Our experience at school and how we are treated by our fellow students effects our self esteem later in life.

sport and weight issues and self esteem

Weighed Down

Self esteem story about a girls weight and appearance issues and judgements of her mother

One of my first memories in life is of Christmas when I was eight years old. Through the thin old walls of my Grandmother’s house I could hear my mother, telling her sister, how she was worried about me. She was near tears, saying she was afraid I would get sick and die early; that I would never be able to get a job or husband because I was too overweight. So at eight, every ounce of my self-esteem was crushed by my own Mother, in a conversation she never knew I heard.

Up until that moment I had always planned to be an elite athlete. I wanted to be a gymnast, a swimmer, a soccer player, or any other number of things I loved to do. I wasn’t always the best at them, but in my childhood innocence, it hadn’t occurred to me this could be an obstacle. I wanted to be a World Champion, so that was what I was going to be.

Afterward, I started to notice things. Being picked last in P.E. class at school; the smirks people gave me when I mentioned athletic dreams; the tone of voice in which my teachers humoured me. By the time I left primary school at eleven, I had given up.

My two years of intermediate school were one of the lowest points of my life. It was the first time I had to wear a school uniform, and it took a week to find and order the right size. When it arrived it was too big, which my mother told me was so I wouldn’t outgrow it too quickly. It was probably meant in the same way most parents mean it; kids grow fast. But in my mind, what she meant was I was going to get too fat for my uniform. At school, I didn’t join any clubs or teams and barely made any friends. I just kept my head down and tried to be invisible.

One day in P.E. we played field hockey. I had loved the game for as long as I could remember, but was told it was “too dangerous” for me to play. Thinking back, it seems a bit counter intuitive—my mother was worried about my weight, but wouldn’t let me play the sport I most enjoyed. Two girls in my class both played for the school team, and when I was doing well and clearly enjoying myself, they asked me why I didn’t play too. I shrugged it off, and tried to keep my head lower so I wouldn’t be noticed again. For most of that year I ate lunch in a bathroom stall, so no one could laugh at the fat girl eating. I considered suicide multiple times, but could never bring myself to go through with it.

The second year things got a little better, I even made a few friends. Feeling adventurous, I signed up for a school ski trip. I met new people, tried a new sport for the first time in years, and generally had a great time. That week was amazing up until the last day, when I took a tumble on some rocks and sprained my ankle. Still, I wasn’t too bothered—after all, the trip was basically over, and I’d had a good time despite the pain. Injuries were something I was prepared for, a fact of life for an athlete.

While I was away, the rest of the school had been practicing for the annual cross country run. It was only about two kilometres long, but with a sprained ankle it was impossible for me. After a few days of missing practices, I was called into the Principal’s office. As a generally well-behaved and intelligent student, this had never happened before. I was nervous, and with good reason, it turned out. “I’ve just seen you skiing for four days,” she yelled at me. “You can’t just pick and choose which exercise you do and don’t want to do.”
I was lost for words. I had been towed down the ski slope by paramedics because I couldn’t walk. I had to have x-rays. She was there. “I know you don’t like P.E.,” she continued, “but you can’t choose to not do it any more than someone can choose not to do math.” I was sent back to class in tears. I was confused, but I understand her point of view: ‘fat people don’t like exercise.’

When I started high school, I finally convinced my parents to let me play hockey. I was on top of the world for a year and a half, getting better at the game and making new friends. During my second year, a piece of paper was passed around my class, and we were supposed to write down what we wanted to do when we were older. I wrote that I wanted to play for the national hockey team. Two boys started laughing when they were writing their own dream down, but I didn’t realise why until the paper had circulated and I got another look. Underneath my own pen, in one of the boys’ handwriting, were the words, “Not good enough.”

Once again I was crushed, and all my earlier insecurities came flooding back. This was the same boy who had labelled me “most likely to choke to death on McDonalds” in the school yearbook. When he found out I played hockey the year prior, he had asked “what position? Bench?” I knew I shouldn’t let him bother me; he had always been a bully. But of course, as a young teenager, every word hit a nerve. Just like that, all my dreams which had taken so long to build back up were shattered. I did my best to get on with my life, but those words never left me.

It wasn’t much later that I was struck with glandular fever, and subsequently with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I could rarely go to school, I had to abandon hockey and soccer, and I couldn’t attend the Taekwon-Do classes I had recently joined and come to love. I thought people might pity me: bedridden, unable to do the things I enjoyed doing. Instead, I was told: “Stop being lazy” and “Just get out of bed and do things.” My school decided I was skipping classes because I didn’t want to be there. They threatened to involve the police and have me dragged to school. When I did finally make it to a class I was sent to the counsellor, who asked, “why do you hate school so much?”

