Sorry for the hiatus, folks, and a million thanks to Katie for lending her talents to the site in the meantime. If you haven’t read what she wrote a few days ago, go here to check it out before reading this.
Truth be told, the hate comments got to me a little more than they should have. It wasn’t because I thought that anything in them was necessarily true. It wasn’t their content so much as it was the fact that those people exist. I have my own personal tropes going centered around reasons I should hate myself, my own cognitive distortions and schemas; I don’t need anyone else’s. Reasons for Olivia to Hate Herself has been a long running theme in my life. As I am wont to do, it’s been in list form.
When I was in seventh grade, I started an ongoing list of people who I thought “hated me.” At the time, it was composed of two random people from my grade and, off and on depending on the incident, my family members. My list remained small but effective in how it would blister me, until I went to my therapeutic school.
I’d use the list to punish myself. In eighth grade, an old friend of mine who decided she didn’t like me after we both wore white to our eighth grade graduation ceremony topped the list. Needless to say, I didn’t get into many interpersonal altercations during most of my middle and high school career. I was generally unwilling to enter into conflict, and would shut down my phone or situations in real time if they got dicey.
Perhaps the only place I’d pull a punch was on the soccer field or, similarly, when competing in gym class against the boys who threw pieces of thread into the gap between my back and my underwear in seventh grade computer lab. It was important to me that I be faster and more athletic than them, and I reveled in their frustration, regardless of the comments I got that were along the lines of “this isn’t the Olympics, Olivia!” When I got to high school, I could be pretty competitive at debate tournaments. I digress.
I’ve always had this list going. It’s been used to punish myself over and over, for while I had an official copy in my diary, I had one in my brain I could access and run down at all hours, regardless. It didn’t matter why they were on the list. If they expressed dislike for me, they were on the list and equal to everyone else on it. It was about quantity, not the degree of hate. Why?
Because the consensus of masses has always been incredibly important to me.
I’ve always wanted to fit in. I have a twin, and she was never concerned with it, so I have had a great standard by which to measure my need to fit in. In seventh grade, I transitioned over from my Harry Potter t-shirt and converse that would compose every outfit of mine in sixth grade. I started wearing Hollister and American Eagle, started wearing makeup, straightening my hair. I woke up 30 minutes early every day to straighten my hair, the now-humorous catch being that I naturally have almost perfectly straight hair. Even after 30 minutes, it didn’t feel like enough.
My friends have always been the more intellectual, theater, reading, debate crowd, if that makes sense, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, now. But at times, I longed for an enormous palate of friendships, a sea of people who liked me in the way that the “popular” kids seemed to get.
I did sports because doing so made me appear strong and in control when in reality, I was running through my list all the time, cutting my wrists, and crying every night.
The power of there being a consensus about me among a group of people is hard to understate. It gives the concern validity. I would never necessarily judge someone else based on consensus about them, but I do this with myself, and very meaningfully. It is, as my therapist says, a symptom of OCD Scrupulosity to hold myself to an impossibly high moral standard that no one else must compete at, punishing myself for transgressions.
I had no idea what was to come when I transferred into my therapeutic school. I’d encountered bullying before, but it was brief and meaningless, and the school immediately quashed what was happening. For my whole previous life, I’d navigated interpersonal interactions in a nearly drama-free way, careful not to be a bystander but almost never a part of the beef, so to speak.
My list felt important to me then, but I had no idea what I was in for.
When I went to school with other ill kids, the drama blossomed around me. I did everything I could to escape it. I peppered the “life coaches” and other administrators to do something about what I saw and was experiencing. After my first year, I transferred to a normal boarding school to escape it. I loved it, and hated having to leave after sustaining a double concussion. Back to the sea of mental illness I went.
I’ll be frank. I’m terrified and exhausted. I met some really scary people at the school, people I’d never even dreamt of before I went there. If I thought a singular ex of mine wanting me off the debate team was bad at the time, I was in for a real sh*tshow. The list of people grew and grew.
My therapist says this is because I operate on a “different moral plane.” She says folks are intimidated of, jealous of, and frustrated with that. She says that acting “normal” in an ocean of abnormality, trying to be drama free and cool and composed in an environment that epitomizes the opposite of that, made me a target. I don’t know about all of that. It helps to hear, in a way. But it’s easily refuted by “but, there’s a consensus!”
I hate to make “my therapist says” the brunt of my usual refutation to my ill thoughts, but in this case I have to. I have no natural, internal refutations for you all. My therapist says I need to come by inner wisdom that knows who I am. I can do this by drawing on all of the positive experiences and friendships that I’ve held for nearly a decade, in my town. There are lots. I can also do this by practicing seeing myself as deserving of the love that I think my little brother deserves. I would never wish for my little brother to take seriously people who don’t like him or who are annoyed by him. Why should I?
She says I should listen to the decade of people who loved and cared about me, who got to know me far more intimately than anyone who knew me for a span of a few months, and in a limited way. I let my old friends and acquaintances into my life. Kids from my school were there by necessity.
She says the world would be an infinitely worse place without me in it. That means the world to me.
She says I need to choose to feed off of my friends from my life before, my friends who were there for me through every debate tournament, every game, every breakup and breakdown, every math test, every French class. These are the people who know me, who I should listen to.
I’m going to choose to believe her, and choose them.