There are different ways of fighting yourself. Maybe it’s that your mind pulls you in multiple directions at once. Maybe it’s that you want to push your body to limits it just won’t go. Maybe it’s that you’re trapped in a skin you don’t think belongs to you. Or maybe it’s that your body literally attacks itself from the inside out. Whatever the form it takes, if you’ve ever felt like screaming in frustration when someone tells you to “love yourself” then you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
The world tells us that self-love is important. That any problem you have can be fixed if you just learn to love yourself. It’s a concept that makes a lot of sense, but when people use it as some throwaway line as though doing some yoga or eating a few more greens or getting someone who may or may not be being paid at a legally appropriate wage to stick some acrylics on your fingernails would fix the problem, it’s hard not to get frustrated. Loving yourself comes easy to some people. To others it does not.
For me, it definitely hasn’t come easy. I can’t remember a time when my body and I weren’t at war. I was always hyper aware of it – of its weird lumps and bumps, its wide shoulders and hips, its overly long nose and round chin, and perhaps most frustrating of all, its complete inability to coordinate itself in the way I told it to, usually resulting in a truly undignified faceplant in the midst of attempting some sport or other. I remember the unexplainable aches in my neck and back and the awkwardness of suddenly being a foot taller than everyone and developing what a physio would later describe as “possibly the worst posture” she’d “ever seen” in my attempts to stoop down to everyone else’s level. That was just the physical, and only the beginning of that too. I also don’t remember a time where my brain wasn’t at war with me, with self-harm being the name of the game and sharp objects and food weapons of choice in the unending battle against absolutely no one but myself. The absolute certainty I felt right down to my bones that sooner or later the disease in my brain would be what ended me. That sooner or later that part of me would win that war. And then at twenty-six the knowledge that, actually, yes, your body is legitimately attacking you. A diagnosis of an autoimmune disease and a slow burn of re-learning limits and unlearning all the things I’d started to appreciate about this body of mine that I’d hated so long and only just started to find peace with. A complete undoing of it all just as I finally got my shit together and started to get on board the whole self-love train.
And whilst it may sound that I’m all about self-pity, and lord knows I do not shy away from the habit in general, I’m learning that there are positives to all this. Slowly, I’m learning how to love a body I’ve been at war with all my life.
Set goals that have nothing to do with physical things
My goals used to be all about weight loss and fitness. Nowadays, setting goals like that will really only depress me. There’s no point telling myself I’m going to go for walks on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays if I wake up one Wednesday and I’m in too much pain to move. I’m not saying you shouldn’t set yourself goals around physicality, but they can’t be the only goals you have in your repertoire. For example, I decided to set myself a goal of saving to buy a house. It’s impossible to pretend that what’s going on physically or mentally won’t affect those other goals – this month alone I’ve managed to burn through over $1000 on medical expenses, and that’s with private health cover and a decent medicare system. But nevertheless it’s something I can contribute to slowly and see progress in that doesn’t depend on me being able to push my physical or mental limits. Obviously financial doesn’t work for everyone – maybe work on a goal to practice writing more, or learn how to paint, or discover new bands, or read more, or listen to a free university course online and learn something new. Whatever your goal is, it should be something that you can see or feel the outcome of. That way, when you’re feeling shitty because yet another physical or mental goal slipped through your grasp, you can look to something else you’ve achieved instead and feel just that little bit more motivated to keep trying.
Celebrate the small victories
Today I did not eat crappy takeaway food. Today I took the stairs. Today I was able to carry my books to class. Today I took a moment to enjoy my surroundings. Today I felt content.
One of the biggest things the past year has taught me is how to actually celebrate the smaller stuff. I used to be so goddamn harsh on myself that if I wasn’t hitting major landmarks and taking huge strides forward, then it wasn’t enough. There was no point celebrating those things because what did it matter when I still had so far to go? Nowadays I have a different attitude. Yesterday, for example, I celebrated the fact that I took a walk. I used to take that same walk about three times a week and it wasn’t a big deal. It doesn’t seem like something worth celebrating, and yet I did. And I didn’t just celebrate that I did it – I celebrated that I enjoyed doing it. I walked and I was content in my own company and I sang along to my music as I walked and got strange looks from the random people I walked passed in the park while doing so. That’s cool random stranger, you can join my celebratory dance party of one if you want to, I don’t mind at all.
