Whenever I log into my Facebook account (admittedly not nearly as often as my family would like), I see a video titled 2017: A Year in Review. Since I've only had my account for two months, and posted a total of three times, it's pretty small. However, 2017 has certainly been a challenging year for me in ways my Facebook review can’t show. Over the course of the next month, I'll be sharing some of my story with you, in the hopes that my experiences might help anyone going through similar situations.
As a teenager, many of my closest connections are the friendships I've made in school. I'm sure many of you will agree that the people who you surround yourself with have the ability to shape your life; for better or for worse. Over the past year, the people around me have impacted me in various ways. Going on all the way to 2015, I started at a large high school as the only student from my primary school, so I was fairly uncertain on my first day. Thankfully, a girl in my class instantly made me feel welcome in her own large group of friends, and through her I strengthened my connections with other people. This sense of belonging stayed with me over the next two years as I grew more self confident and trusting of the people around me.
However, as I will address in further detail next week, at that point I was unable to differentiate between a real friendship and a toxic one. What I took to be signs of concern for my wellbeing were actually insults calculated to lower my self esteem and raise theirs. Being a student, lunch times were of course spent together, and I was surrounded daily by comments and implications regarding my weight. The worse the comments became, the more determined I was to maintain the friendship, under the false assumption that my sense of worth could be dictated by others. After a few months of these comments, I was abruptly cut off by the group without explanation, via text messages sent in class. This further exacerbated my sense of self worth as I struggled with body image and the daily sense of loneliness and hurt.
Over time, I made other friends, ones I was happy to be with. I felt welcomed like I hadn't been before, and my friendship group was composed of people with very similar interests to me. Once more I began to feel included and my self esteem rose. The body image issues haven't left me, even though it has been over a year, yet I was able to feel happy again and enjoy the company of others.
Early this year however, things took a turn for the worse within my family. My grandmother’s lung cancer progressed at a rapid rate, and my sister was diagnosed with several mental illnesses. I found it difficult to maintain an interest in anything else, and was expected to present a happy front for my parents. The struggle of caring for a loved one with a mental illness, especially since my sister and I are extremely close, was immense, and I was unable to find support. I confided in a close friend, however that pushed us further and further apart as it became apparent she couldn’t support me due to her own personal circumstances. This escalated to conflict - something I’ll elaborate on in a few posts time. Although I was secure in most of my friendships, my family situation was worse than ever, taking a toll on my mental health as I struggled to cope with the stress of my sister's health, culminating in several episodes of depression.
Towards the end of the year I participated in an exchange program overseas. Whilst an amazing opportunity, I was also isolated and cut off from my family and friends. Without access to them, and difficulties maintaining contact due to time zones, it was hard to remain positive. The worry about my sister and aunt (who is also affected by mental illness), increasing loneliness as I struggled to fit in at my new school and make friends, and the difficulty of communicating in a second language all proved to be a struggle. With limited support and increasing difficulty to adjust, I retreated into a negative mindset where anything positive was undeserved, and I berated myself for feeling happy when so many others weren't. Simultaneously, I was wracked with guilt for not taking advantage of the wonderful opportunity I'd been given and worrying my host family. I was able to overcome this, however not without outside help and a great deal of time and coping mechanisms.
Luckily, throughout the year I've been able to build up a strong support network of people who care for me and about my wellbeing. Although this year has been incredibly challenging, I was able to continue through with the support of my friends, and the various coping mechanisms that I have used. Whenever I was overwhelmed, I could reach out to others, who could calm me and reassure me. Having a group of friends who were so supportive and understanding of everything really helped me to get through the year, and I hope that anyone who is in a similar situation can find comfort in finding someone to listen. Reaching out was incredibly hard, as I didn't want to burden anyone with my problems, however the support I've been given has helped so much.
Over the next month I'll be going into more detail about the challenges of 2017, and how I've overcome them. I hope that sharing my story will help anyone who needs it, and give an insight into how to cope with the various challenges of going through difficulties in body image, coping with a loved one’s mental health, and having a personal struggle with mental health. Check back every week as my story unfolds.