Anxiety is the number one mental health issue effecting people and has a big influence on our self esteem.

Paris mourners with a sign, "Not Afraid"

Helping those Affected by the Paris Terror Attacks

Eiffel Tower lit up in red, white and blueFor the past ten days, my attention has been captured by the almost continuous press coverage of the Paris terrorist atrocity on Friday the 13th. Like most people, I was horrified at what unfolded. Sitting in Australia, I assumed I was powerless to help and at some point, pulled myself away from the television to get on with life. I really hate feeling powerless. It makes me feel lethargic, fuels my desire for chocolate and Seinfeld re-runs. And I know I am not alone. I then went to work Monday to make a relaxation recording for the School of Self Esteem.

The School of Self Esteem uses Audio Relaxation Recordings to help people reduce their fear and anxiety. You see, when people are thinking about starting to tackle their personal problems, some are overwhelmed with anxiety, which stops them getting started. If they do start, their fear often pushes them to quit. I’ve found these recordings to be amazingly effective in helping people.

Whilst making the recording, it occurred to me that terrorist events cause fear, panic and anxiety in people generally and such a recording would be ideal to help those affected. This simple idea brought out the energy needed for action. But I was immediately struck by an obvious obstacle – I don’t speak French and surely helping Parisians could only effectively happen if the recording was in French. As fortune would have it, I knew a Frenchman had recently started working in the same building as me. I hadn’t met him yet, but the seed was planted in my mind as to how to tackle this.

Click to Listen in English:

Cliquez ici pour écouter en français:

I recorded a demo in English and got some friends to give me feedback. This included that a male voice might be a bit too strong for some people and a female voice might work better for women. OK… so I needed the help of a French translator and female to do the voiceovers. I wasn’t deterred by the problem despite the fact that I didn’t have an immediate solution.

OK … with the backing track done and script in English, on Monday morning I introduced myself to Hugues, a Frenchman who is new to Sydney and works in the same office building as me. He was just thankful some one had approached him and broached the topic as he was feeling isolated in a foreign country while ‘Paris was burning’. He listened to the English recording, was impressed and wanted to help. Hugues volunteered to translate the script into French and do the male voice over. Despite recently arriving in Australia, not having met me before and being snowed under with work, he worked back into the night to make this happen. Bravo mate.Paris mourners with a sign, "Not Afraid"

Then we needed a French female voice. Hmmm. Where do I find that at short notice? When in doubt, turn to Google. And presto, I found Isabelle in France and she agreed to a vastly discounted rate. 24 hours later she had produced a professionally recorded French female voice over. However the feedback was, it was delivered a little fast. I then went through the recording, the English script side by side with the French one, and inserted little spaces to make the pace more relaxed. My French definitely benefited from the experience.

It was then the next problem dawned on me. How to get this out there to those in need? The press? I don’t know anyone in the press, let alone the French Press. Twitter? Sure … but what can one person achieve on Twitter? Engaging support for a social media campaign therefore had to be the answer. But then self doubt crept in: am I going to expose myself as foolish for thinking I can help people on the other side of the world who have just been through a terrorist atrocity. That’s when some sage advice placated me: “Isn’t it worth doing it even if you only help one person,” said a confidante. Too right.
Flowers in Paris mourning victims of the terrorist atrocities

So I am putting my pride to the side and putting social media to the test.
While the recordings were made for and inspired by the awful events in
Paris and my own connection with France, a friend made a good point when giving feedback. There have been many recent terrorist events around the World this year (Denmark, Egypt, India, Israel, Kenya, Ukraine, Denmark, Lebanon, Nigeria, Tunisia, Turkey, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan) in addition to Paris. Plus, more than 30,000 American’s are killed from gun violence each year. “Wouldn’t they all benefit form this,” she asked. Touche.

Please forward the following links to all those affected by the Paris or other terrorist atrocities or violence. Let’s help them reduce their anxiety and fear and rest their nervous system. The world can only be a better place as a result.