The point is that when you’re fighting against yourself, you need to celebrate the little victories. Because seriously that is one hell of an enemy to be up against and any progress is good progress. Get yourself a celebratory wine, stat!
Accept your limits and don’t be ashamed of them
This has been the hardest thing for me: admitting that I can’t do things. Frankly I’ve never been very good at this anyway, which has kind of always been a positive thing. I’ve never been someone who sticks to their comfort zones because I hate being told I can’t or shouldn’t do something. This trait has served me relatively well up until now, but when you’re warring against yourself, this may need to take a different form. I’ll still always push the boundaries of what I’m capable of and continue to strive to exceed those limits, but I also need to accept that sometimes exceeding those limits doesn’t come in as grandiose a form as I might like.
Having to admit that I couldn’t keep up with my work schedule was the single most humiliating experience of my life, yet I can’t pretend that the outcome of doing so hasn’t been hugely positive for me in so many ways. On an even smaller scale, just the other day I was out shopping with a friend and I had to ask them to carry something for me. I felt like such an asshole, and I could tell my friend was a bit surprised and maybe even irritated at first. But then as we were leaving the checkout, they picked up all of my shopping without me saying anything. I was so embarrassed at the time – I felt completely pathetic and worthless and I was so worried my friend was judging me for being weak and pathetic. But the reality was that I probably needed that help in that moment. Little by little I’m learning to accept that. And I’m trying hard not to be so ashamed to ask for help, especially if the reason I need help isn’t always visible to others (woohoo for the double whammy of invisible illnesses in the form of chronic pain and mental disorders – thanks universe, you’re real funny). This applies no matter what form of battle you’re having with yourself – you need to learn to accept that sometimes you have to ask for help. Accepting that and learning not to beat yourself up about it is the first step to that whole “love yourself” shit.
Remember that the war isn’t over until it’s over
Some days are going to be shit. I’m not pretending this is easy to accept. Maybe you’ve been served up what seems like more than your fair share of the shit cake – I get that. I get that it feels wrong and unjust and you kind of just want to punch the universe right in the baby maker. You’re completely entitled to feel that way and you have every right to express your frustration and dissatisfaction about that fact whenever and however you want to or need to. But you also can’t let it consume you. This war is a long one, and some days you’re going to find that you win the battle and things don’t seem quite so crappy. Live for those days. Focus on those days. Because if loving yourself is a war then every step forward you take counts a shitload more than the ones you took backwards. The good news and the bad news is that this is a war that probably won’t ever end. Just remember that that means you haven’t ever really lost yet.
This body of mine drives me crazy. It’s fat and I waited too long to do something about that and now it’s going to be ten times harder to fix it but ten times more important to fix it. It aches all the damned time. It’s tired and yet it almost never sleeps and some days it tells me I’m shit for absolutely no apparent reason. It thrives on a cocktail of pills that would make your naturopath shudder and it has weird allergies to stupid shit like sunscreen and the sun itself.
It also has a wicked smile and a glint in its eyes that tells you it’s about to crack a joke. It has intelligence enough to coast through life in a way that many others can’t, yet is somehow still derpy enough to be kind of weirdly charming at times. It’s just strong enough to get me through a workday and make a difference in the life of somebody else in that time. It has a propensity to want to learn and grow and be open-minded and understand others and even when it totally screws that up, it’ll try to do better next time. It makes people laugh, both at it and with it, and most of the time, when I have to plead with it to take one more bloody step, it does. It amazes me all the time with the way it copes with pain and how it lets me keep going and keep doing shit even though it hurts so freaking much to do so sometimes. It amazes me that I still feel the pull to the outdoors, still want to go camping and see the world, even though I know full well it would be easier to curl up in a warm place somewhere and try to soothe the aches. It amazes me that I still want to push and keep pushing and then push a little bit harder.
There are always going to be two of me. There will always be a war between the good and the bad going on just under my surface. The bad will be stacked at equal height with physical limitations and a wicked case of being an asshole to myself. The good will always be the opposite of all that shit. And every single day that the good wins out, I will be in awe. I will be amazed with this self of mine. I will be one step closer to loving myself.
Your battle might not be that easy. I’m not here to downplay the experiences of others; there are people out there whose journeys in life are a shitload more rocky than mine and they have every right to scoff at my nonsense. If that’s the case for you, I’m sorry you’re going through that. But maybe some of you out there are where I am, and I hope you know you’re not alone. You got this – loving yourself may not come easy, but it can happen. Slowly but surely. You got this.