Loving myself was always the goal. After watching the rise of the self-love movement and generally being at peace with who you are and how you look, it’s what I wanted for myself. I was depressed for most of my adolescence, which carried all the way through to my adulthood.
Back then, self-love looked an awful lot like a hurdle competition. All the obstacles in my way were the things about me I hated, but could learn to love—or change with some help. My face, my body, how I looked at and treated myself; it all had “solutions” if I tried hard enough.
I got coaching (therapy), training (practicing being genuinely nice to myself), and a strict diet of consuming only good and nourishing things. While yes, this does apply to food, it also applies to the other things I consume. Books, movies, television, podcasts all had to fall into my idea of “good” and “nourishing” before I really invested my time and effort into it.
I even stopped joking about my mental illness because it’s actually a serious issue and it felt like the right thing to do at that point.
I started the whole journey by trying to fake it until I made it.
Then I made it.
It was 2019, right before the pandemic. I’d been at my former job for over a year. I was doing yoga weekly, every Thursday at 8. I saw my friends frequently and always had the energy to go about doing everything I needed to do.
At this point, I had been in therapy for two years, and my doctor was telling me I was making great progress. In both work and my personal life, things were quiet, but not stifling. It was a calm I’ve never felt before. It was all very strange.
Turned out, I was happy.
I had a metric ton of joie de vivre, I was positive, always smiling, and I actually meant it. I had done it. I won the race. I passed the finish line with a photo finish. I smiled, waved, and accepted my laurels.
Then it all went away.
It’s not a race, it’s a skill
All this time, I thought loving yourself was like being an Olympic medalist. You train really hard at your prime, but once you get a medal, you’re an Olympian forever. The medal, the accolades, and the title will stay with you forever, even after you’re officially retired from the sport.
Learning that loving yourself wasn’t a one and done thing was a hard lesson to learn.
Turns out, you can actually go back to the realm of self hatred and disgust with very little effort. I mean, if you can stop loving another person after they hurt you, what more yourself? You’re literally with yourself 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You see everything you do, know everything you think, and hear everything you say. If you’re not your own biggest fan, it can be very easy to grow sick and tired of yourself.
Loving yourself isn’t a race, it’s a skill you have to hone for the rest of your life. Once you think you’ve achieved self love, things don’t always stay in the status quo. There’s no finish line when it comes to stuff like this.
I indulged a little too much on things that brought immediate joy (chalk that up to my addictive personality), and not enough on the hard parts of being happy (you know, like discipline).
I thought I achieved my personal definition of “perfection.” To me, “perfect” was not having a problem with myself. I didn’t constantly berate myself for eating too much, having feelings towards questionable men, and just plainly existing.
But I grew complacent. I thought that all this progress couldn’t possibly just swirl down the drain because of all the hard work and time I put into it. Again, I was mistaken. Like an athlete in the off season, I was no longer in prime performance mode. I indulged a little too much on things that brought immediate joy (chalk that up to my addictive personality), and not enough on the hard parts of being happy (you know, like discipline).
And before I knew it, I was back on the misery machine.
It’s the little things that get you
The best year of my life on record was 2019 (so far, at least). Many of you may attribute the degradation and destruction of my personal view on myself to the beginning of the global pandemic that paralyzed the world for months, but that wasn’t actually it.
Strangely enough, I remember the start of the pandemic as some of the happiest days of my life. Yes, the world was on fire and we all had to stay home or catch a potentially deadly disease with no known cure (at the time), but I was initially handling it all very well.
It was like that one popular Viktor Frankl quote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Of course Victor Frankl and I were in two very different situations and it would be an insult to compare my staying home to an actual Holocaust survivor, but that’s about the gist of how I was feeling at the time.
So the pandemic didn’t really get me. What actually got me was myself. I allowed myself to slip back into bad habits (binge eating, mindless swiping) and I didn’t feel the need to correct my behavior.
I’d blame myself for not getting enough work done, belittle how I look and myself in general as a self-deprecating bit, and on and on. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was slowly unwinding the rope I used to haul myself up from the pits of despair and used it to make a noose.
I was being critical, mean, and generally unpleasant—to myself. Instead of practicing small, kind acts for myself, I ended up doing little things that paved the road towards hating myself again. I indulged all of these nasty, negative thoughts about and never thought much of it until it was too late.
Misery loves company, and I was my own drinking buddy.
Self-care is not self indulgence
One of the major things I got wrong about loving myself was indulging my every whim. While some whims are more benign than others, the truly sinister ones like to disguise themselves. I always did what I wanted, but rarely what I needed.
Instead of a race, now I liken loving yourself to a back alley brawl.
For example, I wanted (and honestly still do, sometimes) joke about how the only benefit to being clinically depressed are the jokes I get to make. Playing into my mental illness like this for the bit is what my psychiatrist likes to call a classic coping mechanism.
It seems kind of harmless, but the more you do it, the worse it gets.
Talking ill of yourself is the fastest way to fall off the love yourself wagon. That’s my indulgence. It may look different on other people, but we all have that one seemingly minor thing that’s actually an entrypoint to toxic behavior.
Instead of a race, now I liken loving yourself to a back alley brawl. You always have to have your back against the wall when it comes to the things you do and how you perceive yourself. Alertness in detecting an imminent threat is the most important part of the whole deal. The imminent threat could be a comment about how you look like how you feel inside (not great) or feeling disconnected from the people around you.
Find the threat and destroy it.
Or you know, just talk yourself down and try to avoid doing it again.
Loving yourself is always going to be a struggle. It’s a skill you have to exercise all the time. It’s a full-time commitment, and at times, it’s easier to let go than to stay the course. You can always let go and run down the rabbit hole of melancholy, but there’s always a way back.