Link to English Version: https://soundcloud.com/school-of-self-esteem/audio-relaxation-for-victims

Link to the French Version / Version Française: https://soundcloud.com/school-of-self-esteem/enregistrement-audio-de

A sincere thanks to all those who have made this possible, especially Deepthi, Isabelle, Julia, Wendy, Hugues and Tsung. Equally, thanks to all those who are helping by sharing, liking, forwarding, tweeting or whatever flavor of social media you’ve pushed this out through.

To the people of Paris, France and all those effected by terrorism or violence – peace.

Thank you for your support,

Sean Nunan

Principal, School of Self Esteem

Bullying and effect on childrens' self esteem

Head Lice

Self esteem story about a school girl with head lice and resulting bullying and insecurities


As much as I hate to admit it, my self-esteem has largely been based on the views of others for far too long. For most of my grade school life, I was blind to those that looked down on me. While I didn’t come from a wealthy family, and I was far from stylish, I never felt as if I was below anyone else. That is, until the fourth grade and my school’s first monthly head lice check.

A school volunteer sat me down and ran a metal comb through my hair, checking every inch of my head. It was discovered my hair was contaminated with lice. I was shocked. I had only known of my siblings having it twice before but the details were never explained to me. I was horrified to discover that it meant that there were bugs living on my head! They sent me to the nurse’s office until they had finished with my class. After that, I was marched back to my classroom, walked past all of those knowing, judging young eyes, to collect my belongings. Then I had to wait in the office until my mother came to collect me. One incident was bad enough, but, as a girl with four sisters, all possessing a ton of stuffed animals, bedspreads, shared hair-brushes, and 90s style scrunchies, it was hard to contain. My neighbour, and best friend at the time, also had an issue with it, and we could not seem to put this problem to a definitive end.

I became known as “Lice Head” or “That dirty girl” at school. Kids are so creative, right? Many former close friends began avoiding me, and socializing with me became something that only the brave would attempt. The mothers of the other girl scouts in my troop voted to kick me out, because they didn’t want to expose their pretty, precious flowers to this filthy (ahem… innocent, young, friendly, sensitive, and kind…) young child.

There was a group of “mean girls” who rode my bus and got on right before me. They made sure to take up every last available seat, and occupy the free spot beside them with their backpacks. They knew that I would never ask to sit with my tormentors, so I stood. The bus driver would then yell at me to take a seat; my bus ride to school was hell. In class, my fifth grade teacher would make subtle, awful comments to me that made the rest of the class giggle. I lost all enthusiasm for school within months. I ended fifth grade with only one passing mark, art.

The beginning of middle school was better and I started to think that I could let go of these issues that I had been struggling with. A bigger campus, kids from other elementary schools coming together, new opportunities. I was excited to see some faces that weren’t aware of my previous reputation. I went basically unnoticed, which was a vast improvement, and made a few new friends.

All was fine until summer break before my seventh grade year. I got a call from the new, popular girl informing me that my best friends, with whom I had been close to since early elementary, no longer wanted to hang around me. The reason for this? I wasn’t cool enough, and they wanted to be accepted by the cool crowd. This completely crushed me. We had always done everything together. We practically lived at each other’s homes, and they felt almost like family to me. It was almost as if I was losing an extension of myself. I felt lost.

The following school year, my reputation came back in full force. Though it had been a couple of years since my last outbreak of head lice, that did not stop people from finding out and making assumptions. Amazingly, it was even more intense having a large group of pre-teen girls yelling things at me in the halls in front of everyone else, than it is having them quietly smirk, name call, and manipulate your shame as they did when I was younger. These girls were out for blood.
I spent the rest of that year watching my former best friends ignore me from afar. I became closer with a couple of other friends, and even got my first real boyfriend. I still felt weirdly alone though.

The next year, it all changed. I gained my old friends back after they realized that being “popular” was not all that it was made out to be. I made a few more great friends, and along with a few of my older friends, formed a ‘defensive barrier’. We stopped showing that we cared and, instead, played to their mocking. I adopted a gothic look, black lipstick and raccoon eyes. I started doing weird things like eating glue when I knew people were watching, drinking out of a baby bottle, and drawing graphic pictures in class. If anyone would tell me I was a “freak”, or other such insult, I would respond with “I know, right? I’m crazy!” and then just stare at them, creep style. People stopped teasing me, because it stopped being fun. I was no longer upset by it, but amused instead.

