Category Archives: Self-Esteem

My Acne Story

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Acne is a sensitive subject for me. It has been a significant source of my insecurity for a very long time. Even now that I am older and my acne is [usually] under control, I still become very self-conscious about my “bad skin days.” For the past couple of years or so, I have been able to find great comfort in hearing about other people’s experiences and struggles with dealing with acne. I thought I’d share my acne story too. 🙂

Yay, Puberty…
I started getting my first pimples in the fifth grade. It didn’t even start to bother me until some of my classmates asked me about it — “What’s that on your forehead?” Ah, the catalyst for years of self-consciousness. My skin started becoming oily, and I developed blackheads on my nose. I started washing my face every day, but when that didn’t seem to be enough, I turned to makeup. I used my mother’s foundation almost every morning to conceal every blemish as best I could.

Middle School & High School
The severity of my acne peaked through middle school and high school. I would describe it as moderate acne. It seemed like when one pimple healed, a few more popped up the next day. And I was a such a “picker.” I remember crying about it sometimes. Before bed, I’d go into the bathroom to brush my teeth, but I wouldn’t turn on the lights because I couldn’t stand seeing my own reflection in the mirror. My doctor prescribed a topical antibiotic. I didn’t notice much of a difference in my skin (except increased irritation) so I was finally referred to my first dermatologist. I was on an oral antibiotic for a little while, but a prescription topical retinoid seemed to provide the most improvement, at least for a few years.

College
Once my skin seemed to be under control for the most part, I eventually stopped the prescription retinoid and just used over-the-counter products for a while. At this point, I was better about cleansing and treating my skin consistently. I was on the ProActiv system for a year or two, but found drugstore brands to be just as good and cost-effective. When I was diagnosed with depression a couple of years into college, all of the emotional stress began manifesting itself physically, and my acne seemed to come back in full force again (which didn’t make dealing with depression any easier of course…). Eventually, I was back at the dermatologist’s office, this time for a combination of topical antibiotics and benzoyl peroxide. My skin got a little bit worse before I started noticing an improvement again.

Post-College & Present
I sort of came across the most effective remedy [for me] by accident when I was prescribed birth control pills for the first time. The unexpected side effect of clear skin seemed to indicate that most of my acne was actually hormonal. For the first time since I hit puberty, my skin was actually pimple-free.

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Of course, this is not to say that what has worked for me will work for everybody. There is no one-size-fits-all remedy for acne-sufferers. Many people have even been able to find great improvements with a more natural, drug-free approach. It took me many years to figure out how to control my acne. I’ve stuck with a consistent skin care regimen, making sure to cleanse and moisturize daily, as well as apply adequate sun protection. Over time, you start to learn what your skin needs to look and feel its best. I only wish that during that period of trial-and-error, I was better equipped to deal with the emotional issues that came with having acne.

My skin is far from perfect, and I still get breakouts (especially during that time of the month), but instead of longing for “perfection,” I’ve learned to make more of an effort to just take better care of my body and become more comfortable in my own bare skin. My skin is much healthier now than it was years ago, but I’m still working on building my self-esteem back up.

I’ve had people make rude and judgmental comments about my pimples before, and that always fueled the fire of insecurity in me. I’ve never had anyone sit down and tell me that my acne didn’t make me hideous or unattractive. I think having acne held me back from being more comfortable in social situations. If I was having a conversation with someone, I’d always assume that they were looking at my zits, and not at me.

So I’m here to tell you now that acne doesn’t make you ugly, or unclean, or stupid, or unworthy. It may take some time to find what works best for you, but in the mean time, understand that your acne doesn’t define you or lower your value as a person. I know that sometimes it can feel like people are looking at you with a magnifying glass when you’ve got angry blemishes on your face, but nobody’s going to bed at night wondering why you had those big zits on your chin.

How have you dealt with the physical and emotional issues of acne? I’d love to know your story too. 🙂

Mindful Monday | On Mattering

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I usually think of myself as the type of person that seems to blend into the background. Throughout my life, I’ve had people point out to me how quiet I am (although ironically, such remarks come from people who seem to talk more than they should!).

During my therapy session today, a subject which I don’t think about much came up — whether or not I thought I mattered. I realized that I don’t really consider myself an important person. I often believe that other people — their lives, their triumphs, their tribulations, their feelings — are all more important than any and all of my own. It’s such a self-destructive way of thinking, and it felt painful and embarrassing to admit out loud.

