Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Welcome to My Story - The Darkest Days

When my unremarkable self entered junior high, I became an even smaller fish inside a larger pond. A pond where competition was heavy in both the looks and brains departments. A pond where one's value and worth were determined largely by their social networks and what they had to say about it.

At first, I didn't care about others' opinions of me, or so I told myself. I was there to get educated and get out, and I was not about to engage in social games that might jeopardize my one ticket to success: my grades. However, my body and my hormones betrayed me, and the turning tide resulted in my caring very much about what others thought. Their opinions either validated my existence or confirmed my unremarkableness. Usually the latter seemed to prevail. My looks were inadequate and I was still overweight. Strike 1.

Add to that the mounting pressure to achieve high honours (because anything below 90% is a fail), and I was becoming undone. Though I poured equal effort into my classes as always, my grades began to dip. The message I got from my parents? And the one I told myself? Second best was not enough. In my mind, my unremarkableness was confirmed yet again. Strike 2.

My relationship with my mother also deteriorated; I was a temperamental teen, and she was not the mother I wanted her to be. I felt very much like nobody around me listened to me, and nobody really understood. I was failing in my attempt to be a good daughter. Strike 3.

I don't remember the first time I considered ending my life. It was in the eighth grade. My grades had declined to the point of the low-80's (a bonafide "fail" in my books) and I was at my heaviest weight and largest size, ever. My mother and I could no longer speak more than two sentences to each other without it becoming a full-blown verbal confrontation, and nearly all of my friends had decided to stop talking to me for no reason whatsoever. I was feeling incredibly unremarkable, all alone, and entirely unloved. It seemed to matter not whether I lived or died, since I considered my worth to be that insignificant; if I was the captain of my soul and master of my own destiny, then my ship was definitely sinking, and I had no idea how to rescue it.

I contemplated taking every pill in our medicine cabinet for many weeks on end. I thought about how unremarkable my death would be, how few people would mourn, and how some might even be glad to be rid of me. I wondered how long it would take for the pills to kick in, and how long before I would die. I pondered about the level of pain I would endure physically before I passed out, and I often gazed into the medicine cabinet, thinking about my worthless life and worthless death.

I also thought about God, and about whether or not He existed or cared. I knew little about Him, but enough to know that He was not visible in my life and could not heal the pain and hurt in my heart, produced after so many years of pushing myself yet still feeling unremarkable.

Though I considered killing myself many times, somehow I never mustered up enough courage to actually follow through. In part, this was due to the fact that I was never alone in the house; my siblings were always there, and I was concerned about them having to find my dead cold body in the basement. This was not their problem, I reasoned, and unremarkable as I was, I was still too smart to traumatize them like that.

Somehow, my obsession with death faded gradually over time, and my life changed again when I contracted chicken pox a few months later. I lost a week of school and ten pounds, and by the time I had returned to class, people began to compliment me on the most unremarkable part of my self: my looks. Apparently, ten pounds was a noticeable improvement in my appearance, enough to garner me a tiny bit of praise. For an individual starving from insignificance, this was huge, and I ate it up, vowing never to gain back the 10. My grades were still far from excellent (surpassed by several of my peers), and my relationship with my parents was still strained, so this was the last hope for me: if by my looks I could achieve some form of success and sense of self-worth, I was going to pursue it to the death.

I began to eat smaller and smaller portions in a bid to keep the pounds off. More weight dropped off my frame, and I received increasing amounts of external reinforcement for it. My unremarkable self was starting to feel valued again, even if it only lasted momentarily and was completely external in nature. I clung onto this success with all of my hope; it gave me temporary reprieve from the unremarkableness, loneliness, and insignificance I still felt deep within.

When my consumption dwindled to 400 meagre calories a day, I could reduce it no less without fainting, and thus introduced exercise to my routine. Still more weight came off, and more compliments and attention poured in for me. Eventually, I was the smallest size I had ever been, and the lightest weight I had ever been. I felt great while the validation lasted. Unfortunately, the compliments and attention stopped coming after a while, and my weight levelled off. My period also stopped (amenorrhea), and my hair was falling out. I also began to faint quite often.

But, obsessed as I was with wanting to feel remarkable and successful, I continued abusing my body with little food and a lot of activity. I could count calories in my sleep, and knew exactly how many were in each item I put in my mouth. In spite of my seemingly-improved exterior, however, inside I was still the same insecure, lonely, and unremarkable little girl who longed to be free of the pressures to succeed by the world's definition. I was still hurting and alone, and my heart yearned for validation and acceptance that wasn't dependent on me. I was sick of being my own captain, and sick of bearing the burdens for my destiny by myself.

I felt hopeless and lost. I had no idea that the next year would mark the greatest event of my young life.


Wobbly*bits said...

It's not letting comment anymore. Boo. I can see so much of myself in you, or of you in me. Whatever the case may be.

I'm assuming this is a series of blogs that will culminate in you blossoming into the amazing woman you are today! Can't wait to keep reading!

Ontario Emperor said...

I hope you don't mind my asking this question, but are some of these pressures more prevalent in Asian families? (I almost said "Asian-American," but realized that wouldn't apply in your case.)

When my daughter was attending Saturday morning German school, there was one Asian-American girl who was somehow isolated from the others. She was getting very good grades, but they weren't good enough. During recess, when the other kids would run around, she'd stand on the side of the playground and wouldn't play with the others. I haven't seen this particular girl in a few years - I hope she's turning out OK.

Mrs. Loquacious said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Wobbly. I'm not amazing by any stretch, but definitely improving ;)

OE - In my family, most of my pressure came from my Dad and myself. However, generaly speaking I think it's more prevalent for sure in Asian-North-American families, but likely not limited to Oriental families, because I have heard of similar pressures in East Indian families as well. For many parents, their children's achievement earns them bragging rights, and the failures of their child reflect as failures on the part of the parents.

It was enormously shameful for anyone in my Chinese community to have a child who failed a grade or dropped out of school. In the same way, those whose kids brought home the achievement awards (note: sports awards didn't count for much) got a lot of attention and admiration from their peers.

It's a sick sick "face-saving" way to exist, for sure. And very hard on the children.