I began to experience a deep depression in the eighth grade. That was the height of the "who is your crush?" period, and my go-to response was silence. That year, for the first time, and only time, I lied about having a crush. I picked an unassuming boy so that my friends would stop asking me that question, but that only created further taunting whenever we saw him. After that died down, I reverted back to silence.
In the ninth grade, I developed extreme anxiety. My focus in class was greatly affected. That was the year where I started to like math less, when before it was one of my favorite subjects.
Whenever I was around people in quiet spaces, like a classroom, the chatter in my head was the loudest. Whenever possible, I would take tests alone in another room, or even outdoors. At one point, I took a week or two off from school because every day I would have multiple panic attacks, sometimes to the point of dizziness and vomiting.
I feared that my peers would discover that I was a lesbian. To some degree, I feared that they would somehow know what I was thinking, and the only way to stop that from happening was to overwhelm my mind with a waterfall of thoughts so no particular thought could be detected.
I remember one afternoon, walking outside along a path by the science buildings towards the parking lot and feeling like the air had become walls, and I couldn't breathe. The space around me was getting smaller as all the walls were pushing in on me. That was one of many days where I left school early. My sister, Kristina, who was a senior, took me home during lunch.
Throughout junior high and high school, although I was often anxious and sometimes depressed, I always really enjoyed school, learning and being involved. I was never outdone on spirit days. I was in Leadership class, drama and on the track and Cross Country teams. I was involved in various clubs. It was almost like I had two identities: the happy, involved, friendly, outgoing and upbeat Emelina, and the isolated, quiet and lonely Emelina.
I had completely cut myself off from a large aspect of my identity, and it wasn't an easy journey integrating the two Emelinas together. It's hard for me to remember if there was ever a time when there was just one cohesive Emelina. I had my first crush when I was five-years-old, and that was the same year that I consciously put myself in the closet. I suppose one-year-old through four-year-old Emelina acted as a whole human being, but I don't have memories from that time, only home videos.
At 19, when I left for Randolph-Macon Woman's College, a supportive, matriarchal, homonormative environment, for the first time I felt like I was living as my whole self.
I'm now 27, and for the past 5 years, I have been actively practicing self-love, and I have also been doing a lot of work in the mental health field. My mom, Michelle Minero, is a therapist who specializes in eating disorder recovery. She created a non-profit that I joined, Eating Disorder Recovery Support, Inc.
We created an online community together, the Love Warrior Community, which uses creative expression to foster healing, self-acceptance, body acceptance and self-love. I also edited her book, Self-Love Diet: The Only Diet That Works.
With eating disorders, and other mental illnesses, no one knows specifically what causes them, but what is known is that it's partly genetics, and the rest, environmental triggers.
The past three to four years, I was diagnosed with bipolar two disorder, and then paranoia. I know that it's partly genetics, and the other part I think has a lot to do with staying in the closet for so long, living in fear for so long and choosing coping mechanisms like isolation, silence and dissociating myself from aspects of my identity and my emotions.
I don't regret anything about my past. My past has made me who I am today, and I am proud of who I am, and I love who I am, every aspect of myself, including my mental illnesses. I don't like to use the term "mental illness" because it implies that there is something wrong with me, and there isn't. Yes, my experiences are different from others who don't have bipolar disorder or paranoia, but every individual's human experience is different and unique to them. There are seven billion people on this world, and we all share common human experiences, but we also experience life in a way that is unique to each of us.
I don't see my bipolar or paranoia as weaknesses, but as strengths. This doesn't mean that I think living with either is easy or comfortable, but through living with both and working through them, I have grown a lot, and I appreciate that. I didn't always hold this belief about my bipolar or paranoia. At first, I struggled a lot with it, and I didn't accept those aspects of myself. What changed? I chose love over fear. Having my Self-Love Diet practice helped me to accept and love those aspects of myself unconditionally.
When I was working within the eating disorder recovery community, I realized that everybody has a self-love journey. Whether it's healing from an eating disorder, other mental illnesses, past traumas, accepting one's sexual orientation or something else altogether, everybody has their unique self-love journey.
A huge part of my self-love journey has included writing. Writing helped me to find my voice. Writing helped me to fully accept and love my sexual orientation, and writing helped me to fully love and accept my bipolar disorder and paranoia.
For the past five years, I have been using self-love writing as a tool in my Self-Love Diet practice. The Self-Love Diet comes from my mom's book, Self-Love Diet: The Only Diet That Works. The Self-Love Diet is regularly offering yourself love and exploring and practicing self-love through your relationship with your spirit, mind, emotions, body, relationships, culture and world.
Self-love writing allows me to explore any aspect of my life that I want to learn more about, and it helps me to practice unconditional love to the parts of me that I don't yet love unconditionally.
This January, for my New Year's resolution, I'm recommitting myself to love. I am going to try my best to practice self-love writing every day this January. I started doing this five years ago.
This January marks the 5th Annual 31-Day Self-Love Diet Writing Challenge, an online event that my mom and I created together.
I am inviting you to join us.
We will share a daily Self-Love Diet writing prompt on the Love Warrior Community, as well as on the 31-Day Self-Love Diet Writing Challenge Facebook event page. You can share your writing on the Facebook event page. You can submit your writing to be published on the Love Warrior Community, and you can also write in your own journal.
Forming a new habit takes time, and developing a Self-Love Diet practice takes time. The Facebook event page isn't just a space for you to share your self-love journey, but it's also a space to witness others'. By having the support and encouragement of a community of people from around the world each exploring their own self-love journey, you will be encouraged and inspired to continue practicing yours.
Every moment when I choose love over fear, I am transforming my life into a more peaceful existence. For the past five years, love has won out more than fear, and it has made all the difference.
All we have are moments. I try my best to make each one filled with love, and I invite you to join me.