Beautiful Flaws

My belly is a little bit pudgy. I have stretch marks on my hips and thighs. My eyelids are wrinkly. When I’m bored or nervous, I chew my lips and leave them raw. The skin around my fingers is ripped with hangnails. My hair gets frizzy.

I spent years of my life going to war with myself, staring into a mirror and wondering why I wasn’t born like the girls plastered between those slick, retail catalog pages. I didn’t realize the true beauty behind those so-called flaws.

That slightly-pudgy belly holds the meals I eat in good company.  My stretch marks bear the stories of pounds gained during depression and the treatment thereof. Those wrinkly eyelids have opened and closed upon the most marvelous of sunsets and the most intricate of dreams. Those raw lips have sung the songs of human joy and struggle. Those fingers have held the pencils that wrote years of journal entries. That hair has blown in the winds of warm Bermuda evenings, now faded into the memory of childhood days gone by.

I am not beautiful despite my flaws; I am beautiful because of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Undeserved Recognition

This evening, I was inducted into the National Honor Society. I suppose I’m proud of myself for my academic performance–though, because I’m riding on the coattails of my freshman year, I really should be thanking that self-hating, compulsively perfectionistic girl I once was. You did a good job, little me. Anyways, I really only wanted the title. It felt prestigious to walk across that stage; plus, I enjoyed pretending I was a tough-minded, high-powered businesswoman.

The ceremony got me thinking once again about the letters and numbers the school system measures us against. We inductees were there in that auditorium because we got good grades (we had to fill out a form with leadership experience and write an essay about it, but we wouldn’t have even been invited without the grades). They were treating us like royalty. As much as I enjoy being praised, it kind of made me uncomfortable. Why am I supposedly more intelligent and prestigious than the people who didn’t get in?

They hailed us for our diligence and character, but it was all wrong. Yes, we couldn’t have gotten in without volunteer hours and an essay, but the chance wouldn’t have even been offered to us if we hadn’t gotten the 3.5 GPA. How is that fair? Our grades make us somehow more noble and diligent than people with worse academic performance, but equal (or better) character.

I feel like I don’t even deserve my place in the Society. I have absolutely no work ethic. I do as little as possible to get by, and I’m very uninvolved with my school and life in general. I’m in because my stellar freshman grades are managing to dilute my not-so-pretty sophomore and junior performance. I’m in because I kept failure logs and snapped rubber bands against my wrists when I was fourteen, yet I am hailed as an intelligent and revolutionary rising star of our generation. The real revolutionary is the kid who works his ass off day in and day out, just managing to scratch by with D’s. He deserves to be in the Society, not me. What about the rising star who gets very poor grades, but spends every bit of her time pouring into others’ lives and doing charity work? She should have my place.

To be fair,  though, I have overcome a great deal of adversity in the past two years, and I am prouder of that than I am of my grades. The fact that I still managed to get straight A’s while clinically depressed/manic completely baffles me even to this day, but those marks are really only a small part of the larger, more important picture. Since I entered high school, I have had three therapists, three psychiatrists, two therapy groups, have been on four different medications, spent seven days in a psych hospital, and took a million steps toward a fuller, happier me. Those numbers–not the silly decimals in my GPA–are the ones that help tell my story.

But I don’t want to toot my own horn. There are others who have gone through similar or worse things, but weren’t lucky enough to get the grades. There are others with completely different stories who are just as deserving as recognition as I am. And, in reality, I’m not being recognized for the turmoil I have endured. I’m being recognized for how I lived up to a narrow and objective standard while I was in the midst of that turmoil. The Society wouldn’t care if I’d been constantly happy all the way through the school, and they wouldn’t care if I was on the brink of a mental breakdown, either. They don’t see the individual; they see what they have produced. And I don’t feel qualified.

I walked that stage with my head high, legs only slightly shaking from nerves, being awarded with something I shouldn’t even have credit for.

