The Cycle

Hey. My name is Melina, I’m 20 years old, and I’m from MN.

This is my story.

I thought that I grew up like any other kid. The oldest of 5, I was the first to do everything: first to walk, read, and eventually—go to school. I loved going to school because not only did I get to learn, but I got to hang out with friends that I thought loved me. But as I got a little older, my classmates started to make sure that I knew I was different from them.

The bullying and teasing started when I was in third grade. I was a “overweight nerd” who was a teacher’s pet. I became more self-conscious of my weight at that point and started to cling more closely to my academics than my friends. Looking back now I see that third and fourth grade were the years I started to base my self-worth based on my grades/hard work and my relationships. 

So, when I was in fourth grade and my friends told me that they hated me and never wanted to talk to me again, I was devastated. I didn’t know what to do. I remember walking in the door that afternoon and bursting into tears in my mother’s arms. The following months only got worse as they began to bully me and tell me exactly what they thought of me. My principal tried to get involved, but it only got worse. They expected my classmates to give an apology, but instead they only said that they hated me, had written about me and gossiped about me in “slam books,” and would not apologize for it. By the end of fourth grade, this was one of the circumstances that led to my parents homeschooling me. My classmates reached out to me in the summer and fall of the next year and apologized, and I naively thought that they were my friends again. That was not the case after I found out that they had been writing down conversations that I was having with them over the phone and then slandering me at school, ruining any remaining relationships I had for a fifth-grader.

On top of that, my mom had ordered harder curriculum, and I struggled to keep up in a couple of the classes, which led to lower grades. I would burst into tears if my report card showed anything less than an A. I thought my parents would be disappointed in me if I failed, but in reality I was only fooling myself.

When I hit puberty, I became extremely self-conscious of my looks and my weight. The lies that my friends had placed in my heart began to take root, and most of my teen years I would look in the mirror and despise myself. I hated how I looked, behaved, and what I wore. I wished every day that I could become “not-me.” Anything but who I was now. I searched for anyone, anything to tell me I was enough, and every single time they failed, which sent me deeper into this hole of self-hatred. I remember the day I realized that I would never be enough for anyone. I gave up. “Why even try?” became my mentality. I gave up on finding friends, and put the walls up around my heart so no one could get in. 

I started losing weight when I was 14. At first it was for health reasons, but then it became attention reasons. People complimented me, and it fed into my worth being based on relationships. But in the back of my mind I was constantly questioning their compliments and motives, and it left me restless. “Do they only love me because I’m thin? See, no one loved you when you were big.” At the same time I started to up the ante on my life accomplishments so I could surround myself with an ego big enough to cover my insecurities. I was humble and joyful, but I did it all for the wrong reasons. Queen of my town, black belt in karate, A-honor roll every semester, 4-H state qualifier, youth choir director, Bible study leader, and overall awesome role model. If only I took my own advice…

This was the cycle that I fed from the time I was 12 until a year ago.

I started living as a missionary 2 years ago. Boy, did that change my perspective on life. I did retreats for middle and high-school students, and every single day encountered women with my story, living lives with self-worth based on so many unworthy people and things, women who hated themselves and thought that was ok. I tried to lead them, but most times my first year it was a battle because I found myself every single day struggling with the same demons in my own closet. I lived my whole first year with the same mentality that I had my entire life: if you just do enough and act the way people want you to, maybe you will be loved. That didn’t work. Actually, it made my first year extremely difficult, and made me extremely selfish. I lost who I was inside of my work, and although it worked for a while, when the crap hit the fan—I realized that I had never really lived with a strong identity of who I was: a beautiful daughter, sister, woman, and friend that is so worth loving. I’m so sad that I didn’t realize it earlier, because I spent that whole year fighting my own heart and shutting my team out, and I’m still trying to reconcile some of  those relationships.

Coming into my second year of missions work, I hit the brakes on everything. I got to the point where I decided I could not live another day the way I was, and I needed to make a radical change: I needed to learn how to love myself for who I was. The last year has been the hardest and most rewarding year of my life because of that. I learned how to be vulnerable and share my struggle with other humans so I didn’t have to be alone in them anymore. I allowed my team to see the real me every day instead of hiding my imperfections from them. I allowed myself to use my brokenness to bring others healing, which brought me healing. I let the women of my life speak truth to my heart and remind me how loved I was. I let the men of my life tell me that I am beautiful and I actually believed it. I learned to love how I look, even when I started to gain weight again because of my lifestyle. I looked in the mirror and liked who I was. I started to see that I was worth the time and energy I put into myself and that others put into me. I used to justify my destructive thoughts and behaviors by telling myself that I deserved it, but instead I’ve began to let myself know that I am worthy of love: from myself, and others.

It’s always going to be hard. The past still rears its ugly head sometimes, and sometimes the truths I’ve learned get covered up by lies again. But I don’t let it remain that way anymore. I know I’m worth more than that. I know that my life will never be a bed of roses without a few thorns along the way. I know that I won’t always be chosen by everyone, but I’m not desperate anymore. I just remind myself to be patient and wait for the right people at the right time. I know what it feels like to be really loved, and I can’t and won’t settle for anything less anymore. In times where I feel alone (or am alone) I love myself by indulging in my passions now: writing and playing music (and Netflix…). And always and every day, I remind myself and everyone around me that I am so worth loving, and so are they.

Hi, my name’s Melina, and I am SO worth loving.