I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, I’ve never really seen the point. But I do always have a think about what I would like to achieve during the year ahead.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot more than usual as we’ve entered this new decade. I’ve had a notebook on my lap, ready to write a list of my hopes for this coming year. The page remains blank. There’s just one thing that keeps coming into my head…
I want to start liking myself.
Some of you reading may not understand this statement, or you might think that it’s a cliched comment. Others may fully understand it because please believe me when I say it’s very real.
Over the past two and a half years I’ve been seeing a psychologist. During these sessions, I’ve come to understand just how much other people have had an impact on the way I see myself, from my childhood right up to today. Their actions are deeply embedded and have shaped my perception of who I am, and it’s very difficult to change this, to ‘unbelieve’ that these perceptions may not all be accurate.
I’ve spoken openly on here about being bullied during my teenage years, which not only had a huge impact on my behaviour at the time, but continues to do so. I hated the way I looked as a teenager because of the cruel words that were thrown at me – ‘fatty’, ‘tree trunk legs’, ‘ugly’. That loathing of my body-image has lived on in. I get paranoid that I must just be seeking attention, but when I look in the mirror, I hear the teasing taunts from my Secondary School days. I relive moments of humiliation and shame e.g one of the girls caught me doodling the name of a boy I had a teenage crush on (as does every teenager). She snatched it from me, laughing, ‘Oh my god! As if he would ever look at you!’. This wasn’t enough for her, she then told the older boy in front of everyone as he passed us in the corridor, ‘Hey ****, Sharon fancies you! She actually thinks you’d look at her.’ That feeling of being humiliated still washes over me and makes me want to crawl out of my skin.
I developed very unhealthy coping behaviours during my teenage years – I would binge eat after school and make myself throw it back up, then feel disgusted and ashamed.
That feeling of wanting to crawl out of my skin and disappear, it lives with me. I have social anxiety. I want to hide away at home. I don’t want people to see me. I don’t want people to have to be in my company.
I was a Primary School teacher for 13 years. It was a job I loved at the start, but the immense pressure of giving the job everything I had but it never being good enough whittled away what little self-confidence and self-esteem I had. The last couple of years of my career were hell. I drove to work crying every morning and cried myself to sleep every night. I came to completely doubt my ability to teach. I felt like I couldn’t do anything right and felt utterly worthless.
During this time, I was treated negatively by family members – ignored, belittled, mocked. Without going into detail, by the end of 2014, I didn’t want to exist anymore – it was the only way I could see to end the mental torture. I hated myself so much I couldn’t bear to be me.
But I’m still here because I’m a mam. Thinking about my boys pushed me through my GP’s door and say, ‘I don’t feel right.’ And as the tears fell, the words poured out too.
I started taking medication and saw my GP regularly. I slowly started to feel better. And then something wonderful happened – I got a publishing deal for the children’s book I had written. This was my absolute dream come true. I eventually made the decision to end my career as a teacher. Financially we would struggle, but for my own mental health, it was the only option.
No sooner than this decision had been made and I was starting to feel like me again, looking forward to the future, my whole world shattered. I lost my little boy, Ned.
When Ned died, I lost every sense of who I am. I blamed myself. If I’d been a good mam, this would never have happened.
When you lose a child, the you before no longer exists. You feel like you have no purpose. There is no reason for you being. I felt that everyone would be better off without me in their lives. I felt a burden on my friends. I felt that my husband and boys would be happier without me.
Having therapy has helped so much with these feelings and I’m certainly in a much better place than I was when I first walked into my psychologist’s room in August, 2017.
But I still don’t like myself. I understand that the years of other people’s actions towards me have affected me deeply, but despite this understanding, it’s a huge challenge for me to think differently about myself because I don’t believe it; I don’t believe that I’m not this person that I see as myself. So that’s my one hope for this year – that somehow, I can start to like and accept who I am.
How am I going to do this? I continue to have the support of my wonderful therapist for now, but to fully move forward, I need to be able to do this alone.
So I’ve come up with four things that I want to ‘work’ on. I don’t know whether trying to achieve these things will help, but they certainly feel like the right changes.
- ‘Me time’ – I don’t allow myself to have time that’s just for me. I feel guilty using time on myself. I don’t feel like I deserve it. But I know that I need this time. At times I feel desperate to have time alone doing something that I enjoy. But I push it away. I should be working or looking after my boys. That’s my purpose. But I’m slowly learning to accept that I have to have this time to relax – go for a coffee with a friend or sit reading. I need to learn how to be a little bit kinder on myself I suppose.
- Being an author – that’s my career now. As with any job, I need working hours. It’s not a ‘nice little hobby’ as some have referred to it, it’s my work. Yes, I love writing and feel lucky that I get to write as my job. But it is that, my job. I aim to be a lot more productive this year, stricter with my writing time. I would like to do more author visits to schools. This isn’t me being hard on myself. I want to make a success of being an author.
- Running – I know that running will help with my confidence and self-image. Last year I didn’t allow running to have the importance it should have in my life. I allowed it to be pushed aside. It was easy to say that I just didn’t have enough time to go for a run. I allowed everything else to come first, which has had a negative impact on me. Running makes me feel better. My husband rows and always makes time for his rowing. It’s an important part of his week. He’s disciplined and focused and I can see the way rowing has a positive impact on his mental health. I need to learn to give running this same importance in my life.
- Form new friendships – This is a tough one. I’ve lost friends since losing Ned, and I find it very difficult to accept that anyone would want to spend time with me. I have a couple of close friends who I know will be with me always, but maybe there are other people who I can start calling friends. Having social anxiety is a huge hurdle, but I’m not thinking about going out socialising in a large group of people – that isn’t me. But maybe I can nurture a handful of new friendships.
So there it is, my one hope for 2020. Will I achieve it? Will I end the year liking myself a little bit more? I hope so, because I think if I like myself, then I’ll finally find some peace. If I can achieve the four things I’ve outlined then I’m pretty sure that I’ll feel like a better person and if I feel like a better person, maybe I’ll start to see myself differently. It’s going to be a huge challenge for me, but I’m going to give it my best.