 

 

Who You Are

All my life, it’s been drummed into my head that I’m talented. I write good stories, create beautiful music, and get decent grades. The older I got, the more I attached myself to my big web of achievements. Chorus concerts, piano recitals, creative writing awards–I performed, received praise, and shone with self-assurance. My talents were the building blocks of my very existence. But at the beginning of freshman year, all those things stopped being enough. I became an irrational perfectionist. It was my personal goal to get 100 percent on everything I did. Whenever I failed–which, in my own eyes, I did constantly–I felt completely worthless. I’d built an entire identity on actions and performance. Whenever my talents “fell short,” those building blocks of existence began to crumble. I was losing myself.

Sometime in the middle of this season of harsh, self-criticism, I had a conversation with a few people about feeling useless. They all became very sad when they heard how I felt about myself. “Abigail, you make the best art! Abigail, you write such wonderful poetry!” I was flattered, but what really cut to my core was this one, simple sentence:

“Abigail, you’re loved not just for what you do–but for who you are.” 

Several miserable months later, I finally began to appreciate myself for what makes me Abigail. I’m kind, sensitive, and goodhearted. I realized that in this world, there’s so much value placed on actions. You make. You get. You do. You create. The focus is on what is put out rather than what lies within, so too many identities are constructed solely of talents and achievements, with self-esteems about as sturdy as a house of cards. But we are–you are–so much more than a report card or a trophy, so much deeper than a list of goals and successes. You are beautiful simply on your own.

You are. 

At four in the morning…

Today and tomorrow, and then the quarter is over. That’s all I have to get through. Then I’m rewarded with a four-day weekend. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?

No. It’s not simple. If it were simple, I wouldn’t have stayed up this entire night staring at the wall and eating bananas. I wouldn’t be trying to bag up all my stray thoughts to throw out for the night. I wouldn’t be working on a freaking French project at four in the morning. 

How will I possibly have all the energy necessary to make it through the day? School starts in just over three hours. I can’t go to sleep. I tried that, and I couldn’t fall asleep. My mind is too shot to do anymore homework. Maybe I’ll stare at that picture-perfect smile of mine from over a year ago, the one that needs to be taken out of its frame already. I could always eat another banana. My stomach is rumbling again. 

I obviously can’t write. Even my basic grasp of grammar has leaked out the holes stress and exhaustion have blown in my mind. I am so burnt out. First quarter of freshman year, and I’m already about as worn as a dirty dish rag. 

Just two days, I tell myself. Only fourteen hours of school until the four-day weekend. It seems like so much, though. How could I possibly be this exhausted after just a few months into the school year? This has never happened before. If high school is this hard, I’m not sure I’ll be able to do it. 

Not an option

I wasn’t always a perfectionist. In fact, I was anything but one. Starting in fourth grade, I realized that I was lazy by nature. My laziness carried me all the way through eighth grade. It was how I described myself.

I’ve blogged about my switch from lazy underachiever to perfectionist before. It was the end of the year award ceremony this past June. Almost everybody got an award but me, and I realized that it was nobody’s fault but my own. I had dug myself in a hole and had failed to get myself out, so I didn’t receive any recognition. I decided that high school was going to be the complete opposite.

From that day on, I began to hold myself to an excessively high standard, not only in academics, but in my relationships as well. Failure simply isn’t an option for me. It’s not an option with my history of lazy nature. And yes, I have a lazy nature. I have to fight against it.

Holding myself to a higher standard has been good for my grades. I’m nearly achieving straight A’s (I’m not counting my unacceptable A minus in Algebra), which hasn’t happened since the beginning of seventh grade. I need to prove to myself and to the world that I can do well. Pretty soon, I’ll drop the minus from my math grade and get it back up to par.

Goals. I’ve never been a real goal-setter before, but now goals are everything to me. Straight A’s. Straight A’s all the way through high school. No exceptions. B’s will not get me into the colleges I want to go to. B’s will not satisfy perfection. In fact, not even A’s will satisfy perfection. I need to strive for 100 percent, 24/7.

Let’s cross our fingers and hope I can keep achieving. Actually, let’s not fall into superstition. No need for crossing fingers–I’ll just do it. I will succeed in prevailing against my nature of low tenacity.