly I went on my trip, worried it might be the last time I’d see my grandpa.

It was.

We buried him on a Saturday in early March, then celebrated my birthday the following day.

Of course, I know I still have many things to be grateful for — I write them down in a “daily gratitudes” journal my mom gave to me. I used it to remind myself of all the wonderful parts of my life (big and small) when I felt empty inside.

August 12, 2017: I’m grateful for the beauty of Litekyan, a fun day at the beach with my cousins, my beautiful island, healthy food, my sweet Grandma, cats and dogs, funny coworkers, the healing power of the ocean, my Grandpa still around in his old age, freedom to travel, beautiful shells, freedom to rest, friends who love me.

So if I have so much to be grateful for, why do I feel so empty?

After aching inside too much, crying nearly every day and not knowing why, and talking with Nate and my family, I decided I needed to finally see a therapist.

When you’re depressed and don’t have motivation to even feed yourself or take a shower, it’s hard to take the steps to get help when you don’t know where to go.

I started small, giving myself the task of just looking in my insurance provider directory for therapists in my area (I knew if I had to drive farther, I’d probably come up with excuses not to go). I narrowed the list down to just female therapists, knowing I’d feel more comfortable talking to a woman.

Weeks passed, and eventually I called the different numbers until I could find someone who would see me. Even just talking to my therapist over the phone for a few minutes, I knew I could trust her. I felt better already, after taking small actions to make this big step for myself.

I thought a lot about what we would talk about, during the days leading up to my first session. I’d seen counselors at my university years ago, and found it useful. I didn’t even know what issues I might have to talk about, or what was making me feel so sad and empty.

Everything in my life was great on paper: I have a lot of reasons to love my job (and I do it well), I have a life partner who loves me, I have a network of supportive family and friends, I have a comfortable life, I live in paradise.

I just couldn’t understand what made me so unhappy when I had so much to live for.

Since I started seeing a therapist this year, I’ve allowed myself to be vulnerable — which is the scariest part of all.

During the first few sessions, I told her my life story: from childhood, to my parents’ divorce, to my high school relationships, to the toxic ones, to my move back home, to now. She asked more questions about my parents and my childhood, and I tried to smooth over them, not wanting to dig deeper and unearth unresolved feelings I’d worked hard to move past.

I really can’t complain, because on most accounts I’d say I had an enjoyable childhood (and still have the friends I made in elementary school). My parents worked hard to give me a better life than theirs, and pushed me to do better.

I won’t get too far into it right now, but being the eldest child (and the product of what was nearly a teen pregnancy) put a lot of pressure on me to succeed. My parents pushed me in ways they didn’t with my younger brothers and sisters, which was rough on me sometimes.

If I could change my upbringing though, or trade for another spot in the birth order, I wouldn’t. And I’ve also learned through talking to my therapist and parents that working through issues festering from my past doesn’t mean I don’t love my parents or that I blame them for anything.

I’m happy with the life I have now for the most part, and I am the person I am because I’ve always been pushed to do my best. At some point, it went from them pushing me to do my best, to me pushing myself.

But always pushing to be the best means I often feel like a failure, or like I could at least do better. It means my college essays aren’t good enough to me, my news stories aren’t good enough, my social media presence isn’t good enough, my effort to make a positive change on the world isn’t good enough, my body is definitely not good enough.

It means I eat less to look the way I think I should, it means I lie awake in bed at night thinking of all the things I could have done better, it means if I don’t get enough likes on my picture I’m ugly and unpopular, it means I am a terrible person not worthy of love.

I say these hateful things to myself daily, and I’ve written about how it manifests in my life in different ways, like my eating disorder.

Over the past months, I’ve been trying to stop this negative cycle more actively (though it’s  just second nature to me at this point).

I’m working on developing a healthier relationship with myself, which is turning out to be more a lot more difficult than three years of a long distance relationship with someone outside of myself.

I’m not writing all this so people can send me concerned messages or to get attention. I’m not writing this because I have any answers. I’m writing this because sometimes it’s okay to be sad, to not have a solution yet, or to not even know what the problem is.

The point is, I’m working every day to get better. Even if I don’t feel completely better yet (and though I worry most days that I never will), I have to hope. I have to trust myself to work through the issues that hold me down, and try different methods to see what works.

This isn’t my whole story (I promise I’m okay for the most part, and I’m not always this serious), but I wanted to at least scratch the surface of writing through this complicated path of self healing.

