Often when I talk about my experiences with my mental illness, I reference fourth grade. For me, fourth grade was one of the worst years of my formative youth. I was bullied constantly and cried basically every single day of the school year. Even though I loved learning, I stopped participating in class. I kept my head down (usually to try and hide the tears) and my mouth shut. This was the year I began to explore self harm after accidentally burning my wrist/forearm when baking cookies once. I remember going into school the next day, my skin red and inflamed and still in pain. I remember one of my bullies grabbing me by the wrist, asking what was wrong with my skin. Between winces, I told her it was nothing. She dropped my hand, looked me in the eyes, said, "you deserve the pain" and then nonchalantly walked away. #micdrop
This is the first time I can distinctly remember questioning if I deserved love...as a fourth grader. How old are we in fourth grade? Nine? Ten? Nine year olds should be worrying about school and sports getting harder, figuring out where their interests lie, and maybe their first crushes. I on the other hand was contemplating if I was a good person because almost everyone my age seemed to think I wasn't. I thought about hurting myself as a form of punishment - that maybe if I absolved my "social sins" I'd be accepted. I thought about all the reasons why my bullies thought I was so horrible and I genuinely started to dislike myself because of them. Maybe I really am annoying. Maybe I should stop being an overachiever. Maybe I really am ugly both inside and out. I remember wishing that I could just go to sleep and wake up as a different person - someone who got along with everyone. Someone who didn't have hairy arms. Someone who didn't always raise their hand in class or was a teachers pet. Someone who didn't have braces or teeth that looked like a beaver. Someone who wasn't so sensitive or cried all the time (all reasons I was bullied in the first place). Someone normal.
Before fourth grade, I do actually remember liking myself. I remember being curious and carefree. I remember already having anxiety and perfectionistic tendencies, but I remember being happy and unafraid. I remember being proud of the things I was accomplishing. And I know this all sounds kind of silly, because what does an eight year old have to be proud of right? But that's the point of this whole post. From the ages of 9-23 I let like a handful of other peoples' negative opinions of me taint how I saw myself. That's 14 years. 14 years of letting other people convince me I was shit. 14 years of hating the unique things that make me, well, me. 14 years of falling out of love with myself, thinking that maybe I didn't deserve love at all.
One of the hashtags I try to use on a daily basis with this blog's Instagram account is #loveyourselffirst. Self love is one of the most powerful tools we have, but it's one I feel we underuse the most. My entire life I've been looking for love and acceptance from others. I almost killed myself trying to be the best daughter/sister/family member I could be. I studied and trained as hard as I could to be enough for my teachers and coaches. I floated around friend groups, not really letting anyone from those groups in, not really belonging to any of them, just kind of existing on the perimeter, scared of even more peer rejection. I put myself in relationship after relationship hoping some guy would understand me enough to be able to fix everything that I thought was wrong with me. (Yea, because that was the totally logical solution...not).
As cliché as it sounds, no one can "fix" (I put fix in quotes because I don't believe anyone actually needs fixing) your issues but you. Others can help you reflect and be self aware of those issues, but they can't cure you. Only you can do that. For 14 years I let people take away my self confidence and self love and for 14 years I searched for that confidence and love in other people. And I don't want to sit here and blame my years of anxiety and depression on those experiences or those people. I know I let the words of those bullies affect me. I made the choice to believe them rather than believe in myself. It's a habit I continued on with into my teens and young adult years. A habit I'm so glad I'm finally breaking thanks to a crap ton of therapy, journaling, reflecting, self-acceptance, and self-validation.
At the end of the day, no one has to lie down with you at night except for yourself. And I can only hope that you can fall asleep content with the human you are - not because anyone else is happy with you, but because YOU are happy with you. And I know that's something that's really hard for some people. You know that meme about laying awake at night thinking about every awkward thing you've ever done? That was me, except it used to be all the things my bullies used to say to me. I know it's really hard not to let others get you down and it's especially difficult to navigate now with internet culture, trolls, and #haters. And I know that the concept of self love is also kind of scary. I used to tell my therapist one of the reasons I'm so hard on myself because I don't want anyone to think I'm arrogant or that I think I'm better than anyone else. And it took me forever to realize there's a difference between loving yourself/being confident and being a big headed jerk.
So I urge you to sit and reflect and to hold onto at least one thing that you genuinely do like about yourself. Hold it and care for it and nurture it and let it begin to bloom. It could be a physical trait, maybe you have envy worthy hair, or a killer smile, or a unique eye color. Or it could be a character trait. Maybe you're ridiculously good at doing math in your head, or are really good at listening and being there for your loved ones, or you have the strongest work ethic and determination known to man. It could be something spiritual. It could be a compliment from a coworker or boss. It could be a memory of something great you've accomplished in your life. Find something, anything, and love it, grow it, and cultivate it. Water that little seed of love and soon it will bloom into something truly magical.
It's hard and it feels stupid and like a cliché at times, but you really do have to be the source of your own happiness. You have to start being easier on yourself and accepting you for who you are. You just have to. Another cliché, but that Oscar Wilde quote "be yourself, everyone else is already taken", isn't wrong. You are the only you. You are the only unique collection of elements, cells, DNA, and genes that exists. To quote Charlie Bartlett (yes I love that movie), "Well, see, that's my whole point. I mean, you could've been born a single cell organism on the planet Zortex. In fact, given the odds, it's probably more likely, but you weren't. You were born a human being. And not just any human being in the history of human beings, but a human being that gets to be alive today, that gets to listen to all kinds of music, that gets to eat food from every culture, that gets to download porn off the internet. So, really, you have everything to live for."
But really, you do. You have EVERYTHING to live for. There are days it may not seem like it, but you do.
I know this post is kind of all over the place, but here's the moral of the story. Today is Valentine's day, meaning we're supposed to be thinking of those we love the most. Well, today I want to challenge anyone who reads this to think about their relationship with themselves. I'm so sick of love songs with the message that you aren't anyone until someone else loves you. I'm tired of the love stories and quotes that promote needing someone else to be completed. You, my friend, are already the most complete you can be. You are already someone, a great someone, capable of unimaginable things. I (and those that love you) see every great, amazing, fantastic thing there is about you. I hope you can at least start to see those too. And that before you give all your love away, I hope you keep some of it for the person who deserves it the most. YOU.