Of course, this was all a big facade. Sure, it was fun, but I was masking the fact that I was still plagued with insecurity. This continued on into my sophomore year of high school. I grew tired of pretending, and I began dressing a bit more conservatively, though I still tended to favor the dark and mysterious, I kept it much more modest than before. After years of pretending not to care, somewhere along the line, I really had become desensitized. People may or may not have continued to say things about me, but I honestly did not worry enough to notice anymore. I guess what I took out of this, is that people can only break you down if you allow them to. Do not let anyone make you feel as though you are less than them, because you aren’t. You have just as much to offer. Enjoy yourself and have fun, despite the way others may view you.

I continue to struggle with my self-esteem from time to time, as do we all. I just try to remember that no one is perfect, and no one has to be.

scars and self harm

Scars

Self esteem story about a school boy who self harms trying to control his life


We all have scars in different places–they are like a roadmap of our history. Sometimes, we get scars from a mere paper-cut, while sometimes an unforgettable expedition leaves a particular scar on our body. But not every scar has such a happy story behind it. Some scars come from the deepest parts of us – our depression, our darkness and our insecurities. Some scars are not left by time, but are left by people, which are always the hardest to heal.

I have always been a very average looking guy, a boy next-door. I don’t come from a mysterious background that would set me apart from everyone else. I went unnoticed for much of my life. But I was happy with that; I had peace in being average. In a world, where everyone is trying to be someone else, I was myself and I considered that as an accomplishment.

As I grew up, I realized that life is unfair and not all your dreams can come true. When my own classmates started bullying me for apparently no reason, I realized that not everything in this world is our choice. When my own friends joined the bullies club and started picking on me, I realized that people can change, and can leave you in a heartbeat. When I fell in love and got rejected, I realized that some people can stay only in your heart but not in your life. But what I didn’t realize, was with that every rejection, my heart was literally and physically breaking into pieces. I didn’t realize that every time my own friends, with whom I used to play hide-and-seek in kindergarten, were picking on me or calling me by different names, my sense of self esteem was falling down. And oh, it did! It fell down to such an extent that I even forgot I was once content.
I thought about self harming a lot of times, every time they told me that I wasn’t “good enough” or “smart enough” or “rich enough”. But I didn’t. I thought that it was wrong. One day they told me that “this world would be a better place without you” and that “No one, not even a single person in this world would cry if you were dead”. The stupid thing is, for a moment, I believed them. I believed everything that they said, and not only that, I came to accept it.

So the thought of self harming kept oscillating in my mind, because I understood that my absence would make this world a better place. But I didn’t cut myself, maybe because I didn’t have the guts at that time, or maybe because there was still some last fragment of self-esteem left in me. Maybe I still had an ounce of hope.

I continued walking on a tightrope for almost a year, when the unthinkable happened and my rope broke. I was forced to walk barefoot on broken glass. I didn’t have any friends at all. My best friend was my grandfather. So when I lost him to the finality of death, everything around me changed. I lost control. Even gravity could not hold me together.

I had no one at all to talk to. A whole new level of depression engulfed me. I started to self harm. It felt wrong in the beginning, but how could something so relieving be wrong? I didn’t start to cut my own skin and let myself bleed because I wanted to hurt myself. No!

I started to self harm because I wanted to be in control. I was living in a world where I felt I couldn’t control a thing. I couldn’t stop people from leaving me forever. I couldn’t stop them from bullying me or calling me names. I couldn’t even stop my thoughts in my own head. So, in a world which was full of uncertainties, there was only one thing that I was able to control. Cutting. I knew where to cut and I knew how to cut. I knew when to stop. Ironically, cutting was one thing which was making me feel happy. It was making me take control of my life. Or at least I thought so.
I didn’t cut myself every day. It wasn’t a daily chore or a hobby. I would cut whenever depression would start taking its toll on me. It was one of the last days of my high school, when I had a bad fight with someone. I walked straight to the bathroom, rolled my sleeves up and cut myself with a razor blade. I didn’t know at that time that it would be my last.

