My Journey With Mental Health and Achieving Self-Love

It’s February at last! I found that January seemed to last an eternity,  but only a month ago were we celebrating the start of a New Year and all the things we hoped to achieve in the coming year. Hopefully, you’ve started to pursue your resolutions already and are on the way to fulfilling whatever goals you’ve set for yourself. My main resolution for the year is to maintain self-love, and I am going to discuss not only how I’ve achieved this goal, but how I have kept up with it.

 

Anyone who has set a goal for themselves knows the importance of imagining a better version of themselves. Whether your goals are planted in your finances, studies, ambitions, your physical self, etc., it’s important to acknowledge that dreaming is the easy part. I want to share some personal resolutions and my encounters on the road to achieving them because although there are sometimes struggles along the way, this past month has proven to me that hard work towards self-love (or any goal for that matter) is absolutely worth the time and effort. Rest assured, the point of this article isn’t to convince you that with bath bombs, lattes, and meditation you’ll achieve self-love in a month. If anything, the road to appreciating myself has taken many years, with trials and errors completely unrelated to treating myself with luxuries. Luckily, the New Year gave me just the push I needed to take action in terms of finding happiness with myself.

 

Perhaps I should begin by taking you back to what I consider the real start to my journey with self-love. It started in October of 2017,  following the start of my college career. Now, I should probably clarify, I didn’t have an unhappy childhood by any means. I have amazing parents and outstanding friends and family members. The influences of the lovely people in my life are what shaped me as a person, which is why only a couple of months prior to that fateful October I had the gumption to pack up my life in Kansas and move to New York City. That being said, during my high school years, I was the typical insecure teen; content with my family and friends but not necessarily with myself. I was also a hellbent perfectionist; unmatched in my efforts to perform well in my academics and sporting a quirky persona that allowed me to masquerade as though I could handle anything my high school era threw at me with the snap of a finger. In essence, I was entirely too high strung, even for being subject to the emotional whirlwind of high school. Even though I was in the top 15% of my class, performed well in my extracurriculars, and held a close-knit group of friends, that feeling of discontentment with myself remained and carried over into my first year and a half of college, coming to a peak when I learned that I had a family history of clinical anxiety. When I returned home for Thanksgiving that year, I was diagnosed officially by a physician.

 

It was as if the floodgates of my life had opened. I was lucky enough to have landed myself in a boat, but it felt as though I had no oars to paddle with. I was somewhat relieved to know that I wasn’t at fault for how the chemistry of my brain was making me feel and that I could receive help. At the same time, I was entirely overwhelmed with how this revelation (or lack thereof) had affected my young adult life. For one of the first times in my life, I had to truly confront the fact that there are things in life that you can’t control. Most people learn this a lot earlier on, but I had never truly accepted the notion of being out of my own control, regardless of the toll it took on my mental health. Throughout the years this ideology didn’t leave me with much breathing room and it was impossible to bear once faced with the college dynamic. Finding out that mental illness had turned a good five years of my life into a race against every “what if?!” in the universe provided just as much devastation as it did comfort, knowing I had an answer as to why I felt the way I did. Was my entire high school career wasted on worries? Who would I be on medication? Would I be capable of achieving my college goals without anxiety fueling my fire? Why was this happening to me? The questions went on and on. Looking back, I realize that the questions and guilt I felt were all rooted in fear from the anxiety I was experiencing.

 

The first real step in embarking on my self-love journey was confronting my brain and starting on medication. Needless to say, my quality of life improved immensely once I began accounting for my mental health in my daily life. Although some do not believe that pharmaceuticals are the best method for dealing with anxiety, they allowed me to feel balanced and pursue healthy everyday habits I hadn’t been able to maintain before. However, it took more than being able to get on a good sleep schedule, eating better, and going to the gym for me to feel content with myself. What I needed was healing; to reverse the confused, upset feelings I held towards my anxiety. The most important aspect of my self-love journey was learning to forgive myself for my illness and how it affected my past. This was no easy feat and it took the love and patience of family members, friends, and myself. In time, I gained a new appreciation for the person I am and was able to set goals for implementing positive changes to my routine. I began by creating a list of affirmations for myself that were based on things I’d tell a dear friend.

  1. It’s okay to prioritize your health and take moments to yourself.

  2. EVERYONE makes mistakes sometimes and that’s OKAY!!!

  3. Success is relative and can’t be achieved without room for growth.

  4. It’s okay to be confrontational in the name of being candid.

  5. Let others form their own opinions about you and worry less about the expectations of others. You are you and that’s enough.

  6. Let others go above and beyond for you as you would do for someone else.

Along with these affirmations, I decided that I would set three goals to accomplish over a week, and one or two goals to accomplish each day. The weekly goals were larger accomplishments like going to the gym a certain number of times, visiting a therapist, getting through homework before assignments became last minute, and making time to balance a life outside of school. Daily goals ranged from going to bed on time, getting out of bed in the morning even when motivation is low, and doing at least one new thing outside of my normal routine for that day! Slowly but surely, I embarked on my new routine with goals and affirmations in mind. Before I knew it, I found that the small changes I had made had a monumental effect on my confidence and overall happiness. By mid-January, I began living as if the world was my oyster and was taking chances that I’d never considered possible before. My favorite change that I’ve noticed in myself is the ability to better pursue and maintain relationships with others, as anxiety has caused stress in social situations in the past. The goofy, wild parts of me that were once concealed by anxiety and a lack of forgiveness came out to play, and for the first time, I felt genuinely happy with myself. Now, being halfway through February, the respect and acceptance I hold for myself has only grown! Even on days when I just feel okay and I’m not at my fullest potential, I remind myself that simply existing and being myself is enough.

Managing mental health can be scary as it’s a constant responsibility I’m faced with in order to maintain healthy relationships with both myself, others, and the world around me. Are there days I still struggle? Sure! But what I’ve learned is that the bad days test you so that the good days shine. I’ve come to realize that the journey of self-love while being one of the most difficult, uncertain journeys someone can face, is absolutely achievable and worth the commitment.

Whether or not you’re on the brink of, miles away from, or already on the self-love train, I hope that by speaking out about my journey with mental health and self-acceptance, you will be able to not only relate on some level, and develop a stronger sense of self-love and/or happiness in your life.