Teenage Ugliness and Woman Advice

Someone asked me today for “woman advice”. And the kind of “woman advice” he meant was not what I at all expected. Because what he wanted was ideas on how to help and an insight into the mind of a 16yo girl.

He described to me someone who sounded very much like myself at that age. Like my younger sister as she is now. And potentially like every woman who was once sixteen and lost, and unsure and afraid.

How do I convince my daughter she’s not ugly?’

The first thing I thought was ‘you can’t’. Which isn’t very helpful advice, but it was as true for me as it is as true for my sister nearly a decade later. Nor should we be relying on the men in our lives to tell us that we’re pretty. But that’s not the issue at hand.

And it didn’t end there for this girl, because she feels anxiety very deeply and is so conscious of losing her friends as they discover boys. Fuck, I hated being sixteen. I feel very deeply for her. I see how she’s reaching the conclusion of ugliness. I’ve seen the photos, I know it isn’t true.

I also know she’ll never be wholly convinced. Especially by her parents.

As young women, we all learn to measure ourselves and our identities poorly. We measure our value and worth against all the wrong yardsticks. Men, how big our circle of friends is, the size of our clothes. Everything in society encourages us to do so, it’s excruciatingly painful. Even now, knowing better, I judge myself in the mirror for “letting myself go” when I really haven’t, or having pimply skin when it’s just that part of my cycle. I judge myself for all the attention I’m not receiving from men (though that is a separate and previously discussed issue).

I listened to the pain, frustration and discouragement in his voice. The relaying that her mother is scared she’s going to “top herself”. The subtle self blame for passing on the “anxiety gene”. And I wished I could have said something helpful in that moment. But I couldn’t form that words, other than that she needed to make that self worth journey in her own time, when she is ready and that you can’t force her to acknowledge the beauty you see. I was thrown by being at work and not having time to collect my permanently scattered thoughts.

I’ve been thinking about that question and exchange for hours. So long that I’ve needed to write about it. And form a better response. I keep asking myself ‘what would I say to me when I was 16? What did I need? What did I want?‘ And I don’t know anymore, I feel out of touch with that version of myself. But I know what helps me now.

What I will say, next time I see him is this…

Please be gentle, and empathetic and validating. ‘You’re not’ is not what she’s looking for, or what she needs. She’s looking for you to say ‘it’s hard, but it’s going to be okay’, ‘it’s okay to feel this way’, ‘the human skin is so difficult at times’, let her know that you hear her. She’s searching for comfort now, as she comes to terms with her best friend’s boyfriend. And feeling second best and ugly. Her anxiety is running away with her reason, I know you empathise and feel that. Ask her specifically why she feels that way in that moment and listen so, so carefully to her replies as they’ll direct the conversation that you’ll have again and again over time.

Encourage her strengths and passions, the things that make her feel good and are crucial to her forming identity. Encourage her own introspection, her mindfulness, her presence. If you are truly concerned, encourage her to engage with the counselling you’ve organised. But don’t force it, never force it. That’ll only make things worse.

I hear you, I hear your pain and your love for her. It bleeds through, because its hard. It’s hard not understanding your child’s pain and knowing that you can never really grasp it. Just tell her that it’s okay. You don’t have to provide solutions, if she’s anything like me she doesn’t even want to hear them – at least not from you. She just needs you to be there. To be there and to hear her say that she hurts.

 

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Brunch with my rapist

It’s taken me nearly a month to have a wholly good day, you know.

I can’t even begin to explain why I wanted to see you that last time, instead of just ending it over text. Or by phone. Not that I believed you deserved a great deal of courtesy by then. I guess I was nervous. Afraid. And part of me wanted to see how I’d react to being around you, whether what happened between us was forgivable.

It wasn’t, of course. I didn’t even want you to touch me, and you were so oblivious. Thinking the times we’d talked about it over text were enough. That you could do what you did and I’d just be able to move on.

I’m not even sure ‘rapist’ is what you are. I don’t know if it was a rape. I don’t even know if it was sexual assault. I didn’t ever say ‘no’ clearly.

But I did give you a series of soft no’s every time you pushed not using a condom. The first time you asked I explained why I couldn’t. The second, I said ‘maybe’ and invited further conversation. But you didn’t ever ask again, you just did it. You didn’t give me time to say ‘no’. And when I observed later that the ‘lack of consent was interesting’ all you could say was that I enjoyed it. You repeatedly acknowledge that you just weren’t listening to me. That whole weekend you didn’t put a condom on, no matter how often I said I was uncomfortable. The last time we had sex I felt truly disgusting. I didn’t want you near me, nor to be in my own skin. I believed, and still do, that I deserved more respect than that.

