TW: mentioned Eating Disorder
I grew up in a family that closely tied personal value and worth to success, even if this was not always overtly said or aimed at me. My father made it clear that he felt all people who were not doctors, lawyers, engineers, or otherwise well-paid and well-educated, were worth very little and frankly, deserved the misery and pain society inflicted upon them. He made constant jokes about “burger flippers” and “bums.” It was all highly ironic, considering my dad never applied himself in school.
Nonetheless, I grew up to measure my own value by way of my own success, even if I despised the idea of applying those metrics to anyone else. I became a perfectionist in everything I did, never satisfied, never enough, no matter what I did. I joined debate because I wanted a new way to prove myself – this event was self-torture from the start.
I used debate as a way to tell myself I was worthless – if I couldn’t win a round, if I couldn’t win a tournament, if I couldn’t go undefeated, it was all pointless and I was clearly stupid, incompetent, and unloveable. I was clearly a burden.
I spent two years upset with myself and my abilities, blaming every lost round on myself and attributing every round we won to my partner at that given time. It was always “we won” but always “I lost.” I never really got out of that trap, and I still have issues with separating my own worth as a person from my success as a debater.
Senior year, I switched partners (again) and ended up with one of the most turbulent human beings I have ever encountered. I’d known him for a long time, and we were already much closer than I had been with my previous partners. I knew how he behaved and I knew how it would affect me, and that is where the cloudy, convoluted part of our partnership – and our friendship – lies: he has helped me, and he has hurt me.
He refuses to receive criticism – if I say anything that is not 100% positive about his debating, he becomes irritable and avoids me outside of round. He compliments himself after every round but for the majority of the time, ignores my contributions.
Then he’ll turn around and tell me that I am his favorite partner, that he loves me. He’ll hug me and tell me I’m his best friend.
But “you’re my favorite” segues into him comparing me to his previous partner, even though he knows that she and I are best friends and that I’m already insecure about my debating skills enough as it is. I’m “his favorite” but he’ll warn me against the things that she did that he didn’t like, and then imply or outright say that I am his favorite because I do not argue or put up a fight.
And I don’t put up a fight, I let him lead because I am afraid of losing someone so close to me. Someone who is sometimes one of the only people who seems to care. He is very, very good at cutting through the haze of anxiety and dissociation I live in. He hugs me before rounds and tells me he loves me after. He knows I need support and love, and that I need these things to be openly, obviously, plainly expressed, or I will find a way to twist them into some kind of cruel, vindictive action.
He tells me to be calm, to step outside of my mind, but he just feeds my fear and paranoia. He will shut me out with no reason or explanation, and literally just ignore me before jumping straight into hugs and I-love-you’s again. It makes me wonder if it’s a conscious decision to manipulate me, or simply the fact that I am overly sensitive and he can be overly and intentionally insensitive.
He is well aware of the fact that I have suffered and do suffer from an eating disorder, but continues to make insensitive comments and bring up triggering topics. He has purposefully said things he knew were going to hurt me. I once had some kind of panic attack in front of him while he was discussing weight loss and jean sizes – he just asked why I was looking at him weirdly. He has looked me in the eye and told me about what motivates him to lose weight. He calls me “skinny” when I do something well. Sometimes I wonder if he is testing me, seeing how far he can push me before I tell him to stop.
My outlook on debate, however, has improved. I’ve become less pessimistic, neutral but not optimistic. I attribute this partly to his affirmations, but mostly to the team’s culture and my friends in debate. I no longer cry after rounds, but at times I still come home feeling worthless. It’s a work in progress, and so is he.