I was familiar of self harming, but something was different that day. Instead of cutting my upper skin, I put a deep cut to my vein. Blood started to ooze out of my wrist and it didn’t stop. I first tried to cover it with a band-aid, but the dam had broken. When I knew I couldn’t stop the blood, I put a cloth over the wound to cover the bleeding and called my parents, who were sitting downstairs.

I don’t exactly remember what happened afterwards, as I lost consciousness. I woke up after some time in a hospital bed. I didn’t know how I reached there or who brought me. But I knew I was alive. And that feeling was life changing. I was so overwhelmingly happy that I was alive. For one moment, I thought I could do anything. I believed I could fly. And so I did.
Up high!

I took control of my life after having that near-death experience. I saw my parents and I realized how much they had always loved me. I saw my own reflection in the mirror and I realized that I don’t need anyone else to make me feel happy. I could dance my way on my own.

I have always been a one-man army and it was my time to shine. I became the writer of my own life, and stopped listening to what other people said about me. After all, it was my life, not theirs. I always wanted to be a writer, but my insecurities wouldn’t allow me to be so vulnerable and raw. But I was a whole new person, and so I penned a novel about my past.

The novel was published and did so well that it was declared a national bestseller. With every step I took, a small part of my self-esteem was regained. I was a brand new me, with an astonishing amount of confidence.

I was successful. I was living my dreams, but still something was missing. And I found my last piece when I met a reader of my book, who came to me during a signing event and narrated to me her entire story. She told me about how she used to self harm and was close to committing suicide. When she read my book, she told me it had changed her life. She said she was alive because of me.
Her words mended my broken heart back into a single well functioning organ. It was healed. My sense of self-esteem was replenished.

I never cut myself after that incident. Some of my scars are gone, but some of them are still with me and I wear them courageously like a battle-wound. Some scars can really change your life. They changed mine at least.

I’m happy now, more than ever. It took me a long time to realize I don’t need the entire world to define my existence.

I exist. I exist and that is more than enough for me.

Color and fun help with anxiety and depression

Happy People Wear Color

Self esteem story of a woman’s journey out of the chaos of anxiety


I have probably had anxiety my entire life. I’ve always been an incredibly shy person who tended to avoid crowds and stuck to hanging out with a small group of friends. I didn’t really become aware of the fact I had anxiety until my senior year at university. I had packed my schedule and piled on tons of responsibility between 27 hours of school and 40 hours of work each week. I pushed myself so hard that I finally broke.

One day I woke up and just couldn’t handle things anymore. I became paranoid. I’d go to class and see people laughing across the hall or in the classroom and I’d be sure they were laughing at me. I became anxious about what people thought of me. So much so that as the days went by my anxiety grew to the point it was hard to breathe and I felt like running from class screaming. So I began skipping classes, making excuses to myself that I was sick or tired or just plain didn’t need to go unless it was a test.

Instead of relieving the anxiety, these actions seemed to make things worse. Suddenly, I also became anxious and paranoid at work. I was certain my boss hated me. It prompted me to apply for a transfer to a different office that was an hour away from my home when my current commute was only five minutes. It should have been a signal to me that something was very wrong. Instead, I juggled things like this for months. Eventually the company I worked for ended up sending me back because my original office was understaffed. By the time I came back, the office had a new boss. I was so sure that she was out to get me and/or on the verge of firing me that the feeling to run came back. I had a pain in my chest and couldn’t breathe. I pushed through to my lunch break and then walked out. I’m ashamed to say that I never went back. My anxiety didn’t let me.

I rationalized this behavior by blaming my new boss. She became this evil and unbearable presence in my work life. My friends and family seemed to understand and accept my justification. Looking back, I wonder why they couldn’t see how badly I needed help.

I went back to an old job waiting tables for about a third of the pay I received at the office job. Now my income depended on me being able to provide excellent customer service to strangers, usually in a crowded dining room. My paranoia continued. I was so sure I was doing a bad job and yet again that my boss hated me. During one shift, in the middle of the dinner rush, I found myself unable to breathe. My heartbeat rang in my ears. I could barely move and began hyperventilating. It felt like I was going crazy. That was my first panic attack and to stop it, I walked out, again never to return.