It took me a few days to understand my feelings, and understand why I’d turned off you so suddenly. But the realisation dawned, and as I began to talk about it with my friends and family I couldn’t help but cry. Because I felt truly violated.

About this time last year this happened to me in a drunken one night stand. I was much drunker than I realised, it hit me later like a freight train. But he entered me bare after I asked for a condom to end my complaints. It was in you see, we may as well continue.

So when you repeatedly did that to me I felt completely disarmed and absolutely violated. I still do.

As a result of your actions, I have become completely unbalanced. Every minor hiccup in my life, every stress, has been an insurmountable peak. I have entertained hurting myself, and have made only half joking statements about killing myself. The sorts of things I haven’t really seriously entertained in months, if not more than a year.

As a result of your actions, I’ve had to tell people and overcome a great deal of shame. I’ve had to listen to people judge me while I am made to justify my soft no’s. I’ve been asked why I didn’t say more, why I didn’t try to stop you physically, why I didn’t just say ‘no’. It’s been so uncomfortable to be judged by my best friend and my own mother before the depth of my despair reaches them and they too see the weight of your actions.

As a result of your actions, I am meek where I was once assertive. I’m afraid to trust and have hardened softening edges. I worked so hard to be who I was when we first met. And you stripped me, just like that.

It’s taken me a month to wake up and feel okay, happy even. To get up and be productive and do things that make me feel good. Today was my first truly, wholly good day.

I had brunch with you. I sat across the table from you feeling such an aversion every time you wanted to hold my hand, to touch me, to engage me. We ate the same food. I listened, I was so cold. I didn’t deserve what you had done.

Trainwreck

I overworked myself. I watched myself do it too. I thought casually ‘you’ll blow your knees’. ‘You’re going to have a mental break down’. ‘You’re over training’. I still let myself become overwrought.

I moved out of home, I thought I met a boy, my ex boyfriend decided to touch base, I forced a training schedule in the hope that it would force normalcy, I lost it at work and was overrun by work related confusion.

So predictably my knees blew up and I got sick. Sicker than I have been ever, physically at least. I came home to see my GP about some heavy duty anti-inflammatories and ended up with pneumonia.

I fainted in the early hours of one morning, putting a tooth through a lip and an ambulance was called. Three of my vital organs were distressed. My temperature sat above 39 degrees. I ended up spending four nights in hospital, they’d have kept me another I think had I not become so fed up with the headaches and lack of sleep.

I suppose the strangest thing for me here is that I have no real concept of how sick I was. I was simply too unwell to soak up the fear and stress around me. Especially in that first 24hrs where there was terrible concern about my heart and a possible clot in my lungs. Every morning the doctor kept saying ‘you were very sick’ and now I’m home with the evidence of a 6kg weight loss and yeah, I guess I was pretty fucked up.

My body had to do something though, to get me to stop. Pneumonia seems a touch dramatic.

There is so much to unpack in this post, and I intend to do so eventually. If only to soothe the many trails of thoughts and feelings that I have spent weeks, maybe months, allowing to fester.

I am unhappy at the moment. And I let it become a train wreck. I’m promising myself now I’ll do better.

 

She Was right

She was right, you know. Your friend. The one who I still think about with scorn and my friends still flame for my benefit alone. She was right when she announced that I wouldn’t help myself until you left me.

Because in your absence I have really changed. I have grown in so many unexpected ways that sometimes I look at myself and don’t quite recognise me.

I learnt a lot in DBT and in therapy with my psychiatrist. I was given all the tools to live a softer, more grey life. A more comfortable one in which my disordered personality was softened into just a personality. I thought that I was happy with you and happy in myself, and in many ways I was.

You showed me so many things. You showed me unconditional love and kindness when I was at my most difficult and you had this knack for bringing out some of the best in me. You showed me my own worth. But I came to believe that those things were dependent on your existence in my life and I think that’s why it was so hard when you said you were leaving.

But without you there to create happiness for me, I truly learnt to create it for myself. To find those little things that I now do daily to be positive and open and optimistic. I am no longer dependent, I have created goals and am chasing dreams.

