I am blessed and cursed with a great memory. I will remember sweet things people said to me a month or a year ago, or that my best friend is allergic to kiwi fruits. I will remember what time of day people are born, what zodiac signs all their planets are in, or random details I found out about my lecturers from internet-stalking. I will also remember every cruel word that has ever been spoken to me.
One of the memories that haunts me most is from about two years ago. Someone I was close to at the time said to/about me “some people will never be beautiful.” I remember where we stood, I remember what we had been talking about prior to that. I remember like it was yesterday. I had been sad because my unrequited-crush-of-the-week wasn’t interested in me, and all I wanted was for my then-friend to assure me that I wasn’t completely repulsive. Instead, they dealt one of the worst blows to my self-esteem I had ever experienced. I hate feeling like I have to beg for compliments, and it’s rare that I actually ask a person to tell me something nice about myself, and this made their response feel even harsher. At the time I accepted what they said, because I didn’t know any better. If someone said it to me now, I would tell them to go fuck themselves. But alas, my self-esteem back then wasn’t on the level it is now.
It took almost another year for me to learn an important lesson: I should not let external validation be the foundation of my self-esteem. Last year, I had a crush on someone. (Well, I had a crush on several someones, but only one is relevant to this story). I was somewhat head-over-heels, and even though I knew deep down that the feelings weren’t reciprocated, I am a pretty determined person, so I wasn’t going to give up too easily. Then that person moved away. I could have left it at that, accepted defeat and moved on. But that is not in my nature. So I sent him a message on facebook, and told him I had feelings for him. He took four and a half months to reply. The timing of it sucked, and a combination of this rejection and other, unrelated factors threw me into a depression that lasted for somewhere between four and six months. Yesterday was the one year anniversary of me confessing my feelings to him, and I am overwhelmed by just how much I have changed in those 365 days.
I’m still impulsive and overly honest about my emotions, but at least I’m no longer dumb enough to confess my feelings in a facebook message. The thing that has changed the most this past year though, is my level of self-confidence. During those months of depression and self-loathing, I vowed that I would never let my self-esteem be tied to another person’s opinion of me ever again.
Healing is a process, and it took me until half way through August to fully get over it. In retrospect, I realise it had little to do with the person who was a catalyst, and more to do with my relationship to myself. There’s a reason I am attracted to men who are both geographically unavailable and emotionally unavailable: I know I don’t have a chance with them. By chasing after people who have no interest in me, I can perpetuate my low self-esteem, and validate my belief that I am unworthy and no one will ever love me.
I have spent this year repairing the damage I did to myself. The thing that surprises me most about the past year (apart from the fact I don’t hate myself) is that I went pretty much an entire year without getting a crush on anyone. (No, referring to my lecturer as my “future wife” does not count as a crush). If you’ve read more than one of my blogs, or looked at my twitter account, you will know that I’m kinda obsessed with love. Perhaps it’s simply that I’m (to misquote Bridget Jones’s Diary) in my 20th year of being single, and I idealise love because it feels so out of reach, or perhaps it is simply my nature. I think it’s the latter. At the risk of sounding immensely cheesy, in this year of zero crushes, I fell in love with the most important person of all: myself.
I began to like myself in March. It came in flickers and waves, moments where I felt good about myself, didn’t see myself as damaged or a failure. I got good grades, I had wonderful friends, I had lost a considerable amount of weight. The seasonal depression had begun to fade, and the not-so-seasonal depression began to ease up as well. Things made me sad, but they didn’t consume me the way they once would have. I survived fights with friends, and the breakup of my parents marriage, without falling to pieces. I learnt to let feelings wash over me rather than cut me to my core. The summer was a time of purging and healing, and through all the heaviness and pain I emerged as someone I didn’t think could ever exist: a version of myself that I not only like, but love.
By the end of August, I had become this strong, confident woman who set clear boundaries and respected her own needs. I knew who I was and where I was going, and I no longer had time for bullshit or superficiality. Something had changed in me, and there was no going back. In some ways I am the same person I’ve always been. I’m open and theatrical and ambitious and witty, and still completely obsessed with my love life. But the difference is, I finally view myself as someone who is worthy of being loved.
