To those who feel like they don’t belong,
I know exactly how you feel.
Growing up, everywhere I went, everything I did, I always felt like a visitor.
I tried so many different activities: dance, gymnastics, soccer, and cheerleading, but I was not good at any of them. Repeatedly, I felt broken down.
Even in my own body, I didn’t feel as though I belonged. I had low self-esteem because I didn’t know who I was as a person. So, for a long time, it was easier to try and be like other people.
When I was in seventh grade, one of my friends, who was very popular, dyed and cut her hair. She had a lighter complexion and lighter hair than me. Even so, I went to the salon and asked for the same cut and color. Practically everyone in school started making fun of me for copying her.
And that’s not all.
This same friend had a small button nose, much different than mine. At night, I would go to sleep, putting pressure on my nose, hoping I could change its structure. And my body was, as people would say, “bigger boned” than other girls in my school. As the boys complimented many of my peers, they made fun of me, calling me annoying, ugly or even stupid. I not only didn’t think I was beautiful, but I felt disgusted in my own skin.
There was so much pain inside me that I developed poor coping mechanisms, including self-harm and eating disorders.
Thankfully, during my last two years of high school, I had a lot of classes in the art wing and started taking pottery, painting, sculpture, and drawing classes. At first, I enjoyed hanging out in the art wing because it was away from my locker, where other students often bullied me. But then, I started to realize I had talent.
I drew a lot of still lifes, with charcoal and pencil. There was one pastel drawing that gave me so much pride. It was a lion with the Leo zodiac sign hanging from its mouth and wrapping around its paw.
My interest in art grew so strong that I decided to pursue it in college. That’s where I drew a self-portrait of a professional photographed picture. Leaves partially covered my face, and I was staring through them. Literally and metaphorically speaking, it was as though I was beginning to reveal myself, to see who I am and what I like. My teacher displayed the portrait, and people commented how much they liked it.
That’s when I began to realize I needed to stop copying other people and instead ask myself, “Who is Allie? Who am I?”
Through art and writing, I began to express myself, which led me to put in the work to live a better life.
Three years ago, I went to a psychiatrist who suggested I had autism, which explained a lot to me. Also, these last few years, I have been diagnosed with several physical and mental illnesses, including problems with my heart, anxiety, depression, personality disorders, and complex PTSD. Ultimately, doctors recommended I get a service animal, which I did. His name is Leo. He serves many purposes, including medical alerts and helping me with my social anxiety. He’s amazing. For example, if I have an anxiety attack and am crouching over on the floor with my hands over my head, he’ll come over to me and push my hands away from my face.
Learning more about myself has allowed me to embrace myself more, see my beauty and take the initiatives necessary to live a healthier life.
At 27 years old, art remains a huge part of me. When I first started painting, it was strictly roses. Then, I moved on to random landscapes. After that, I drew a couple of dogs, and I loved it. Sure enough, people started requesting commissions.
Now, I sell portraits of animals.
I create art that brings families happiness and a timeless way to remember their beloved pet. It makes me feel good to add joy to people’s lives,
While I still struggle with depression and self-esteem issues, I have so much more self-confidence than I once did. Recently, I gained the courage to send a video of me painting to music to America’s Got talent.
Art has given me a healthy coping mechanism and an avenue to heal from my pain. It is helping me discover who I am and making me proud of the woman I am in the process of becoming.
And I know art can do the same for others. Currently I am pursuing a master’s degree in art therapy. I want to be an art therapist so I can help children and adults with disabilities express themselves, cope with their challenges and discover their true selves through art.
With love and hope,