Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, it’s not going to get better. It’s not. — Dr. Seuss
I have a truth that might sound harsh, cold, and unlike advice I usually have for folks struggling with their self esteem but I feel like it’s one I had to learn, accept and truly believe to make an actual change in my life.
You have to make some changes, and try some new uncomfortable shit to stop doing the old comfortable shit that’s making you miserable. This isn’t optional. It’s like, the one requirement.
If you hear advice on how to change the way you talk to yourself and your response is to shut it down immediately, like “nope, can’t do that”, tweet about how you are the exception, that “won’t work for you” then you are absolutely right. You can’t and it won’t.
You will not change the way you feel about yourself by magic. You will not wake up tomorrow and automatically know how to appreciate your body, how to treat yourself kinder, and how to start making positive choices in your life because you genuinely believe you deserve something good. There’s no key phrase that will click and you miraculously become a different person with no trauma or decades of developing this part of yourself. You know it doesn’t work that way. Deep down you know this. It’s just scary, and intimidating as fuck. Plus you know you are going to fail, a lot, so why try?
I spent years and years of my life doing the same thing. I fucking loathed myself, and truly, in my heart didn’t believe I deserved not to hate myself. It seemed like the appropriate thing, I was awful, right? Why wouldn’t I hate me? I was so disgusted in me, I’d judge the hell out of you for not being disgusted in me. I believed that. Then I began to hate myself for hating myself, “love yourself”?! Get the fuck out of here with that shit, it took everything I had to even look at myself in the mirror to do my makeup.
It’s taken me intensive therapy and work to make even a minor shift there. And believe me, it was minor. But it was enough to crack the surface. Which allows light to enter. Sometimes even chunks of that defensive wall of protective self loathing fall down at a time, but not usually. It’s a slow, sometimes daunting and defeating battle. But at the end of the day, I don’t always feel like a worthless piece of shit anymore. And that didn’t happen by accident. It was a lot of fucking work.
You probably won’t believe the nice things you say to yourself at first. It will not feel natural, in fact you might feel like a fucking idiot talking to yourself in the mirror, but, seriously, and I ask this with kindness and empathy, but … so? Do it alone, quietly, so if you are embarrassed, (which, hello, I don’t want to say things to myself in front of anyone else, it’s hard enough to do it in private!) it’s a safe exercise in feeling embarrassment, recognizing it, and overcoming it in a safe environment.
It’s a step. Every step you take is progress, whether you fall flat on your face every time or not, you still made progress. When you slip, and backslide, and you likely will, it doesn’t negate the things you’ve learned, or the times you’ve succeeded, it’s just a slip, a reminder that you are human and this is a change in your entire personality. It won’t fade quietly into the dying night. I know hating myself was a big part of who I was. I based all of my decisions around that truth, no matter how small and insignificant it seemed. Self-loathing was like a filter I saw everything through and had to do a lot of readjusting to the way I live and see the world along with myself and that is difficult too.
It’s all difficult. It’s so much fucking work. I feel like I’ve been actively working on these specific areas for years and I’ve barely scratched the surface and that often pisses me off. Other times I am able to recognize how much I’ve changed, and have some really nice “oh I don’t do that thing to punish myself anymore, that’s cool!” moments. They are few and far between sometimes, especially when my depression is winning, but they come. And that’s a win.
It’s about those wins, not the times we fall that really matter. Now, I’m certainly not saying your failures and struggles don’t matter and that they aren’t important. But they are just struggles, not a reason to quit trying. Not proof that you are “broken, damaged, too far gone, too fucked up” to truly feel like the person you want to feel like and make the changes you want to make.
It has to start with you, start with you wanting the change more than you are afraid of it.
The good thing is that you aren’t alone. Reach out to someone you care about and trust for reassurance when you slip, if you don’t have that, email me. I’ll listen and tell you it’s okay. It’s okay to struggle. It’s also okay to keep trying.
(Originally published on medium)
Nikki is a photographer, writer, artist, and advocate of radical self-love. She writes about mental health, gaming, sex, and inclusivity.