Dealing with depression from a young age has left me with a lot of baggage to unpack and a lot of knots inside my head to unwind. The thing that pops up, time and time again, is me not liking myself.

The way I have dealt with this recurring theme differs each time. I have tried to fight these feelings, I have tried ignoring them, and most recently, I have tried accepting them by saying to myself, “OK, I don’t like myself, but I still need to take care of myself.”

I first learned about self-love in therapy many years ago. The concept has (as it should be) become much more commonly known, with the main message being: Love yourself, flaws and all.

Although I have been trying this for years and have come a long way, I still have trouble practicing it, because a lot of the time, I don’t love myself. Despite all the work I have done to change my thinking, I still have many moments filled with negative thoughts about myself.

Hyper-aware of all my flaws

For a lot of my life, I have felt like I was required to hate myself on some level. The logic being, if I knew about my flaws first, it wouldn’t feel so bad when others pointed them out.

This way of thinking was connected to my history of self-harm. It was a way of saying “See? I don’t like myself, either.” Growing up, there was no worse feeling than someone pointing out something different about me. I remember feeling so awful and self-conscious that I would immediately begin thinking of how to change, creating a plan in my mind to stop this from ever happening again.

This solution meant being hyper-aware of all my flaws. I remember one instance, when I was deeply depressed and anxious, during which I made a list of every single thing I considered wrong with me in order to prepare myself. I considered this helpful and preventative.

The funny thing is, no one was ever nearly as mean to me as I was to myself. I would place myself 10 metres behind the starting line and be upset when I couldn’t finish the race, because I became too self-conscious about the way my legs looked when I ran. I know now that hating myself doesn’t put me one step ahead of everyone else.

Sometimes, feeling completely alone creates a space in which your only option is to comfort yourself. I have never paid much attention to positive affirmations. The statements seemed so bold and unrealistic. It was like going zero to a hundred with self-love. A while ago, I felt so much hatred, and so completely alone, that I sat down on my front porch and created my own affirmations.

While doing this, I realized that when it comes down to it, I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself. I used to spend so much time online, searching for ways to forgive myself, ways to feel OK in my own body. I worried that the person I was did not match the person in my head, my perception of myself.

That one day, as I sat on my porch, I asked myself ‘Who cares?’ Who honestly cares about this as much as I do? The answer, of course, was no one.

I chose to love myself

I have always valued the way I treat others. Working in social services, at times it feels like my life exists to help others. And I love that. I love my work and I cannot see myself in any other field, but I let myself explore other possibilities.

I thought about how I could just quit my job and move far away. I could live in a tiny house alone with my cats. I thought about how that would be OK, how I really can do whatever I want and that I wouldn’t be doing anything wrong. This freedom was so new to me—even though I did not have to make drastic changes to make it happen, it felt comforting to know that I could.

The idea that some people can just choose to love themselves was a foreign concept to me. I had always admired people who openly and unapologetically loved themselves. People who seemed to have unwavering self-esteem made me extremely jealous.

But then I decided to try it for myself, and realized that confidence cannot only be contagious, it can also be addictive. This wasn’t just flicking a switch inside my brain.

I lay down quite a bit of groundwork. I had already felt a shift inside my mind, so that was a good start. I thought about how everything I do is done with good intentions; whether things turn out good is another story, but I reasoned that I am not a sinister person. I do my best to help people in any way I can.

Next were my physical insecurities. I thought about my day-to-day life. I thought about who I see when I walk down the street or take the bus, the people I see at work or at my gym. All the people are so diverse in every way, yet I am able to find beauty in each person.

In that way, I am exposed to body diversity, but a lot of my time is spent online, specifically on Instagram.

I began following many different accounts and tags to do with body positivity, fitness and other related topics, and I found that my newsfeed was filled with images of people of various sizes and abilities. I looked for and found beauty in each image. I am trying to train my brain to spot beauty in others, so eventually, I can find it in myself. Surrounding myself with images of all kinds of different people made a huge difference. I began challenging my negative thoughts.

I still look in the mirror and see acne scars and a stomach that pushes out more than I would like it to, but now I am able to acknowledge these feelings without trying to challenge them. I may not like the way I look, but that is OK.

We are not our bodies

The other day, an Uber driver said something that stuck with me. He said, “We are not our bodies; we are just visiting them.” That thought calms me. I continue to remind myself that I do not need to be pretty to be a good person. I also remind myself that it is OK to love the person I am. It is OK to give myself permission to look like I do.

I am realizing that everybody is beautiful, and I might be a bit late to the game on that, but at least I got there.

I am realizing that everybody is beautiful, and I might be a bit late to the game on that, but at least I got there. If you want to practice self-love, but don’t quite love yourself yet (maybe you don’t even like yourself yet), that is OK. Self-love and self-acceptance go hand in hand.

You can accept yourself as you are and still experience negative thoughts. You can love yourself as you are and still have things you wish to change. Positive affirmations, as outrageous as they may seem, really do work! If the ones online don’t fit, it is totally OK to create your own. If you feel like you need permission to look or act like you do, you are allowed to give yourself that permission.

And remember, we are not our bodies; we are just visiting them.

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