All Posts, Body Image, Dating Yourself, Self-Love

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.

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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.

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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!).