As I bussed into a remote outback town solo, something I wouldn’t have done some six months ago, I stared out into the desert and thought to myself with a great deal of satisfaction… I really am living my best life in 2017.

So thank you, my love, for leaving.

I really am happy now.

The Human Skin

Lying in another bed, with someone else’s sleeping head on my shoulder. Completely lost in thought after the sex. Or attempt at sex. Of course I won’t be staying long, I’m waiting to be legally sober before I drive home.

But as he rolled into me I felt a long forgotten pull inside myself. And I don’t know if that’s missing you, or just missing a connection, or being ready for someone else. But what I really wanted in that moment was to roll into him too. And be held and wanted in that way.

Not from you though, I don’t think, anymore. Nor from him.

I inched out from under him and began dressing. He showed me out, ‘text me when you get home’.

The experience left me a little disconcerted. A little more wary. It asked me a lot of questions. And more still when I saw him again.

I’m still scratching at answers.

When you’re still looking for what’s Gone

Today, I can’t breathe. I woke up this morning in denial. I rolled over and stared at the wall for what turned out to be two hours. The whole day has felt crushing, empty and emotional.

I know that this is just monstrous PMS. Since my ex left my pre-menstrual week has resumed its aggressive pre-menstrual dysphoria. The last four or five cycles, however many there have been in his absence, have been horrific. So horrible I decided to start drinking Prozac water again to try and smooth the passage. I don’t think it’s worked.

Because the gaping wounds in me are exposed and filled with grief and loss again. I desperately need to connect to people, with someone. But no one is the “right” person. In short, no one is him. Even after four months, and now a month of silence. No one is him.

My mind is thoroughly occupied with begging him to contact me. To do something more than like my Facebook posts. I’m trying to ignore his watching eyes, I should delete him. But I still want him to come back, you see. Even as I counter every positive reminiscence with every time he rejected me, every time he was mean and every time he made me feel like less of a person. It just doesn’t make sense that he’s not staring back at me in the mornings anymore.

All these twisted feelings are welling up inside me, filling and spilling over my wounds. There’s nowhere else for them to go. Because no one wants to hear about it anymore, not even I do. So they bubble and repeat themselves, fighting each other for time as I try desperately to find space and lightness in my mind. It’s been four months, how long can I hurt so aggressively?

My dysphoric PMS has left me incredibly vulnerable. It’s exacerbated quieted borderline traits. I’m taking on the negativity of those around me. The poisonous familial atmosphere at home. The financial strain. The continuing impact of my ever wrong choices. I feel all of it. And deeply.

And the person who knew when to hold me close and when to just sit beside me. Who knew when I needed to go out and when to be distracted with TV. Who was my favourite person, my best friend. Who is still the one I want to turn to right now, is gone.

The comfort here is that PMS ends, and so to may my intensified grief.

 

 

 

In another bedroom

Sitting in a bedroom with another guy from Tinder and I’m starting to wonder what it is I’m looking for.

This guy’s pictures didn’t accurately capture all that he is so I know we’re not going to have sex the moment I lay eyes on him. He shows me around his place, I say hi to his roommate and we walk to the local IGA to buy something to drink. He’s friendly and warm, but I’ve stopped paying attention. I’m on my phone looking for anything else.

We walk back to his place and start drinking and he’s giving me that look and I’m messaging a friend for advice on leaving. I end up just openly telling him that I’m not feeling it and he’s perfectly okay with that. We keep drinking to Rick and Morty, we swap stories. He wants to hear the story of my break up so I tell him. He says ‘I’ve never heard a story of two people who need more space from each other than you two’. I tend to agree.

The guy I’ve been sleeping with starts messaging me and I allow the distraction. I like the sexting and the teasing. When we fuck, it’s good. It’s alarmingly delightful to watch the person you’re riding come apart beneath you. The confirmation that you’re fucking brilliant at this. It’s validating. He confirms I’m physically the 8/10 I think I am with, great sex skills to back it up. It’s intoxicating to experience, the desirability.

But back to the guy I’m sitting with as he tells me about his first girlfriend and how she cheated on him and how he was so swept up in her that he was allowing it. And I agree that love makes us do wild and stupid things. We both agree that this is typical behaviour from a Frankston local.

But I’m sitting in this bedroom with this guy who’s telling me about his life and his kooky religious mum who blessed his bedroom, where he’s travelled, the drugs he loves, and all the alcohol he drinks and he’s hot, but not in the way I like. So I’m wondering what it is I’m looking for, you see.

