I’m kind of loving myself right now
It recently occurred to me that a cycle of self-soothing negative thoughts contributed to my anxiety and made me unhappy. And also that my favorite life is one in which I feel good.
People often tell me that I’m confident, which may be a euphemism for loud.
It’s intended as a compliment, an expression of surprise at the level of comfort with which I navigate the world. In truth, that is a kind thing to acknowledge — that it’s clear I’m okay with being me.
In that way, they are right. I won’t think twice before grabbing the microphone, or flirting with the waiter, or posting a selfie on Instagram, or asking the barista to remake my coffee because I wanted soy milk, not oat milk, I’m so sorry but thank you so much. I’ll dance in the department store, befriend the woman in the COVID test line, learn about the Aritzia girly’s recent breakup, and make the OBGYN laugh during a pap smear.
That’s how it’s always been for me. I love connecting with people, finding pockets of fun in all of life’s small moments. It’s in my nature to save those in my vicinity from boredom.
And so you might be surprised to hear that I’ve also kind of hated myself for a while.
The easy way to explain this would be to blame it on the body image of it all. It’s an incredibly boring brain worm, the resting state of wanting to lose 5 or 10 pounds. I’ve written before about how I started working out and eating healthy my freshman year of college and lost weight, my perception of my own identity shifting from “funny fat girl” to “fitness girl” within one summer break. I’d always felt beautiful — my dance teacher Miss Lisa used to beg me to stop looking at my face in the mirror, when I was hardly five years old — but it wasn’t until I lost weight that I decided that finally, the whole world would think I was beautiful, too. (We’ll talk about fatphobia and diet culture in a later post, I promise.)
But it wasn’t just my body that stoked paranoia about what others might think. My personality, famously cheery and high-energy, started to feel like a liability. The boisterous girl once known for outbursts in class, who was regularly reprimanded for trying to make her peers laugh rather than focusing, didn’t make sense in this new body.
The thing is, though, that all of the above was false intel.
What I didn’t understand then — newly skinny at age 18 — was that my perception of how others viewed me was bullshit, an invented worldview contributing to my anxiety, making me a worse person.
It was my own perception of myself, projected onto the rest of the world. An assumption that whatever mean thoughts I had about myself indicated that others believed the same things, too.
I am a better person today than I was just a few months ago because I finally understand that so much of the tension in my life has been self-made.
Lifelong insecurities and anxieties festered. They were treated with a bandaid in lieu of stitches. An obsession with being thin calmed the part of me that believed I wasn’t desirable, that I took up too much space with my personality and body; fear that friends secretly hated me would be quelled by “I don’t hate you, I love you” texts.
I should say that yes, I have generalized anxiety disorder, diagnosed as a kid when a “worry feeling” deep in my stomach prevented me from falling asleep. For years, I’ve treated it with medication and therapy.
But a diagnosis shouldn’t be a cop out. Using it as one for years only made my anxiety swell. Rather than interrogating why I felt a certain way — e.g. believing with overwhelming certainty that my mom, who literally moved down the street from me and texts me every day, might be annoyed if I spent too much time with her — I adopted the unhealthy coping strategy of reassurance followed by forgetting. My mom loves me and wants to be with me all the time. Moving on!
Reassurance is important, don’t get me wrong. My main love language is words of affirmation after all. But years of constantly reassuring myself without digging deeper did nothing to train myself out of negative thought patterns. It did the opposite, actually. It convinced me that my life was destined to be a hard one. That despite my family, friends, education, success, intellect, and objectively lucky, incredible life, I could never be at peace with myself, never affirmed in who I was and what I did. That I’d never truly love myself.
Even worse, that my sense of confidence as it was presented to the world was just a lie.
I knew none of this until a few months ago, when my then-boyfriend came over for dinner and unceremoniously dumped me.
“I have fun with you, but I get home and I’m beat,” he said.
I began to cry.
“The other day, we got bagels, went to the park, and then saw Dr. Strange,” I said, processing out loud the last time we had seen each other. “You’re saying you got home and thought, ‘damn, thank god I’m not with her anymore?’”
“No,” he said, rolling his eyes. “It’s not a sense of relief like you’re describing. But I did go, ‘whew, that was a lot.’”
In the hours that followed, I replayed the relationship’s greatest hits. How he’d hug me while we waited for the streetlight to change, how I’d make him laugh while brushing our teeth.
And then suddenly, it dawned on me that I had been miserable.
Throughout the two-month relationship, I constantly worried that I annoyed him, going so far as to apologize for having too much energy. “You’re being extra,” he once said on a day when I was particularly hyper.
He made jokes about my anxiety, never said “how are you,” never texted goodnight or good morning, and basically only wanted to talk to me when he had something to share about himself.
The epiphany that this relationship was actually Very Bad came like a rainstorm after a drought.
It snapped me back to a lucid reality.
How could I let myself feel so small, so unhappy?
Apparently, at some point, I had accepted the unacceptable: subconsciously deciding that it wasn’t that important to love myself.
Sometimes, when I say negative thoughts about myself out loud, my friend Sam, always emotionally intelligent and wise, makes a really good point.
“Don’t say that about my friend,” she’ll tell me. “Be nice to Rachel.”
I finally understand that striking dimensionalization. Why would I speak to Sam’s friend, or Jodi and Steven’s daughter, or Eva’s big sister with such hurtful words?
And so I’m working on being nice to Rachel, every single day.
I’ve always really liked her. And I’m a pretty nice person, too.
So it’s going incredibly well so far.
Lots to think about. I think a lot of us can benefit from being nicer to ourselves. Thanks for sharing your insights.
I love reading your posts. The candor in which you express yourself is so easily understood. It’s a pleasure watching you grow as a wonderful writer. Thanks for sharing 💗