I didn’t know I had self-esteem issues until I gained some self-respect. I remember going through high school thinking that I was the most confident person ever. I didn’t hate the way I looked. I knew what I was good at and what I wasn’t. I had enough friends. All that had to mean that I was confident.

But I went to college, and of course, I was on my own for the first time. I didn’t have anyone telling me what to think, what to wear, how to act or behave. I was in charge of myself for the first time. And I swear, I didn’t go crazy or anything. I mostly stuck to what I’d been raised on. I found a nice Christian group to go to once a week. I didn’t really go out and party. And I made friends with the people on my hall. I was by all accounts, a good girl.

And I’m not about to tell you that I regret that. I’m perfectly happy going to my Christian group, not blacking out on the weekends, and hanging out with my roommate. But being able to make these decisions for the first time by myself gave me the confidence I needed to truly love myself. I found people who were like me and people who weren’t like me. I cemented the things I believed and expanded on the things I was exploring. I learned more and I grew more in a year than I ever did in high school.

And I learned that I really hated myself in high school. I was constantly molding myself to other people’s expectations. I had crippling social anxiety. I was searching for the things that I liked and finding that they didn’t match up with what other people liked. Which gave me both a misguided sense of rebellion and more social anxiety.

Once I got out of my shell, my high school bubble, I was forced to search for a new identity or justify the one I had and stand by myself in that search. I had to let go of the way people saw me. I went to school with the same kids for 10 years and they grouped my high school self in with my middle school self in with my elementary school self. And I’m not calling them out for that. But when I left home, I was able to lose all of these preconceived notions that people had about me.

When that happened, I was able to really be myself. And when I started to be myself, I started to become confident and love myself the way I was and not the way people saw me. I wish I could tell my high school self to stop hating herself so much. I wish I could tell her that she’ll find a place where she’ll be happy. I wish I could tell her to stop worrying so much about the way other people perceive her. I wish I could tell her that I love her.