Becoming your own best friend and cheerleader is a hard thing to do, but even making the effort to try can be so incredibly rewarding. I am certainly not a guru or a mental health specialist, but over the last few years I have done my best to change my attitude towards myself and I am the happiest now that I have been since childhood. It ain't perfect. Everybody goes through rough patches. But compared to the headspace I was in five or six years ago, the changes are dramatic.
I don't claim to have all the answers, but below are some suggestions of ways I came to care for myself more, and hopefully something here might resonate with you, too (but please - judge carefully what you feel will be safe and empowering for you and don't try something that makes you in any way uncomfortable just on my say-so. And of course, if you are experiencing mental health problems or other issues of concern, please don't be afraid to reach out for professional help. At the bottom of this post, I'm including some links for organisations such as Samaritans who are there to offer you non-judgemental help and support. You are valid; you are important; you are not alone.)
As always, if anyone has any tips, suggestions or further advice, please do jump in.
- Stop seeing your personality as a challenge to be overcome. Those of us who are quiet or shy or introverted or unsociable by nature are often bombarded with the message that this is a problem to be fixed. No. You are valid and good exactly the way you are. I don't mean that you should never encourage yourself to go out or push the edges of your comfort zone a bit if you want to, but if you know a noisy party in a strip club is never going to be your thing, you don't have to go. We're always told to 'put ourselves out there', 'say yes to stuff more' - but you don't have to! Realising this was a massive relief to me. I like to go out for a dance from time to time but I'm never going to be a wild party animal. Sometimes now I choose to stay in and read or have quiet chill time with other introverted friends instead of going out, and my stress levels thank me for it.
- Be your own target demographic. I let go of 'cool'. I let go of 'fashionable'. I let go of hating on things that teenage girls like (this has been said before, but can we all stop bashing teenage girls please? Adolescence is hard enough without being belittled at every turn, jfc). I let myself like whatever it is that I like. Seek out what makes you smile. (Personally, I recently got hugely into cute, fluffy manga - it's non-threatening, it's squee-able, I find it incredibly soothing. I should probably also mention Pokemon Go here - I haven't played it yet cause it's not compatible with my phone, but I hear people are finding it very helpful for coping with anxiety and depression.) Luckily, the media and franchises available to us seem to be becoming more diverse, representational and feminist-friendly, which makes me happy because I can now read comic books and watch movies where the women wear sensible armour and have realistic body types and I don't need to come away feeling a bit poop about my belly chub (Ghostbusters. Fury Road. Bitch Planet. Rat Queens. Lumberjanes. Princeless.).
- Listen to yourself. A big turning point for me was realising that I couldn't even contemplate going to a certain social event sober, because it scared me too much. And a little voice in the back of my head said, well, if it's that uncomfortable for you, maybe don't go? So my new yardstick for social events is 'do I have to drink to get through this?' and if yes, I don't go. (This has also massively cut down on my drinking and my skin has cleared up wonderfully, so, yay! I'm really not a fan of drugs and obviously alcohol is a drug, albeit a legal and socially acceptable one, so the smaller a place it has in my life the better, really.) Just checking in with yourself and seeing how you feel - and adjusting accordingly - can make a big difference. Using my new yardstick, and therefore only going to things I think I will enjoy, has turned my social life from something stressful and terrifying into a set of genuine, comfortable friendships.
- Also important is to check in with yourself physically. Self-care, as we all know, is an important thing. Sometimes this is hard. If you can't get out of bed, let alone shower and eat, then that's fine. If regular sleep and three square meals a day is not on your dance card at this point in time, that's okay too. Self-care can range from 'I didn't die today' to 'I ate', 'I bought myself a nice perfume' to 'I bought Thinx pants because VAT on tampons is fucking stupid and periods should suck less'. When you feel able, check in with yourself and see what you are able to manage. Can you get a glass of water? Put socks on your cold feet? Get a manicure? If you can't manage anything extra right now, then still well done to you just for checking in, because sometimes acknowledging your fleshy meat prison is hard all on its own.
- Check your compromises. Obviously in all relationships there are some kinds of compromise involved. But if a relationship isn't actively enriching both people's lives, it might be time to take a look and see if you're okay with what you're contributing. Letting go of toxic relationships is difficult but sometimes necessary. Or you might simply need to adjust your boundaries. De-prioritising a relationship that takes up too much of your time and energy is okay. (For example: my partner suffers with cluster headaches, has a busy work schedule and supports a person with disabilities. Therefore we don't see each other half as much as I would ideally like. This was beginning to really upset me and was putting a lot of strain on both of us because we were both stressed about it. Letting myself focus more on other friends and other activities doesn't mean I love my partner less - it just gives us both space to breathe instead of both of us freaking over a problem we can't solve.)
If you feel you might need support or advice, try:
Listening to: Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist by Ramshackle Glory