Chicken Legs - My Battles for Self-Esteem
My self-esteem shattered. My first-grade heart throb crushed me with words. My best friend, trying to play matchmaker, asked the gorgeous boy during recess if he “liked” me. Unsure who I was, he said, “You mean the girl with the pretty face and the chicken legs?” For the first time, I questioned my looks. I ignored the front end of the sentence and fixated on the poultry comparison for many years. Not only did I fixate on one person’s opinion, I chose to ignore what my parents taught me about the value God places on each person.
Eventually, skinny became cool, so I grudgingly accepted my slim build. Meanwhile, hurtful words continued to pile up. In high school, going to lunch was an ordeal. Outside my cafeteria, a group of guys rated girls walking by. "She’s a six!” “Nah, I’d give her a four!” Ironically, insecurity probably fueled these chucklehead’s desire to critique girls. Again, I chose to listen to people instead of God who says that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” Isaiah 139:14 (NIV).
I seldom know what to do with the mess created by pain and suffering. When sickness or tragedy explodes in my life, the commotion leaves me dazed. I’m not good on my feet in a crisis.
- My brain stalls.
- My stomach hurts.
- My hands go numb.
Restoring calm takes effort. I’m left in a dimly lit room with the troublesome questions like: Why is this happening? Can anyone tell me what to do? Suffering creates messes. While literal messes, like blood-covered clothing and neglected pet accidents are manageable, emotional messes are not. I want to clean up emotional upsets because they feel uncomfortable. I want to scrub away inner pain because it frightens me. I’ve learned, though, this emotional bedlam can be useful. Painful experiences in my life accomplish positive things that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. Suffering exposes my nature. Struggling for solid footing in the midst of pain, I’ve discovered what’s inside of me. Some things I do and say show strengths. At other times, not so much. I’m humbled each time I realize that I’m not yet all that I think I am. The truth is, an easy life doesn’t produce strong character.
“Your husband has a fifty percent survival rate. We’re doing all we can.” Two abrupt sentences tilted my world severely. I collapsed into a waiting room chair trying to corral my stampeding thoughts. God, help me, I’m so scared. Moments later, walking mechanically to the pay phone, I heard hushed conversations fluttering behind me in the Intensive Care Unit, (ICU). “Poor thing. Husband’s Room 9. Critical. Bacterial pneumonia. Not sure he’ll make it. Only twenty-seven years old."
Diagnosed with simple pneumonia five days ago, my husband was now fighting for his life with a deadly form of this illness. Countless tubes and monitors invaded his now frail body, monitoring vital organs and delivering medications. A fever of 106 degrees persisted in spite of his ice mattress.
When I was five years old, my grandmother had surgery that left her paralyzed on one side and took away her ability to speak. I now know she had Aphasia, which the Mayo Clinic describes as “a condition that robs you of the ability to communicate.” Even with Aphasia, grandma still had a wonderful way of making each grandchild feel deeply loved.
My grandmother never regained her ability to speak and lived the rest of her life in a nursing home. When I think back on visiting days, I remember the anticipation I felt. Even now I can picture her face lighting up with joy when our eyes connected. My parents were there, but I knew the sparkle in her eyes was all for me.
About 15 years ago, I gave up a high-paying job, and moved to a new career in social work. Feeling called, I passionately charged ahead and believed that hard work, and God’s favor would propel me to my destiny. However, three months into my new job, the company reorganized, and I ended up as a case manager, which requires a different set of skills than the job for which I was hired.
I tried to make the best of my situation, but each day left me exhausted. I was joyless and wondered if I was wrong. Did God call me to this field? Anger smoldered in my heart. Someone must have known about this upcoming reorganization. I questioned God and wondered why He let this happen to me.
In the tenth year of my marriage, I was betrayed by the man who had promised to love and protect me, and had given me five babies. Two and a half months later, while still trying to make sense of the infidelity, he was killed in a car accident. I spent the next several years trying to deal with my and my children’s grief. I felt overwhelmed, and angry when people told me I needed to forgive. I didn’t know how to begin to forgive and couldn’t understand what difference it made to someone who was no longer living.
Decoding depression is like cutting onions. Peeling their many layers can make you cry. By taking hormone supplements, I felt my inner pendulum swing towards joy. For a few months, I thought I had this depression thing whipped and felt triumphant. The contrast of emotions, before and after supplements, was so astonishing I thought it must be what normal felt like. Six months passed before I realized I had only peeled off the papery outer skin and thick surface layers of my onion. The extreme lows were indeed gone, but a level of gloom persisted. Like any raw onion, the odor of the remaining layers filled my inner house with a smell I had to cover daily with the air freshener of my pretend, cheerful personality.
My journey out of depression was a bit like the Wizard of Oz. In the story, a simple instruction to “follow the yellow brick road,” results in an odyssey for poor Dorothy. She skips away from Munchkin land with a song in her heart and no idea of the perils that stand between her and Kansas. When my doctor explained hormonal imbalance as a major cause of depression it all sounded so simple. I just needed supplemental hormones. I had no clue that poppy fields and flying monkeys were waiting for me too.
Describing depression has always been that weather icon with the sun peeking out from behind a cloud. From childhood my inner sunshine was concealed. Cheering my teenage self out of bed each morning became routine. Early feedback taught me that depressed people are …. well, depressing. So, I designed a pretend personality to use publicly.
This girl was funny and upbeat. By college I deduced not everyone started the day overcast and lived in fear their true feelings would leak out. I sought solutions. Twenty five years passed before I found any.