My Self-esteem Was Shattered as a Child. Here’s How I Got It Back

Shellye Horowitz avatar

by Shellye Horowitz |

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self-esteem, bullying

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Eating disorders are tough to address, yet critical, as many suffer in silence. I was one of them.

I struggled with an eating disorder a few times in college. But I would vehemently deny it if confronted. Thankfully, I got the help that I needed and found my way back to healthy eating patterns. But the journey wasn’t easy. 

In hindsight, I’m certain that years of having an undiagnosed bleeding disorder was one of the factors that led to an eating disorder. I knew something was wrong with my body, but others told me it was in my head and I was fine. People minimized and denied my pain, bleeding, and other struggles. I didn’t receive the validation I needed and my self-esteem suffered.

So, I learned to ignore my body’s pain signals because I was told they were not real. Learning to ignore signals that are meant for protection isn’t good.

It started in grade school

I couldn’t keep up physically with the other children at school. My ankles and knees would hurt when I ran, most likely due to bleeds and microbleeds. But others would call me lazy.

I assumed that everyone else felt pain when they ran, and I was just too wimpy to handle it. I thought that everyone pushed through the limping and the shooting pain to become soccer stars. I believed the doctors and the teachers who told me I wasn’t trying hard enough.

I was relentlessly bullied and teased in elementary school because I didn’t fit in. No one ever explained why I didn’t fit in or why I couldn’t keep up. I was called lazy, ugly, stupid, and unpopular, and told that I belonged in a trash can.

I was picked last for teams. When classmates were assigned to be my partner for an activity, they loudly complained, as if I were subhuman and wouldn’t be affected by their blatant rejection. They complained about being “stuck with me,” and no one took into account the damage their comments would cause to my self-esteem.

When I cried, teachers blamed me for being bullied and said that my reaction only egged them on. If I wanted the bullying to stop, teachers said, it was my job to ignore the bullies.

Distorted messages

I ended up internalizing the messages I received from the adults, doctors, bullies, and teachers in my life.

The messages stuck.

The messages soaked in deeply.

The messages distorted my perception of who I was.

I thought that if I could be “perfect,” small, and unnoticed, then I would be less likely to be hurt. If I were quiet and unassuming, yet willing to volunteer and serve, I would be useful and not a burden. I needed to be as perfect as possible to be accepted, even if it were at the most trivial level. Trivial friendships beat bullying. 

Years of being called fat and ugly made me want to look perfect, and that led to unhealthy food behaviors. It was a rough time for me. My waking moments were hyperfocused on food behaviors, which took time away from investing in other parts of my life. It is not a time I would care to repeat. Through it all, I learned a critical and radical concept: I AM ENOUGH.


As a woman with hemophilia, this was a pivotal moment of understanding. I AM ENOUGH.

I may be unable to keep up with other moms, run a half-marathon, or juggle a job while running my child to all the activities they want to attend. But I AM ENOUGH.

I may struggle to keep my house clean or to make a solid meal because I am in too much pain from a bleed. Even so, I AM ENOUGH.

I migrated from one hemophilia treatment center to another before finally finding an amazing center that believes women and treats us. They validate my issues and look for solutions. I no longer fight to obtain appropriate care. They helped me understand that the struggle is real and that I AM ENOUGH.

Years of being misunderstood may have made me more sensitive. I may cry more easily or feel rejection more deeply. Yet, I AM ENOUGH.

Looking in a mirror may still be hard. Perhaps I will always fight the demons of not being “pretty enough” or “skinny enough.” Nevertheless, I AM ENOUGH.

I will not be perfect. I will not please everyone, even myself. I may not get the job, promotion, or date I had hoped for. No matter the reality or reason, I AM ENOUGH.

Understanding that I am enough is liberating. The crucial knowledge and belief that the core of who I am is enough is a change that allows me to go easier on myself. I am a woman with hemophilia living the best life I know how to live.

Elementary school was awful, but it does not mean adulthood has to be. I am continually learning that no matter what curveballs life throws at me, I AM ENOUGH.

This year’s theme for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is “Come as You Are: Hindsight is 20/20.” Join the conversation on social media at the hashtag #ComeAsYouAre.


Note: Hemophilia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Hemophilia News Today or its parent company, Bionews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to hemophilia.


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