I remember sitting in the waiting room of the Turning Leaf Recovery Center. I was in a daze – looking around as if it was some kind of dream…or nightmare… wondering how I let myself get to this point. I felt so guilty. I’m 31, married, and a mom to 3 young boys.. I’m supposed to be loving every minute of my stay at home life. I’m supposed to not care too much about my weight and what babies did to my body. I’m supposed to be focusing on raising my kids and making memories with my husband. I should be harnessing my talents, and feeling empowered, and reading books on the porch while the kids play and the sun sets, and thank my lucky stars for the beautiful life I’ve been given…..
Instead I found myself stressed and overwhelmed. Sad and barely functioning… self-conscious, angry, and a slave to addiction (food addiction). This is not what I envisioned for myself. Not even by a long shot. And I was so mad. Mad at myself – for going down this road and for letting it get this far. I was mad at the hand I had been dealt. Why do I have to have mental illnesses, and WHY IN THE *BLEEPBITTY BLEEP BLEEP* are they not going away?! 18 years living with anxiety and depression, and 6 years with an eating disorder is enough fun to last me a lifetime. Like, it’s been real, but it’s time to part ways- thanks for the memories, peace out! ✌
But no. Unfortunately this is likely going to be a lifelong “friendship”, and the realization of that hit me like a ton of bricks that day in the waiting room.
I can’t really remember the specifics of that therapy session – other than me blubbering out all sorts of nonsense in between audible sobs and ugly crying. He asked me about myself, what I was struggling with…. you know, the usual. But there was one thing he said that stuck to me like my kid’s half eaten sucker on my sleeve….
After answering his question about what I’d like to get out of therapy, he looked me square in the eye and said, “Shawnee, I just want you to like yourself.”
Whoahohohoho. Wait, what? I think I stared at him for a minute trying to process what he had just said. I was repeating the words back slowly in my mind, “You just…. want me…to….. like….. myself.” As if trying to grasp some bizarre foreign concept.
And then I cried. I cried because I didn’t know if such a thing was even possible.
That was 3 months ago. That was during what I like to call one of my “lows”. It happens often – sometimes once or twice a month – if I’m lucky every 2 months. I’ll go through a 1-2 week period of sadness, despair, hopelessness and feeling like I’m worthless. I know, sounds awesome fun, huh?! It starts out gradual. Then it’ll get really bad for a couple of days while I hit rock bottom. Then slowly I’m able to climb out of it and get back to my “normal” life. Normal. Whatever that means 😂
Then, for a little while, my life is manageable. I am able to find small moments of joy, and I’m not beating myself up so badly. This is a small glimpse into life with depression – and I promise to go more in depth with this in another post. But for now, I want to talk about how I’m slowly learning to love myself and get rid of the negative thoughts that have plagued my mind for so long. And while I’m far from where I want to be – accepting myself 100% and loving the person I am – I can say that I have made progress and continue to get better day by day.
And it feels so good.
Here are some of the things I have done to help reverse my negative perception of myself and start loving who I am a little more.
NUMBER 1 – RECOGNIZE THAT YOUR INDIVIDUAL WORTH IS NOT SYNONYMOUS WITH YOUR PHYSICAL APPEARANCE.
I’m not proud to say this, but I’ve always cared a lot about what people think of me. When I was younger, it was all about pleasing everyone and not wanting to hurt other people’s feelings. Then when I got to be about 12, physical appearance was thrown into the mix. I actually remember the first time I was aware of someone thinking I was attractive. It was at the mall, and this guy did the classic ‘head turn’ as he passed me, and gave me the smile of approval. It made me feel validated and important. It was the summer before 7th grade. Such an impressionable age. That year would be the beginning of an obsession with looking ‘perfect’ and making sure people thought I was ‘pretty’. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in any other areas of my life – but hey, at least I could look good, right? Low self-esteem right there. So this desire to please others by looking ‘pretty’ became my focus and the catalyst for a whole slew of destructive thoughts and behaviors.
So what am I doing now to change these patterns and habits?
- I have to tell myself daily that I am worth so much more than my looks. A good way to help me remember this is to look at my children and try to see myself through their sweet naive little eyes. When they get older, I guarantee they’re not going to remember how pretty mom looked every day, or how awesome she looked in her swimsuit at the pool, or how many stretch marks and cellulite decorated her body. They’ll remember how much I loved them, spent time with them, and what I taught them – mostly by example. *If you don’t have children yet, look at your parents, siblings, friends (real, genuine friends), or spouse and try to see yourself the way they see you.* Their love is not dependent on how good you look, how skinny you are, or how much money you have. They love you for you – flaws and all. If they can love you unconditionally, shouldn’t you be able to as well?
