All the advice I wish I could give my 17-year-old self
When I was seventeen, I had a minor eating disorder following the death of my Gran, and various other things that life throws at you in those undesired teenage years, such as exam stress, friendship groups and the one thing that everyone has had to deal with at one time or another: bullies.
For years of my school life I had endured taunting from other kids, about how I was ‘chubby’, ‘ugly’ and so on. It’s true, kids can be cruel, and any form of bullying is totally not cool.
But what I wish I could tell my 17-year-old self is that it’s OK, and you can get out of that dark tunnel. I started thinking of all the things that rough time taught me and what 24-year-old me would love to tell 17-year-old-me. I’d like to think that if I ever met my past self, I’d be able to offer her some comfort, and to do that, there are some things she should know.
You can speak up, even through it’s hard
One of the hardest things about eating disorders is that they have so much power over your mind, no matter how strong willed you are. The real first step to recovery is admitting there is a problem, and you deserve an extremely high, high five for being brave enough to own up. If you think you have a problem, maybe have a quiet word with a best friend, a teacher, or someone you trust. Nobody is asking you to fight alone. You will feel like you don’t want to tell anyone because you don’t want to burden them, therefore it’s just easier to keep it to yourself, but know that people do care about you and want to help you. Letting people in when you feel vulnerable is difficult, but once you confide in someone you trust you will start to feel better, and have taken that ultimate first step to recovery.
Start a journal. Really.
One thing I know I’m worst at is talking about how I feel. My first counselling appointment for my eating disorder was to this day, one of the hardest things I have ever done. My counsellor suggested I keep a journal of my feelings; When I felt good, when I felt sad and when everything just got too much. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a fight with your parents, or you’re worried about that maths test on Friday; Nothing is insignificant, and writing is an amazing release. Y
ou may not be talking but you are getting all those pent up feelings out of your system. You could even take the journal along to counselling meetings with you and have it as a comfort blanket to refer back to if you get stuck. This will make things easier on you as when you read things back to yourself or to someone else, you’ll know what stresses could be contributing to your eating disorder, and the areas in your life where you could be happier.
Look out for yourself first
For so long, I was more concerned with making everyone else happy that I forgot to take time out for me. Having an eating disorder can make you feel like you’re trapped in your own head, and the only way to escape that is to distract yourself with everyone else’s happiness. This meant that by bottling up everything I was feeling, I was forgetting that I was going through this really horrible thing, and needed some time to think and heal.
Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to go to that party on Friday night, and you don’t have to go shoe shopping with your friends on Saturday if you don’t want to. If your friends are true friends they’ll understand you need to take some time out for yourself. Put on your PJs and get lost in a good book or listen to some music. Whatever it is that you do to chill out, you need to take time to do that. Looking after yourself is so important, and though it feels like all you want to do is escape, you need to stand up for yourself and take your own well being into consideration.
You deserve to be happy
One thing that I can see that seventeen-year-old me didn’t was that at the time I was in a relationship that just wasn’t making me happy. My friends could see it, my family could see it, but I was determined that everything was right as rain. Seventeen-year-old-me was so caught up on this one guy who must be special because he found me attractive and nobody else did. He wasn’t special, and I put up with some pretty unacceptable behavior for quite a long time, and as you can imagine that relationship ended badly.
I was convinced I could change him and we’d live happily ever after, but you know what? You can’t change someone who doesn’t want to change. You shouldn’t put up with a bad relationship because you’re afraid to be alone or think you won’t find anybody else. Letting go of that relationship was one of the best things I ever did, even if it hurt at the time. The important thing to remember is that you deserve to be happy and you are worthy of love, but you need to start with loving yourself.
Beauty standards are bogus, and you don’t need to fit into them
One of the most confidence-wrenching things we have to deal with as women is the poster board perception of beauty. The medias build up this idea of what women should look like and plaster it everywhere, and there is no direction you can turn where those glossy images don’t catch your eye. Seventeen year old me was so obsessed with the idea of what I ‘should’ look like that I forgot to appreciate what I already had. I used to fill scrapbooks with pictures of models, singers and actresses who seemed like they had it all.
You have to remember that what you are seeing is a fabricated view of beauty, and that doesn’t make you any less beautiful. A good exercise is to find five things you like about yourself every day. For example, maybe your hair looks really nice today, or you’ve always really liked the color of your eyes? If someone pays you a compliment, start by saying ‘thank you’ instead of disagreeing, and you’ll start to believe all the lovely things you’re hearing about yourself. All these things promote a much more positive perception of yourself and ultimately will make you happier. We all have flaws, but these just have to be accepted, not focussed on. Appearance isn’t everything, your flaws and your strengths together make you who you are, and for that alone, you are beautiful.
Louise Norris is a 24 year old creative, who has a strong enthusiasm for naps. She loves art, baking, a good fringe, singing while she drives and will buy almost anything with an owl on it.
[Image via iStock]