My journey to happiness

Talia Bradley, article author, headshotI STARE INTO the antique body-length mirror mounted on the wall in the bathroom.

I examine the “flaws” I see in my seventh-grade self as I try to curl my pin-straight hair so that I fit in with the popular girls. I put on a mask of makeup, a short black skirt and an atrocious hot pink crop top, trying to conform.

When looking for friends during my sixth-grade year, the popular girls stood out to me. I started talk­ing with them, and pretty soon I was one of them. Allowing myself to fall into that situation became a learning experience for me.

When I walk into school, I am not smiling, despite the fact that I am with the popular girls. In fact, none of us seem to be truly happy. We all just trail behind our queen bee – a skinny, blonde girl with a dream figure and bright blue eyes that every guy falls for.

We all look so uncomfortable and out of place. I always wonder why I can’t be as happy as our “queen bee.” This unanswered question is my constant struggle.

Unhappiness and constant high anxiety follow me everywhere I go. I have no idea why I am not happy, even though I am with the popular girls. My father always tells me, “All I want for you is that you are happy.”

I always respond the same way.

“But dad, I don’t know how to be happy.”

By this time I usually started crying.

Disappointing him was never my intention, but that is exactly what happens. He turns his back, rolls his eyes, sighs, and then he is rather hostile. But I can’t blame him. He is doing everything he can do for me, as is my mother.

My sweet, emotional and rather introverted self feels horrible. My emotions go wild. I do not know whether I should throw a book in anger, or throw myself on my memory foam bed and cry.

My parents have no idea what to do with their desperately unhappy and helpless daughter, so they send me to therapy.

I thought trapping me in a room that smelled like old library books with an old gray-haired woman was stupid.

“How is this going to work?” I ask myself. “I know this is never going to help. I am not crazy!”

Admitting that I was wrong was hard, but I had to do it. Therapy helps.

Photo courtesy of Clare Kjome. Talia Bradley at Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis, a location she describes as “a special place where I have grown into the person I am today.”

I find myself astonished by the things I am telling Kirsten, the child psychologist, after being hypercriti­cal. She puts me through exercises that show me my self-worth, and she always tells me I am a strong, young girl. Through this experience I learn that the constant exclusion and overly high standards of being popular are having a negative effect on me.

Kirsten is my rock, and she has as much trust in my heart as my mother. I can tell her anything. I can smile, laugh and radiate happiness, but I am only truly happy at home and when I see her. There is never a negative thought that comes up in the conversations with her. She always points out the positives in me and my experiences.

Over time, with the help of Kirsten and my parents, I gradu­ally gain more self-esteem. They help me build the strength to be my own person and stand up for what I believe in.

But the final battle is school.

I decide to separate myself and ignore the popular girls who are having a negative effect on me. Not to my surprise, they don’t care that I left, and that just proves they aren’t true friends.

It is now two years later, and I stand in that same antique body-length mirror and tell myself that I will never let other girls change me again. I get the courage to throw out those ugly crop tops, hideous skirts and overly expensive makeup. I find friends that appreciate me and a style in which I am comfortable.

As my confidence grows, I become strong enough to make my own choices in life. I continue to develop as a person, as will everyone else.

I have learned to not let others change you, and that happiness will come with loving yourself.