- Remember that you don’t owe it to anyone to look a certain way. This has been hard for me, because I honestly used to think that if I wasn’t pretty…..what else am I good for? And please remember that this is the mental illness talking – I view other women in a completely different light – no matter their size or looks, I think they’re beautiful, talented, perfect…. It’s myself that I pick apart and expect to live up to this standard. But I’m trying to live life for me now, and if anyone thinks I’ve gotten too big, or too skinny, or I’ve let myself go, or I shouldn’t go grocery shopping looking like I died yesterday….. guess who’s problem that is?! Not mine. 💪
NUMBER 2 – IGNORE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS AND FOCUS ON YOUR STRENGTHS
This one has also been a real doozy for me. Depression can be a Biiiii….. Just like a bully at school, it can be relentless – telling you over and over you’re not good enough. Nobody likes you. You’re not good at much. One thing I’ve been working on is letting my thoughts just float on by, rather than hanging on to them like they’re actually important. Again, if you have mental illness and the practice of feeding your negative thoughts has been going on for years, it’s going to be a difficult habit to change. But it’s possible. I promise. And (broken record here) again, I haven’t perfected this method, but I’m working on it, and I’m improving. Basically, if you have thoughts that are negative or destructive, instead of focusing your energy on them, you detach yourself from them. Don’t give into them, don’t try to push them away, don’t try to read into them – just let them come and go as if they’re nothing. It’s like the concept of ignoring your kids’ bad behavior and really praising the good behavior. You notice the ‘bad’ behaviors start to fade and the good behaviors begin to flourish! Do this with your thoughts 🙂 You can listen to a really cool podcast called “The History of Thoughts” by Invisibilia that gives more detail about this (it’s fascinating, I promise!!) Listen to it https://www.npr.org/player/embed/375981020/381439752” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>HEREo
Focus on your strengths. What are you good at? It doesn’t have to be anything grand, either. It can be that you’re kind. You have empathy. Or maybe you’re good at giving hugs? Awesome! I love hugs! If hugging is your forte, then get out the door and hug the crap out of this world- and I guarantee you’ll change at LEAST one life for the better.
NUMBER 3 – STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHER PEOPLE; ESPECIALLY ON SOCIAL MEDIA!!!
Interesting fact: I actually went through a brief period of time where I was blissfully unfazed that I was a little overweight and wasn’t at my ‘prime’. It was after my 1st baby. I had gained a few (45 😂) pounds, and it wasn’t just coming off from breastfeeding like everybody promised it would (cruel, cruel, world). I didn’t really care though. I wasn’t obese by any means, and this was just motherhood, right? I was exercising and eating a pretty healthy diet (baby was allergic to dairy and soy, so I wasn’t, like, eating pints of ice cream every night). Eventually I made it back to my pre-pregnancy weight, which was still about 5-10 lbs heavier than before I got married, but… meh. Who cares. Then I got pregnant with my second, delivered, and six weeks post-partum I became obsessed with bouncing back and having the perfect body. What changed?
I got a smart phone for the first time and was spending hours on social media while I held, nursed and rocked my colicky baby. I was seeing image after image after image of these ‘perfect’ body types. Pinterest, Facebook, Blogs. Telling me to do this that and the other to get rid of those stretch marks and lower belly fat. For someone with OCD and a history low self-esteem and eating disorders, this was the perfect opportunity for those bastards to sneak their way back into my life. The kicker is, I’ve spent the last 5 years doing this! 5 YEARS YOU GUYS! Ain’t nobody got time fo’ that no more. NOT TUHDAY!! So how am I reversing it? When I come across something that portrays an illusion of perfection (lifestyle, body, hair, make-up, outfit) I just keep swiping. “Good for them.” *moving on….*
Comparison is the thief of joy. You want to be healthy and look good in a swimsuit? You go girl! But do it for yourself – not so you can keep up with ol’ whats-her-face on Facebook. Remember that we live in the age of filters, angles and photoshop, so don’t be so quick to believe that what you’re seeing is being portrayed accurately and honestly. There’s some good examples of this HERE (some language in this one) and HERE
If you find yourself constantly comparing yourself to others on social media, maybe take a little break. Unplug for awhile, regain your confidence and find contentment in your life. Then hop back on when you’re ready. If there’s someone you follow just for the sake of looking at their perfect body, face, and lifestyle…. unfollow. Your time is so much more valuable spent elsewhere!!
NUMBER 4 – SERVE
How often do we find ourselves overwhelmed with all that’s on our plate? I’m not trying to make anyone’s problems seem insignificant – we’re all dealing with something, and one person’s trials are no less significant than another’s. I have spent a lot of time feeling bad for myself, and I’m pretty sure that’s not doing me a crap-ton of good – and it’s certainly not what God had intended for us when He sent us here. When I look for someone who might need a pick-me-up, I am suddenly pulled away from my despairs and worries as I focus my attention on them. Bake cookies for your neighbor, go visit a widow(er) in your neighborhood. Offer to take another mom’s kids for no reason, other than to give her a break. So even when you feel like your life is just one big ball of suck, try and look for ways to serve, and I guarantee your self confidence will blossom.
That’s what I’ve got for now. Tell me what helps you be confident in who you are and how you gain more self-love! I’d love to hear from you ❤