I'm going to take you back to summer 2011, when I was 16 years old. I was a camper at Camp Good Shepherd, a summer camp for Greek Orthodox kids that I now volunteer at as a counselor at (I've written more extensively on CGS here). By this point, I'd already been attending CGS for 4 years, however, during camp that year, something happened that hadn't happened any other year I've been a camper (or counselor) there. Something I'll never forget.
It was the night in the middle of the week when we traditionally have our “Silent Campfire” (a bonfire where we pray and sing spiritual songs). On this particular night, the male and female campers were split up for our evening activity. All the other girls and I, including my younger sister (who also attended CGS with me for years), were gathered in a room together. We all crowded together on the couches in this lounge, wondering what kind of activity the camp staff could have possibly put together for us that required gender separation. It turned out the planned activity was for us to go around the room stating all of our insecurities. One by one, each of us went around in the circle rattling off everything we thought was wrong with us. Fat, ugly, thick thighs, too curvy, parents divorced, family tight on money...I can still feel the tension, yet the emotional bond, between all of us girls in that room. By the time five girls had spoken, nearly all of us in the room were in tears, including the counselors.
I’d known what I was going to say that entire time, yet it was hard for me to actually speak when it came my turn. How exactly do you tell a huge group of fellow teenage girls that you hate yourself for your (then) flat chest, your fat thighs, your frizzy hair, and your learning disabilities? Just saying these things out loud was tough, particularly the disabilities, because that was the part of myself I hated the most. I had an IEP all throughout school before college and I'd been constantly bullied by my peers for being "different" so I'd conditioned myself to think lowly of myself for something as simple as my brain being wired differently. But my sister and some friends sitting next to me squeezed my hands or patted my shoulder to show support, and I heard a few other girls also speak up that they had IEPs. Never have I seen a group of girls support each other as much as I did that night. As emotional as the experience was for all of us I am still grateful for those counselors at CGS 2011 who came together to plan this activity.
Why? Because I'd never directly faced my insecurities before. I've struggled with low self-esteem for years, particularly with body image and mental health, but I'd never really come to terms with exactly why until this night. And I think that once you get all your insecurities out in the open, it's easier for you to start tackling them and building yourself up.
I've gotten to a place where I can say I really do like, maybe even love myself. However, at the same time, anxiety and depression tend to kick in (more so than when I was younger) and make it difficult to love myself all of the time. It's weird to say that now I'm very confident yet still very insecure. I often still think about what I dislike about myself, but what has often helped me overcome those self-deprecating moods is thinking about my positive qualities too.
I recently saw one of my friends post a long and hearfelt Facebook status saying what he thinks his weakest and strongest qualities are. I really admired that he could be so openly honest and was moved to try to do the same for myself, as well as encourage others to. So I want to now list all the qualities of myself I worry about, followed by a list of all my qualities that I appreciate. Fair warning, I'm getting personal here, because I want to inspire all of you to be just as vulnerable with yourselves.
1. I procrastinate schoolwork way too much because I have serious concentration issues, to the point where I'm often awake past 2 AM. My therapist has rationalized this to me by pointing out that people with learning disabilities like ADHD or autism (both of which I have) tend to focus better at night, but I wish I could easily just buckle down and get my schoolwork done at normal times of the day.
2. I don't feel the urge to try to starve myself anymore because my body image issues have immensely improved compared to when I began college, but I still wish I could just lose weight. I've consistently been around the same weight for about 3 years and I've made countless attempts to regularly exercise and eat healthy, but nothing seems to shake even just a few pounds, even though I know it wasn't my fault I gained them (the birth control I was taking at the time is to blame).
3. I've reached a point where I don't get down on myself anymore for everything that happened with my ex-boyfriend because I know he's just an asshole and I did nothing to deserve it. However I still wonder sometimes if there is anything wrong with me that I could have diminished to prevent all our issues from happening.
4. More specifically, I wonder if my ex dropped me because I was too emotional for him, which makes me often still second-guess myself on whether or not I'm being too sensitive about things. Or if I'll find a partner I'm emotionally compatible with.
5. I also worry if I'll find someone my sexuality is compatible with. I'm happy being asexual, it's part of who I am. But at the same time it's inconvenient being so romantically and sexually slow. I worry if I'll ever be able to get really intimately comfortable around someone else in the way I did with my ex, which is why I held on to our relationship for so long. I fear that other guys I potentially meet won't understand my asexuality (it's a difficult concept for most people to grasp), or worse, that I'll be pressured past my boundaries again.
6. I wish I wasn't so socially inept sometimes. I don't think being introverted is a quality that needs to be fixed, but sometimes it feels inconvenient to go to a party or other type of social gathering where I don't know everyone and just not be able to say anything to the point where I hide in a corner on my phone the entire time.
7. While I love my body, I still wish I could magically eradicate the fat in my stomach, thighs, and ass. I can't seem to shake it no matter how much I exercise. I also wonder if having too much fat on my body was a reason for my ex to drop me (considering he'd sometimes tend to grossly comment on various aspects of my body).
