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Updated: Jun 21, 2021

Twelve. Age twelve was the first time that I was bullied for the color of my skin. I clearly remember running back home from the bus stop evening after evening and crying to my mother until all of the energy was drained out of my body. Even though I do not have many memories of my middle and high school years anymore, the ones that I do never tug at my happy heartstrings. Instead, they bring back daunting memories of the racial trauma that I constantly faced back then. That’s right, all of that trauma for being different from the rest, looking different than them, for being unique, for standing out. Situations that I had absolutely no control over. For all those years, even though I understood what was happening to me was cruel and unfair, I did not realize how big of an impact these experiences would leave on my life. My self-confidence faded away a little bit with every racial slur, every comment on my appearance. I could feel myself falling into a rut of self-loathing, again, for things that I had no control over. Reading this, I do not know if you are able to relate to my twelve-year-old self from a decade ago, but the one thing that I am sure of is that most of us have carried this type of weight at some point in our lives.

Research states that low self-esteem is not categorized as a mental health condition on its own, however, there are clear links between the two factors. Take my personal experience as an example. While my self-esteem continued to take a massive hit all of those years, I felt my mental health being compromised as well. From mere stress to depression; I have sometimes quietly, and other times very evidently, suffered through it all. On some days, it would come and go in waves. On other occasions, I could feel the hefty burden of these mental health issues for a prolonged period of time. In fact, to this day, I face some form of anxiety when I interact with someone I have not met before, or while socializing in a new setting. While I have come to accept the fact that these horrors of my past will always remain a part of my life, over the years I have made a lot of progress in combating my mental health issues.

Getting through high school was hard, maybe unfairly harder than a lot of my classmates had it. However, once I made it to my undergraduate years, I quickly learned that there was a whole new sea of possibilities for myself. Growing up, I have lived in about seven different countries. Surprisingly, it was in college where, for the first time in my life, I felt like I was exposed to a melting pot of diversity. It was a whole new world. I realized pretty early on that while we will always be surrounded by some bad apples everywhere, we can also learn to navigate past them and find friends in the good ones. I learned to be vocal and speak up when I was suffering through emotional pain, to ask for help when I was in need. Slowly but steadily, self-love started to flow in. I opened my heart to new experiences, surrounded myself with kinder people and built a more refined mindset for myself. This led me to become a stronger person, and advocate for those who are filling in the same shoes that I wore, all those years ago.

Recently, I had the opportunity to confront some of the people who put me through the painful circumstances that I faced. While I chose to approach them with empathy, I did not shy away from speaking my mind and showcasing the impact that they had on my formative years. One of them had the audacity to tell me that I doomed myself because I took their petty jokes too seriously, because my pain does not come even a tad close to the kind of hardships that other people across the world face, because I did not grow thick skin when I should have. I did not receive a single ounce of empathy from them in return. This enraged me to my core, not just for myself, but for all of the people who have found themselves in my position before.

For all of those reading who can relate to my words, I want you to remember that trauma is trauma. Your trauma does not compare to anyone else’s pain. You deserve for your pain to be recognized, you deserve to get the help that you need in order to fight these hidden demons and emerge stronger. I want you to understand that you are valued and that you matter. It is never too late to ask for help, or to speak up for someone who is clearly in need. Your experiences may have a lasting impact on your life, but they do not have to shape the person that you become. Do not let them. The next time that someone tells you that you are not worthy, the next time that you flip through a fashion magazine and feel a sense of self-deprecation, I want you to take multiple steps back and remember that you are above the standards of beauty, strength, and grace that society has set for you. I want you to feel the power vested in yourself to harmonize your self-esteem and your mental health. There is only one you in this universe, beYOUtiful.

All my love,

Shalini Tiwari

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