Lots of people like to talk about ‘self-care’ when it comes to mental health and recovery. You might have seen suggestions for lighting candles, taking a long bubble bath, or reading a favourite book. These are all great suggestions when it comes to taking care of yourself at your lowest points.
However, no one likes to talk about the uglier side to this because it’s, well, ugly!
I am 21, at university, and I like to think I have experience with bad mental health, particularly with trying what feels like hundreds of methods of “self-care”. For me, they were a replacement for going to the doctor (which you definitely should do) because I was absolutely terrified of giving a name to things like depression and anxiety. I have spent many nights listening to Hozier turned all the way up, trying yoga, painting, playing an instrument, eating healthily, and even journaling. Writing down things I like about myself, things I’m good at, reminding myself that pain and sadness are temporary, leaving countless Post-Its across my old bedroom. There are lots of ‘pretty’ ways to look after yourself. Candles and bubble baths (as I mentioned before) aromatherapy, clean sheets, and a long walk through the park. Instagram, in particular, is a place where these things are shown, with accounts and hashtags dedicated to pictures of fluffy dogs and colourful flowers, peaceful landscapes, and extensive skincare routines. I vividly remember trawling through these images, feeling all the more broken because none of them made me feel better. None of them fixed me.
My self-care on some days involved just getting out of bed. Making a start on an essay, even if that was only writing out the title. Just having breakfast felt like an accomplishment. I would come home from sixth form on a Friday, exhausted, and not shower until Monday morning when I had to go back again. Moisturising my arms, throwing my uniform in the wash, and even brushing my teeth and hair felt impossible. When you feel like this, and I’m sure most people have had an experience like this at least once, self-care seems so far from reach. Being okay can feel so far from reach. Sometimes self-care isn’t flowers and being clean and having perfect skin. Yes, these things can make you feel better, but they should never be seen as a substitute for professional help, which a lot of people like to portray. Not many people like to show this side to themselves, surprisingly enough, and this is a HUGE problem. There is a stigma towards symptoms of mental illness and the knee-jerk reaction to coping with them that is just never talked about.
The point is, both methods of self-care and recovery are FINE! Whether you use ‘pretty’ or ‘ugly’ ways, it doesn’t matter! But both need to be talked about. It is always okay to struggle and reach out to someone, I know I felt so much better when I did to my best friend. It is always okay to not conform to whatever Instagram tells you to do. Find what’s best for you and you alone.
Have you ever witnessed a couple break up due to one of them lacking self-love? Witnessing that growing up never failed to confuse me. It confused me how someone can dislike oneself, when they could never become someone else. As I got older, it finally became clear to me that self-esteem issues are very real and valid. Unfortunately, I figured this out firsthand, my self-esteem took a big hit within the last three years of high school.
The transition of self-pity did not happen overnight. In fact, it started in middle school and continued to grow until it was no longer avoidable. It is fairly normal to feel self-conscious in high school as it is a tipping point in most of our lives. However, I spent so much time fantasizing that I was somebody else, that seemed to hold off any feelings of hatred towards myself for the time being. This is not healthy. At all. There are plenty of ways to deal with loving yourself, and wishing you were someone else is not the solution.
I was very fortunate to have enough self-awareness to realize the amount of self-hatred I had was not normal. Nobody should feel as though they are not enough, and they constantly change themselves to become more appealing. I have dealt with many aspects of self-esteem issues, my body image being the biggest. Overcoming these three problems has proven that the journey to self-love is difficult, but so rewarding and satisfying once you have achieved it.
Physically, I never felt like a pretty girl. I struggled with my weight and acne for years on end, they always made me feel the most insecure. The societal standards for beauty are so high, it is very easy to feel ugly in your own skin. Constantly comparing myself to girls who were deemed as beautiful according to society’s standards proved to be detrimental. I realized that once I stopped holding myself to these unfair standards, I found beauty within myself, which matters the most. It is essential to stop caring so much about what others think, at least for things that are out of your control.
Overcoming my body issues were the biggest hurdle of my journey to self-appreciation. I have tried many things to control my body weight, hoping that losing weight would eventually make me pretty in the eyes of society. Diets, fasting, exercising, and avoiding mirrors were not foreign concepts to me. I would force myself to drink apple cider vinegar because it was said to aid in weight loss. I became so obsessed with the idea of being beautiful in the eyes of everyone , I turned into someone unrecognizable. The process to self-love was not a short and easy one, but it feels good to be comfortable with myself. Once I realized that nobody’s opinion actually mattered, then I started to see the beauty in myself. Granted it will not happen overnight, but hopefully one day you will see yourself as the beautiful person that you are. Society is messed up, it carries unreal standards for people of the upcoming generations and puts them in a position of self-hatred, just because they are not “beautiful”.
The best remedy for myself was to read about other’s experiences. Knowing that you are not alone can truly help the healing process be a little more manageable. There are a lot of self-help books and articles that you can access online to read about other people learning to truly love themselves. Although none of these sponsor us, they offer fantastic advice! Here are some ways you can achieve self-appreciation:
· Lyftly- An app where you can anonymously post stories about how you are feeling, and you get the chance to connect with other people.
· seventeen.com – Clicking on this link will take you to articles that contain celebrity experience with body positivity and self-love. You can even sign a pledge to treat your body with respect.
· Write positive sticky notes – As cliché as this sounds, having something positive to read from time to time can really boost one’s confidence!
· whosthecutest.com – Click on this link to find out who the cutest person around is. You will not regret it.
· Love yourself – I know that this is the final step to your journey. It is not the easiest thing around for a lot of people, they struggle with a lot of self-deprecation. The moment when you can look in the mirror and truly love the person in front of you, you have won the game of Life.
Self-love is an expedition that many will embark on. It is too effortless to fall into the hole of self-pity simply due to the fact that society has high standards. I struggled a lot with truly loving myself due to the fact that I could not maintain body positivity. It got to the point where my own reflection was avoided by me. However, realizing that I am not alone, and others’ opinions do not matter I was able to achieve the highest form of self-love. To anyone reading this article: you are beautiful, and you deserve to love yourself. At the end of the day, you cannot expect people to love you when you cannot even do it yourself. As Robert Morley once said, “To fall in love with yourself is the first secret to happiness.”