You Can’t Love Yourself Until You Like Yourself

Over the past four months, I have been on a journey to self love. I am sort of considering this to be an extension/the next chapter of my eating disorder recovery, and let me tell you it has been anything but easy. I’ve engaged in some wonderful communities through social media and I have found such positivity, I have challenged myself to look at my body in ways I hadn’t previously, I have examined the thought processes I engage in and challenged them, and I have been working to see positivity in all things about me.

But recently I have had a thought. When you’re starting to date someone, you almost never truly love them right away, you like them first. Perhaps a journey to self love is not so different from the journey of engaging in a romantic relationship. I can pinpoint a few specific parts of myself that I love: I love my legs, my sense of humour, my ability to empathize with people, and my smile. But when I look back on my life, I didn’t wake up one day and immediately love these things. I remember when I discovered that I was funny. I had always like to joke around in school, I enjoyed it and I liked it. I was never the smartest kid in the class, but I knew I could tell jokes and be funny. I liked this about myself. I was in the second grade and there was a girl in my class named Gabrielle. We weren’t great friends by any means, but we did happen to be the two tallest people in our class. It was our school picture day and our class was being organized by height to take a class picture. We were waiting for our class’s turn to go up for the picture and Gabrielle and I were joking around, something I did regularly, and she told me she thought I was funny. She said this while laughing and with a smile on her face. I realized that my humour had the ability to make people happy, and I liked that. I realized that this was something positive about myself. I may not have been very smart, but this was something I was good at, and I realized then that I loved that. This whole scenario led to me loving my sense of humour.

When I look back on my life with regards to the things I love about myself, each of these loves has their own origin story. My legs, smile and ability to empathize with people each started out as something about myself that I liked, and then they each had their own defining moment and grew into something I loved about myself.

So I’ve been thinking about all of this lately. There is a lot of talk on social media these days about self love. There are amazing social media campaigns encouraging people to embrace the parts of their minds and bodies that have been deemed by society to be unworthy; and I think that’s great. But the thing that people don’t seem to talk about as much, is the fact achieving self love is not something easy.

We live in a world that is constantly telling us that so many parts of us aren’t worthy of love, and that is harmful and it is detrimental to our mental and physical health. But what if we looked at self love from a simpler lens, what if we changes the way we looked at it? What if we started out with liking things about ourselves? If you go out on a first date, and you like the person by the end of it then there is much more of a chance that you could one day grow to love this person. In my opinion, the relationship we have with ourselves is the exact same.

Let me give you an example. Throughout my life (this was heightened during and after my eating disorder), I have really hated my stomach. I remember being maybe 10 years old and thinking to myself that if my t-shirts were tight that I had to suck my stomach in all day because it was too big. This has followed me throughout my life and when I developed my eating disorder my stomach was the part of me I hated the most. I would search Youtube endlessly for videos of ab workouts and I would work out until I could not stand. Now that I am in recovery I have gained a fair bit of weight, and (lucky for me) most of it went to my stomach. Despite this new weight being a symbol of my recovery and a symbol of being healthier, I still could not embrace it. I couldn’t even fathom loving this part of myself that I viewed as disgusting. I decided recently that I did not want to live a life where I am constantly hating myself and constantly putting myself down. I thought that self love was something I could just jump head first into. I saw all of these beautiful women on social media of all different body types and they were embracing every part of their bodies- even their stomachs. I thought that I could be like that too. So I sat in the bath tub and I just stared at my stomach, waiting for that light to go off that would make me love this part of me. Spoiler alert: The light never went off. I felt so discouraged, I just didn’t understand why I couldn’t love myself. Then a little over a month ago, I was shopping and as is normal when clothes shopping, some items I tried on didn’t fit right or didn’t fit at all. The thing that surprised me, was that I was okay with this. If this had been even a couple months earlier, I would have immediately engaged in extremely negative thoughts about myself, but I just shrugged it off. It was that moment when I started to like my stomach.

I don’t love my stomach yet, but we’re still in the dating phase. We’re getting to know each other, and we like each other right now. Things are going well, and I think one day we’ll fall in love. I know that that day won’t happen right away, we’ll have to court each other for a while, wine and dine each other. But one day in the future, I will fall madly in love with my stomach, and I can’t wait for that day.

The Self Care Paradigm

Have you heard the term self care? What does it mean to you? Do you think of face masks, shopping, pedicures, and bubble baths? Do you think of seemingly simple things, like brushing your hair, eating breakfast, brushing your teeth, going to the doctor, or doing laundry? Chances are, when you hear the term self care you think of the former as opposed to the latter, but what if I were to tell you that the latter is in fact sometimes more important than the former?

When I was in school for my undergrad in social service work, I had many professors talk to us about the concept of self care, and usually to them it included things like watching a movie, eating their favourite snack, or having a glass of wine. Now don’t get me wrong, I love all of those things, but hearing this from so many people caused me to buy into the notion that self care is glamorous and fun. I love a bubble bath and a face mask as much (probably more) than the next person, but what I have learned in recent months is that sometimes self care is so much more than that.