This Thursday, my sister and my niece came to visit me. It was the first time they’d come up to Glasgow, so naturally my sister and I photographed every moment. We went to Mono, my favourite vegan restaurant, and I was sitting at the table next to my two-year-old niece. She was tugging on my necklace, and we looked adorable, so my sister took some pictures. What I didn’t realise at the time, was that she videoed it too. She sent me the video the next day, and I had this weird moment where I saw myself objectively. In the video, I’m giggling because my niece is playing with my hair, and my nose is scrunched up with laughter, and I am full of life and light, and I look beautiful. I watched the video over and over, unable to believe my eyes. I, Eliza, the person I have spent 20 years thinking is repulsive, looked beautiful. I looked like someone that people could fall in love with. More than that, I was someone I had fallen in love with.
I reviewed the evidence. Reasons why I am NOT loveable? People have told me I’m ugly for as long as I can remember; a person who has a track record of lying to me told me I’ll never be beautiful; every man I’ve ever been attracted to wasn’t interested in me. Reasons why I AM loveable? I am kind and caring; I have pretty eyes and an adorable smile; my nose scrunches up when I laugh; I give the best hugs; I am honest and have integrity; I’m funny; I’m determined and brave; I know who I want to be; I’m a great friend; I love with my whole soul.
What is the main difference between those two lists? The list of reasons why I am not loveable is all about other people, and the list of reasons why I am loveable is to do with myself. My value as a person shouldn’t rely on who does and doesn’t want me, it is about who I actually am. And I am a good person, a loveable person. There’s a voice in my head telling me to make a joke about being narcissistic, but I am going to refrain from that. It is not narcissistic to love yourself. Furthermore, the relationship you have with yourself sets the standard for every other relationship you have in your life. If you don’t set boundaries with yourself, it will be impossible to set them with other people. If you don’t respect yourself, you may attract people who don’t respect you. And if you don’t love yourself, there will be some people in your life who won’t love you in the way you deserve. I have spent 20 years throwing myself at people who didn’t know how to love me, and I have learnt that that was because I didn’t know how to love me either. I expected them to fill an emptiness inside me, when that emptiness was my responsibility. Now I love myself fully, and won’t accept being half-loved by someone else. I deserve the whole world, and I won’t settle for less.
Today was the best day I’ve had in a long time. I have been happy lately. The past two weeks have been ridiculously busy and overly dramatic, which are the conditions I function best in. But today was on another level. I went out for lunch with my best friend. We ate Japanese food and gossiped, posed for photos in front of aesthetically pleasing doors. We bought clothes and drank coffee and laughed and laughed and laughed. For perhaps the first time in our two years of friendship, neither of us were anxious and depressed. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful crisp autumn day, and it felt like a new world. Sometimes happily ever after doesn’t look how we expect it to.
I have spent so long aching for a person, someone I could walk off into the sunset with. As if love was meant to complete me. Last night, as I walked home, I found myself walking into the sunset alone, and my heart was at peace. Admittedly, I was only walking into the sunset because I was on my way to Sainsbury’s to buy my favourite vegan mayonnaise (the brand is called Follow Your Heart. 10/10, would recommend. This is not a sponsored post, I totally wish it was. Amazing mayonnaise). I have fallen in love with the little things, whether that be happy moments with my friends, or the euphoria of finally having classes again after a summer that seemed like it would never end (or my mayonnaise). Life moves on, time goes by, and I would not be myself if the passage of time was not synonymous with finding new people to fall in love with.
I fell in love with myself, and it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. All the things I used to despise about myself have become conditions to accept, or problems to solve. I no longer judge myself so harshly. A couple of months ago, I would look in the mirror and feel fat. I would put myself on strict diets, trying to change myself. Because I thought people would love me more if I was thinner. But the difference between a size 12 and a size 8 isn’t going to set someone’s heart on fire. When you love someone it doesn’t matter how much they weigh, and if that’s your deal breaker then it’s not love. I don’t want to try to be skinny anymore. I’d like to lose another clothes size, and I will still be disciplined about what I eat and how often I exercise, because it’s important for my mental health as well a my physical health, but I will no longer view my body as a battle I’m losing.
From now on, I exist to celebrate the experience that is being Eliza. I am the great love of my own life, and when another person falls in love with me one day, they’ve got to be on my level. They have to love me as the extravagant, dramatic, affectionate person that I am, because loving half of my nature is not loving me, it is loving an idea of me, and I am only here for love that is grounded in reality.
In the name of celebrating the Eliza Experience, below is a series of photos titled Eliza Eating Things Seductively for your viewing pleasure, all captured by the wonderful Manon