[trigger warning: mental illness, self harm, suicide, eating disorder]
When I was fifteen I wasn’t happy. I had finally found a close-knit group of friends I loved very much, but I was also immensely unhappy and full of self loathing.
My mom had given me some of her old rings and I didn’t like the way they looked – I’ve always been more of a costume versus fine jewelry kinda girl – but I started wearing them because their stone settings were metal and easy to push hard into my skin. I wore them constantly, using my thumb to force the metal into my fingers. I had permanent, open cuts from this, but they fit perfectly behind the ring settings so no one knew.
Why I decided to do that wasn’t clear or overtly conscious at that point, but I did know it felt good. I hated who I was, and a lot of it stemmed from the symptoms of my mental illnesses I didn’t truly understand yet. I couldn’t control my urge to blink for two seconds a piece or make an uncomfortably high-pitched squeaking noise with the back of my throat. I didn’t have any power over my need to turn light switches on and off seventeen times before going to bed, or the impulse that almost surely followed where I’d get out of bed to re-lock the front door six times
I hated that I couldn’t control my body, and more than that I couldn’t control my mind. I had violent and sexual imagery on a loop in my head that wasn’t entertaining or pleasant, in fact quite the opposite. I heard a voice in my head constantly telling me I sucked and had no will power. I wasn’t worth of love and I was fat and ugly.
Comparing myself to the other people at my high school, especially the other girls on my dance company was easy. They were so much better than me at everything: dancing, classes, sex, looking attractive. Why did anyone even hang out with me? I genuinely had no idea.
All these thoughts and actions on a loop make it really hard to build up any level of self esteem. I had virtually none, which led to stopping eating to the point where I lost a lot of my natural pigmentation. I started hurting myself in a more obvious way, with cutting and burning. I was in a deep depression, compound with multiple undiagnosed and untreated disorders. I didn’t want to live anymore, it was way too hard. I tried killing myself a couple times in very naive ways. Things kept going this way for months and months.
When I was sixteen, I finally got in to see a therapist who promptly told my parents I was engaging in self harm which caused them to flip out. They’d guilt trip me about not being able to leave the house because they didn’t want me to kill myself while they were gone. They eventually took me to see a psychiatrist who told me I was too fat and prescribed me my first medication. Over the years, more and more meds would be added to that prescription page, causing me to gain more and more weight, making it even easier for me to hate myself and appearance.
By the time I was nineteen, I was in a loving relationship. He was my best friend and really wanted to date me. He said if we couldn’t date then we couldn’t be together. He was the only person I felt connected to, so I decided to date him even if I wasn’t interested in him romantically. That went on for a while and I eventually fell in love, although it was different than any of the other loves I’ve had. It was a combination of convenience, fear, and force that was a true representation of my lack of self love.
Regardless of how I got there, he really did help me. He encouraged me to take my medicine, to get help when I needed it, and to change psychiatrists when the one I had made me even more anxious. The new psychiatrist I ended up deciding on met me at one of my worst points. I was having multiple panic attacks every day, including at work. I had no control of my symptoms, and I was miserable.
She recommended I go see a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist, and that was probably the beginning of my self love journey. I had been able to slightly build up my confidence, and was a little more comfortable with my new body just because I’d been in it for so long, but making the decision to get the kind of help I needed, even if it seemed drastic, was an act of self love. I was putting my happiness and health first.
Six months of intensive weekly therapy, exposure, assignments, triggers, tears, sweat, and screams later I felt transformed. I still didn’t have much say in when my facial tics would pop up, but I had a firm grasp on what my anxiety was, where it was rooted, and what made it pop up. I understood how it related to my other disorders and realized that feeling anxious is a part of who I am, and it’s also not the end of the world.
Having my OCD and panic attacks under control allowed me to focus on my life in a more positive way. I had the mind power and energy to do things other than binge watch TV, sleep, and go to my job. I started keeping a blog in the purest sense of the term ‘amateur’, I explored new hobbies, and I even broke up with my boyfriend after six years. I quit my job and decided to believe in myself as much as I could because if not now, when?
Since then, I’ve made loving myself a huge priority. I continue to write in my Happy Journal every night, reminding myself of all the beautiful things in this life I’m grateful enough to have and experience. I embrace my body for how it currently is, even if I’d like to improve it. I try to dedicate time to making others’ lives better through random acts of kindness or simply sharing my experiences, advice, or service of being a sounding board. I’ve allowed myself to embrace the weird parts of me I’ve suppressed for so long, like my Synesthesia or interest in all things esoteric. I’ve found a man I love without hesitation, and know we both want to be with each other, we don’t have to be.
My life is full of color because I’ve poured it in here with intent. It wasn’t a quick or easy transition by any means, and it’s not a 180 degree fix either. I still take medications, I still have panic attacks, and I still get depressed in a deep way for periods of time. The difference is my bounce back rate from things like panic attacks and depressive episodes is much smaller, and I don’t experience them through the lens of self loathing. I know my body and brain feel a certain way, and I accept that. I love myself regardless of how much I’m currently hyperventilating or how long it’s been since I’ve changed out of this pair of pajamas.
Self love is unconditional, just like the best kinds of love. Self love is hard, just like the best kinds of love. Self love needs you, and you need it.
I talk about self love so much because it’s been such a key element in turning my life around. I know what it’s like to have a suicide note, I know what it’s like to feel hopeless. I also know what it’s like to turn that shit around and enjoy the hell out of living. We’re here to thrive, not trudge through, and it is never ever ever too late to start your journey.
That’s the reason I put so much effort into my e-course on self love, and I’m very excited to be sharing the things I’ve learned with you.
Now I want to know from you: WHY do you want to be happy? WHY do you want to practice self love? Hit reply and tell me!