8. I often worry that I talk too much and that no one around me actually gives a shit about what I'm saying.
9. I overthink and stress about everything. I can't always tell if it's depression and anxiety getting in the way, or if I'm just sad and stressed because it's a logical time to be sad and stressed. Which then leads to me subconsciously wondering if I'm just hyping up my mental illnesses to get attention and/or feel sorry for myself.
10. I no longer downgrade myself for my learning disabilities and autism, because I've come to accept them as part of me. However, I've had so many people, including people I trusted, give me shit for those disabilities, that it leaves me wondering sometimes if I can control my symptoms of them, or at least wishing that I could.
11. I'm worried that I'm not being a good enough Christian lately. I try to pray often and make it to my college's Christian group as much as I can, but sometimes during school, like during the past few weeks, I get bad at keeping up with going to church and to ACF because I get really stressed and withdrawn and forget to think about God.
12. I've wrestled with my sexuality for a while. I know I'm asexual, but as far as romance, and who I'm attracted to. In terms of romantic attraction I've always just said I'm straight, and I have only really dated guys (and mostly only feel attraction to them), but for a while saying I'm "straight" hasn't felt entirely true because on occasion I feel like I am attracted to girls. (But then again it's hard to tell because being ace, I have feelings for people so rarely that I have a difficult time recognizing when I have them.)
13. I'm about to graduate college in 2 months and I have no idea what I'm doing afterwards. I want to get a Master's degree but my family has barely scrapped together money for my undergrad tuition let alone grad school. I lowkey worry that I'll be living at home and working at Movie Tavern for the rest of my life because I can't get my shit together. I stress about money a lot.
1. I'm very empathetic. I'm easily in tune with others' emotions just as much as my own. Due tothis, I am great at being there for people to talk to and giving them advice.
2. Because of that, I'm also skilled at interacting with children. I may be socially inept around people my own age, but due to a combination of my caregiving personality and years of volunteering/babysitting/working with young kids, being around them has always come naturally to me.
3. I'm a very loving friend. I always go out of my way to give all my friends birthday or holiday gifts or offer them a listening ear in times of need. I've often driven an hour to see certain friends, even up to three hours, because I'll go to extreme lengths to show people I care about them.
4. I'm a very good girlfriend too. Similarly to what I do for friends, I'll go out of my way to preserve a relationship if I'm really in love with someone. I'm extremely understanding and dedicated. My ex was super lucky to have me for 17 months, even if he didn't think so-- and one day, someone else will be, too.
5. I take pride in my musical talent. I've been playing piano and singing since elementary school. I used to be highly self-conscious of my singing voice, but now after a few years of voice lessons, I can honestly say I love how I sound when I sing. Back in high school, I never would have imagined myself singing solo in front of audiences, but now I'm always eager for a chance to.
6. I have a really nice ass and boobs. I've reached a place where I can stare at my body in a mirror for minutes on end-- and not totally hate what I see.
7. I'm great at cooking and baking. If it's a friend or family member's birthday, I'll jump at the chance to be the one to provide the baked goods. I admire my ability to freely throw things together without recipes and just cook them up.
8. I've been writing since I was about 6 years old and I'm very gifted at it. I'm always excited for a chance to show off my writing and I have a feeling I'll go far with it, even if I have no idea where my career will take me after graduation.
9. While I tend to be anxious and closed off, I'm also always excited for a chance to try new things. I love this about myself because it's enabled me to study in a different country for a few months and to travel to several different countries.
10. I'm really skilled at doing makeup. I don't often put on makeup due to being lazy, but when I do, I feel so much more confident because I do it in a way that makes me look and feel great. It's important to me because it's like an art.
11. Unlike when I was younger, I love my skin and my hair. I'm very fair-skinned but I lucked out in never having to worry about acne problems, and I've learned to embrace my thick curly hair rather than hate it, even if it does get frustrating to deal with sometimes. Those Greek genes came in clutch for me!
12. I'm very cultured and intelligent. Visiting other countries and living in a different one for a few months taught me a lot about the world. Through my research there and here in the US, I've studied a lot about many different global issues and diverse cultures and I'm proud to know as much as I do.
13. I'm proud of my Greek heritage and religion. I'm born and raised Greek Orthodox, and very happy about it. I can't explain exactly why I take so much pride in my culture (a lot of Greeks do, as I've written about before), but thinking about it and doing Greek traditions or cultural activities makes me feel great about myself.
So that's me. More or less everything I like and dislike about myself, completely exposed. Now I want to challenge you to tackle your weaknesses and strengths in the same way. An important part of self-care is learning to be vulnerable with ourselves. You need to embrace all aspects, both strong and weak, of yourself, in order to live a completely fulfilling life.
"I am fearfully and wonderfully made" --Psalm 139:14
You should remember that you are, too.