In future blog posts, I want to write about other mental health issues I’m learning to deal with, like overcoming the fear of starting medication, how to talk to loved ones about my mental health issues (and knowing not everyone is going to completely understand), and my journey with getting diagnosed. This whole issue is so heavy, and I’m glad I’m finally writing things down and opening up to more people. I’m not sure how useful this will be, but I hope if anyone reads this and is going through something similar, they’ll feel less alone and know that there’s still hope.

How my low self-esteem is ruining my life

I’ve been going through a really low point in my self-esteem over the past week.

About a week ago, I popped a pimple on my chin and kept picking at it until it turned into a dark scar (I’ve watched too many Dr. Pimple Popper videos and tried to be a hero with my comedone extractor tool). I also have a big cold sore on my lip, which turned into a gross scab.

Every time I have a patch of acne or cold sores, I get really self-conscious and think that’s all people can see when they’re talking to me. Even worse, I have to record videos of myself for work almost every day — which means potentially thousands of people will see me at my worst.

On top of that, I’ve steadily gained weight over the past year. As a result, I feel terrible about my body almost every day. I’ve suffered from body dysmorphia for at least six years, so I’m still learning to be happy with how I look at a healthy weight. But even though I know my body is supposed to be beautiful the way it is, I can’t help but hate what I see almost every time I look in the mirror.

More: Taking control over my eating disorder

More: How to deal with Instagram-related insecurities

I had an emotional breakdown at the gym today because of all this. I haven’t gone to the gym in like more than six months, since I mostly just work out at home now — but I’ve been exercising inconsistently because my family was visiting last month.

So when I was lifting weights today and looking in the mirror, all I could see were flaws. When I look at my arms, all I see is fat. My stomach: fat. My legs: jiggling fat when I move. My face: dirty pores, small pimples everywhere, acne scars. I even hate small things about myself, like how my feet have such low arches and I have weird bumps all over my arms.

Most of the time, it feels like there’s a mean voice in my head constantly berating me. I wrote about this in another blog post about dealing with an eating disorder, when I finally became aware that there was a voice, and was working on standing up to that voice in my own head.

It feels like I’m being bullied by someone constantly, who knows all the worst things to say about me to make me feel terrible. I end up hunching over, cowering from this bully, but I feel helpless because I don’t know how to make it stop. There’s nowhere to hide because it’s inside me. Is it me? I don’t know what made me become this mean. Today, I literally said “please stop” aloud to myself in the mirror, with tears rolling down my face.

Having this voice constantly criticize me feels like there’s a weight on me most of the time. My shoulders sink, my eyes look wistful, I don’t smile. This heavy feeling seeps into me, into all my other thoughts and the words I say to others. I tweet passive-aggressive things because I am not happy with who I am. When my boyfriend doesn’t compliment me, the voice takes that as an offense and it tells me he doesn’t love me. It tells me that everything it’s been saying to me is true: that if your boyfriend doesn’t constantly tell you you’re beautiful, then you must be ugly. Even though he doesn’t deserve it, I project this onto my boyfriend and read his actions as a confirmation of my biggest insecurities and worst fears.

More: What I learned from living with my boyfriend for six months

The voice doesn’t just make me feel terrible — it makes me miserable and mean myself, and I pass on that negativity to everyone around me. The voice makes it harder for me to eat or enjoy food, because it makes me feel guilty, fat, and weak for not being able to resist unhealthy treats that taste good. It makes me eat smaller portions because it tells me I’m fat.

I don’t know where the voice came from or why it thinks these things of me. There are so many women who aren’t stick-skinny, whom I find so incredibly beautiful. I would never even think of criticizing them or pointing out any flaws they might see in themselves — so why don’t I extend the same kindness to myself? Why am I okay with picking apart the tiniest details of Chloe and telling her she’s unworthy of love?

This voice makes me feel worthless.

I honestly don’t know what to do about it, because I can’t even remember what it was like to live without it. It doesn’t matter if anyone tells me they think I’m beautiful, because the voice will still be there no matter what. It’s louder than anyone else, louder than my parents, my boyfriend, my friends, and much louder than the kind voice in my head that chimes in when I have brief periods of feeling good about myself.

One of my new goals for the month is to start therapy. I used to see on-campus psychologists for free weekly sessions while I was going to college, but I only took advantage of this service for two different periods (maybe 6-8 weeks in my second and fourth years of college). I think after a quarter of school or so, you’ll have to be referred to an off-campus doctor and pay for services.

