Becoming My Top Priority

Ashley - Bellevue, Washington
Entered on March 1, 2008
Age Group: Under 18

I was born into a privileged family. My parents were high up in management at Microsoft, having joined at a time when all of its offices were contained inside the same building. My childhood home was a modern, custom-built mansion in Medina, Washington; my brother, sister and I lived in the lap of luxury. Yes, we were privileged, but we weren’t always happy. Mom and Dad brought work and finance troubles into the bedroom, which was right across the hall from mine. She was depressed and unsatisfied; he was intemperate and cruel. A precocious child, I spent my nights scared and staring at the wall, listening to their screams. Finally, they settled on a divorce. I was seven years old.

From that age on I’ve struggled with a staying sadness, perhaps the remnants of witnessing those caustic attacks and recreating them in my mind. My mother and father, meanwhile, remarried, leaving their depression and anger behind. If they could, why couldn’t I? At first I sought pleasure through my schoolwork, pushing myself as hard as possible. My perfect grades and near-perfect scores on standardized tests brought me admiration and special privilege from all sides, except mine: the inside. I grappled for further control. I next attempted to absorb happiness from those around me, clinging to my friends, some of whom took advantage of my susceptible emotional state. The original sadness escalated into a decapitating depression, and I frantically grasped at the only thing I could control entirely: my body. It’s not hard to hurt somebody you despise. Not hard at all.

After years of this ordeal, the resulting bouts with therapy and antidepressants, school changes which qualify as “new starts”, and many attempts to eradicate the pain I felt, I realized something. A nice bed, a large house, a trendy wardrobe, popular friends: they all mean nothing when you hate yourself. Possessions, relationships, and grades, these are transient. Any given day, such things can disappear. But, I told myself, as long as I am alive, I have me. I have my internal beliefs and my values and my talents. They are all that matter. Since then I’ve made small but significant changes in the way I see myself. I am my top priority now. I make sure not to hurt myself and tend to my injuries when I do. I don’t let others change the way I feel about things. Above all, I trust most in myself, though I take special care to love others. No, the world does not revolve around me, but my world revolves around me. This I believe: that one’s relationship with oneself is the basis for their quality of life. I believe that anyone can achieve happiness, no matter how they live or who they have to put up with, through the process of self-actualization. A good friend once told me, “If you don’t love yourself, you can never truly love another human being.” No truer words have ever been spoken.