by Toni Velagic about a year ago in coping

29 Years In, and the Fight Continues


I don't know when it started. I just know that I've always lacked self-confidence. For 29 years of my life, I've had this little girl inside of me who likes to hide in a corner and hope that no one sees her. She would love to be a butterfly, but she doesn't know how.

I don't know when my low self-esteem and lack of confidence started, but you can bet I remember the first time that I started to build a wall around my self (metaphorically speaking). I was about four years old. Being four years old, I had just woken up from a nap. My parents were remodeling their bathroom. I found my dad and two of his buddies taking a break in the bathroom, still many many days from being finished. As any four-year-old can tell you, I adored my dad. I felt protected while sitting in his arms, even with two strangers in the room. I felt safe and comfortable while I listened to the men talk. Then I did the unthinkable. I farted. It must have been loud because the three men in the bathroom suddenly started laughing. Normally, a four-year-old would laugh too, but not me. In my mind, these men, especially my dad, weren't laughing with me. They were laughing at me. I went to my room and cried. I was horribly embarrassed. What should've been a funny moment wasn't. That first little crack appeared in my self-confidence.

It stuck.

Fast forward to 8th grade. It's close to Christmas, and the choir is having a concert. I was signed up (I don't remember volunteering for this) to sign a song with a partner. She didn't show. So there I was, by myself, on stage, in front of 250 adults and family. I froze. I asked the pianist to start the song over. Do I remember finishing the song? No. Do I remember the room laughing? Yes.

It stuck.

I was a great student. Smart and a teacher's pet. I received my first B in 7th grade and my first C my Freshman year. I graduated 12th in my class. Did I ever hear "good job", "well done," or "I'm proud of you?" No. I heard: "Why should I go to your parent/teacher conference? They're just going to say the same thing." In my dad's mind, he probably said: "I don't need to be told you're a great student, because I know you are, and I'm proud of you." In my mind, I heard: "No matter what you do, it won't be good enough."

It stuck.

Who hasn't been called names as a child by other children? I was made fun of for my height, my glasses, my skin tone (I'm so white that my legs can turn blue when they're cold), and my bust size. I've been called a fat pig, fat cow, stupid, retard, and ugly. I've been called things that I dare not repeat. Those names?

They stick.

It's hard for me to make friends. As the years have gone by, the wall I've put up for myself has become quite large, and it's hard for most people to get in. I've become closed off and don't trust many people to be true to their words. This was increased substantially my senior year of high school because of a boy. We were together for just over 10 months, and one day he dumped me. Apparently, I was too boring for him. What hurts the most wasn't that he dumped me. It wasn't the lies that he told about me afterward (I only heard about them years later). It was the people who believed the lies. People that I had known for six years and had earned the title "friend." People who threw that friendship away and shunned me. I felt betrayed.

That betrayal stuck.

I know, I'm not in high school anymore. I'm not that kid anymore. Why don't I just get over it and move on? It's hard. It's not just about moving on. It's trying to convince that little four-year-old to believe in herself enough to find the humor in life. It's giving that 8th grader the courage to sing her heart out like she's the only one in the room. It's letting that teenager know that she's not a fat pig or ugly or stupid. That her family IS proud of her, even if they don't say it. It's letting that senior with a broken heart know that she's not alone.

It's been 11 years since I graduated high school. I'm still that kid, that teenager. I still have doubts. I still lack self-confidence. I wish I could rock that dress and heels. I wish I could stand on stage without turning bright red. I wish I had the courage to scream out to the world: "This is me. You can love me or hate me, but I choose to love me." I wish I had self-confidence, but I don't.

That sticks.

Right now, the fight goes on. I put on my mask and hope no one notices. It's hard to break out of that shell that I've put up for myself. I'm taking "baby steps" every day. In three days I have a presentation that I've been preparing for. I'm insanely nervous, but I know that I know the information better than anyone. I know I can do it and do it well. I know. I just have to convince myself that I know.

It's not just for me now, it's for my daughter. I want her to grow up with the self-confidence I never had. She won't be able to if I don't have that self-confidence, too. So I'll be fighting for her. Fighting all the self-doubt, the name-calling, and the shunning. For her.

The fight continues.

Toni Velagic
Toni Velagic
Read next: Never In the Cover of Night
Toni Velagic
See all posts by Toni Velagic