More: How Passion Planner helped me get my life together

More: My goals for 2018

Therapy was really useful to me when I first learned I had an eating disorder, and when I was dealing with some anxiety and emotional issues. Now that I’m working and busy with other things, it feels like therapy is just another chore I have to do eventually but never get around to it.

My goal for this week is to call therapist offices and schedule an appointment, and hopefully have my first session sometime this month. I definitely recommend therapy to anyone I can, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting help. Even if your friends or family want to help you, you might get to a point where there’s nothing they can do for you. Seeking professional help is completely normal, and is just as important as any physical health issue.

In the meantime, I want to work on quieting that voice and making room for another one. I know there’s a good voice inside, but she’s not as strong as the mean voice. Or maybe she is strong, but we’re just not close enough so that we don’t talk often. Hopefully I still sound sane to you, whoever is reading this. I know it’s not going to be an easy thing, but I desperately want to get to know her better, and have a friend on my side when the mean voice gangs up on me in my head.

I need to work on letting that voice be my life coach, my guiding guardian angel who will encourage me, or be compassionate towards me when I fall short of my own expectations. I need her to tell me it’s going to be okay, and that even if I feel terrible in the moment, things won’t feel this bad forever. I need her to be there for me, because I know deep down (even when I can’t drown out the noise) that the bad voice is wrong, and that I deserve better. And eventually I will be better.

I remember when I was 19, I started going through my big self love phase. I taught myself to love being on my own, I started my own projects (and later, this blog), and I got a tattoo to commemorate this part of my life. For years, I thought this period of growth was the big lesson I had to learn. I thought, okay I know what self love is, I’m set for life! Nothing can ever bring me down again!

Looking back now, I can’t believe I thought that was it for me. That I figured out the secret to self love, and I would always feel good about myself. After going through painful periods of growth several more times since then, I know now that the work is never done. Learning to love yourself is a lifelong journey, and there will always be ways you practice self-destructive behavior or moments of low self-esteem.

For now, this is my new phase of growth with a big new challenge: learning to change my negative self-talk to a positive voice of encouragement, and how to be okay with my body. Someday when I gain or lose weight, or when I have kids, or when I’m aging, I’ll have to deal with those obstacles too. I’m sure it’ll feel like the worst I’ve ever gone through while I’m going through it.

But I hope the one thing that stays constant is my willingness to try, to learn, to heal. The work will never be done, but I’m excited to see where it takes me (and write about it along the way!).

2018 goals

At the beginning of 2017, my goal was to say yes to new things.

I traveled to Bali alone (my first solo foreign trip), where I had a romantic honeymoon all to myself. I took a trip to Thailand with a group of my childhood friends, where we played with elephants, got matching tattoos, and threw up on the side of the road in Chiang Mai (wait, that last part was just me). I spontaneously tried surfing with two friends I don’t often hang out with. Instead of staying in every night (which I used to be known for in college), I went out with my friends every weekend. I created connections with so many amazing people, grew closer to my family and old friends, and spent lots of time with my group of talented reporter coworkers.

I also went through a lot of heartbreak, being away from my parents and siblings the entire year. I struggled with a complicated relationship with my partner while we were broken up, and then again while we figured out a way to finally live together. I spent many nights crying alone to myself, or sitting outside on my grandma’s patio looking up at the moon. I also had many moments of pure happiness, where I’d cry too because I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have this life (I know I cry a lot, okay).

2017 brought a lot of turbulence, but it was a welcome change from how stagnant I felt in 2016. I spent so much time saying yes to new adventures though, so by November 2017 I was drained. I put too much effort into always being part of everything, too much time going to events just to please other people — and not enough time caring for myself. I gained a considerable amount of weight from going out drinking (then the late night meals after drinking) and always eating unhealthy at restaurants with family and friends. I didn’t make time to Passion Plan, blog, or work on my ebook project. I literally only read one book in its entirety this year.

In December, I decided I needed to spend more time working on myself. I started reading for fun again, I took up sketching again too, and began watercolor painting (after receiving a very thoughtful gift of watercolor paints from my aunt). I went back to yoga classes, tried to get back into weight lifting and home workouts, and went jogging in my neighborhood. I revamped my blog design to make it a pretty space for my writing. I worked on my ebook again for months until I finished a full second draft.