No one believed I was genuinely sick, because being overweight automatically labelled me as lazy. During the two years I was housebound, none of my friends even seemed to notice I was gone. Multiple doctors blamed depression or being overweight for my issues and wouldn’t run real tests. When someone finally did my blood work, the glandular fever results came in. I finally had an irrefutable medical diagnosis for the problems I was experiencing. But life is never easy, is it? Some people claimed I was making it up—that my illness didn’t exist.

That was probably the most deprecating part. Something which destroyed my hopes and dreams was blamed on a part of me that had always been overtly different, that everyone but me saw as a barrier in life. Even years later, their words are always at the back of my mind, telling me I am lazy and not good enough.

It has been five years since I was diagnosed, and in that time I have found other ways to grow my self-esteem. With a lot of patience and effort, I was able to rejoin the Taekwon-Do classes I once loved. I progressed through the ranks and earned the respect of the people around me. In 2016 I will get to trial for a place at the World Championship, and attempt to achieve my dream of being a world-class athlete. Meanwhile, I instruct classes and pass on my knowledge to those who are beginning their journey. I teach valuable life skills to children who admire me. These opportunities feed my self-esteem and have helped me to grow as a person, to move on from past grievances and shape my own future, no matter what others might say or think.

Purple colour for sensory depravation disorder

Coming to Your Senses

Self esteem story about growing up with undiagnosed sensory processing disorder

By Sharon Heller, Ph.D

I have a PhD in developmental psychology, taught college for many years, and have published four books with New York publishers. Yet, growing up I always thought I was dumb and my family constantly confirmed this. It took years before I perceived myself as otherwise.

I would often say or do stupid things that my family found hilarious. For instance, I had a tummy ache and my mother gave me a bottle of Alka Selzer which dissolves in water. I put a capsule in a glass of water and waited and waited but it didn’t fizzle. I complained to my parents. They looked at the glass and broke into hysterics. In place of the Alka Selzer, I had placed the Styrofoam cap on the bottom of the bottle into the glass. In home economics we were taught how to make an apron. Once I had my apron cut out, the teacher told me to cut out the pocket to sew on top of the apron. I cut out the pocket from my apron which now had a gaping hole!

As a child, I loved school but typically averaged only C’s, except in math which I routinely failed. It seemed to take me longer to understand and complete my work than other students. And when people spoke to me, I often responded with a question about something they had already told me. “Hi, I’m Susie, I live a couple blocks from here.” “Hello Susie, do you live close by?” I froze when the teacher asked me a question and often had to ask friends to repeat what the teacher had said. My family and friends thought I was out of it — spacey! Stupid. A dreamer.

I was good in athletics. Yet, I lost every tennis match and later, in my 20’s when I took up racquetball, lost virtually every time I played that as well. I assumed that unconsciously I must want to fail. What else could explain my constant confusion?

How did all this affect my self-esteem? At grammar school graduation, I signed my best friend’s autographic book “goofy.” Goofy! I was 14 years old and had just read Dostoevsky’s grand novel, The Brother’s Karamazov. In fact, I never had a book out of my hands and by 15 had read most of Freud’s works. Goofy! Hardly. But this is how I perceived myself.

So what was wrong with me? Well I did eventually find out, but not until age 50. Until then I just felt smart but dumb. And this was terrifically confusing and made me feel incredibly inferior to my peers. Why would anyone even want me for a friend except the losers like me? Indeed, the few friends I had were those even more inept than I.

I have sensory processing disorder, a common condition in which sensory messages get scrambled in the brain. This causes a “traffic jam” on the sensory highway, and you cannot make sense of or respond appropriately to your world.

In my case, I had slow auditory processing and it took me awhile to process auditory information. This is why I froze when a teacher asked me a question, why it took me longer than others to understand oral directions and, at times what was being said to me.

And I had visual processing problems. My eyes didn’t work together which made it difficult to accurately perceive my world. I saw the world as a haze. This created a delay in reading comprehension and difficulty in making sense of what I saw – the Alka Seltzer and the apron! And it explained why I lost every tennis match — I wasn’t seeing the ball!

I also had mild sensitivities to noise, smell and light and this, on top of the visual and auditory issues created anxiety and stress.

Fortunately, I am now an expert in sensory processing disorder and have largely overcome my issues.

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If you are facing similarly confusing thinking patterns, you may wish to get an evaluation from a pediatrics occupational therapist trained in sensory integration.