Do I Be the Pweddiest, Pweddiest Girl?

As we currently live in the prevalent “Selfie-Era”, it is safe to say that my views on the subject are conflicted; if I were to count how many pictures I’ve taken of myself in the last few years I’d be able to plaster the walls with MyFace-Wallpaper.

According to the BBC – not that I can vouch for their reliability on statistics (or anything else for that matter) – 23,000,000 photos were found with the hashtag #Selfie and #ME attached. It’s apparent that the majority of social-networking users have consciously or unconsciously used media platforms to project a specific image of themselves. I must stress the word image here; as that’s all our lives in pictures will ever be: a depiction of a lifestyle or persona which we’ve shared with an audience.

This is a culture of self-invention: where we knowingly leave ourselves open to stereo-typical judgements and condemn the “lifestyles” of others. We tread shallow waters as we covet, compete and compare ourselves to falsified representations. I have a friend who’d spend hours admiring various women, sifting through Instagram profiles and obsessing over women who held no place in her life.

The fascination is no different in how we approach celebrity culture only, we appreciate  celebrities based on their talent not their outer shell, right? It’s clear that young girls feel an amounting pressure to appear a certain way by adapting their looks through the mediums of of filters and beauty apps. It can’t be healthy for anyone to feel such immense gratification based on a number of Facebook ‘likes’.

Numerous people have commented how photogenic I am. I feel sad when I compare the relentlessly manipulated images with the girl behind the lens – I know that one is real and one is fake. The self-gratification received from Facebook and Instagram ‘likes’ has boosted my ego for a lengthy 3 seconds and then evaporated into further dimensions. An attention which is superficial and shallow does nothing for ones personal growth, if anything, it does the opposite by reinforcing hype.

Picture-taking can be addictive. I remember my first ever ‘Myspace’ page and the pleasure I felt being considered “beautiful”. In later years, dangerous beauty apps, Instagram filters and particular angles have forced me to scrutinize and pick myself apart.  I’ve manipulated my face and body to the point that I am unrecognizable. And in the end I’ve just felt ugly.

My obsession with selfies became so intense that I started to see all things “wrong” with me. I feel into the Media’s trap of  de-racialization and cloning; even contemplating cosmetic surgery…

Chelsea Before and after

To provide real insight, the before picture is untouched. My face is as it should be – left alone, no alterations. In the after picture, I’ve removed the bags from my eyes, refined my nose, jaw; enlarged my lips, brightened my eyes and added a filter. Wow. What a way to go from a seven to a ten.

I remember asking my mother what she thought about me getting a nose job and she burst into tears. Her words: “If you ever get your face done, I’ve done something very, very wrong”.

Sometimes when I look at my face I see all the ones I love: my dad, my grandfather, my aunts; my mother. Why on earth would I want to “fix” that? If the lines around my eyes or the shape of my nose map the history of my genetic roots then I guess the media can fuck itself. If I’m a ten it’s way beyond the mere surface of skin and no filter is ever going to change that.

Blue

During my first blog I’ll be addressing things which I feel require more attention; the aim is to create awareness around extremely sensitive issues. There have been few times (but times nevertheless) where I’ve shut people out based on the fear of being judged. With this said, I began to educate myself and realised there are many who have experienced similar demons; who could have done with more support. Trust me, there millions of us and the more we begin to talk, the sooner we’ll find the light.

I was seventeen when I met my first boyfriend, Lyle*. At the time I was inexperienced regarding love and didn’t know what I was searching for. He was attractive and seemed polite enough; more than anything I was excited to finally have a boyfriend. The first six months were great – we were kids and life was naturally easier.

As time progressed, Lyle became increasingly possessive. He would call me at all hours of the the night, asking why (male) friends were writing “Hey, how are you?” on my Facebook wall.

Some nights I would wake up startled, recoiling from a punch in the stomach or hands around my neck. This was unintentional, Lyle suffered from night terrors and I realised years later that we were not in the best mental health.

We stopped being friends. He’d play Playstation whilst I stared at my phone in silence. The possessiveness increased, along with being aggressive and dismissive  –  I felt constantly on edge. Taking in to account the contributing factors of mental illness, some of his behaviors I’m sure were unintentionally harmful.

Still, a young girl being in a mentally abusive relationship is extremely dangerous waters. I constantly felt irrationally guilty and began to avoid eye contact with people, staring at the floor as I walked. I stopped partying and began to ignore all my male friends – I even blocked a few of them.

I was in denial. I would boast A LOT to friends and family about my happiness, how lucky I was to be in such a wonderful relationship. I think the trickiest part was becoming attached to his family – they were extremely loving which made it harder to detach.

As time went on, things became inevitably worse. Within the space of a year I’d began to self-harm; in hindsight nothing but a cry for help. My words were muted constantly beneath hollers of abuse. I wanted to scream but feared nobody would hear me.