There are so many things I want to do to grow. I feel this sense of urgency flowing through me all day, like I want to be doing the most with the time I have because I know I have so much potential for growth. I’m learning I need to be more careful with my time, and sometimes that means saying no to social events or extended family obligations because I have my own work to do.

It’s overwhelming thinking about all the ways I want to better myself in the future. I bought a film camera so I could play with photography and explore a new medium. I want to learn how to blend watercolor hues and paint beautifully. I want to be an avid reader like my parents. I want to someday be at peace with myself and not suffer from anxiety.

But most of all, I want to develop a healthy relationship with my body and with food. I’ve struggled with an eating disorder for years, and it’s gotten worse this year since I started gaining some weight. Eating is a constant battle for me — whether I’m trying to feed myself to my fill, binge snacking uncontrollably, or pretending I’m not hungry just so I can shed fat.

I’m at a point now where I don’t completely hate my body (or at least I know I shouldn’t). It comes in waves. I know I don’t really need to lose weight or mass, but I want to be able to nourish myself and not have these strong feelings of shame or pleasure associated with food. I want to get to a point where I see food as a way to care for myself, rather than punishing or rewarding myself for how or when I consume it.

All these ways I want to change aren’t going to happen in a day. I doubt I’ll even achieve them in 2018, or 2020. But the best thing I can do for myself is start small.

My only goals in 2018:

  • Care for my body (nourish it with nutritious food, do regular exercise that feels good, strengthen my connection to it with yoga)
  • Create art
  • Be more grateful
  • Heal

This blog post sounds really serious (and I’m not usually so serious in real life or online), but I’m also trying to become more confident — plus I just finished reading Hunger by Roxane Gay and I’ve probably absorbed her blunt, honest writing style for now.

Anyway, if you’ve read this far, I hope you have a wonderful start to your new year! Let’s grow together!

Taking control over my eating disorder

Getting dressed has become such an ordeal lately.

I moved back to Guam with just one suitcase with all my belongings (clothes, shoes, and books included), but I’ve bought a few tops and bottoms over the past year.

Since last September, I’ve gained at least 10 pounds. I probably lost 10 pounds of muscle and gained 20 pounds of fat total, because I stopped working out and I used to be on a fairly strict workout regimen in 2016.

Now the clothes I brought over from California don’t even fit me anymore, and I’ve had to give away a few pairs of my favorite jeans because they can’t possibly button around my waist.

I feel bad every time I need to get dressed because almost nothing fits me right anymore. I end up changing clothes ten times before going anywhere, scrutinizing myself in the mirror. I often just give up and wear the same outfits repeatedly, usually the ones that hide my stomach most.

By no means am I the slightest bit overweight — I’m average for my height now, for the first time in my life.

But the problem I came to terms with four years ago has crept back into my life, this time stronger than I’ve felt it in years.

It’s no big secret that I had (and still have) body dysmorphic disorder, and am recovering from anorexia nervosa. I wrote a blog post about learning to love my body in 2013 after I realized I had a problem and I was underweight. I shared about my body dysmorphia on Instagram last year, while I was coming to terms with my changing body after college.

In 2013, I realized I had body dysmorphic disorder and had been starving myself for a year or so to stay thin. I was so scared to weigh over 100 pounds, so I checked the scale obsessively to make sure I was at 99 at the most. I weighed about 97 pounds and I’m about 5’4-5’5 in height.

I took pleasure in buying XXS clothes. I was so proud of myself when I bought a 00 pair of jean shorts at American Eagle (I’d be surprised if I could fit one thigh in it today). Some days, I’d work out at the gym and my only meal that day would be a couple of Hot Cheetos and Sour Patch Kids.

It’s weird because I’m never really aware of it or in control of it. It’s kind of like the voice in your head that tells you to do any task, like when to brush your teeth or when it’s time to go to bed.

It tells me not to eat because it knows I’m going to get “fat.”

When I look down at my stomach, it tells me I’m disgusting.

When I wash my body in the shower, it tells me my mid section is too big and soft.

When I look at myself in clothes that don’t fit right, it tells me to lose weight.

When I look in the mirror, it tells me I’m ugly.

And I listen. Every time.

Over the years, I’ve gotten better at telling myself it’s wrong. I don’t know why it’s there or how it came to be.

But it gets worse when I’m going through periods of high emotional stress — like difficult breakups in the past. Now I think it’s back because of work stress, anxiety, and other personal issues.

I let myself go a bit over the past year, eating whatever junk food I want, eating socially (because it’s Guam, and that’s what you do), and snacking like crazy at night.

