I would spend hours Googling celebrity measurements and then feel awful when I wasn’t as small...

Hello, my name is Hannah, I’m 29 and am now a qualified teacher.

For as long as I’ve remembered, I’ve always compared myself to other people. As a child, it was Disney princesses; as a teen, it was my classmates; and as I got older, it became everyone around me. I would spend hours Googling celebrity measurements and then feel awful when I wasn’t as small as someone I wanted to be like. I would berate myself for not being as academic as my younger brothers, and would make fun of myself, calling myself ‘stupid’, just so no one else did.

I never felt good enough.

Whilst my parents tried to persuade me that I was beautiful and that I mattered, it was the words of my peers that resonated most with me. I was bullied ferociously throughout school because I was different, physically and emotionally. I even remember being beaten up and told, when I was just thirteen that ‘if they invent robots to have sex, even they won’t want you.’ These words became etched into my brain, and I believed them. If I didn’t look like those around me, no one would ever want me. I would be alone forever.

As I grew up, I began to find confidence in my appearance, but this was completely entangled with sexual appeal. My entire self-worth hung on how those around me saw me, and if I wasn’t able to get a guy to fancy me, something was wrong. My need for affection and affirmation led me to find myself in some incredibly painful situations, which only further destroyed my confidence.

My mental health spiralled down, until in 2017, I hit rock bottom. After a suicide attempt, I fled from my relatively stable long-term relationship directly into another relationship. I was broken. I began self-harming and attempting suicide again. My parents moved me back to my family home, where, thanks to an amazing and very persistent GP, I found myself in a psychiatrist’s office, being given the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder.

Whilst the label terrified me, it gave me a sense of hope. The diagnosis meant that I was ill and that, with help, there was now a chance I could recover.

I began therapy in which I was taught to understand how my illness worked and how I could adapt my behaviours to help my recovery. I started to be able to look at myself gently and accept that, whilst I struggle, I am strong. I learned how to manage my emotions in a healthy way, to talk kindly to myself and was eventually able to stop self-harming. Ultimately, I discovered who I was and what I wanted: not what others wanted for me.

Since leaving therapy, my life has turned upside down. I met an amazing man, who supports me endlessly, understands my mind and my boundaries and makes me smile every day. I passed my driving test, allowing me to be completely independent.

But most importantly, I decided to follow my dream of becoming a high school teacher. Looking back on where I came from and the trauma that stemmed from my high school career, I knew I had to become the person I never had but so desperately needed. Completing my training during lockdown was a challenge, as I fell back into some negative cycles, but it simply served as a reminder that recovery isn’t linear: it will fluctuate.

Today, I still find it hard not to compare myself to those around me. I no longer fit in clothes that were once loose, and I find my mind repeating the words of my high school bullies of over a decade ago. But then I remember how far I have come, and I relax. I am unique. I have cornerstones that make up ‘me’: compassion, empathy, drive and joy. And these mean more to me than any piece of fabric. I cannot compare myself to others because I am not anyone else: I’m me.

If you’re reading this, just know that things can get better. You are bigger than your thoughts, and your thoughts are just that: thoughts.

Life can be so beautiful when the storm breaks and the rays of sun shine through. Keep going, you’ve got this.

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