So many of the posts I’ve written over this past year have dealt, in one way or another, with learning to love and accept myself as I am. I’ve written about my struggles with infertility, body acceptance, depression, perfectionism, more body acceptance . . .
Over and over, I’ve talked about learning to reject the internally and externally imposed judgments and criticisms for my perceived failures as a woman in our world. And over and over, I’ve moved through those pieces from a place of struggle and self-loathing to a place of strength, love, resolve, triumph. Sometimes, writing the post itself was the catalyst that brought clarity to my thoughts and took me from incredible pain to something approaching peace. The catharsis of communication is real, and powerful.
And yet. Two days after writing my most recent body-acceptance post, I was sobbing on the floor of my shower because I was so terrified of the weight I’d gained. Over a year after publicly repudiating the idea that infertility made me less of a woman, I considered breaking up with my partners because if I couldn’t “give” them a child, what could I possibly bring to a relationship?
I’ve been feeling like a fake for trying to write inspirational anti-perfection manifestos when my therapist just called me out on the exact same self-judging thought habits that have been making me miserable since I was 13. I’ve been feeling like I’m misrepresenting the catharsis and triumph of my writing as somehow permanent, a lasting shift in my mental landscape, when really it’s all just sandcastles at the water’s edge.
Here, then, is the truth: Moving through self-judgment to self-love isn’t just a process of tearful revelations and cathartic breakthroughs. I wish it were! That would make for a much more satisfying story. We could play some dramatic music as we solve our problems, one by one. We could montage it Rocky-style.
Sadly, the process of learning to love yourself is actually far from glamorous. Self-love on the daily (so to speak) is kind of a grind. A slog, even. It’s fighting the same battles, over and over, and maybe just holding your ground most of the time.
It’s a practice. It’s a tiny, fluttery muscle that we have to flex over, and over, and over again.
So here’s my un-glamorous narrative. My daily mental health workout routine, if you will.
Some of my daily practices of self-love fall under the umbrella of physical self-care:
- Eat three meals a day (bonus points for eating at least one vegetable!)
- Sleep at least seven hours a night
- Take all of your prescribed medications
- Go to yoga at least once a week
- Go outside at least once a day
Treating these self-care techniques as “rules” for me to follow help me to take care of myself even when I might not feel like I deserve to be taken care of. They give me structure and keep me strong so I can keep doing the things I love. But the rule structure has a downside, because my perfectionist-brain likes to reinterpret that list of “things you can do to help take care of yourself” as “things you must do in order to be a morally acceptable person.” That’s where the second, less visible part of my practice comes in.
The tricky part of practicing self-love, for me, is identifying and rejecting the negative narratives that can dominate my thoughts. And that’s hard because they’re like the wallpaper of my brain, the background hum I’ve stopped hearing because it’s so constant and familiar. How do you fight something you can’t even see?
Therapy is a really useful tool for seeing the invisible threads of my thoughts. So are my cadre of insightful, loving friends who are willing to call bullshit on my brain. So is meditation. So is writing. (Hello!)
My most recent self-love thought project is to red-flag the word “should” in my thoughts and words. I’m not forbidding myself from using it, but my goal is to stop and think whenever I hear myself say it. “I should eat more vegetables.” “I should go for a run.” “I should stop watching so much Friday Night Lights.”
The goal of the project is just to observe. How do I feel, when I’m thinking or saying that “should?” Where in my heart or mind is that message coming from? How many times a day do I say it or think it? How many times do I follow through on that thought?
What I’ve been noticing is that a lot of my “should”s feel really automatic – they occur like clockwork, without any indication that there’s an intelligence behind them. They feel heavy, and tight, and sort of grey. They feel . . . tired. I feel tired, from carrying around all of my “should”s. And seeing that makes me think that maybe I can put some of them down, just for a little while.
So that’s my practice right now. Catching thoughts and letting them go, when I can. There’s no sweeping breakthroughs, no triumphant revelations. Some days are a lot better than others. Some days it feels like the marathon I thought I was running is actually just some stupid freaking treadmill, and the lack of a finish line is the world’s worst joke. There’s not much I can do about those days. But, hey, there are other days, right? And speaking of jokes, let me leave you with my dad’s favorite:
If anyone knows where the Carnegie Hall of loving yourself is, give me a shout. I want to play there when I grow up.