I ended up relying on my boyfriend to support me. For the next year, I spent most of my time indoors avoiding my friends, my family, and the outside world. Anytime someone came over, I’d be thrown into panic mode and end up crying on the floor. I had no idea what was going on and neither did my boyfriend. He would yell at me to stop and tell me to get a grip, which only made me feel worse. I was free-falling into a deep depression.

I lived this way for what felt like decades. In reality, it was about two years. Somewhere in those two years I came to realize that I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I became aware of how irrational I was during those moments of panic and began to wonder what I could do about it. Then one day, while lying in bed I decided I can beat this; I can get myself back to ‘nomral’! I had to, because my existence was not really living.

I began mulling over how I would go about fixing myself. I remembered hearing somewhere that the colors we wear often reflect our mood. I looked at my closet. It was mostly black which repulsed me. I decided that if happy people wear color, I was going to fake it. I went shopping for the first time in years and was so focused on finding color that I wasn’t even nervous. It was such a freeing feeling. I bought myself (or rather my boyfriend bought me) a whole new wardrobe. The whole time focusing on the phrase, “happy people wear color.”

Did wearing color ‘fix’ me? Of course not. But it was a step in the right direction. That day shopping I discovered that I had a choice. I could live in fear and let anxiety control me, or take action to manage it.

Wearing color was my first step. I felt enlightened. I had a choice! I ordered a book on cognitive behavior therapy and read it cover to cover in a matter of days. I searched the internet and read everything I could on managing anxiety. I learned how to reprogram my thought processes and do breathing exercises to slow down or stop the physical reaction my body had in certain situations.

Slowly I started exposing myself to situations that made me feel anxious. First it was grocery shopping. Then as time went on, visiting family and later reconnecting with friends and attending events with large crowds. Over time, my anxiety subsided. Did it go away completely? Well…no, I still feel anxious more than I should. I still find myself thinking irrational thoughts. The difference though, is that I am aware of it. I can now recognize when something is irrational and bring myself back to a rational thought about the issue. I can tell when my body is starting to react and slow my breathing to prevent a full-blown attack. Sometimes, those strategies work, and other times I still have a panic attack. But I’m okay with that. I feel that my anxiety is well-managed. I’ll take one or two panic attacks a year over panicking daily.

I now sit in a place where I can look at my condition and say: this is just a part of me. It doesn’t change the core of who I am. I still have something to give to the world. It doesn’t define me or stop me from doing what I want.

I used to feel like my anxiety was something to be ashamed of, something to hide from the world because it wasn’t ‘normal.’ It made me feel unworthy, stupid, and like no one would ever want to be around me again.

With my anxiety under control, I look back and see that I always had a choice. It took me awhile to become aware of it, but the power to choose was always there. Being able to exercise that choice is a powerful thing. I made many decisions on my road to recovery. I decided I didn’t want to feel anxious anymore. I made the choice to wear color and seek out help. I made the choice to reconnect with the world. Those decisions added to my sense of self worth over time.

I eventually realized that I AM worthy. I am worthy of self-love, self-respect, and the love and respect of others. Making the decision to believe these things lead to a sense of confidence. I now proudly wear my anxiety and depression as a badge of honor. I made it through before and when it rears its ugly head I’ll push through again. I share my story as often as I can because I want to help others like me realize their own self worth. I want more than anything to help people in similar situations come to the conclusion that we don’t have to be prisoners in our own homes or in our bodies—we have a choice. There are ways to get help, to retrain our brain and come out the other side. You can become whole again. It starts with digging deep and making the choice that you deserve better. We really do!

