I Still Hate Self-Love: Advice from So Sad Today
I hate the expression "self-love," but I've come to understand my own version of it, and that I've maybe been doing some form of it all along.
Illustrations by Joel Benjamin
Dear So Sad Today,
How do you deal with withdrawal symptoms when you forget to take your meds?
Best, Forgotten pill
Dear Forgotten pill, OK, so I'm not sure how sensitive you are, but when I forget to take my meds (Effexor and Prozac) in the morning, by 5 PM I'm teetering on panic attack's edge. Some of this is purely physiological, and some of it is a catastrophic interpretation of those physiological symptoms. There isn't much I can do about the sensations of dizziness, weakness, or even a little fluishness that occur after a long day without my meds. But I do have some control over my reaction to those symptoms: the thoughts that follow them, and in turn, the potential for further physical anxiety symptoms (rapid heartbeat, suffocating sensations, blurred vision, sheer terror) as a response to those thoughts.
Now my first thought about pretty much everything in life is usually "oh no!" I don't fault myself for that. But my second thought is the one that's crucial. This is the moment when I can either remind myself why I am feeling the way I am feeling ("it's OK, you just forgot to take your meds") or escalate to "something is really wrong," "I'm not going to be OK," "I'm fucked." I like to use a second-person voice to talk to myself in this moment, because it makes me feel like someone rational (not me) and calm (definitely not me) is at the wheel. Sometimes I'll even throw in a "baby" like "no big deal my sweet baby, you just forgot to take your meds, but you are going to take them as soon as you get home." But the most important thing is to remind yourself that there is a rational explanation for why you feel the way you feel—and that it's not irreparable.
This technique also works for me with physical illness and other kinds of general discomfort. I'm pretty disconnected from my body, so if I have a cold, I usually forget that I'm physically ill. Then I'll realize suddenly that I feel a little "off" and attribute it to a worst-case scenario (usually death by suffocation). But if I can go back to that minor cause, "you're not suffocating my darling, you just have a little cold," I don't have to spin all the way out. It's the same with public speaking or any situation where nervousness is to be expected. I need to remind myself as much as possible that this is perfectly natural and normal. Because ultimately, it isn't so much the initial feelings that are the most painful part but the story I tell myself about them, and the feelings that follow that.
Dear So Sad Today,
How do you learn to love yourself while simultaneously still hating yourself, but in a healthy/constructive way, kinda.
Love / Hate
Dear Love / Hate,
For a long time, I thought that I could never learn to love myself. First of all, I didn't really understand what self-love was (and sometimes, the way it's described in health and wellness-type media outlets, I still don't). I thought self-love was some kind of feeling I would ultimately grow into. I thought that self-love should feel good. I thought that it was a permanent state from which, once a person arrived, they would never have to return. I hated the expression "self-love." I still hate the expression "self-love." But I've come to understand my own version of it, and that I've maybe been doing some form of it all along.
In my mind, there is a voice that wants me dead. The voice says I'm a piece of shit, not OK, a loser, destined for failure, subject to harsh judgment and maybe even cosmically bad. In order to escape this voice, there is another voice in my head that tries to protect me. This is a voice that says, "Seek refuge! In alcohol, drugs, sex, validation, food, lack of food, the internet, belongings, beauty treatments, achievement!" This voice says that as long as I keep achieving, I am entitled to remain on the planet—that if I try to be better than others, I can maybe come up equal. This voice comes from a place of self-protection, not self-hatred, and has often led me to what I imagine self-love "should" feel like: short-lived bliss, a very temporary state of okayness. But those feelings were contingent on all these external factors, which ultimately have all failed to fill the hole inside me. In some cases, they almost killed me.
In hindsight, the times when I have loved myself most (or, to put it in less fru fru terms, saved my own life), have not felt nearly as good. Sometimes they've felt really shitty. Like I've had to sit with my own discomfort. Or be rigorously honest with another human being. Or ask for help. Or admit that I know nothing. Or be humble. Or do something I didn't want to do. Or not do something I was craving. For me, self-love has not been about erasing the darkness, but about going into the heart of it, coming to know it, live with it and find humor in it.