So now the voice has gotten meaner than ever.

I weighed myself at 119 last month. I couldn’t believe it.

I told myself it was fine. I mean I’m average now. Is that really so bad? I’m still skinnier than a lot of people my age, so it isn’t a big deal. And I’m getting older so my metabolism is slowing down. It’s normal.

Still, I found myself measuring my waist every day in the morning (since you’re supposed to be your thinnest when you wake up).

Almost 29 inches. You fucking fat bitch.

I pinch my rolls and feel devastated.

The following weeks:

Still too fat.

27 and three quarters of an inch. Better. But still too fat.

I’ll be happy when I’m at 26 again, I tell myself every morning.

I nod with affirmation at the mirror thinking, yes, then I’ll be happy.

But another voice in my head (damn I sound crazy with all these voices) says softly, but when you were a 25 waist, were you happy?

I pause to listen.

No, I wasn’t happy back then. I was hungry.

Not just for food, but for satisfaction with myself.

After staring at myself tonight in old clothes that are too tight, examining my belly profile from different angles, I finally told myself, fuck it.

Even if I did it the healthy way by eating right, cutting out snacking before bed (which I should still probably do because it’s a bad habit in general), and exercising, I would still be measuring myself. Even if I hit 26, hell 25, would I really be happy?

I know if I monitor myself thinking that being skinnier will make me happy, instead of dealing with the anxiety, stress, and insecurities I have internally, I will never be happy.

I need to throw out whatever unrealistic expectations I have for my body.

I’m 24 years old. I’m not 19 anymore.

I have belly rolls, stretch marks, and cellulite.  I feel my fat shake on my body when I walk. I feel my thighs rub together.

But is that all really so bad? And who said it was bad to begin with?

For the first time in my life, I’m finally able to wear my bras without a huge gaping hole at the top. I’m finally fuller. I’m not stick-thin and my teenage body wouldn’t be attainable even if I threw up every day and starved myself.

I finally look full and healthy.

I look the way Woman Chloe should be, and I need to stop hanging onto Teenage Chloe.

I need to let go because the only person standing in the way of me feeling beautiful and happy is me — and that tiny mean voice inside that tells me I’m not enough.

How I Survived 10 Days Without Instagram

In some ways, summer is my least favorite time of the year. Most people love the freedom to do whatever they want, but when I have too much free time I get bored. And when I get bored, I get stalker-y.

For most of this summer (truthfully, for most of the time since I downloaded the app in 2012), I used Instagram as a constant distraction. I idly refreshed my feed every few minutes, looking through the pictures my friends liked to see if anything caught my eye. More recently, I began a mini mission at the back of my head to find quality indie models and follow them, and hopefully get inspired enough to somehow become as beautiful as they were. I also thought that if I found models who looked enough like me, I could feel better about myself because I looked kind of like them.

I must have spent hours a week absorbing pictures of beautiful long-limbed girls with perfect waist-to-hip ratios, flowing ombre hair, and breasts uncannily generous for their weight. How could I ever compare?

I’m not sure how I started this obsession in the first place. Maybe it stemmed from when my ex used to follow dozens of beautiful girls on Instagram like the ones I began to like. When I came out as bisexual, I realized I had nothing to lose by shamelessly following as many gorgeous models as I liked. Maybe this act was some kind of a “f*ck you” to my exes who indirectly made me hate my own body whenever I saw they were checking out other women who I thought were more attractive than I was.

In any case, this obsession began to slowly chip away at my already fragile self-esteem. Spending hours a day looking at models with ‘perfect’ bodies does something to a person’s mind. I carried the weight of feeling imperfect on my shoulders—I spent a lot of time looking at my body in the mirror and criticizing myself for what I perceived as flaws, always comparing myself to the models I could never completely imitate.

In addition to comparing myself to other girls on Instagram, I often compared my life in general to what I saw other people doing through their pictures. This made me feel emptier inside and increased my FOMO—which is the fear of missing out on something or someone more interesting, exciting, or better than what we’re currently doing. This fear leads us to feel like we’re not doing anything productive or special with our lives because we’re comparing it with what we see other people doing on social media sites.  I never felt like I was having enough fun at the moment because everyone else seemed to be out living their lives to the fullest, while I was half-watching episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on my couch while scrolling through Instagram on my phone. I’d see one of my friends post a picture of herself lounging on a beach in Rio, a picture of another friend skydiving, or a selfie of a friend posing in front of the Eiffel Tower, and every other imaginable activity that looked more fun than what I was doing at the moment. (By the way, these are all real life examples. I hate my friends and their awesome lives sometimes.)

