I know what it’s like to be in so much darkness that you can’t even comprehend navigating your way out – let alone accept that people are telling you you have to do it yourself. That’s why I’m here to remind you that the first step doesn’t have to be huge. Start small.
I had heard of using affirmations/mantras before and I have seen several DBT/CBT therapists but had never truly believed that these things could help and when it comes to your mental health, believing in what you’re doing is a huge factor.
I like science. So to start, my wonderfully knowledgeable therapist pointed me in the direction of the research that showed mindfulness, self compassion, and CBT strategies were in fact effective. Unfortunately, I still genuinely believed that I couldn’t do it. I had been “this way” for so long it felt impossible to change. Felt being the key word – because just because that’s the way things seemed, didn’t mean it was the way they were. Change is possible. My therapist kept telling me so – citing examples of amazing transformations she had seen in her clients etc. But I held onto my scepticism, and for a while I refused to think of myself as anyone other than the exception (the one who simply couldn’t do it).
There’s no way they can fathom how much I hate myself? Do they not know how much guilt and shame I harbour? Do they know how torturous my mind is?! If they did they surely they wouldn’t be asking me to try to think differently and suggesting that it will help.
I don’t know exactly why I held onto these beliefs for so long. Maybe I feared I would fail or that I would try incredibly hard and it wouldn’t work. I feared that I would be the exception. I worried that if I actually held this key to my own healing all the along, all the pain I suffered through meant nothing. I was (and still am) afraid of the unknown. It’s hard to imagine anything other than what you know, and until recently all I knew was self-abuse. To be honest, I don’t know that these beliefs are entirely gone, and I don’t know if self-doubt or fear ever will be, but I can say that there’s a lot more hope now. Just because I’m scared of failing doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. Just because I can’t see the destination doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take the first step. All I’ve ever known (at least in recent memory) has been self-hate, and that hasn’t made me particularly happy, so I guess it’s worth a shot to try something different.
I convinced myself to take the first step gradually. I didn’t come to healing confidently. It took me a while – teetering on the edge of indecision. I didn’t have a “eureka” moment. Instead I realized that If I was waiting for the universe to send me a sign or for my mind to change, I would be waiting my entire sick and miserable life. I accepted that continually doubting whether I’m worth it (or sick enough) only kept me stuck where I was, and there is a part of me that wants to move on.
I tried (and still do) to focus on why I want to move forward. I remind myself of the simple things: I don’t want to be thinking about how many calories are in my slice of cake on my wedding day. I’m fact, I want to have a wedding day. After coming out of a severe bout of depression, I decided that I’m going to be sticking around for a while – so I might as well try and make it worth it, And now seems like as good a time as any to try.
In the end, the start of my self acceptance journey hardly began with myself. It started with reinforcing beliefs that I already had – Simple things and beliefs about the world, not even really about myself directly. For example, I believe that every person has the right to respect, happiness, peace, and freedom. By reinforcing this belief enough, it was only a matter of time before some of it spilled over to include me as well.
For a pessimistic person, all of those “affirmations” can sometimes sound hokey and fake. So I started with what made sense to me and slowly tried to expand from there. And I mean really slowly… it’s been almost half a year and I’m only realizing now that it’s starting to transfer over. The thing is, my brain has gotten so good at taking the usual route (and ending up at the automatic negative thoughts) it’s going to take some convincing and a whole lot of practice, to change those pathways. Now I’m glad to say that I actually have the slightest glimpse that it might actually be possible.
Instead of dismissing myself as one of the only people in human history who “doesn’t deserve happiness”, I’ve started to think it’s more likely that I might after all, and that’s enough to give me hope that change is possible. Even the small fact that I can recognize some of my harmful thoughts as they happen and consider that they might not be true was something I couldn’t imagine a year ago.
This is just the beginning and I’ve got a long way to go, but take it from someone who was incredibly sceptical when I say it’s worth a shot. You’re worth a shot. You are so much more capable than you think and knowing this (or evening just being curious to see if it might be true) is enough to take the first step. The negative habits don’t change over night, but they can change, and you will be the one to change them. Don’t make excuses for your self-neglect any longer. If you’re waiting until you’re 100% ready, you’ll be waiting forever, so start now. Start small, and start despite not knowing how it will turn out. The more you continue to treat yourself like you matter, the less uncomfortable it gets – and the more you start to question the voices telling you that you don’t.