Hustling for self esteem

The Hustle

Self esteem story about a model trying to define herself in terms of more than her looks


I was tired. I was depleted. I was sick. I could not clear the fog that shrouded my every waking moment, from class to work, to my boyfriend’s house. I wanted to figure out who I was separate from my looks, my grades, my job as a fashion model, my pre-med coursework, and sexual prowess. Oh my sexual prowess. Sexual powers? Sexual promiscuity. My vagina was the one thing in my life that I felt I had control over that no one else could stake claim to. I didn’t know that I struggled with my self-esteem until I hit rock bottom—several times over. At that present moment, I was in my car contemplating driving it into the median. I was driving on the main street in the college town I’d called home for the past two years, wondering, “How fast would I need to accelerate in order to hurt myself badly enough to end up in the hospital but not kill myself.” I just needed time out long enough to find myself again. This was rock bottom moment number one.

I was exceptionally beautiful, talented and smart. At least that’s what I’d been told my whole life by my mother, who was enthralled by my looks, so much so that she didn’t realize how her incessant pressure to look “just right” when I would so much as go to the grocery store, planted the seed for what would grow into a decade-long bout of clinical depression. This seed was watered by the fashion industry, which I entered into at the age of 14, which told me I could make it big—even as a black American girl—if I could just lose 15-20lbs (especially from my butt and hips) and sign control of my body over to my agent in the form of a contract. I tried to grow my hair out once during this period of my life, go natural, relaxer-free, and was quickly reminded by my manager that I no longer had a say over what was done to my hair. I was to be a blank canvas, a clothes hanger, ready at a moment’s notice to become who or whatever the client wanted me to become. I could become anything but white. After 5 years, my inability to transform myself and body to fit the required aesthetic of the day, which was dominated by girls from Eastern Europe whose last names ended in –ova, limited how far I could climb here at home, so I was told I’d need to go abroad to hit it big.

I did not have a strong foundation of self-worth instilled in me by my parents. I wasn’t born with an innate sense of worth like my sister, who is three years younger and seemed to naturally have a strong sense of her inherent fabulousness. I, on the other hand, started to believe that I was only as good as my outfit, my makeup, the meal I cooked, and any other performance metric I was able to measure myself against. I believed I had to be the “total package” in order to be worthy of the things I wanted in life. And what I wanted more than anything was a loving husband and strong family. A happy marriage, free of the drama, threats, and the bullying I witnessed between my own married parents. I wanted to create a family free of the dysfunction that characterized my own in which my mother threatened to kill me (more than once), utilized verbal abuse (sometimes in public), picked fights, and belittled me in order to vent her own unresolved pain at the hands of her mother. I would never call my daughter a “stupid, fucking bitch.” There would be family traditions and holiday celebrations and me and my siblings would be close.

So I started hustling to be worthy. I avoided appearing weak, asking questions, or developing close relationships. I overachieved constantly which gained me acceptance into all 11 of the universities I applied to including my dream school, University of Chicago. I soon felt another blow to my self-concept, which made me angry at God, an anger I carried with me through the next few years of my life. I thought God would’ve recognized my hustle and rewarded me with the financial ability to go to Chicago. A place where I could reinvent myself and be far away from the family and the self I wanted to leave behind. But He hadn’t. In spite of having just won a national beauty pageant (and the car I was about to wreck), finishing in the top 10% of my class, getting my medical research published as a 16-year-old, I would end up staying in-state going to the University of Florida. This was the institution that recognized my hustle more than the others and was willing to give me a full free-ride with a little left over to prove it. Just 2 hours away from my parent’s house, I was pissed.

I erroneously believed that the hustle there would be just as easy for me as it had always been, that grades and accolades would fall into place with little effort, and that in spite of it not being my first, or even 10th choice, my college experience would be just like the movies, “the best years of your life.” Actually, they were the worst.

My first semester in college I got involved with “Dee” a 24-year-old “super senior” working to finish his degree. I was 17, lonely (I knew no one at my school), and angry. The relationship with Dee was abusive sexually, physically, and emotionally. It wasn’t until recently that I have been able to say “I was raped” because my low-self-worth “demons” had me believing for so long that the relationship, and the things that happened in it, were my fault. After I told Dee once and for all that I was done with him he started to stalk me. I’d be driving down the street on my way to class and look in my rearview mirror and he would be there in his car following me. Another time, I was at another guy’s apartment who lived on the other side of town and looked out my window to see his car there. I woke up the next morning to mysteriously flat tires. But hey, this is what college was all about. I deserved it, right?