In recent months, my definition of self care has drastically changed. I now consider my self care to be things that are bettering me and my life, and that truly benefit me. I used to think that self care had to be fun and a treat, but I’ve learned recently that the stuff that really matters for my self care usually is not fun. For me now, self care is things like trying to wash my hair more than once a week, brushing my teeth twice a day, keeping my room clean(ish), doing laundry on a regular basis, going to therapy, going to doctor’s appointments, and yes… even the occasional bubble bath.

To sum it up, my definition of self care has now grown to mean that I do things that I need to do but that my depression/anxiety/body image issues make it hard for me to do. I push myself to do the things that my mind tries to tell me aren’t worth it or are too hard to get done. I still like to treat myself to things every once in a while, but I now feel that for me, self care goes a bit deeper than that.

Self care isn’t glamorous. To put it simply, it is taking care of yourself, and if that means doing the bare minimum when it comes to some things (like cleaning, or exercising or hygiene) but pushing myself to do that bare minimum, then you bet your ass I’m going to be proud of myself for pushing to get there.

Self care looks different to everyone, but I urge you to not get caught up in the notion that you have to treat yourself like a movie star in order to achieve it. Sometimes you just need to make sure you treat yourself like a human; and not only is that good enough, it’s pretty damn great.

When Did “Fat” Become the Real F Word?

Why do we force words to live exclusively from one another?
Why can fat not mean beautiful?

I recently remembered something from when I was in the sixth grade. There was a girl in my class who was a bit bigger than most of the other students in our class. I remember hearing the way that the other students spoke about her, the mean jokes they would make behind her back, and the almost as cruel things they would say to her face. I remember noticing that she was being treated differently and in a negative way because of her size.

I decided then that I would never let myself look a way that would give other people an opportunity to treat me poorly. I wish I had taken this experience in a different way, as an example of people I never wanted to be like. I never would want to be treated like this classmate, but the lesson I learned was not to be kind to people, it was to never become fat enough to allow people be cruel to me.

I used to be so scared of the word fat because we live in a society that equates fat to ugly, or less than. I was scared of the idea of gaining weight because I thought that if I did then I would also become ugly or less than. We live in a society that puts limits on what words can be. I was more scared of being fat than I was of being a bad person, of being considered rude or mean, and I was scared of being fat more than I was worried about getting bad grades.

I was eleven when I learned that our world says that being fat is bad. I was eleven when I became afraid of gaining weight. I remember it like it was yesterday, and one day I hope to not be afraid. But for now, I will remember to be kind, and to stand up for those who are mistreated. I do not view gaining weight as the end all and be all of my life, and there are now many things I consider to worse things than ganging weight, but I am still somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of it. So until the day I am not afraid, I will choose to be kind and to reject cruelness.

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are

I used to think that the parts of me that I hated, were hated universally by anyone and everyone I met. I assumed that because I hated my stomach and the excess fat I thought I had, that everyone around me hated it too.  I remember thinking that no one would ever fully love me. Because if I didn’t fully love me, how could I ever expect anyone else to?

So I would hide the things I didn’t like about myself from most people. There were times when I was completely ashamed of the fact that I live with multiple mental illnesses, so I would only disclose it to a select few people. I remember even after I had stopped self-harming I was completely petrified of the idea of anyone seeing my scars that I would wear long sleeved shirts and sweaters on even the hottest summer days.

This caused me to keep secrets from people close to me; parents, friends, partners, you name it and I probably kept secrets from them. I’m not talking life threatening secrets, but secrets nonetheless.

The thing is that I should never have felt like I had to hide any parts of me. Sometimes letting people in and showing them these parts of me helped me to see how they could be lovable.

I remember when I started taking medication for my anxiety I was tentative to tell people. I was worried that the stigma surrounding taking medication for mental illnesses would be too much for me to handle. Then I talked to a close friend about it and she told me that she viewed it as a sign of strength. She felt that by me making the step to take medication that I was being self aware enough to admit that my life needed more help than I had been giving it. Now I try to talk to people about the fact that there is no shame in taking medication for a mental illness, the same way there would be no shame in taking medicine for a cold.

Since being in recovery from my eating disorder, I have gained a substantial amount of weight. It’s been a huge adjustment for me, going from thinking that gaining weight was the worst possible thing that could happen to me, to trying to understand that gaining this weight was healthy. If I had never worked up the courage to be intimate with my fiance even after gaining weight, I never would have been able to fully appreciate my new body. I am still learning to love myself, but seeing that someone else loved me despite something that I perceived as a flaw was a huge catalyst for my journey of self love beginning.

What I’ve learned over the years is that someone who truly loves you will never make you feel like you have to hide parts of you. Someone who cares about you and your best interests will want to know about every part of you, and yes, I mean even the dark and scary parts that you keep so hidden they’ve collected dust.  There’s nothing healthy about secrets. Sometimes they start out with the best of intentions, but rarely will they have positive end results. Letting those dark and dusty parts come out can be a really daunting task, and I get that. The thing is that when you find someone worth letting them out for, it will be one of the most liberating and full of potential experiences of your life; it has been for me.

