Do I Be the Pweddiest, Pweddiest Girl?

Living in this prevalent “Selfie-Era”, I must say my views on the subject are conflicted. If I were to count how many pictures I’ve taken of myself in the last 10 years I’d probably be able to plaster my walls with them.

According to the BBC (not that I vouch for their reliability on statistics or anything) – 23,000,000 photos were found with the hashtag #Selfie and #ME in 2013. Thousands of social-media users either consciously or unconsciously used their 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 intentionally shared with an audience.

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This is a culture of self-invention: where we expose ourselves to the judgements of others and in turn judge them equally. 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; obsessing over humans who held no place in her life.

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This fascination is no different to how we approach celebrity culture, only we appreciate celebrities based on their talent over image, right?!

It’s clear that young women feel an amounting pressure to look a certain way, enhancing their appearance through the mediums of filters and beauty apps. It can’t be healthy for anyone to feel immense gratification based how many ‘likes’ their pictures get, especially when the advertising is false.

Over the years I’ve been told that I’m pretty photogenic however, I know the truth behind the lies. Comparing my before and after selfies having edited them makes me feel a deep sense of shame toward the girl behind the lens.  The gratification received from Instagram ‘likes’ boosted my self-esteem for a mere three seconds and evaporated into further dimensions. Is an attention which is superficial and shallow nourishing for the mind of a young girl like myself? Or does it add to an already mounting pressure that women should look a certain way to be of value?

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Picture-taking is addictive. I remember my first ever ‘Myspace’ page and the strong anxiety I felt around making sure my next post would be better than the last. I would pose under lightbulbs, tilt my head in an unnatural way and wear layers and layers of makeup. It wasn’t even fun anymore.

In later years, toxic beauty apps, Instagram filters and “knowing the right angles” forced me to scrutinise and pick myself apart.  I manipulated my face and body to the point that I became unrecognisable. In the end, I’ve just felt hollow from within.

My obsession with selfies became so intense that I started to see all the things “wrong” with me. I fell into the Media’s trap of  de-racialization and cloning; contemplating a nose job when my nose is already quite small.

Chelsea Before and after

Here is me in the before picture, completely untouched. In the second, as I’m sure you can see, I have morphed in to Kylie Jenner. The bags have been removed from my eyes, my nose and jaw refined, lips enlarged; eyes brightened with an added filter. I’m not sure in what universe I thought this was going from a 7 to a 10, but I’ll opt for being real before a number, thanks.

Sometimes when I look at my face I see glimpses of my loved ones: my dad, grandfather, aunts; mum. Why on earth would I want to “fix” that? If the lines around my eyes or the shape of my nose maps the history of my roots then maybe the media can go and fuck itself. If being a physical “10” means conforming to one particular type of image, you can keep it. I’ll take what’s been passed down by my ancestors, an evolution far greater than the mere surface of skin.

Weed, Boys and Feeling Blue

Welcome,

You’ve reached my first ever blog post.

In this post I’ll be addressing subjects which I feel need more attention, in the hope the to create awareness around some deep and darker issues. There have been few occasions (but occasions nevertheless) where I’ve shut people out based on the fear of being judged. That said, with some much needed self-education, I realised most of us carry demons and that many of us could have done with more support.

I was 17 when I met my first boyfriend, Lyle*. At the time I was inexperienced regarding love and didn’t understand how a romantic love should be received (or even given). Lyle was attractive and polite and – more than anything – I was just excited to have a boyfriend! The first 6 months were wonderful – we were two enthusiastic kids enjoying a newly felt honeymoon period.

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Illustrations by Chelsea Hipwood

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 of course, as I realised Lyle wasn’t in the best headspace mentally and also suffered from night terrors.

In spite of what Lyle was facing, I was still a young girl in a mentally abusive relationship. I spent much time feeling irrationally guilty and started 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.

