I’ve never seen any life transformation that didn’t begin with the person in question finally getting sick of their own bullshit. — Elizabeth Gilbert
art by Carrie Hilgert
Therapy is great. It is particularly great when your therapist knows you better than you know yourself. My therapist isn’t quite there yet, but I have a friend who is. She has always been able to read me like a book, even/especially when I’m not admitting things to myself.
What she knows about me, and has been able to articulate in ways others have not, is this: Most who know me would describe me as assertive, strong-willed, all about (polite) “real talk”. They would be correct. But those traits don’t always describe me. In one or two areas of my personal life, I’m only sometimes assertive, and rarely a straight shooter (especially with myself). I will work to sustain relationships (of all kinds) that are obviously not working. I will not admit to myself when I’m falling in love or out of love with someone. I’ll allow myself to get stuck in a feedback loop of frustration with manipulative or unpredictable people.
As it turns out, that pattern of not honoring myself is just as harmful as other, more obvious patterns of self-injury.
I never abused substances, but I ignored my inner truth when it told me something hard.
I’ve never been a binge eater, but I suppressed my gut instincts.
I’ve never starved myself, but I obsessed over my appearance in other ways and engaged in negative self-talk on that topic.
I never developed a pattern of pushing loved ones away, but I ignored negative feelings because I could. I thought my ability to “manage” made me stronger, savvier, more emotionally resilient, better than other people.
I never committed self-harm, but I insisted that things that were not okay were “fine”.
The biggest gift — yes, gift — anxiety has given me is that it refuses to let me be dishonest with myself. If I’m uncomfortable with someone’s behavior, my stomach will churn or my head will spin. If I need more time to rest than I’m giving myself, my legs will start to feel rubbery inside. If I’m frightened, my chest will feel heavy and my breathing will feel labored. I know that many people without formal diagnoses of anxiety experience those feelings in difficult situations, but I never did. I suppressed my “gut” for so long, and now my body has taken over and insists that I listen to it.
FOMO, feelings of inadequacy, comparing myself to others (or to my own idealized version of myself) — I no longer have the time nor the emotional space for any of it. This means that if I don’t want to do something, and don’t absolutely have to, I don’t. It means that I take. Lunch. Breaks. It means that if I want to go to bed at 8:30 PM, I’ll go to bed. It means that I leave the house without wearing full makeup every single time — something I always thought was fine for other, prettier women, but not for me. It means that I will wear a two-piece bathing suit to the beach this summer. (Note: I am a size 6, and at my largest have been a size 8, but have always felt I was too ___ or not ____ enough to bare my midriff during hot weather. Screw. That. Nonsense.) It means that I devote time everyday to do something kind for myself, like this 30-day program literally called Love Yourself.
As frustrated as I’ve been with my recent limitations, I have never loved myself more. I always saw my worth in what I accomplished, what I could do, how I could make others feel. None of those methods of self-understanding were bad or wrong. They just weren’t the whole story.
I can extend compassion to myself now, or at least try. I love myself not only when I impress others, but when I’m gentle with myself. I love myself when I’m dressed up, manicured and wearing my favorite lipstick (let’s be honest, I will always love that version of myself), and when I’m wearing sweatpants, no makeup and have dirty hair. I love myself at parties and at home reading in bed. I love myself when I make someone smile and when I tell someone they’ve hurt my feelings.
To truly love ourselves, we have to truly know ourselves. I didn’t truly know myself until I developed panic and anxiety. Sometimes, the greatest gifts are wrapped in the crummiest packages.