Before you love someone else

A tale as old as time, popularized by RuPaul, the saying is: “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” And while it’s easy to shout this mantra in unison and declare self-love, the journey to reach a truer state of love and acceptance is far more grueling, but certainly obtainable.

As a person who “suffers” from clinical depression and anxiety, the idea of self-love is kind of a fairytale, but a really dark one where the villains win and the heroes are bloodied and beaten down. In my mind, self-love means that I have to give the love I bestow unto others to myself and that’s selfish. When you have people in your life that you would do anything for, lay your life on the line for, caring about them is far more important than caring about yourself. The depression tells you, “you’re not good enough to be loved, so you won’t get it from them and you definitely won’t get it from yourself because you are garbage,” and the anxiety tells you, “they’ll only stick around if you shower with them with so much love and affection so make sure you give it all to them.” It’s a really vicious mindset, and you know it’s not logical, but you can’t fix it (or it’s really hard to fix).

Even if you don’t suffer from a mental illness, the idea of self-love can be very convoluted. All over the social network, there’s preaches of bath bombs and face masks and bubble baths, all with “#SelfCare #SelfLove” captioned underneath. Of course, personal hygiene and maintenance are extremely important for healthy living. I think that it’s easier to get in our heads that there’s an easy solution and it’s obtainable. The idea of taking an hour long bath with candles lit and a glass of wine and feeling so refreshed and rejuvenated afterwards is an easily grasped concept. And trust me, I’ve done this and I always feel great afterwards, but it’s a temporary high. Are you going to this take these baths every day? That’s a lot of money on bubbles and bubbly for an everyday occurrence, even if you have the luxury of having the flexibility of scheduling an hour of “me time.” My point is, it takes a lot more than just an Instagram fix to get to the root of the real problem.

It’s always easy to tell other people to love themselves, because the best advice to give is the one you can’t follow yourself. Self-love takes tremendous mental re-evaluation and lots of time. It’s easy to say, “I’m going to wake up and love myself more,” but it requires dedication. You’re literally going to have to change the way you think about yourself on a daily basis. Some baby steps to start this process is by going to the mirror every morning and having a small pep talk with yourself. Tell yourself you deserve to have a great day and that you’re going to have one. You’re totally in control of who you are, what you allow yourself to feel, and the way you perceive yourself. It just takes a little patience and a little time. The easiest way to start yourself on a new journey or path in life is literally just taking the first step and committing to taking more steps; goals are achieved by actions.

Some other great things to do to help build yourself up is being honest with yourself: what’s going on in your life, what’s helpful and what’s hurtful, what do you need to do to make the situation better. Recently, I made a decision that impacted a huge part of my social life and a really good friendship because it was becoming toxic to myself. I still wish to maintain that friendship and keep social outings a part of my routine, but I took a step back and realized what was affecting my life in a “negative” way. I wasn’t taking care of myself and, instead, was keeping the needs of other people as my priority.

By far the hardest thing I have done in the pursuit of self-love is tell a friend that I cared too much about them so much to the point that I wasn’t taking care of myself. I miss this person dearly (we went from talking every day to once or twice a week, a decision I made) but I recognized what I needed to do for myself and I took action. It’s still tough to this day, and I just hope that my friend realizes the advancements I’m making for myself and we can continue this friendship once I am a better version of myself.

February is branded as a month of love, so I encourage each and every one to please love yourself. Whatever you may be going through, whatever you may think about yourself, you are worthy of love, you are allowed to love yourself. And I am beginning to love myself more and more as I am honest with myself and recognizing my needs. Selfish feels like such a negative word these days, but be selfish. You are not a bad person for thinking of yourself and taking care of yourself. I know these are the words I need to hear, and I hope they are helpful to you as well.

Doug Hardman