We stopped being friends. Lyle would play Playstation whilst I stared at my phone in silence. The possessiveness increased, along with being aggressive and dismissive  –  I felt constantly on edge. Being two young persons with little understanding of mental illness, it was impossible to recognise or understand where certain behaviours stemmed from.

I was also heavily 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 hard for me to detach.

As time went on, things became inevitably worse. Within the space of a year I’d began to self-harm; in hindsight, a cry for help and a very, dangerous outlet. 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 despair forced me to acknowledge the severity of the situation. Seeing their reactions slapped me out of my denial.

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, the marijuana debate is vast and I do believe it has some benefits. That said, it can also exhibit negative side effects, particularly for those with underlying mental health conditions.

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

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Illustrations by Chelsea Hipwood

In 2010 the relationship came to a brusque end. I’d returned from my father’s wedding in East Africa, and for the first time in years was able to re-assess. In Africa I was surrounded by nature and the ocean. I was able to meet new people and remember that life, as cliche as it sounds, is what you make it. I remember sobbing, mostly out of relief, when the relationship ended. I finally felt free from my own mental prison: that I’m nobodies possession, free to live as I choose.

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

I wish I could say the ordeal ended there, but unfortunately I had a new battle to fight. I’d spent so much time suppressing my fears and anxiety that it was all still simmering beneath. A family friend described it as pressure cooker: when so much builds up, you need to release the steam or else you’ll explode.

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 a rapid speed; my thoughts went astray and I couldn’t breathe – if felt like someone was sitting on my head.

As a child I worshipped the Catholic Church and passed the symptoms off as demonic possession. Good Lord. My thoughts had become so irrational, my reality so disillusioned, that I began to hear voices. I saw shadows transforming into demons – I didn’t know what the fuck was going on!

Back then, when I eventually managed to fall asleep, I would dream that the devil was shaking my bed and spend the rest of my night awake, with the lights on.  I began to suffer from sleep paralysis, which occurs when the mind wakes up before the body. In sleep-paralysis you typically can’t move or speak, despite having a conscious mind. A lot of people have described it as demons possessing the body and at the time, I was also a believer of this concept.

Thank god for the internet, is all I can say.

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

Fuckkkk that bitch!

I did not need medication, I needed empathy and reassurance.

I decided to take matters into my own hands which meant: goodbye marijuana. Two years spent cold turkey; I remember flushing my stash down the toilet and knowing it was a vice which didn’t serve me anymore. I rewired my programming from a place of sobriety.

I also began to watch lots of upbeat films: romantic comedies, feel-good musicals. I was still struggling to sleep due to insomnia and spent a lot of disassociating; feeling detached from reality. I couldn’t concentrate or feel happy about things. I missed having “normal” issues i.e. Why hasn’t so and so replied to my text; I wish my stomach was flatter.

I didn’t feel normal anymore. One night I became so scared that I had to sleep on my parents floor with my 4 year old brother in the bed. I remember feeling embarrassed but was grateful that they let me.

Friends also helped, one came over 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 actually accredit to reshaping my life:

“Don’t be afraid to battle with your mind. Stop sleeping with the lights on, turn everything off. Retrain the way you think and feel. You’re battling with your mind, so fight…and win”.

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Illustrations by Chelsea Hipwood

Isn’t that funny? Just a few simple words and I suddenly reclaimed being the boss. I control my mind: my mind does not control me. I reiterated those words again and again. It took 6 months post-breakup to sleep with the lights off. 6 months until the panic attacks, night terrors and sleep paralysis stopped. I received no medication, I received no therapy. I retrained my brain and relied on the love of good people. In 6 months I stopped being afraid.

I’m not here to turn my nose up at the choices people make, to sneer at those who smoke pot, or take meds, or stay in relationships which no longer serve them. I’m not here to paint Lyle as a villain or myself, a patron saint. What I want is to give some reassurance to those facing darker days, that you can get better and you will still heal.

If you find yourself in a situation similar to mine, don’t give up. Sometimes we have to face our demons head on, no matter how terrifying they are, in order to overcome them.