I was 9 years old when I first began to struggle with my identity.
I hit puberty long before the other girls in my school, and by the time I was 12 I'd grown breasts. I'd experienced menstruation at a young age too and remember being utterly terrified and ashamed of telling my mum what was going on.
It all went down hill from there.
I was bullied a lot by the girls, catcalled by older men who didn't realise I was young enough to be their daughter, and had experienced continuous taunting by the boys in school for having boobs.
Knowing what I know now, and understanding the intense overwhelm of it coming from all directions, as a pre-teen it was horrific being portrayd in the kind of light that I was; particularly as I'd always been an anxious child anyway.
Eventually, it turned into agoraphobia. I stopped going out when I was 15, simply because of the fear of being stared at, whistled at, catcalled and seeing those that I went to school with, outside of school in normal clothes. Coupled with things you'd see on the news post-simpsons at 6pm, alarm bells were ringing so I spent the vast majority of my teens hiding in fear.
I would sit in my room, watch harry potter movies and draw images of my body and label the various parts I was ashamed of and held an enormous amount of hatred for, despite being so young. Desperate to be able to go outside without fear, but chained and shackled by it, I would only go out when accompanied by someone I trusted.
I remember writing 'ugly fat legs' and 'puffy red hair' when in actual fact, I had simply come into a curvaceous body well sooner than the girls in my school and would later come to find the curly girl method too.
I had a hatred for clothes shopping, which is something that still lingers to this day. With my fears of the outside world being prominent enough, add in the fact that clothes sizes are non-inclusive and that I'd had to shop in the woman's section, only making me appear older than I already looked.
Flash forward to being 30 years old and I still struggle but not to the same extent. I went through therapy to overcome my fear of the outside world, which overtime, and likely due to growing into my body, would become a success to an extent. I still hold certain fears, and regularly only venture into the outside world when accompanied, but for the most part, I do okay.
The concept of identity for me, it's always been a challenging one and I have so many stories that all equate to the person I am today.
Which is why I find it interesting that before knowing this very challenge had appeared with the focus of identity, that me and my mum would have a conversation the night before about mine.
I've spent onwards of 20+ years, trying to find myself only for life to put it all on hold.
I've done the eat, pray, love thing. I've read atomic habits and how to unf*ck yourself, but to no avail has any of it helped.
I'm nearing 31, and it's intriguing to me that this challenge would appear, at a time when I'm only now establishing mine by doing 'the thing' as me and my mum call it.
'Do the thing' she'll say.
The thing is anything you're holding back on, due to lack of confidence and fear of a terrible outcome.
I did the thing recently, my partner hates it, but I love it and he constantly redirects my worst fear, by redirecting the conversation.
I bought the dreadlocks. The dreadlocks I was too afraid to buy when I was a teenager, and I love them.
I bought the jumpsuit, the baby pink boiler suit that I was terrified I'd look horrendous in. It fits my figure in a way that I'm no longer ashamed of.
I cancelled my gym membership, rather than shaming myself into coupling rigorous exercise and fad diets like we've been taught as human beings.
I don't need to be slim to be attractive. I don't need to be confined to societies standard of beautiful to feel and look it.
I also don't need to dress conventionally, and whilst I don't dress to distract, it's also not my problem if someone finds themselves distracted by what I choose to wear. As long as there's respect, it's not my problem.
I've been working through old therapy techniques I learnt when I had agoraphobia, to establish my identity in a way that's fulfilling, but not intimidating and with support and encouragement from my friends and family, it's working and naturally, I'm regaining the person I always wanted to be, by just doing 'the thing'.
I've really struggled with the concept of identity for a literal lifetime. So for this challenge to arise, at a time when I'm establishing myself as a person, I'm here for it.
So here's to growth from within. To growing into the people we always wanted to be, and for never giving up on ourselves. Here's to throwing away all the distractions and simply being.