I sat on the floor of my room one night wondering how I could get myself out of this problem. The solution was easy: get rid of it. I needed to get rid of the toxicity that this stupid app was causing me, and it was literally as easy as pressing a button. I decided right then that I would go a week without it and see how I felt about myself and my life.

The first day was the hardest, but even then it wasn’t too bad. I deleted the app from my phone the night before and signed out on my laptop, which helped me out a lot that day. The impulse to check Instagram came up so many times throughout the day by habit, but instead of feeling mad at myself or desperate to get back on, I found it funny and interesting to see how often the urge resurfaced. Staying away from the app was a small change, but I didn’t feel noticeably displeased with my body at all that day, since I didn’t have the venue to compare myself to anyone. I did notice myself thinking about different models and girls I followed that day, though, and thought it would be a good idea to unfollow all of them if I decided to use the app again.

Around day three, I started bargaining with myself. The mind is a tricky thing, and it tries to reason its way around what you resolve not to do, so it can get back into its comfort zone. I came up with weak reasons to go back on Instagram, like I thought my friend was going to tag me in a picture, and I told myself it would be rude of me not to go on and like it. But really, Instagram etiquette is trivial and I had to be strong against my own mind tricks. This was a small change in my life, but it was actually a big change in my behavior and daily habits, so it was interesting to find out what I’m capable of and how much self-control I could exercise.

By the fourth day, I started to really think about why I was doing this challenge and how bad I felt about my body. I talked through my self-esteem issues with my cousin and a couple of close friends and resolved to do more things with my life that made me happy internally so that I could feel better about how I looked externally too. I decided to do things that empowered me, like writing, exercising for my health more than my looks, and eating better. After this day, it was easier to finish the challenge without the fear of relapsing.

On the last day, I made up a few rules on how I wanted to use Instagram after the challenge so that I wouldn’t get back into my old habits of comparing my body and life to others:

  1. No “stalking.” No looking at who’s following whom, no looking at the Activity page to see what pictures my friends are liking. It’s none of my business and it doesn’t feel good to think about insignificant things like these.

  2. Unfollow all people I don’t know in real life. I just want to use the app to keep up with my family and friends.

  3. Only use the app at far apart intervals, maybe once or twice a week at most. This way I won’t use it as a constant distraction all day and can focus on what’s going on in the present, in real life.

I unfollowed everyone I didn’t know in person (at least 30 people) besides my favorite celebrities, even my super-fave-crush-models (I paused for a second to consider if I really wanted to remove two of them in particular from my life). I felt good. I avoided logging in all day because I was afraid of what it would be like, or if I would reverse all the progress I’d made. But going without something that was such a part of my daily routine taught me that as much as I think I need something in my life, or if I think I have a problem I can’t get rid of, it’s always possible to take small steps to get better. Getting rid of bad habits is a process that takes time, and most especially compassion for yourself. It’s not easy to change something about your life right away, so go easy on yourself if you mess up at first.

Post-challenge, Instagram is a lot less of a problem than it was for me before. I don’t use the app habitually anymore and delete it from my phone sometimes because it’s actually kind of uninteresting for me now. But now, I realize that Instagram wasn’t a problem I needed to work on as much as low self-esteem and jealousy were. Instagram was only a venue for me to compare myself to other people. I could take Instagram out of my life, but I can’t take away the comparisons in real life. Jealousy and insecurities are problems I know I need to work on, and I plan to explore them eventually.

I wrote this post initially as motivation for me to follow through with this mini challenge, but it was difficult for me to publish it because this problem is embarrassing for me. Why would I want all my friends (and strangers who might read my blog) to know how much I let a stupid app affect my life and self-esteem? As embarrassing as it is to admit I have this problem, I know it’s something other people probably struggle with too (to some degree—maybe not as intensely as I experienced it). If you’re going through some kind of emotional stress because of social media, know that you’re not alone. We’re going through uncharted territory by letting social media sites into our lives and their effects on our minds can be troublesome. It’s important to step back from these sites occasionally to make sure we don’t get sucked into them—to put our phones down, and remind ourselves of what we have in real life that makes our lives awesome, without having to share it with everyone online for it to be real.

Here’s a daily log I kept during the experiment, if anyone’s interested in seeing my process.

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