At that point, sex, which I’d always esteemed as an experience to be shared with my future husband, and still did deep down inside, became my drug of choice for numbing the pain of the experiences with Dee, the failed grades I’d earned during my first tumultuous semester (which was another blow to the image of myself I’d carefully curated for so long), the lack of family support, and most acutely, the lack of love in my life which I believed was a direct symptom of me not being “good enough”.

My second rock bottom moment involved me laying in the trunk of a car waiting for my “friends” to make the drive back home from homecoming weekend at a neighboring college. These friends had, the night before, lain in bed in the room where I was having sex with one of the guys whose apartment we were staying at for the weekend. They continued to lay there while the roommate of the guy I was sleeping with came in the room and sexually assaulted me. I was so drunk that I couldn’t remember the next day whether it was a bad dream or if it had really happened. It wasn’t until I got up and walked into the room where all four of these friends and the two guys were already gathered laughing and joking about what had happened that I realized it was for real. One of them made sure to remind me later, “I told you not to sleep with him.” I guess in my drunkenness I hadn’t heeded her good advice. I lay in the trunk of the car until they were ready to go, thinking about how I’d gotten to this place, what had happened, and wondering if my life would always be this painful. Sadly, not only did I believe I deserved it; I got a sort of sick release from these painful moments. It was my own form of self-harm.

Well what I know now is that I didn’t deserve it. That those experiences, regardless of how tragically common they might be, are not par for the course, and that worthiness is not something you have to hustle for. Through those experiences I was able to see glimmers of my true self, the fun-loving, lover of life, inquisitive little girl who craves connectedness and close, loving relationships. That is the self that decided not to drive my car into the median that day, to finish my degree, to seek help for my depression, to drop modeling and pre-med, and go into higher education and become a counselor. That self is my new self. The self who understands that a lack of self-esteem was both the cause and effect of my self-destructive behaviors that dug me deeper and deeper into the hole of shame where I encountered rock bottom moments number three and four.

My self-esteem journey is far from over. It is a constant battle to control my thoughts and uproot old beliefs that pop up and say “You’re not good enough!” I never took the anti-depressants I was prescribed years ago for my depression. Instead, I completed nearly two years of weekly counseling sessions and I monitor my depression closely from both physiological and mental/spiritual angles. It is hard; the fight of my life. However, I am whole and I know who I am and who I am not. I am worthy of happiness, of love and belonging. I know that the family I want is mine to create, not something I have to hustle for. And these things, I am sure, I deserve.

Jana Boureslan performing poetry live

Poetic Justice

Story about growing self esteem through education and acceptance


By Jana Boureslan

After finishing school, I was confused about which major to study at university. Given my natural inclination to learn about life, writing, our bodies, wellness, the mind, civilizations, nature, poetry and learning itself, I finally decided to tick the box of elementary education. It was just another tick of just another box on the application form. But on the path of my life, it was tickling the promise of what would later manifest as my greatest strength. Today after more than 10 years of teaching youngsters and adults, I have a deeply contented heart along with life realizations.

The joys of gradually discovering one’s abilities, aptitudes, resilience, decision-making skills, management and persistence built my self-belief. Study earned me the doctoral degree that my heart deeply yearned for. Practice allowed me to become the yoga teacher I dreamt to be. The compilations of lessons learnt about life and the knowledge I gained about my ‘Self’ and about others ended up building my self-esteem brick by brick. I recall every poem I’ve written, every student I’ve touched, every small incident where I acted as my best self, without being full of myself. And I felt my confidence lifting itself each time, right away. It is these incidents that mean the most to me. I redirect my thoughts towards those experiences along with the people I love every time I feel down because it’s the mechanism that keeps me going. And by contemplating them, I feel better and my self-esteem stronger. ‘Education’ is a major reason why I am the peaceful and successful woman I am in her early thirties! And getting to this point, I learnt more than I could have ever imagined.