And it occurs to me that I’m looking for two things, my ex and nothing. Nothing at all. So I announce that I’m leaving and allow a quick hug.

Fuck I hate those awkward “goodbye” hug.

Heartbreak amongst other Things

Nearly all days are good days now.

Even when I’m driving through the rain to work to trudge in mud all day and chase horses in circles in painfully uncomfortable gumboots, it’s still pretty okay. I can go home and say ‘yes, today was good’.

Even when my alarm goes off and barks at me that it’s time for the gym and I needed approximately seventy-two hours more sleep, it’s still good. Especially when I’m tired and I’ve been sitting at my computer for hours not writing what was actually a very straightforward piece for university, the day was still good.

Even when I had to go buy bras due to stripping fat and found that I sit uncomfortably between an E cup and a DD, I still saved $42 on those bras so today was good. And even though my head felt like it was splitting in half today, it’s still been good.

But there’s an absence. An undertone of melancholy. It creeps around the edges and tries its very hardest to slip into gaps I didn’t know existed until it found them. That absence is you of course. The scab I can’t stop picking. The thought that never quite leaves my head. The first person to pop into my mind some mornings because sometimes I’m still expecting to wake up and see a text message from you. The presence that isn’t really a presence at all. But somehow manages to follow me all the same. Still the person I want to moan to about tax troubles and work stress and family drama. The person I still want to share news about my pay rise and tell about that annoying blonde haired girl and curl up next to at the end of the day.

Three months isn’t really that long against all the time that we had together. Sometimes it feels impossibly quick because it’s April now and I’m half way through my first semester of my second chance. And other times it feels impossibly slow, like this has been the longest three months of my lifetime.

Of course it hasn’t though. The days and weeks were long at first, but they’re not now. I am busy. Busy with healing, busy with learning, busy with working, busy with planning. I am busy with my life.

Things are good and it’s so puzzling sometimes that it can be that way. Because some days I’m not quite whole. And some days I’m far away from everything. And some days I’m still wondering ‘how?’. I’ll probably always wonder that a little bit.

But things are good.

They’re really good, even as these tears slide down my cheeks.

 

On parting clouds and Choosing Happiness

Something has changed. I am lighter. There is more warmth, a more consistent warmth. There is peace in my silences were there was once unmitigated concern. There is focus where there was not long ago a void.

And then it hit me while I was walking along the creek trail the other afternoon. This is happiness. A contentment. The peace we strive for. I was stunned. It’s taken me a long while to process how this all snuck up on me. How it became my life, my actual life, seemingly overnight.

It’s bizarre still, to carry this lightness around. It feels suspicious, like it’ll be taken from me at any moment and I’ll be condemned once again to the pervading darkness that marred so many years of my short life. It has struck me as so odd that this is how most people typically experience life. From a place of general warmth. A baseline of happiness. How extraordinarily average and yet one of the greatest awakenings.

I think back over the past three months, and many of the months before that and am gratified that my hard work and persistence has paid off. When my ex-boyfriend walked away my world stopped. But then, slowly but surely, it started to move again. I focused on my job, I returned to study and have begun to map out a career path seriously for the very first time. I took up the gym again with more rigour and enthusiasm, I started to meditate every day and before I go to sleep at night I take the time to write down three good things about my day.

I’m particularly fond of the last exercise. I genuinely look forward to it and often find it very difficult to choose just three aspects. In the past when I’ve tried this it’s been excruciatingly painful to find three, and they’re written down in single sentences. Now I can fill over a page in my journal talking about my day, trying to encapsulate it in just three highlights.

Not all my days are good though. They’re often stressful and filled with anxiety and exhaustion. But I know there are places in myself that I can come to to find relief. I sit with myself in meditation and watch my thoughts come and go; noting them and breathing. I write down my daily highlights, a final affirmation that a hard day was not really that bad. I go to the gym or for a walk and let the exercise and subsequent endorphins form a break from the dreary monotony of the things that are worrying me. And I always remember to breathe.

In short, I trust myself to be my own happiness. I try very hard not to look to others to help me along unnecessarily and provide it for me. My sky is cloudy, but only partly. It’s a beautiful spring day and that spring sky has always been there, above my concerns. I can just see it more clearly now and it’s a real joy to bask in the sun.