August

If I were a weather pattern, I would be one of those late August days. The days that look so good on paper, the ones that never look bad on the surface but if you look beneath it you’ll wish you hadn’t.

On the surface, late August is perfection. School is out for the kids, warm weather, long weekends, swimming… What’s not to love? But if you go deeper you’ll see the wandering minds of children and wandering minds are dangerous. You’ll see the sticky and humid feelings of discomfort that accompany warm weather. You’ll see routines interrupted and ensuing chaos and you’ll see the possibility of drowning.

When people saw my surface, they saw a helper. They saw someone who had it all together. But if those people took the time to peel back my layers, they would see that I needed more help that I could have ever given out. They would see the struggles I masked with humour. They would see the years of wounds I left unattended. They would see the discomfort I felt in my many sticky and humid situations. They would see the constant closeness I was to drowning.

They would look beneath my surface and see all of these things, but they would wish they hadn’t. The surface is always easier to stomach.

The Story of the Trees

We start to grow
leaf by leaf and
day by day
we soar.

The winds of the
world will try to 
blow us down
with all their might. 

But we stand 
strong, our roots
planted firmly
where we will them. 

Humans are plants
with the power to
water themselves
in order to bloom. 

Though we are scarred,
we weather many
storms and the changing
of the seasons.

We are flourishing
and beautiful 
despite our fallen leaves
we hold onto our petals.

Intention Manifesto

I want simple things, and I will bring them to me.

I will be happy in my life.
I will be happy in my skin.

I will love myself with every fibre of my capable being. 
I will first direct my love inward instead of pouring it out.
I will accept my past as part of my history, and allow myself to 
move forward.
I will love my mind as it is, flaws and all.
I will treasure my memories and learn from my mistakes.
I will forgive myself.

I will listen to myself first.
I will honour my scars as the war medals they are.

I will be forthcoming about my feelings.
I will put my needs first.
I will take the time to sort through my thoughts.
I will say no when I want to.
I will say yes when I want to.
I will be authentically and unapologetically me.
I will nourish my mind, body and soul as I see fit.

I will.
I will.
I will.
Because I am worthy.

Your Reality is Real

If all you did today was wake up, I am proud of you.
If you brushed your teeth for the first time in days today, I am proud of you.
If you took a shower and then crawled back into bed for the rest of the day, I am proud of you.
If you ate three meals today and were scared of each one, I am proud of you.
If you resisted urges today, I am proud of you.
If today all you did was show up to work and barely did your job, I am proud of you.
If your mind was full of worries today and you made it through the day anyways, I am proud of you.
If your day had the potential to be great but your pain got in the way, I send you love.
If memories of the past were infiltrating your mind today, I send you love and hope for closure.
If your day was foggy because you got two hours of sleep but your pushed through, I commend you.
If you cried today and didn’t know why, I feel for you and I know the frustration that comes with inexplicable emotions.
If today you had plans that you had to cancel and you feel like you let someone down, I forgive you.
If today is the worst you have ever felt, I remind you that tomorrow cannot possibly be worse.
If dark days have turned into dark weeks to dark months, I am here to tell you that there is always a possibility of light.
If the thought of living another day seems like too much, I implore you to believe that something will eventually be worth it.
If today, you felt that no one was in your corner and you felt alone, I remind you (and always will) that you are not and never will be alone.

Love Letter to Myself

Dear You,

I know that you have become a master of the “smile and nod” and at polite humility when receiving compliments. I know that you told yourself years ago you would never be good enough and that it wouldn’t matter how hard you tried but today I am here to tell you you’re wrong. I am here to tell you that compliments given to you can in fact be sincere and genuine. I am here to tell you that you are smart, that you are beautiful, that you are kind, caring, empathetic, and funny. I am here to tell you that putting things in the past is okay to do; it does not mean that you are pretending things never happened but it means that you are giving yourself the freedom to move on from them. I am here to tell you that you are wanted and that you are needed by so many people. You are loved beyond what you ever thought possible. I am here to tell you to stop selling yourself short because you never should have learned how to do it so well. I am here to tell you that the things you have been through and the things you have felt are valid. I am here to tell you that they made you this amazing, sufficient and valued person. I am here to tell you that you may not be in love with yourself yet, but you have made leaps and bounds from the girl you once were and I know that one day soon you will love yourself more than anyone else in the world. I am here to tell you that when you get to that place to embrace it and remember that not only is it okay to love yourself, but it is good. When you finally learn to fully love yourself, regardless of what others say, think or do, and regardless of your size, shape, job status or title you will realize that you never needed this letter because you had the power inside of you all along just waiting to be brought out. I am here to remind you that you are so much more than the places you have been, the mistakes you have made, and the demons you have fought. You are so much more than the sum of your past. You are who you are because of those things, but you have gone places you never thought you could, and that proves moreover just how little you are defined by your past. I am here to tell you that you are worthy of the love and kindness that you so readily give out to others. I am here to tell you to stop smiling and nodding and being politely humble, because you deserve so much more than that.

Sincerely,
You.