by Christy Gualtieri
I had a very curious relationship with myself as a kid. (I need to preface this by saying that I was raised by two exceptionally loving parents and a wonderful family. I can in all honesty say that I have been loved every day of my life.) But as a kid, I didn’t necessarily understand it the way I do now. I didn’t outwardly dislike myself; I was content in my own world of reading and writing, and I liked school and watching TV and spending time with my cousins and friends. But maybe it was because I had two younger brothers, one of whom was (and still is) very charismatic and loved the spotlight, that I found myself wanting to – no, needing to change in order to be someone worth knowing. I needed, somehow, more attention. I wanted the world – which is very difficult to navigate as an elementary schooler – to know who I was. So I tried.
I’ll give you some examples. One of the kids in my second grade class had glasses, and he was popular, so I squinted and begged and lied about having headaches in the classroom because I couldn’t see what the teacher had written on the board. He had glasses, so I needed them, too. (And although I didn’t get them then I did eventually need them…in middle school, and if anything they made me less popular.) One of the pretty girls in class had Type 1 diabetes and had to test her blood sugar by pricking her finger with a needle every day, and so I would draw a colored-in circle on my index finger with a red pen before I got on the school bus to show that I, too, needed special treatment for something because I was special, too. (I am acutely aware now, as an adult, of how messed up it sounds to pretend to have Type 1 Diabetes just to get attention, by the way. It just made sense to me at the time.) And one day, in the middle of the school year, I insisted to everyone on the school bus that my real name wasn’t the plain one I wrote on my papers and teachers called me by. My real name is much more exotic. Veronica. And I wouldn’t answer to anything else. (…It’s a lovely name, but my name was never Veronica. It’s always been Christy.)
For all of the things I liked about myself, there were so many things I wanted to change. I always felt a step or two behind, always off-trend, always missing what everyone else seemed to intrinsically know. And I needed that validation, I guess. Parents and teachers always were ready with praises, but it was the recognition from my peers that meant the most to me. The only trouble was, it was the one I lacked the most. It also didn’t help that my ultra-charismatic brother, who went to the same school, was the class favorite. He always had an invite to the party, a large group of friends around, and he always knew what to say. I was always a bit chubby in middle school, and straight up ballooned in size well through high school and college, adding to my depression. I found it harder and harder to fight through all of the comments about my weight and the comparing I’d do to the other girls at school, but it was pretty plain to me that there wasn’t a whole lot about myself that I liked.
My parents would try to help, give me little pep talks and try to cheer me up, but not much clicked until college. That’s when I really found out who I was, and was able to surround myself with friends who I had so much in common with – and found out I could be my true self around. Because of them, I grew into a (mostly) confident adult who (sometimes) struggles with anxiety but who genuinely, in all honesty, today can say that she loves herself. It’s been a long process, but I’m really glad of it, because it’s made me into the person I am today.
My oldest child is starting elementary school this year, and I’ve already seen him comparing himself to his peers, pointing out to me where he doesn’t measure up. It breaks my heart, but I remember what it felt like for me to be his age. So I give him an extra hug, give him those extra moments of encouragement and send him on his way, ready with a pep talk of my own for when he gets off the school bus at the end of the day. He might not appreciate it now, but maybe he’ll get it, the way I once did, when I became a grown up.
Until next time, be well!