Stories & Experiences

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Stories & Experiences

This page is for stories from service users who wanted to share their experience(s) of how poor mental health has affected their lives, how they cope and how they see their future.

If you want to submit your story, you can do so anonymously, by completing the form at the end of this page.

Carla’s Story of her journey with low self esteem

(Some details have been changed to protect the identity of Carla & her family)

Carla (not her real name) is now 50.  She is happily married, has her own home and 3 children.

This is Carla’s story of her journey with lifelong low self esteem …

‘As a child, I stood out.  Not because I was clever, or pretty, or a favourite, but because I was painfully shy and scared to open my mouth.  I believed at a very young age that I had nothing useful to say and that whatever words did come out, I’d be laughed at.  So I stood out for all the wrong reasons and my feelings about myself made me what I didn’t want to be – more visible.

My teenage years were awful, I hated them and I’d never want to be that young, that uncertain, that frightened and insecure ever again.  I felt different.  All the other teenagers I knew seemed to be able to talk, laugh, relax, and I just couldn’t .  They all looked so pretty and handsome; the girls with their make up and hair done, the boys in their first suits or just jeans – anything but school uniforms!  Everyone, I felt, was moving forwards, embracing growing up and loving it.  They were excited by it.  But for me, I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me so I’d not have to try and  put on this continuous face to the world, which I was hopeless at anyway.

The girls with their fabulous hair, make up and clothes I could not compete with.  I recall being dragged very unwillingly into Boots one day with 2 girls who thought I should get a life.  They started trying on make up and using the small mirrors to see how the exciting new shade of lipstick looked on them.  I was emotionally devastated having to do the same, I couldn’t look at myself and they laughed their heads off.  On the way home, I remember saying ‘I am pretty really you know, like you, you do believe me don’t you?’ and they laughed again. That reinforced it – never ever open your mouth again.

By the time I moved onto further education at college, I was having extreme thoughts such as ‘God, how ugly am I? I can’t even look at me, how can I inflict myself on the world?’ I was actively hiding away, using any desperate excuse I could think of to avoid mixing. With anyone.  And I was my own worst critic – I saw nothing good, nothing positive in myself at all.  I had no self esteem whatsoever.

You know the saying ‘You’re your own worst enemy’ – well yes, I was.  I pressed the self destruct button daily, multiple times a day.  Driving people away who tried to include me, be nice to me, was easier than feeling the abject distress and awkwardness that would result from mixing with them.  I was labelled a snob.  I was quite the opposite, but it didn’t come across that way at all.

And then, I really did become disliked.  I was labelled as ‘off’, ‘snooty’, ‘above herself’ and ‘rude’

This pattern of behaviour, withdrawal, this sincerely held belief that I was not as good as anyone else, that I had nothing to offer, that I was a complete waste of space, affected my life for decades.  At one point, I battled anorexia (no I wasn’t overweight at all, but I thought being skinner would make me happy and come out of my shell).  I started self harming.  Over the years, I’d physically hurt myself because in my mind, I was so worthless, I deserved it.  I abused myself in many ways because of the torture inside.  I let others abuse me because that’s what someone like me deserved.

And I’d get angry, from frustration in myself.  Rather than focus on dealing with my issues, I’d focus on other peoples’ shortcomings.  Classic deflection and refusal to acknowledge.

So, at 50, where am I now?  Well, I now know why these feelings started and where they came from.  Those are things I address privately, they are not for sharing, not for me anyway.  It’s helped, acknowledging that low self esteem had a starting point, a reason.  It validated how I feel the way I do.

I still need reassurance.  I’m not as bad as I once was.  These days, mostly I can reassure myself, but there are still times I need the support of my husband, my children even.

It hasn’t been easy.  I can feel easily threatened.  If I’m in a group situation with people I imagine are cleverer, more beautiful, or just generally better than me, I begin to withdraw and wither.  But rather than prolong my agony, or become irritable with others, I politely make my excuses and leave and work through it in my mind.  This always helps.  And I talk too.  Support lines, family members.  So many understand so much more than I thought they would.  That in itself makes me feel better, stronger.  Sometimes I repeat how I’m feeling, talk it over and over, trying to make sense of it, but it’s the only way I’ve found to beat the negative thoughts, alongside avoiding situations where I know my self esteem issues could create tensions and leave me feeling even worse.

It’s a bit like if you have negative people around you, you try and move away because of the impact they can have on you.   The same for me, if I’m in (what I think is) a threatening (to my self esteem) situation, I will simply remove myself from it.  It’s a really positive step to take.

I can’t honestly say I’ll have good self esteem and certainly not high self esteem.  But what I do have now is a small degree of self esteem.  And that, for me, is good enough.


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