When I was 41, I was ready to leave a job that felt like it was crushing my soul. I’d just returned from living and working in the Philippines with my family for two years and was finding it hard to adjust to coming home. I’d struggled with depression at times in my life, but this anxiety was new, blurring my thoughts and keeping me tense. I didn’t know how to cope with it, so, I utilised the Employee Assistance Program and sought help from a counsellor.
In that first session, I cried as I’d never done before. I was hyperventilating, rocking back and forth hysterically. I could barely describe what was upsetting me as my thoughts were too frazzled and rushed to verbalise. Even as I spluttered and bawled, part of my conscious was berating myself for whinging about first-world problems, further adding to my self-hatred and disgust.
Over the next few weeks, my counsellor helped me understand techniques to calm myself and reframe my thoughts. One of the tasks she gave me was to write down 5 things I liked about myself and bring it to the next session. I found it utterly impossible. Every time I tried to put pen to paper to write something, my hand would involuntarily repel from the page, refusing to write anything. I was so filled with self-loathing that even when I thought of something good about myself, my brain would focus on all the incidents in my life that disproved it. Some of them were from thirty years ago. This was not false modesty. I simply could not accept any positive words about myself.
I asked my husband to give me words, admitting that I couldn’t think of any. He told me I was the kindest person he knew. My brain said, ‘You just act kindly to get people to like you’. He told me I was funny. My brain said, ‘You just do that to get attention because you’re needy’. He told me I was a loving mother and wife. My brain reminded me that I’d spent the last five years so focused on a career because I wanted to gloat about my corporate success, that I’d barely spared a minute to concentrate on my family. Even when the person who loves me most was giving me words, I couldn’t accept them.
It feels strange to write about myself that way now. Last night, I attended my monthly meditation circle with a group of women I’ve been sharing with for over two years. Marie, our facilitator, asked us to bring along two words that expressed how we shine. Words that described what we loved about ourselves. Five years ago, I couldn’t come up with a single word. Yesterday, it took me a while to narrow it down to just two. Wow, even writing that sentence blows my brain. In our culture, that line should make me feel like a real wanker – how up yourself! Especially in Australia where we say we want to build up people’s self-esteem yet make it a national sport to tear them down if they appear too ‘full of themselves’.
This isn’t to say I never have doubts about myself. I have them daily. However, I’ve learnt to focus on the positive words and really own them, so the negative words have less power over me. For example, last week I had an extremely difficult and emotional day for my family. The day before it, I fell apart, crying and panicking that I’d never cope with what we had to face. The day after it, I fell apart again, feeling totally drained and hyper-sensitive. However, on the day – I was strong. When it was really needed, I was fucking tough as nails. Years ago, I would have focused on the hours and hours that I spent crying pitifully. Now I see that I needed that emotional release in order to stand my ground and be strong when it was essential. I am strong (that was one of my words last night).
I also spent the weekend in Adelaide to catch up with the Body Image Movement team and see the hilarious Ellen Briggs and Mandy Nolan from Women Like Us perform at the Fringe Festival. It was the opposite of my stressful week. I had a weekend of pure joy, laughter and love. I caught up with Stacey MacGregor, (funniest model you’ll meet – in the main pic). I’m sure I’ve known her in a hundred lives previously and we’ve made each other laugh in each one! Just a simple glance sets us off in hysterics. Several times over the weekend, Stacey commented on how much she loves being with me, referring to me as one of her favourite people. Old habitual thoughts flashed through my head, thinking – you’ve only seen this happy side of me, you wouldn’t like me if you knew all my sides. However, I choked those self-deprecating words down and thanked her. I reminded myself that I am fun. I jump into joy like a kid bomb-diving into a pool! My second word for last night was spirited. I am full of enthusiasm, passion for life and sparkly joy. It’s a new word for me, but I’m going to own it.
The way we talk to ourselves matters.
Seriously, let’s stop the cycle of negative talk and start admiring those who own their awesomeness, unabashedly. It isn’t being up yourself – it is simply being yourself! You are amazing right now, own that.
So, write a list of wonderful words to describe yourself. Start with two if that’s all you can manage but aim for twenty! Honestly, there are at least twenty wonderful words to describe you.
My list contains (but is not limited to)