I think I met you when I was 6 or 7 years old. I was on the playground, playing a game with some friends during recess. You came over to join me without warning, asking if I was as pretty as the other girls in my class or if I was as good of a person as I thought I was. A rather absurd question to ask a first grader, but you asked it anyway, without shame.
I shrugged and told you that I believed I was. I hadn’t done anything to make myself think that I was anything other than a good person. I did my homework, paid attention in class, and did what my parents asked me to do at home. As for my looks, I told you that I thought looked decent enough. Maybe not the prettiest girl in my class, but I wasn’t ugly. You backed off, deeming my answer as acceptable for the time being. It wouldn’t be the only time you asked me that question.
After that, you remained quiet, for the most part. Occasionally throughout elementary school you’d speak up whenever I did something you deemed bad. You told me not to speak up, no matter how necessary, and you reminded me that it was embarrassing to ask the teacher a question about the math equation that I should have understood by now. I succumbed to your scolding each and every time, because I didn’t know any better. I was a student in life’s classroom, and you were my teacher, leading me on the path to become a functioning member of society.
By high school, you began punishing me for each and every thing I did. You blamed me when I was no longer the model student I had been for years. You told me it was my fault for not turning in my homework, and that I was disappointing my parents each and every day. You scolded me for my lack of involvement in extracurricular activities, while simultaneously telling me that I wouldn’t have succeeded.
I blindly continued to follow your lectures. I took notes on how I could improve myself and studied the way others behaved so as not to stand out. I could feel the person I was beginning to slip away, but I didn’t care. I thought I was just finding the person I was meant to be, and if becoming that person meant losing who I was, then I was happy.
Once I entered college, you had consumed my entire being. Every step I took was based on your orders, and every thought that crossed my mind had a response from you. A couple of times I tried to offer solutions, as if to please you. When you told me I couldn’t make it through upper division college courses, I found other classes that we both enjoyed. When you told me I wasn’t able to make friends in my classes, I made friends elsewhere. I wanted to please the both of us.
But I knew that wasn’t possible.
I began trying to fight against you, but you fought harder. When therapists offered solutions to keep you at bay, you pushed back. You told me I was a waste of space. You forced thoughts of death into my head, and made me begin to wonder if fighting against you was even worth it. Your shrill yelling kept me up every night even though my body yearned for sleep.
Eventually, something broke me. Maybe it was one tearful fight too many with my parents. Maybe it was the stress of not wanting to hurt the people close to me. Or maybe it was the countless nights I spent lying awake after I came home from college, wanting to disappear from existence. But I broke beyond repair, and it shook you to your core.
I knew I could do better than you. I fought like hell to push you out, this time with solutions that I felt confident about. You began to disappear, to the delight of myself and my loved ones. Sometimes you come back. Sometimes it’s a brief word or two, like former friends passing on the street. Other times you spend the night nestled in the depths of my mind, telling me all of the harmful things you told me for years. You never stay for very long though, because I have new thoughts that have taken up space in my brain. They tell me I deserve every ounce of love, respect, and affection that comes my way. They tell me I’m beautiful, and a lot of fun to be around.
And I listen to them, like I once did to you.