Dear Little One,
A few months into my freshman year of high school, I made the softball team. I was over the moon excited. It was someone, right off the bat (pun intended) at a new school, telling me I was good enough. This was the beginning of it all, I thought. I would make new friends, I would stay in shape, maybe I would meet a boy, the possibilities seemed endless to me.
I was right, for the most part. My freshman year did bring me a lot of friends, a lot of exercise, and a lot of great views of the baseball boys (not that I was brave enough to actually speak to them.)
The first day of that summer, I woke up around 11:30, as you do, and I made myself a big bowl of cereal. Then for lunch I made myself a sandwich and some Goldfish. (Which was really more like Goldfish with a side of sandwich.)Then I had some wheat thins, then some Oreos, then some ice cream. Some combination of this snack pattern was maintained for the entire break. Food made me feel good.
At the time, I didn’t have any body issues. Hell, I barely paid attention to my body at all. I knew what I was comfortable in so I didn’t branch out, thus I never felt uncomfortable in my own skin.
When I got back to school that fall, I started to realize that I looked a little different. Some of the clothes I wore the fall before seemed a little bit snugger and I couldn’t seem to keep up with my teammates in the softball workouts.
I gained weight; it was as simple as that. I ate and didn’t exercise, and now I was paying for it.
That year I started to become really close with a girl named Sabrina. She had been in a number of my classes in 9th grade and we just seemed to click. Sabrina was naturally thin and very confident, which made it easy for me to blend in the background behind her, which I had no problem with. If people were looking at her, they weren’t looking at me.
When I think about it now, I can see how little self-esteem I had without even knowing it. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t even pay attention to myself at all. I was background noise and I was okay with that.
By 12th grade I was at my heaviest weight. I had spent 3 years of high school hiding behind food and my friends, while never really discovering anything about myself. I was set to enter college in the fall, scared shitless because I was overweight, on my own, without any clue of what I wanted to do with my life.
It took some time. I’m not going to say that I got to college and immediately knew who I was, or that I immediately started eating right. My first year of college was a lot like my last year of high school, except lonelier. I had almost no friends, more schoolwork and almost no confidence in myself. I felt insignificant and expendable. I felt almost worthless. Then I found the darkroom.
I was a photography major in college and much to my surprise, this meant taking a lot of film photography classes. I expected to walk in with my digital camera and own the place, but instead I was presented a brand new process and I was completely overwhelmed. Photography was the only thing I thought I really knew how to do and here I was, completely ill equipped.
The first few weeks were tough. It was a lot of chemistry and unfamiliar words, but the day I actually got my hands on my first developed picture, I knew something inside me had changed. I would spend hours upon hours in the darkroom developing my photos, even after I had met the requirements of an assignment. I just couldn’t get enough. I loved the process, I loved the people, I loved the environment. The darkroom was my happy place, it made me feel useful, it made me feel whole.
It’s funny when I think about it now, the symmetry of it all. When I walked into college, I didn’t know where I was going. I couldn’t see passed the next day, let alone passed graduation. I was in the dark. Then, from the dark(room), the complete black actually, I emerged a new person. I found something that made me feel like me. Like I mattered. I found something that made me feel happy, and not just momentarily, like a new friend on Facebook or an Oreo.
High School and College, hell even Middle School, are hard. Don’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you when or where you are going to discover who you really are. There’s no rubric for self-discovery. I still don’t know who I am, but I’m figuring it out. Do things that make you happy and do them for yourself. You don’t have to be the center of attention or the most popular and outgoing person in the world. I’m not and I will never be. If I strived to be or said that I was I would be lying to everyone including myself. We are all blessed with different strengths and weaknesses and one of our biggest challenges in life is figuring out what they are and embracing them.
Don’t be afraid to matter.
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from life, it’s that if you don’t have a solid base of self-worth, nothing you can buy or collect will mean anything. When you’re lying in bed at night, you won’t have any of those things, you will just have your thoughts, your dreams, and your regrets. So don’t define yourself by what you own. Don’t let yourself be defined by others. Know that you are a unique, wonderful human being that is worth more to this world than you will ever know. And if you find yourself in the dark, don’t be afraid, it might lead you somewhere you never thought existed.
See you soon.