I’ve been trying to write you a post about love in all it’s many forms. I was trying to tell you about all the acts of love I’ve experienced in my life but it wasn’t working out. I wanted to tell you that there should be hundreds of words for love, as many words as there are relationships but something didn’t feel right. I was even going to throw in a few funny anecdotes about the disastrous love affairs I’ve had but they didn’t seem that funny after all.
I ploughed on, knowing all too well that every writer has to endure a shitty first draft before inspiration hits but after the twelfth attempt things still felt just as shitty. None of it seemed to add up. I was missing something glaringly obvious – and then I got to the final paragraph. Out of some corner of my mind, the thought appeared that the biggest problem of all, despite the many forms of love in my life, is that one type of love is completely absent – a love for myself. I’m cringing even typing those words, which usually means I’m onto something.
It’s coming up to three years since I started therapy and in those years my total disregard for myself – swinging somewhere between dislike and pure hatred – has been a common theme, but today still felt like a bolt from the blue. As my therapist would say, there are degrees of understanding – and today I moved from disinterested GCSE student sat at the back of the class to shiny postgraduate, all keen and paying close attention to the work at hand.
Apparently some people like themselves – you might even say they love themselves. Who knew? I’ve never felt it and because I’ve never felt it I’ve never missed it, until now. Now I’m wondering what the world would be like if I didn’t feel a total embarrassment to myself and the people who know me. What would it be like if I could be nice to myself? Would I still choose to live off toast and peanut butter or would I start taking care of myself and make like Nigella in the kitchen? I’m not sure I’d ever flirt with a cheese sauce, but you get what I mean.
However many good things are happening in my life, my default setting is to look for the bad – events and interactions that reinforce what a complete waste of space I am. A few years ago, when I was particularly depressed, this resulted in me firmly believing that I was evil and needed to rid the world of myself in order to save it. I think it might have been caused by my therapist going on holiday. Really. Last week, my psychiatrist moving to a management position led me to believe that I was worthless and utterly pointless – pretty painful, but a significant improvement on the whole evil thing.
Hilariously, I regularly write for a client on how to love yourself and on how to gain self-confidence. On the plus side, I think my work reaches the audience it needs to reach because I write from a place of understanding – they are my tribe. Apart from those tribal feelings – and along with the articles I write on health and beauty – most of my career can be summed up with ‘do as I say, not as I do’. So now I can add ‘fraud’ to the list of words I use to describe myself.
In some ways my sense of self seems fixed, but it’s also incredibly transient and highly dependent on the people around me, which is why I so spectacularly collided with the bottom of my personal pit of doom on hearing the news about my psychiatrist. How I feel about myself depends entirely on how others react to me. And that’s why my mood lifted towards the end of the week – and why I was trying to write you a post about love.
When I spoke to my psychiatrist’s secretary – the only point of contact I’ve had for months – I was pretty distressed and described to her how a complete lack of support and care was impacting on my life. I’ve tried to explain this before but my previous efforts have simply made me feel unconsidered and misunderstood. This time, something remarkable happened.
A couple of days later, I received a letter from her. She wrote “Further to our conversation, I have booked you an extended appointment with a permanent psychiatrist” and then proceeded to set out the details of that appointment, which gives me up to an hour with my new psychiatrist, rather than the incredibly hurried ten minutes I usually get. With that single sentence my world was changed. I had been listened to – properly listened to – and met with understanding. I felt that I might be worth something after all.
I had made myself vulnerable and had be met with love, or loving kindness, or compassion, or whatever you want to call it. It’s the greatest gift any of us can offer to another human being. It really does have the power to change lives. My psychiatrist’s secretary listened to me in all my brokenness and responded with love. It had an immediate effect on my life. When another weary appointment came through for the scan I’ve been avoiding, I emailed to confirm I’d be attending. I’m still incredibly anxious about it – sleepless nights abound – but I can find it within myself to put myself through it. I’m worth taking care of. I also booked in for the asthma review my GP’s been nagging me about for nine months. Yesterday I didn’t just live off toast and peanut butter. Mainly because I’d run out of the latter, but it still showed me that there are other ways of surviving – and they might just be better than the one’s I’m currently existing on.
The other reason my initial blog didn’t work out is because writing about the love I’ve been shown is too jarring for me. I bet if I went back and reread it, the copy wouldn’t be too bad at all but the concept caused me actual physical pain. How can people love me? Why can’t they seem to see how vile I am? If I write about people loving me, you’re just going to read it and laugh about how deluded I am. The whole idea is, at best, simply too confusing for me. A friend spontaneously hugged me this week and told me he loves me lots. I love him too, but I felt myself cringing to my core. Someone else I’ve fooled into thinking I’m worth something.
I don’t know whether I’ll ever be able to change my default setting and start liking myself. Maybe it’s too soon to say how things will work out – I’ve only just started to realise that self-love is missing from my life. Can we start with self-like? Self-love just seems overindulgent and a step too far. Imagine if you liked yourself. Maybe you do – any tips gratefully received – and my version of reality is as discordant to you as your’s is to me. I hope so. Now I see what I’m doing to myself I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. Which probably means I’m going to try and forget all about how I feel and lose myself in making sure everybody else feels good about themselves. So until I find the courage to deal with my feelings I shall live a vicarious life – still full of self-loathing but a much safer prospect.
I think the day CNS branches out into self-help books is still a long way off.