Part of me wants to recoil with unease at saying “I’m an important person.” It’s strange how patterns of negative thinking can make positive thoughts seem sort of uncomfortable sometimes. I feel pangs of guilt when I mention an accomplishment or otherwise toot my own horns. I grew up believing that drawing attention was mostly a bad thing. “Modesty” and “humility” are virtuous characteristics, but those of us that constantly struggle with that inner voice of self-criticism or self-loathing need a good dose of healthy pride on a regular basis.

When I catch myself feeling guilty about being proud of myself for something, I think, “No. I beat myself up over most things almost all the time. I deserve to feel good about this. I matter, this matters, and it’s awesome.” I’ve had different therapists tell me to do the same self-esteem exercise: “Look in the mirror and tell yourself how [insert positive human trait here] you are.” It can feel incredibly silly and self-indulgent, but I think it helps stir the pot for more positive self-talk when done consistently. Understanding that you are a person of extreme value is a big step in overcoming self-criticism and self-hatred.

Do you ever feel like you don’t matter? How do you overcome those feelings?

Mindful Monday | Fitting In

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The sense of belonging is an important basic human need. I’ve often thought that the issue of “not fitting in” was a concern reserved mostly for children and young adults. Yet sometimes, I find myself worrying about it, far beyond those high school years.

I worry about fitting in with friends, co-workers, acquaintances, even family (both my own and my in-laws). Even when surrounded by friends and loved ones, it can be very easy for me to feel like the odd one, and a little bit out of place. I remember those first feelings of “not fitting in” when I began recognizing the cultural divide between my “American side” and my “Filipino side;” it was hard to fit in with other Filipinos because I only spoke English, and sometimes it was hard to fit in with other Americans because I don’t look like most Americans. It was uncomfortable straddling that fence. At times, I felt like I didn’t really belong anywhere. I didn’t “fit in.”

It’s only recently that I’ve started to feel okay with myself. I’m still coming to terms with my differences and shortcomings, but I’m trying not to let my flaws or unique qualities become barriers that prevent me from establishing a sense of belonging with the people in my life that matter. I know it can be hard to feel like you’re part of the group, when you sense that might be the most insecure, strange, or flawed person in the room. I think my husband, Jon, has been helping me a lot with overcoming that. I love that I can totally be myself with him, and I want more people like that in my life. I think that if you ever feel pressured to change or to become something or someone else for the sake of feeling like you really “belong” with those around you, then it might be time to find other people to associate with.

Mindful Monday | “Real Women”

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“Real women have curves” has been such a popular body-positive mantra for a long time now. I’m all for fighting body-shaming and fat-shaming, and helping women feel beautiful in their own skin, but my problem with that saying is that while it specifically empowers women of bigger sizes and shapes, it alienates all other women on the opposite end of the size spectrum. It’s as if to say that all women who don’t have curves aren’t “real women” at all, simply because of the way their bodies look. Not very “body-positive,” is it?

I’ve never been big, or curvy, or voluptuous. And I probably never, ever will be. There are times where I thought my femininity was somehow diminished by my size… that I looked too “boyish,” or bony, or skinny. Men want “real women” with curves, right? I’ve received my fair share of “body-policing” from people with boundary issues, thinking they have the right and obligation to comment on the way my body looks. “You should eat more.” “You don’t have a butt.” “You have no boobs.” “You’d be perfect if you gained just a little more weight.”

Instead of pinning certain body types as “good” and others as “bad,” I think it would be better to encourage people to be accepting of all shapes and sizes and seeing all women as real people.

Have you ever struggled with fat-shaming or skinny-shaming? What do you do to make yourself feel good about your body the way it is?

Mindful Monday | Beautiful Things

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A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of finally watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (which I do highly recommend). The above quote is a line from the movie that really resonated with me. To give you a bit more context: In the movie, (don’t worry, no spoilers) Sean Penn’s character, Sean O’Connell, is attempting to photograph a rarely-seen snow leopard… “They call the snow leopard the ‘ghost cat.’ Never lets itself be seen. Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.”

My initial thought of that line was that humility and modesty are beautiful characteristics, and that there’s something inherently intriguing about a little bit of mystery.

My other thought was that there’s great beauty to be found in hidden or overlooked places, whether it’s within the depths of the remote wilderness, or behind the plain, dusty cover of an enthralling storybook.

