I was 10 when a group of kids laughed at me for being called fat. The pain was worsened by the fact that the person who called me fat was a friend, or a supposed friend in retrospect. That was the first time in all my life, but definitely not the last, that I felt bad about being me. And when I say bad, I’m being subtle. My stomach turned, my hands shivered, and my ears burned. That was the day my self-esteem shattered, and I looked for the fragments for a very long time after that.
Dealing with hurt
It’s hard to imagine the damage such harshness can cause, and I dealt with this unpleasantness by eating. Way more than I should have. And before I knew, it became a habit I couldn’t shake off. Things only got worse with time as I grew up into an awkward teenager. I tried every other fad diet and checked my weight everyday, hoping to have magically lost a few pounds. I used to fish my old clothes out to check if I’d fit into any of them. One dress after another, I tried and tried, and when reality hit me, I cried.
All those fashion magazines I was reading didn’t help me either. I wanted to look like those anorexic models in the magazines and, when nothing worked, I’d hit the skids and go on a self-pity trip, which invariably led to several rounds of emotional binge-eating.
By the time I went to college, I was a borderline obese student with a distorted body image. The fact that I was expected to look a certain way stressed me out. As the semester rolled on, I grew mentally and physically exhausted, and nothing made any sense. No interests and no friends. There was just one subject I liked; Inductive Logic and I wish I had the option of taking it online then. The professor was someone I admired, and that was the only silver lining that semester.
I was sleepwalking through my life and I wan’t paying attention to tasks at hand; every little thing overwhelmed me. I was terrified of looking into the mirror. Each time I tried, I saw a monster in the mirror staring back at me till I was grossed out. During one such try, I heard my inner voice say: Run!
How far can one run
I did. I ran away from whatever life had to offer—the good, the bad, and everything else. I did think, more than once, of ending it, but something kept me going.
That something, I realized much later, was a conversation that was meant to happen with one of my professors.
While I thought I was invisible to the world, someone had noticed me. I was surprised when my professor asked me to stay back after wrapping up her last class of the semester. She asked me to walk with her, and I did. While our conversation lasted for a little over an hour, its influence would last me a lifetime. It changed me forever and for the better, of course. I was surprised to know that she had sailed in the same boat when she was a student. Not only did she share her story, but she also referred me to someone who could help me, and the rest, as they say, is history.
That day she became my sunbeam.
Getting some help
I have come a long way since. Research shows that several students out there, about 25% at the least, are battling some kind of eating disorder. The internet is rife with confessional essays and write ups, most of which are testimonies to the fact that eating disorders are more common than they used to be.
Fortunately, the world has started to lay emphasis on awareness and empathy. We can access helpful and pragmatic advice for building self esteem and seek professional help for eating disorders if we want to. Schools and colleges have counselors that students can talk to, and thankfully, the stigma attached to mental health disorders is gradually diminishing.
Paying it forward
A little help has carried me far. Today, I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin than I once was. While working out—clichéd I know—has helped me stay physically fit, meditation has worked wonders on my psyche. I share my story wherever possible, but more than that I keep my eyes open for others who might need a little help to get them going on a path of self confidence.
We must extend a helping hand, never shying away from making the first move. That said, I’m not perfect; nobody is. We might offend occasionally, but there will always be those who appreciate that helping hand. Volunteer, if that’s your thing. There are times I feel low, and when I do, I go back to this paragraph from a poem my professor shared with me on that life-altering day:
Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver tint of clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar,
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit,
It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit
I have copies of the poem (Don’t Quit by John Greenleaf Whittier) printed and pinned to different spots at home and work. Every time I read it, I feel reassured and better. It gives me hope and reminds me of my professor who inspired me and helped me get where I am today. Never forget to inspire someone else.
Be a sunbeam, others need one.