Writing by Irène Schrader // Photograph by Ramona Langner
The skinny pale kid with bagged up eyes and sticky hair I once was is today a healthy young woman with color in her cheeks and free curls in her hair. This ‘glow-up’ is not solely due to the miracles of puberty — it also has a whole lot to do with mental growth. In the midst of my high school years, I became aware of two options I had: I could either let past experiences destroy me and stay bitter for the rest of my days, or I could turn my mindset around and choose to be more in control of my life. I slowly began altering some bad mental habits and decided to accord more importance to a few values.
(Healthy) Autonomy: I spent a big chunk of my childhood feeling very hungry. I often found myself resorting to making meals out of whatever cereal or biscuits there were in my kitchen cupboards. My two little feet would climb and stand on a wobbly stool, and my arms would clumsily reach up for any boxes I could find. Although experiences like this one taught me a lot about self-reliance at a very young age, they became harmful when I found it hard to trust others and went by my days carrying a huge amount of mental weight. Some days, I couldn’t focus on much else. I couldn’t let these thoughts go and reach my full potential at school or even be stress-free enough to have fun with friends. It was as if everything around me was white noise while this huge mass of worries pervaded my brain relentlessly. I succumbed to it eventually and had to consent to outside help. I began to understand that although independence is important, accepting assistance and showing vulnerability from time to time is essential for one’s wellbeing. Burdening others with problems I know I cannot solve by myself is still something I get quite wary of, but the truth is that everyone needs help sometimes. I was never afraid to take in everything this world has to offer and face challenges. Only now, I am also willing to accept help and show vulnerability when I need it for my own well-being.
Love: The first people I ever loved watched me grow up, say my first words, and walk my first steps. They raised me and I was very keen to keep them happy and proud of me. Their worldview was all I knew until I grew old enough to build my own. I remember one night as I sat back during a dinner at my friend’s house, I listened to the easygoing conversations that took place between her and her family. I watched as she didn’t need to walk on eggshells and instead fearlessly expressed herself. Every person in the room was treated equally and there were no lines to read between. “This is what pure love is” I thought. Love shouldn’t feel inconsistent, blackmailing, nor painful. It shouldn’t be a continuous feeling of debt, of falling in and out of guilt-trips. I wasn’t angry at the ones who hurt me, especially since they had their personal burdens, but I realized that their idea of healthy love wasn’t the same as mine. Gradually, I decided to spend more time listening to my own emotions and not feeling guilty about putting myself first. I cut out out toxic friendships that were sometimes similar to the relationships I had at home; studies have shown that we are often attracted to people who act in ways we are familiar to. I became less afraid to show more intimacy and empathy towards others. In other words, I started redefining my own idea of love. Trust me when I say that being kind to yourself and to others really goes a long way.
Gratitude: Just like toxic relationships gave me a clearer view on what kind ones consisted of, bad experiences taught me to truly cherish good ones. The truth is, I am fortuitous enough to live a life where I can find something to be grateful for every single day. I try very hard to look past things I cannot manage and appreciate every beautiful thing life has to offer. I’ve come to be more aware of what matters most: my healthy relationships, my hobbies, great books I’ve read, my privilege to have an education and a roof over my head, the list goes on. To some extent, I am even grateful for the disturbances I’ve lived through because they are what prompted me to develop this awareness in itself. Moments that many take for granted, I hold dear to my heart.
I am not going to sugarcoat it: the healing process is a rollercoaster. To this day, I find it hard to talk about past struggles with ease, validate my feelings, and cope with triggers and relapses. However, I can honestly say that I am stronger and doing better than ever before. I finally figured out most of what it takes for me to alleviate the effects of my traumas, and I can’t wait to keep growing.[share]