Today I am celebrating the person who deserves my love most in the world, but doesn’t always get it. Myself.
Some of you may know that the past few months have not been easy for me. In late November and early December I was spending entire days curled up in bed. Sleep and the YouTube vortex were my only escapes from the relentlessly circular negative thoughts in my brain. I lost my appetite and stopped eating. At one point I realized all I had eaten for the past several days were two clementines for breakfast and instant ramen for dinner. As my negative thoughts played on repeat, some subconscious part of my brain started bringing up images of self-harm.
These images weren’t violent or bloody, and there was no sense of physical pain connected to them. I would see myself as though I was outside of myself, and I would drag a knife over my skin creating patterns as casually and as absent-mindedly as you might tear apart a napkin or straw wrapper while you wait for your food at a restaurant. It was almost artistic. In these images my body was about as important to me as a piece of paper. I wasn’t connected to it and it didn’t feel anything.
These images scared me, and so did the fact that I didn’t seem to have any control over them. They were so subconscious that most of the time that I didn’t even notice them until they had been flashing through my mind for hours. Like a song you have playing in your head all day, but it’s in the background and you don’t realize it’s there—until suddenly you do, and you become aware of how much it’s been annoying you. But the awareness doesn’t help, because you can’t get it out of your head, and now you can’t stop noticing it and it irritates you way more than before. I couldn’t make these images stop.
But as much as these images terrified me, consciously thinking about cutting myself still brought gut-reactions of fear and disgust. I was still afraid of the blood and pain, and so I figured I was in the clear, I clearly didn’t have the guts to actually do it.
Then things got worse. I reached out to someone I thought was a close friend, but who, it turned out, did not care much about me at all and was actually quite toxic for me. After a fight which included them telling me that they couldn’t be bothered to figure out if I was serious or just looking for attention, I decided it was time to cut that person out of my life, which was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Two days after that, in a very low moment, I lashed out at another friend. This was someone who actually had been there for me during a very hard time and always supported me. And through some kind of psychological back-bending I managed to blame every terrible thing I was feeling on them. I targeted the things they were most insecure about. I crossed a line and then kept going. I hurt them deeply and I destroyed our relationship. Unsurprisingly, this person no longer wanted to be friends with me after that.
So within a number of days, I managed to lose two of the people I talked to most often. And the loss of that second person meant I also lost one of my main support structures and one of the only things that still gave me moments of sunlight on my darkest days. I hit rock bottom, and it was around that time the thoughts of self-harm transitioned from subconscious to conscious, and from disturbing to desirable.
Before you freak out, no I did not end up cutting myself. More than once I had the knife out, and I traced it up and down my skin, envisioning the moment I would apply pressure and draw blood. But something held me back. I think I still hoped and trusted that things would get better. I knew that if I took this step, I wouldn’t be able to go back. I knew that what I was struggling with was only temporary, and I didn’t want scars to remind me of this dark moment years from now when I would be happy again. I knew that hurting myself, while possibly getting people to take the pain I was in seriously, would ultimately not help me. I needed people to notice I wasn’t okay, and I needed help, but I figured I could skip the cry for help stage and just go straight to actually getting help.
So I told my Mom what I was experiencing, and I contacted a therapist. I was diagnosed with moderate depression and I have been attending weekly therapy sessions ever since. I am nowhere near fully recovered, and I still battle the symptoms of depression everyday. But I am so proud of the progress I have made. I am learning healthier coping mechanisms, like going to the gym, listening to upbeat music, reaching out to old friends, and writing.
Most importantly, I am learning the importance of self-care and self-love. Self-love does not come naturally. It’s something you make a choice to do everyday. Just as you must choose to love another person even when they frustrate you, you must choose to love yourself, even when you didn’t accomplish the things you wanted to, even when you make stupid mistakes, and especially when no one else is there to do it for you.
Similarly, self-care is not as easy as it sounds. It’s not treating yourself to chocolate cake or a bubble bath. It’s about doing the things that are best for you and your mental health.
To me, self-care is…
- Getting enough sleep
- Going to the gym/getting regular exercise
- Good personal hygiene
- Making and eating nutritious meals
- Spending time outside
- Keeping your room clean and staying on top of daily chores/tasks
- Dressing in ways that make you feel confident, and putting effort into how you present yourself
- Making an effort to participate in activities and hobbies that make you happy
- Keeping up with bills and doctor appointments
- Keeping a schedule and having structure
- Having a social life, making time for friends and family
- Practicing meditation/yoga/journaling/anything that makes you check in with yourself and become more mindful of the present
- Taking breaks/vacations, and not waiting until you feel like you need one, but planning them out ahead of time so you never get burnt out in the first place
I am working on incorporating these things into my life as much as possible. The image I chose for this post is a picture of what I like to call my positivity board. I made it on a day when I was feeling down to remind myself of how amazing I am. I filled it with pictures that make me feel beautiful, pictures that make me feel loved, and quotes about mental health. It may seem silly, but looking at it makes me feel happy, and that’s all that matters.
Today I am my own Valentine, and I am committing to loving myself today and everyday.
I love you very much. Happy Valentine’s Day.