Things came to a head when I visited my stepmom and accidentally rolled up my left sleeve. Naturally she was devastated and within hours I was being bombarded with visits and phone-calls. My families worry helped me to acknowledge the severity of the situation. I didn’t want to cause them any pain.

My dad, who reacted the least dramatically, guessed straight away that I was having relationship issues.  I grew up in a liberal household where everyone was kind to each other, far from perfect, never abusive.

Lyle smoked a lot of weed; I’d say he went through an eighth of skunk a day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to bash weed-smokers, there are people close to me who have been doing it for years and they’re some of the most level headed people I know. Trouble is, if you’re already struggling with your mental health, weed can become an enhancing contribution.

Lyle and I were sinking together. He began to develop obsessions with UFO’s, fascinated with the prospect of channelling aliens and becoming an extra-terrestrial human vessel. During this time I was also smoking daily – I was attending university and working part-time but regardless, I too was unknowingly tripping out.

In 2010 the relationship came to an end. I’d just come back from my father’s wedding, where I had been surrounded by fun and stability. It gave me a chance to meet people and remember that life doesn’t have to be so bleak. I remember sobbing, mostly out of relief, and felt free to be myself without worrying there’d be a consequence.

I went back to being the person who shouldn’t have been compromised in the first place.

I wish I could say the ordeal had ended, but on the contrary I had a new battle to fight. I’d spent so much time suppressing fear and anxiety that everything was still simmering beneath. A family friend later described me as pressure cooker: with so much building up, I needed to release the steam to avoid exploding.

I began to have panic attacks, although I didn’t yet know what they were. Every time I tried to sleep I’d feel my heart beating at an increased speed, my thoughts went astray and I couldn’t breathe – if felt like someone was pressing on my head.

As a child I worshipped the Catholic Church and so I passed the symptoms off as possession. My irrational thoughts worsened the disillusioned reality – I began to hear voices (which I now understand were my own) and saw shadows transforming into demons – I was terrified.

When I eventually managed to fall asleep in those days, I would dream that the devil was shaking my bed, spending the rest of the night awake, with the lights on.  I began to suffer from sleep paralysis, which occurs when the mind wakes up before the body. It paralyses you so that you can’t move or speak, despite having a conscious mind. A lot of people describe this as demons possessing the body – I was also a believer of this concept at the time.

Thank god for the internet. The day I typed my symptoms into Google is the day I realised I was suffering from panic attacks and night terrors – I was definitely NOT being possessed. I visited a nurse, who didn’t have a clue in hell. She raised her eyebrows at me in judgmental distaste and booked me an appointment with the Doctor. She said that he’d prescribe me “appropriate medication”.

I did not need medication; I needed someone objective to talk to.

I decided to take matters into my own hands: farewell marijuana. I didn’t inhale another puff for two years straight. Don’t get me wrong, these days I can have the odd toke here or there via trips to Amsterdam – but it’s not a habit to incorporate into my everyday life. Everyone has their own vice and it just stopped being mine.

I began to watch lots of upbeat films: romantic comedies and feel-good musicals. I was still struggling due to developing insomnia, and I spent a lot of time feeling detached from reality. I couldn’t concentrate or feel happy about things. I missed having “normal issues” i.e. Will I ever find a nice boyfriend? or I need to lose a few pounds.

I didn’t feel normal anymore. One night I became so scared that I had to sleep on my parents floor with my four year old brother in the bed. I should be embarrassed but it pays to have a family open enough to offer support when asked.

Friends also helped, one friend came over just to pat me to sleep; another would talk to me ’til early hours of the morning. It was around that time I received some crucial advice, advice which I accredit to reshaping my life. And it was this: “Don’t be afraid to fight with your mind. Stop sleeping with the lights on, turn everything off. Retrain the way you think and feel. You’re experiencing a battle with self”.

Funny isn’t it? Just a few simple words and suddenly I remembered that I’m the one who controls my mind: it does not control me. I clung to those words religiously: It took six months post-breakup to sleep with the lights off. Six months until the panic attacks, night terrors and sleep paralysis stopped. I received no medication or counseling, I retrained my brain and used the help of good people around. In six months I was able to do all of the things I had stopped.

If you find yourself down a black hole, use this blog for the light. There are so many people suffering with mental health issues or stuck in abusive relationships – the degrees of severity vary.

Had I not left Lyle, or continued to smoke weed; had I not questioned my delirium – I would have found myself eternally stuck. I remember a time when I didn’t want to leave the house, when going out and enjoying myself was more of a chore or challenge.

Take it from me, there are numerous ways to self-heal. If you find yourself battling with mental-health or post traumatic stress, try every alternative method before accepting the drugs. That’s my advice. Change your diet, change your scenery, start challenging your thoughts of fear and see if you’re able to reverse your condition. We are all warriors in our own right, sometimes it just takes the support of a few good people and a strong dose of courage to finally see the light. Like me, I promise you can find it.