I always thought that self-love was narcissistic. I thought that it was selfish. I thought that it meant complete egotism. In the past few years, though, my opinion has completely changed. Self-love completely changed my life, and in many ways probably saved it.
I’m super fortunate to have grown up in an incredible home. I knew I was loved, we always had family dinners and enough food on the table. I went to a great school, and had great friends. We had the cottage weekends, the dog, the extracurricular activities. I got to explore music, drama, and soccer (although my career in athletics was short-lived). I participated in conferences, field trips, and so much more. I was privileged. I had so many incredible pieces that created this foundation for my life, but self-love was not one of them.
Because of all of these aforementioned great things, I didn’t think that I “fit the bill” for mental illness. I didn’t think I could admit that I was struggling because I didn’t fit the stereotypes. After heading to university, though, I was overwhelmed. I realized that I was in way over my head trying to figure out this whole “adulting” thing, and I felt like I was letting everyone down. I took on a job working in residence, helping students transition to university life. While I loved this job, I felt like a fraud, because I didn’t know what I was doing with my own life, so how on earth could I help someone else figure out theirs? I switched my major 4 times, and grew apart from a few close friends. I was getting straight A+s, which I should have been happy with (that’s amazing, even if 1st-year me couldn’t see that; needless to say, this is no longer my reality, and 4th-year me could use some of those to be honest), but because I had one B+ on my academic record, I felt like a failure. I was a perfectionist, and it made me extremely unhappy. I soon developed generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic attacks, and the body image issues I had experienced growing up intensified. I was stuck.
After struggling in silence for over a year as these feelings slowly intensified, I came across two quotations on the Internet: one read “you will never hate yourself into loving yourself”, and the other “having a mental illness is like fighting a war in which the opponent’s strategy is to convince you that the war isn’t happening”. Both of these quotations really struck me, and made me realize that it’s okay not to be okay, and that maybe me denying that anything was wrong was part of the problem (revolutionary, I know). So, I started to slowly learn the language of self-love, and I’ve never looked back.
Self-love changed my mental health journey forever. It taught me to be gentle with myself, especially on my not-so-great days. That being said, when I first started learning what self-love was, I had no idea what I was doing, or if I would ever be able to become friends with myself. Over time, though, little acts of kindness that I would do for myself grew into habits, which grew into a lifestyle. I no longer feel guilty if I have to cancel plans to rest, or when I take time for myself instead of studying. “Fake it ‘til you make it” pretty much sums up the early days of my self-love journey, because after years of being unconfident, self-conscious, and afraid to advocate for myself, I had no idea what being kind to myself even looked like.
At first, I decided to say no to one invitation per week that didn’t make me happy. I decided to wear my favourite shirt without worrying if others would remember that I wore it two days earlier. I went to class without makeup, and sat through that discomfort until it felt liberating. I told a couple of professors who I know very well a little bit about my mental health story, which made me more comfortable sitting through lectures. I started saying “no” without justifying it, or feeling like I needed to give someone a “good” reason. I started going to my doctors’ and psychologist appointments, and taking them seriously. I started feeding my body nourishing foods (including those I had previously labelled “bad” – chicken fingers give me life).
I started reading self-love blogs, and curated my Instagram feed to only show accounts that have a positive influence on my mental health. I started paying more attention to the body positivity community, and connected with others who share similar opinions and values with me. More than anything, though, I started to realize that there is no “right” way to love yourself. It takes patience to figure out what you need, and what you need to care for yourself might look different than what your best friend needs. That’s okay. Keep trying because I can’t even tell you how amazing it feels to wake up and be totally in love with your life – and yourself.
I still have bad days. In fact, when I sat down to write this, I was in the middle of a bad day. I was being too hard on myself, and not listening to what my body and mind needed. Writing, thankfully, helps me think things through and is my favourite form of self-care, and now I’m feeling much better. Self-love is a journey, not a destination, but taking that first step, putting your foot on that gas pedal, and just letting go of all of your doubts is so worth it.
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