Education quickly taught me more than the mere methods of teaching, psychology, arts and human development. It lent me a hand to better see and analyze my own imperfections, insecurities and other problematic situations related to upbringing and peer pressure, bullying, stages of development, and more. It taught me that learning should be made fun; otherwise we’d better call it “burning”; at least it feels so in the heart and mind of the student who is not enjoying the experience. I learnt to learn from the darndest places and people. It is the difficult moments in life you least expect your buds to bloom that you have to reflect on by inhaling deeply with eyes gently closed, only to focus on the space between your eyebrows … to create more space and openness and to allow yourself to acknowledge and appreciate the benefits of unexpected situations with grace.

I got to know much better which experiences suit me and which ones I should avoid. I now know what events to take part in, who to hang out with, and what fields I wish to dive into and explore further. Not that I didn’t know what suited me earlier. In fact, I did, I just didn’t always listen to myself. I now know with an indescribable faith and a strong drive from within, that I can choose the situations and people I want to be around for my higher, dignified self to emerge. Doing so, I learnt that what I do in life can in turn touch people’s lives in the most profound ways. My learning and growth is both for myself and others that I honor through the light that combines us all.

I learnt that my self-esteem is armored when I live a meaningful life. Part of my meaning is writing poetry. While I consider it a gift, I haven’t been encouraged to feel good about it. I now know that those who point their fingers at my lyrical way of speech or poetic writings may not be able to appreciate the musicality or literary elements of my contribution to the world. But some do. And that’s now enough for me.

But the lack of acceptance meant I had to fight the many devils and demons in my head that told me I should throw away what I wrote. And it still hurts to this day when I recall the times I would write and write, trying to perfect my prose, and the sputtering of lexical and morphemic words I weaved, which flowed from the heart, mind and soul of the child I used to be, only ever ricocheted off the corner of the trash basket in my room, before coming to a lonely death. I yearned for the kind of praise and sweet validation that would console my younger self: “What you write about is not only important, but many people powerfully and deeply relate to your stories and poems. Stop filling the basket with your calligraphic blend of lead on paper.” Instead I started keeping a journal, protecting the scribbles of pencil hidden next to my bed.

poetry woman walkingI eventually learnt that much of criticism is an act of transference: people projecting their own insecurities. And it’s okay because we all have them. But not everyone is aware of what hinders us from reaching our full potential. And it is exactly this, which matters on the journey towards a higher self-esteem: being aware of your own feelings and considerate of those of others. I learnt that no one can make us feel bad about ourselves, if we didn’t give them consent to do so. I learnt that protecting my self-esteem requires that I think critically of people’s motives and drives and statements and what’s behind them rather than just accepting them on face value. And I learnt that some will always prefer to manipulate or play with our sensitivities. Certain people will do so harshly or selfishly in an attempt to validate themselves at the expense of squashing the self-esteem of those around them. They try to pull you back again to their side or way of thinking; but once you’ve started moving away to become your authentic self, you can’t go back.

Deep down, a clear realization emerges from within you. All of a sudden, you stand up tall and say, “I honor my creative intelligence and the cycle of unnecessary suffering, their judgments and my insecurities no longer suit me. You accept what is and let go of what you cannot change. You realize you can “love” without feeling compelled to like or be around ‘them’. You learn that in the act of authentically sharing your stories and listening to others lies a tremendous healing gift for the whole community to recreate its true self. My self-esteem rises with every clear thought of who I am and want to be. I eventually learnt that I am, in fact, beautiful, even though I doubted it for so long. I learnt I am whole, just as I am. I learnt to be happy. That is what I am. I learnt to see the beauty in my poetry and to be vulnerable and brave to share it with the world. And those are the kinds of kind affirmations I believe actually does our self-esteem a great favor.

So, be aware. Be safe. Be loving. Be true. Be defiant. Be respectful. And be free of others’ insecurities! Most of all, be yourself. And make sure you live a life where you can always be the best you can be.

 

Jana Bou Reslan is the founder of ipoetry.info, which promotes spoken-word poetry as a tool for self-expression, helping the youth voice their issues creatively and nonviolently, off the streets.