I think our idea of beauty has become extremely carefully commercialized. We often think of beauty as being very scarce, or even unattainable… that it’s something we all want, but only a few ever truly have or are. We also think of beauty as being very apparent… bright, shiny, expensive, colorful, dazzling, loud. But broadening our perception of what is beautiful can help open us up to finding the unappreciated, un-talked-about, un-photographed, un-hyped beauty all around us, whether it’s in things we see on a daily basis, places we visit, or the people we meet. Not all of those things demand our attention, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t beauty among them.

What do you think about how we see beauty today? What are some beautiful things you notice around you that others don’t?

Mindful Monday | Comparison

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I compare myself to others more often than I’d care to admit, whether it’s in appearance, intelligence level, socioeconomic status, etc. I think that being in this day in age of social media, it’s much easier to compare ourselves to others. We don’t even have to regularly (or ever!) physically encounter the people we compare ourselves to. Facebook, especially, is a treasure trove of idealized versions of people all over the world. It becomes easy to lose sight of the goodness we have in our own lives when we are constantly bombarded with carefully-manicured status updates and photographs.

I think it’s important to take some time once in a while to step back from the rose-colored lenses of social media. If we keep comparing ourselves to others and believing that we aren’t as attractive, or as happy, or as smart, or as accomplished, or as popular, we start to forget our own good, unique qualities; becoming “what I think the world wants” starts to overshadow “what I want.” I want to worry less about being “as good as” or “just like” other people, and focus more on trying to be the best version of myself instead.

Do you ever compare yourself to others? How do you pull yourself out of that negative mindset?

Mindful Monday | Little Acts

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I feel like I am still quite far from where I want to be, in terms of emotional well-being, but I always have to remember: Any progress — no matter how small — is still progress.

I know, it can feel incredibly frustrating and disheartening when the journey seems never-ending — even more so when you end up having to take a few steps back, but I think it’s important to keep context in mind. When you’re feeling anxious or depressed about how far you still have to go, stop for a moment and think about how far you’ve already come.

Where I want to be can feel like eons away, but looking back, I am certainly nowhere near where I used to be a year or two ago, and I’ve learned so much about myself and what I want and who I want to become. Emphasize your strong points. It may seem a bit self-indulgent or embarrassing to think about what makes you an incredible person — but do it. If you’re constantly beating yourself up in your head, chances are you probably aren’t giving yourself enough credit. Take pride in your accomplishments and abilities. Take pride in what you learn along the way, and whatever steps you take forward, no matter how small or inconsequential they might seem at first. It’ll make the journey far less intimidating.

Mindful Monday | Shame

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I know that nobody is perfect. I know that everybody makes mistakes. But when I’m overwhelmed by anxiety or fear, sometimes I will entangle my mistakes with my sense of self-worth. I feel like I have to constantly remind myself that my mistakes do not define me. My shortcomings and flaws do not define me. What should be momentary guilt is quite often replaced by deep, prolonged shame.

But mistakes are nothing to be ashamed of. For some reason, it is so much easier to amplify the negative than it is to focus on the positive. I think the first step in overcoming this is to recognize triggers; be mindful of when the feeling of shame sets in. Be mindful of recognizing mistakes and identifying them as just that — They are not testaments to weakness or stupidity. They are not measurements of personal intelligence or value. They are simply attributes of being human.

Mindful Monday | “Success”

While perusing a Good Housekeeping, I came across a little true-or-false questionnaire that tests one’s ability to “let go” of the insignificant strains and worries of life. Of all the statements, I thought this one was the most interesting:

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been taught that “success” had a very narrow definition: achieving socioeconomic wealth, status, and power. That’s why the above statement seemed so contradictory at first. I thought: “What does that even mean? Doesn’t your job title and how much money you have have everything to do with what success is?” For a lot of people, that may very well be the case. But for many others, the idea of success is a lot more personal and meaningful.

Some people find success in maintaining great relationships with family and friends, or in being dedicated parents/caregivers. Others find it in doing their best to stay healthy or physically fit. People may also find spiritual success in testing and strengthening their faith, or in giving back to their community, or in helping others. For these people, success is less about “What can this get me?” and more about “How will this make me feel?” and “Will this help me become the best possible version of myself?” It’s more about finding a sense of personal purpose.

And while not all of us may find our purpose behind a CEO’s desk, or in a Swiss bank account, there are certainly countless ways that we can make the idea of “success” or very own.

What does success mean to you? What are some of your goals for personal success? Do you consider yourself successful already? 🙂