Community Stories

Jillian: Free From Shame

free from shame
The more you continue to treat yourself like you matter, the less uncomfortable it gets and the more you start to question the voices telling you that you don’t.

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Freedom means letting your true self be your guide.

free from shame

Things have changed a lot since I started blogging a year ago. I came to writing online last spring in a desperate attempt to cope with a suicide attempt, incapacitating anxiety, and a debilitating eating disorder.

By some miracle (read: time, effort, medication, and lots of support) I have gradually been able to pull myself out of the vicious cycle of illness by turning inwards and validating my own experience.

After years of stumbling around in the darkness, unable and unwilling to acknowledge a problem, I began to cultivate a sense of self-awareness that has been as difficult as it has been life-saving.

With it, I’ve come to understand that my illness was never my fault but rather how a good kid learned to navigate difficult experiences when she didn’t know how to.

Of course, I didn’t come to healing confidently. I spent a while teetering on the edge of indecision – letting skepticism keep me where things were familiar because they felt safe.

I feared I would fail. I worried that if I actually held the key to my own healing, the pain I suffered through meant nothing.

I didn’t have any “eureka” moment. Instead, I realized if I was waiting to feel 100% ready I would be waiting for my entire sick and miserable life.

I was (and still am) terrified of the unknown, but being scared to fail doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It’s hard to imagine anything other than what you know but just because you can’t see the destination doesn’t mean you can’t take the first step.

Choosing not to try anything different only solidified the chances that my existence would never be anything other than self-abuse.

With tools and support, I gradually gained the confidence to choose in favour of possibility. To choose hope.

I always thought I was my own worst enemy, but understanding how my troubles were forged in a battle for safety suggests I might be built for survival after all.

I buried myself under armour so thick I lost the girl beneath. I thought unrealistic expectations would prove my worth when they only ever gave me little choice but to surrender to a vicious cycle, a cycle where self-sabotage was my way of saying “no” when I hadn’t yet found my voice.

Coincidently, my undergraduate studies in psychology paired well with this newfound self-reflection and have helped me gain a clearer view of myself, my mental illness, and (I’d like to think) life in general.

I learned that my eating disorder was a consequence of many things (and was never a choice): A child with low-self esteem and a biological predisposition to anxiety and depression, catalyzed by unpredictable formative years.

It has evolved to serve a myriad of purposes over time and holds on today as a piece of my identity, a response to the fear of never being good enough, and a way to simultaneously avoid and attempt to meet my own perfectionistic ideals. I learned that these standards weren’t achievement-driven, but shame-driven.

Perfectionism isn’t just a desire to do well, but a mask for vulnerability that was initially crafted to protect me from ever feeling unworthy.

Perfectionism doesn’t set you up to feel perfect or to achieve high standards; it sets you up to feel like a failure.

I’m grateful for those who helped me see that this little girl deserved more than the harmful remnants of old habits she was left with. I’m thankful for my counsellor who taught me how to make that possible, appealing to my academic side with research showing that things like self-compassion and CBT could help.

For a long time, I thought I was a lost cause because things felt impossible to change. However, love and support encouraged me to bridge the gap between knowledge and belief and made it slightly less frightening to embrace the idea that the way things feel might be different than the way they are.

Coming out of the dark has been a slow and scary process. I would say it feels like coming back to life, but a life I’ve never truly known as my own.

I’m aware of the pain that I spent years trying to avoid, but I am also now aware of the pleasure. Pleasure I didn’t think would ever return. Pleasure from watching a sunset, or feeling good music.

It hurts and it’s scary as hell, but I’m here and I’m showing up for myself.

While some days I still don’t entirely feel “worth it”, I try instead to operate under the hope that it’s possible that I am. I try to focus on why I want to move forward.

I remind myself of the simple things: I don’t want to be thinking about how many calories are in my slice of cake on my wedding day. In fact, I actually want to have a wedding day. Since I’ve decided I’ll be sticking around for a while, I might as well try and make it worth it.

This is just the beginning and I’ve got a long way to go, but if I can leave you with anything I’ll say it’s worth a shot. You’re worth a shot.

You are so much more capable than you think and even just being curious to see if it might be true is enough to take the first step.

Negative habits don’t change overnight, but they can change, and you will be the one to change them. Don’t make excuses for your self-neglect any longer. Start now. Start small, and start despite not knowing how it will turn out.

The more you continue to treat yourself like you matter, the less uncomfortable it gets and the more you start to question the voices telling you that you don’t.

Change is possible, and I’m glad my therapist kept telling me so because now I often find myself saying it to other people.

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