Aviv Tomé grew up in San Pedro Sula, Honduras and is a proud Latina. From middle grade fiction to high fantasy stories, you’ll find all kinds of genres in her bookshelves at home and in Atlanta. As a writing student pursuing creative and dramatic writing, Aviv loves all formats of storytelling.
Getting to Know Me
I’ve always known that people love to put labels on everything. In school cliques, new relationships, or even college group projects, we’ve all been shoved into categories that make us easier to handle. You’re a nervous mess? You’re anxious. You’re always sad? You’re depressed. You’re a bit too unconventional? You’re problematic.
The first memory I have of getting labeled was in in middle school, when I got made fun of for being the weird art kid. I tried out for volleyball, soccer, and basketball, but nothing beat the excitement of playing with watercolors. So, while others bullied me for my paint-stained uniforms and a backpack full of sketchbooks, I remained unaware that people are multi-faceted individuals with more than one talent. I would’ve been happier if I hadn’t clung to other’s descriptions of me and instead looked from within to see that I was already someone before they labeled me. I was the artistic kid that doodled and got hit in the head with soccer balls during gym class, and that was perfectly fine. I wish I would’ve known earlier the peace that comes with knowing who you are.
It takes practice to learn how to listen to your emotions. At first, it will sound like muffled static coming from an old television. As you fiddle with the antenna, you will begin to receive signals. Eventually, you’ll sit in front of that television, watching your favorite channels, warm under a blanket and munching on popcorn. It will feel like comfort instead of confusion and uncertainty.
For years, I accepted the crumbs of other people’s affection and thanked them for their generosity. I was so starved for approval and a shred of love that I made excuses for less than average boyfriends. “He’s just in a bad mood tonight,” I’d say to my girlfriends when he didn’t let me go out for girls’ night. “He said she was just a friend,” I’d tell myself, as I tried so hard to ignore his flirty friendships. For years, I nodded and smiled until the numbness felt better than racing thoughts and clammy hands. I accepted less than what I deserved because I didn’t know how much I could handle. That’s what they don’t tell you about self-acceptance; once you have it, everything in your life changes.
Self-love will rescale the relationships you hold close to your heart. If they are heavier than your new limits, they will get thrown aside. You will have no time to entertain anyone who doesn’t respect you as much as you respect yourself. Your body will repel any offering that is less than ripe fruit and freshly cut flowers. There will be no more space for cheap trinkets in your jewelry box, only shiny pearls.
You will want to heal every cut, burn, and bruise your heart has lived through because you are ready to reconcile with the pain. You will have spent enough time with your heart to know every artery and ventricle that kept you going, even when it felt like you were bleeding out. Your heart is the strongest muscle you have, and if it survived all those critical nights, it can survive anything.
Self-acceptance is a non-linear yet intense healing journey. Don’t be scared to ask for help. Old patterns must be buried, and you might need someone to hold the flashlight while you dig. Asking for help is always the first step. It’s important to know that you cannot heal unless you admit something is wrong.
The first time I asked for help was during a New Year’s Eve party. I had a perfect dress and a plan to party the night away. I remember my friends signaling that they were going to the bathroom to re-apply their makeup, leaving me alone in the middle of the dance floor. In a matter of seconds, the people in the room doubled. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move. The music combined with strobe lights made me feel like I was inside of a plastic bag. Every sweaty drunk person seemed like a menace, and I almost crawled my way off the dance floor. Before passing out, I called my mother to come and pick me up.
I ended up welcoming the new year inside of an ambulance as an oxygen tank stabilized my heartbeat. I had just experienced my first panic attack. Soon after that, I was sent to therapy and prescribed Clonazepam.
Therapy was a trial-and-error period for me. My first therapist labeled me as a spoiled and arrogant teenager. I ended the session early by cussing at him and storming out. I almost swore off therapy as a waste of time, until my mother pushed me to give it one more chance with someone else. Since then, I’ve been with the same therapist for almost four years. He didn’t label me, and that freedom allowed me to explore who I really was outside of mental illness.
Now, I am a proud mental-health advocate. I’ve learned, the hard way, that therapy isn’t something to be ashamed of, or talked about only through whispers. Teenage me laughed at the concept of therapy, despite suffering from crippling anxiety. I didn’t know the cause behind the needles under my skin, the shortness of breath, and the blurry vision—and I didn’t know it was treatable. I am thankful every day that I decided to take a step towards healing. Life is brighter once you promise yourself proper care.
People will be quick to judge where you are even if they don’t know where you came from. Don’t let it stop you from progress. You deserve happiness and peace in your life. Don’t settle without knowing how much better things can get.
Learning to love and accept yourself can be the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. I can write you endless pages of beautiful metaphors—but in all honesty, there is a reason people sometimes say that healing might hurt more than breaking. It is a special kind of selfishness to unapologetically put your happiness first, because only you will understand how hard that was to do in the first place.
I ask that whoever reads this takes it as encouragement to embark on a self-acceptance journey. Take your time to simmer in the possibility and use my words as reassurance that this is worth pursuing. You will never again forget to love yourself, because once you experience true peace, nothing else will measure up. After that, you will not be able to crawl back into the dark and stifling cave. You will remember the sweet bloom of spring and dances basked in sunlight.
I say this confidently because at the height of my depression, I’d sit in the sun and I couldn’t feel the warmth on my skin. But even then, I kept fighting the intrusive thoughts and promised myself that one day I’d experience true happiness. I hope that one day you find peace living outside of labels.
You are the only one who can define your place in the world.