How My Middle School Experience Destroyed My Mental Health

Content warning: this article contains mentions of sensitive subjects including eating disorders and self-harm.

I think middle school was a little traumatic for everyone in different ways. Maybe the boy you liked didn’t feel the same way, or maybe that teacher’s class was too hard.

For me, middle school was where my struggles with depression, anxiety and eating disorders grew and festered. Going into middle school, I didn’t have many friends, so I guess that meant I was an easy target to mess with. For some reason, no matter how nice I was or how much I stayed out of everyone’s way, other kids at school made it their mission to taunt and tease me. At first, it didn’t bother me. But soon enough I was outcasted. The entire year of sixth grade, I was isolated. The isolation gave me a lot of time to think about what I was teased for: my weight, my appearance and what I wore.

Soon after that, I took it upon myself to try to lose weight. Before I knew it, my relationship with food was among some of my most toxic. Family dinners and Thanksgiving feasts became the monsters under my bed and drinking enough water to make myself not feel hungry became my favorite pastime. Unfortunately, the kids at school weren’t the only ones who made me hyper-focused on my weight and body. I remember my sister making a snide comment once or twice and I started to dread seeing my grandma, who usually added some type of comment about how much or how little I ate. I know it wasn’t to be hateful or mean but it still hurt just the same. In time, my body issues morphed themselves into pure self-hatred and her best friends, depression and anxiety, tagged along too. This trio introduced the worst part of all: self-harm.

To this day, I can’t say exactly why I started self-harming. Was it because I hated myself? Did I want to more drastically harm myself? All I know is, horribly enough, the act made me feel as though I was in control of my life and my actions. I wasn’t in control of what other people said about me or whatever comments they made. But for a moment, I was in total control of a situation that snapped me out of the numb haze I had been living in. But after sixth grade, things slowly got better.

I started going to therapy a few months into my seventh-grade year, after my parents found out about my problems. For a while, I resented them for the way they handled the situation. They made me feel as though my problems were the result of my lack of mental toughness and thick skin, not the way my peers at school treated me or the ideas of myself that the treatment formed in my mind. It took me a while to forgive my parents and understand why they reacted the way they did. They didn’t know how to approach their youngest child struggling with self-harm, depression and anxiety but they tried their best.

My journey to self-love and acceptance wasn’t easy by any means. The first year of therapy was tough. It’s hard to learn to love and accept yourself when you’ve been conditioned to do the opposite since your preteen years. There was a lot of struggling, frustration and occasional mental breakdowns, but I found that place where I feel completely and unapologetically comfortable with myself and who I am.  

Thankfully, therapy helped me realize that I am not what I was made to believe I was. I learned coping mechanisms for my anxiety, how to assess my moods, how to have a healthy relationship with food, and how to simply give myself a break. In fact, this October marks six years since the last time I ever self-harmed. So, if you’re struggling right now, I hope you find that place someday soon. Take it from someone who did struggle, it does get better.

Lastly, I know you’ve all heard this before but if you know someone who could use a shoulder to cry on or a friend to talk to, please be that person for them. Trust me, it makes a difference. The person you can be in someone’s life is extremely important and I hope you use than influence for good.

If you're struggling with anxiety or depression, UCF has resources available through CAPS. If you're not a UCF student, you can use these resources

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