By Rachel W.
I've spent most of my life trying to be perfect - perfect daughter, perfect student, perfect body, perfect everything - and that ended up making me physically ill. I don't know when I first started disliking myself, but for the majority of my teenage years and early twenties, I was convinced I was failing an imaginary standard.
Whenever I felt I was failing one of the standards I had set for myself, I would stop eating. Once, when I was 16, I lost a stone in less than a week after getting in trouble for having a party when my parents were out of town. Despite everything, I was convinced I didn't have an eating disorder.
It took me nearly a decade to accept that I used food to punish myself and stop these thought patterns. When I was underweight, I would constantly get complimented for being thin, making it another standard I felt I had to maintain and stopping me from seeing it as a problem. Although I was ill, I fit society's expectation of what a woman should look like, and it's only been in the last couple of years that I've realised how much this has affected how I see myself.
The process to get better started when I was diagnosed with non-epileptic seizures - a condition very similar to panic attacks. I started having seizures when I first moved away to university. These were triggered by the pressure I put on myself in the first few months to be cool, pretty, fun, social, but also to get high grades and be a model student. Because of my weight issues, the seizures were misdiagnosed by my doctor as me just being physically weak. It took another five years before they were finally correctly diagnosed, and my doctor referred me to CBT therapy, which changed my life.
It was a long process, but it helped me learn to stop trying to control everything in my life and accept that I had flaws and imperfections. It's taken me a long time, but I finally like myself.
I'm not physically perfect, but I am healthy. My tattoos have helped me see my body as something beautiful, a canvas for art, rather than something to try and fix. I might not be perfect, but I am now friends with amazing women who like me for me, not a mask I present to the world.