Learning to love yourself, in my experience, comes in waves and stages. You can often start with affirmations (even if they feel hokey), staring in the mirror every day and telling yourself, “I love you,” despite how you may feel at the time, or work through body positivity exercises in a journal, whatever strikes your fancy. Things will go great for some time, until the moment comes when something major will challenge you.
It’s these challenges that really define us. Mine came from the in-law visit from a previous post, triggered my eating disorder for days. Today is the first day I’ve come out of it, and I want to share my experiences for any and all of us struggling with self worth, as a person and as a vegan.
I’ve realized that my darker feelings of self-damnation are like a canary in a coalmine, as are the eating disorder symptoms. Part of treatment early on was to recognize fat-and-ugly attacks (which for some my come in the form of I-haven’t-done-enough attacks) as what they were: an attempt at self-care. Sounds crazy? Let me explain.
At some point in most of our lives, we’ve been told that to stand up for the things we believe in, prioritize ourselves, or take pride in ourselves and accomplishments is somehow selfish or self-centered. Nothing could be further from the truth, but often, those messages come at such a young age or so repeatedly that we internalize them. Start to come close to success in your career? Suddenly your thighs are too fat for that dress and you need to focus on dieting. Bad fight with your partner or parents? Suddenly you find yourself consumed with thoughts of inadequacy. Activists fighting for animal rights can experience this sort of burnout as well, where everything they do feels like a drop of water in the pond and ultimately “amounts to nothing.” I can tell you that all of the statements above are false, but I’m sure, somewhere deep down, you already know that.
I’ve come to believe that these thoughts are indeed a form of self care, an attempt to distract ourselves from something uncomfortable with something familiar and “safe.” Self-depreciating comments are acceptable in most societies, where confidence is often equated with narcissism unless it’s socially justified. These views are ultimately false and self-destructive.
So what can we do to break out of these sorts of moments and renew our determination to help the animals and ourselves? Here’s what I’ve found:
- Approach the thoughts with a sense of curiosity. Ask yourself what has happened recently that might cause you to feel that way. Have you eaten within the last 4 hours? Are you hungry? If you have medication, have you taken it? Has there been an emotionally compromising event on your mind, be it success, failure, or a fight? Is there something you’re obsessively worrying about? Try brainstorming and make a list of possible culprits.
- Make a quick plan of action. Start with the most likely, and think of something you can do about it right now. If you haven’t eaten anything, find something filling and really focus on it. Savor the flavor. If stray thoughts wander into your mind, thank and dismiss them and return to it. If it’s a thought or event issue, try writing a letter to the person involved in a journal or on a word document you never intend to send. Crumple it up and burn it when you’re done, if you like. If you have fears of success or feelings of inadequacy stemming from a lack of accomplishment, try mapping out your goals and make a list of small steps you can use to move towards them. Then pick one thing you can do now and do it.
- Check in with yourself. Did the thing you did make you feel better? If not, go back to your list. If you exhaust all of your options, try talking to a friend or family member about it, someone you know and trust who might have an insight that you may have missed. If all else fails, find something you love, like a favorite video game, movie, or craft/hobby, and set aside a half hour to an hour to do it. Immerse yourself in it. When you’re done, see how you feel again.
- Congratulate yourself on your self-care skills. Finish out with a self-love technique, such as affirmations or an expression of verbal self love in the mirror. I know these things feel strange, but they really do help.
No matter what your size or involvement, these things are important, whether you’re having a fat day, a triggered eating disorder, activist burnout, or insecurity issues. I know you can make it through it, and I hope this helps you do so. I believe in you.