We all have some relationship with self-esteem. For me, I’ve always valued myself off others’ approval, which made it really easy growing up hating parts of myself. I am a finance and economics student, and I have bipolar and borderline personality disorder.  And growing up, I was in total denial I was gay because I was really conflicted about my right to be happy. I felt if other people treated me terribly, that that was valid, or I had to prove myself otherwise, deserving of it.

So my relationship with other kids growing up, particularly in high school, was really hit or miss. A lot of them gravitated towards me because I was funny sometimes, but they also rejected me because I was too flamboyant. Other times, it felt like it’s because you’re too feminine or you’re too flamboyant, but it may have been a combination of I’m also manic. But, yeah, so, other time, it was very personal and very like a fundamental rejection of myself. And so, I walked around moody and depressed, and I never really got on with anyone in high school, except, really, the teachers because I was a good kid in class and, like, they – they knew – I felt like they knew who I was.

But yeah, so my only, really, refuge from high school was Police Rangers, which is like Scouts. The instructor, particularly, I felt I had a good relationship with because she was really pragmatic. She was young, like, straight out of uni. She had been a teacher of mine in year 8 and just really got stuff done, and I really admired her. And Rangers was a place for, like, the weirdos of school and things like that. And I felt kind of good because I was doing something I really liked, which was, like, bush survival. And yeah, so that’s where my escape was in high school in the early years.

All the friends I had in there started to, like, treat me differently because, obviously, you know, if you’re being degraded in class, they don’t want to hang out with you.

And my first kind of positive experience of being accepted for my femininity and flamboyant-ness was in year 10 at the end of the year. There was this awards ceremony that the year 11s would do a production in, and the lead was off sick or whatever. And they’d asked me to step in, and I was, like, “Sure.  Why not?” And it was this, like, ridiculous, like, play within a play. It was Shakespeare. All of the – the whole cast was men and we were all, like, playing women and, you know, these ridiculous characters. And, like, the whole auditorium was laughing, and it was just so liberating to be told by people on the streets and, like, at my boss at work, like, how great it was. And I was, like, wow, I can really channel all this energy I have into drama and be accepted for it.

And then, yeah, so I went into year 11 being, like, this is where you can express yourself. You, you know, may be rejected in the halls, but that’s fine. And then the new teacher who replaced the previous one was, like, the polar opposite. She was cold, distant, spoke in a monotone voice, like, never acted anything out and was really – I felt like she had a power complex because she started to, like, shame me in class. Like, it was a big room we had – we did drama in, and then she’d sit me in the corner while she taught the class in the other corner. And all the friends I had in there started to, like, treat me differently because, obviously, you know, if you’re being degraded in class, they don’t want to hang out with you.

And so, I – I – I felt like I had this big sense of shame and, like, no self-worth. And so, I was just angry all the time. And it really, kind of, set the stage for my later relationships because I just – I didn’t know how to interact in a positive way with the right people. Like, I was – always gravitated towards the people who treated me like crap because I wanted to be accepted. And, yeah, I just wish I’d spent a lot of my high school years giving to the people who supported me. And I had a really great music teacher and a really great media teacher. Even my math teacher – like, because anything would have been, really, a better move. But, I suppose, when you’re in that position, you don’t think about it like that.

And probably the worst experience I had in drama was in year 12. I kind of reached the end of my tether with the teacher and everything. And one student said to me – we had, like, broken into smaller groups, and she said to me, like, “One in four men are gay. So one of your brothers or you are gay or a combination of the above.” The way she said it was so disgusted that I just – I, like, stood up for myself. I said, like, “You don’t know who I am. You don’t know anything about my family. Like, take it down a notch.” And she told me I was wasting my breath. And I kind of left there feeling angry and unresolved.  But it was what it was. I’d had that encounter a fair few times.

I went after people who treated me like shit, basically. I would put myself in really risky situations where bad things would happen to me; I would self-harm; I was an alcoholic.

What I didn’t anticipate was I got called into the deputy principal’s office later and was told I was bullying in drama, which was just maybe – like, I was just so shocked at the time. The drama teacher had told that I had, like, picked on this girl. And I had explained the situation, and I was still told, like, “You can’t. You can’t talk like that,” all this. I hadn’t sworn or – I was just mad. And I was more mad afterwards because she had heard what was being said about me and my family, and she let it go and then told – told on me, obviously. And I think after that time, I wrote one more journal entry because in my class, you had to write these diary entries, as you went through learning a script and whenever, that the teacher would read. And I had written, like, “You’ve destroyed my love for drama. I feel so, so crushed and alone. I – like, I don’t know what I’m doing,” like, really poured out my heart out in this journal entry. And again, it got sent to the principal’s office. Like, “This is not how you communicate. Like, you’re not meant to do this.”

I had, like, teacher-parent interviews and things like that and – and met with the principal before and, like, nothing happened. So I kind of, like, left there feeling completely alone. And I’d later heard from one of my previous teachers and stuff that she was bagging me out in the staff lounge, and it got back to my instructor at Rangers because she had taught there previously and still had friends there. And I was, sort of, like, thrown aside by all my previous teachers and even my instructor who I really respected.  And so, I just felt so misunderstood and villainised, vilified, that it was just, yeah, such a detrimental experience at the time.

So I left high school. I graduated high school. I didn’t leave. And I moved down to Perth for uni. But I was not in a good place. Like, I didn’t – didn’t have any friends; I didn’t know how to make friends; I spent a lot of years, kind of, chasing after people who wouldn’t approve of me. Or not even – not approve. Like, they did – well, they didn’t put in any effort or – sorry. This is coming across wrong. I went after people who treated me like shit, basically. I would put myself in really risky situations where bad things would happen to me; I would self-harm; I was an alcoholic. And when I did come out to my family and things, I was, kind of, at such a place where it didn’t – it didn’t help at all. And even when my mum said, like, “Don’t box yourself into being gay,” I thought she meant, like, don’t label yourself as this, kind of, be open to women. But it was more like, “You’re so much more than this one facet of your, like, person, that it doesn’t define you.” But I just was not in a place where I was hearing that.

And it took a long time and therapy and all that fun stuff to really realise that I needed to be putting the energy into people and activities that fulfilled me rather than trying to prove myself to people who didn’t care. And I realised that you’ve got to spend your time loving the people who love you and not waste your time on the people who don’t because it’s just exhausting and detrimental.

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