Learning to Love Myself: An Ode to My Anxiety
Updated: Aug 27, 2022
Firstly, I thought I’d share a folder of images and lockscreen wallpapers I’ve used for my phone; I call it the anxiety folder.
You can find it here:
My purpose of giving you guys this link is to give a little more insight into some of the things I struggle with: separating my self worth from my achievements, dealing with my negative emotions in a healthy way, and in general, anxiety.
Based off of some of the messages that I get from lillies, I gather that many of you also suffer from similar issues relating to mental health and self image. That’s why today, I want to share with you how I learned to love myself.
My entire life, I have always struggled to learn what it means to love myself. Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood and school, I was often the target of bullying, from being called names like “Lingling” and hearing “ching chong” every time I walked through the hallways.
For me, this type of separation from my peers based on a foundational part of my identity, my Chinese American identity, planted the seeds that I could not be loved if I was simply myself.
As I continued on the journey to try to find myself through middle school and high school, I made many mistakes. I had periods of time where I would put on a persona that entirely wasn’t me, hoping that I would then be accepted by my peers and finally fit in. I changed my appearance as much as I could, bleaching my hair, wearing clothes I didn’t even like, listening to music that I thought was bad and many many other things that I wouldn’t have ever done if I didn’t feel such an overwhelming need to assimilate.
But what I didn’t realize was that by carefully designing who I was to suit the tastes of my surroundings, I was slowly killing the real, authentic parts of me, the only real “Millie” that was left.
Starting in sophomore year of high school, I started having anxiety due to bullying. Not knowing that what I was experiencing at the time, I tried to find ways to escape from myself in order to cope. I would push myself to work extremely hard for long periods of time because I believed the only way to prove myself worthy was accomplishing something.
Or, I would try to escape reality in general through books, TV shows, and other fictional lands that were entirely separate from my real life.
But most significantly, I entirely changed who I was around other people. Instead of changing myself to fit my surroundings, I crumpled into myself, trying to be as small as possible, limiting myself to only the space that I could control, the space that I felt safe in.
After losing all of my trust in myself, I became someone who never took risks, never put herself in any dangerous positions, someone who wouldn’t even speak to new people out of the fear that they actually hated me. I often felt like school was no longer a safe place for me, since I didn’t know who liked me and who didn’t. I was constantly in a state of anxiety, worried about whether others would notice me and then pick on me, or spread rumors about me behind my back, so I tried to just disappear.
Obviously, all three of these methods were not at all effective for fighting anxiety or helping me to love myself. If anything, it made the situation worse, and confined me within an even smaller box of how much I could be myself.
It really wasn’t until I started reading poetry about mental health and anxiety, scrolling on Pinterest to find quotes about loving yourself, and listening to songs that encompassed how I was feeling - in other words, engaging with art - that I started to realize how desperately I needed to heal.
Although at first, it may seem that I found healing through art because I am an artist, but I believe that it is a universal power that unites us all, regardless of whether we ourselves create art or not.
I set my lockscreen last year for a good couple of months as a turtle, with the text saying that “everything is ok” and “you can do it”. Unbeknownst to whoever created this simple masterpiece, this turtle helped me so much. Whenever I had to leave my comfort zone, and felt the familiar feelings of anxiety rushing in, I would put on a familiar song that calmed me down, and repeat to myself my new mantra: “everything is ok, you can do it.”
And there were many times when I failed to do things. But actually, failing was much worse in my head than it was in reality - because no matter how well I did in a certain task, life always went on as if nothing had happened at all afterwards.
After I re-learned how to step out of my comfort zone, this time entirely as myself, I started to conquer my mountain of self-hatred.
It started with learning to eat in a way that made myself happy. By fueling myself with food that I love, and food that is good for me, I reignited my love for experiencing life through cuisine.
While many often spread awareness about binge eating, or eating unhealthily, I would say that those issues aren’t as widespread as aggressive and unhealthy dieting is amongst teenage girls. Many of us go on impromptu diets, and hurt our bodies and our minds because we want to fit into a beauty standard.
That’s why I preach eating things that make you happy and healthy - having a good balance of both, satisfying any cravings whenever you have them - will help you to love yourself, because it will make your body and your mind feel happier each time you refuel.
Secondly, I learned to love myself through writing. Using journals, scrap sheets of paper, but most frequently, the notes app on my phone, I was able to write down how I was feeling at any given moment in the day. Whenever I was having a really good day, I tried to salvage it in words for a later me to use for comfort and keep hoping that days like those would come again. Whenever I was having a really hard time, I wrote my feelings down, expressing my frustration or sadness through scribbles on paper for a later me to look at and laugh about, knowing that I had survived through it in the end. My notes are a reminder that I can stay hopeful during my worst days, and remember that like everything else in life, “this too, will pass.”
Finally, to love myself, I had to put in the conscious effort all of the time to accept myself. Even at my worst, even when I was put down by others or when I felt inferior to others, I told myself that I am who I am, and that is enough. I didn’t need to constantly change myself for others, I just needed to do what makes me happy. And through not changing myself, I grew. Through staying the same, I regained confidence in who I was, the imperfect, but entirely authentic, Millie.
I do want to say that learning to love myself doesn’t mean that now, I am “fixed” and always entirely obsessed with myself. In fact, some days I end up once more consumed in self hatred as deep as it was when I was at my worst. But what changed wasn’t how much I loved myself, it was how I dealt with the self-hatred.
Instead of dealing with it in unhealthy ways, I found outlets that allowed me to remain myself. I was always me, even when suffering through my worst days. And that has made all the difference in how I perceive myself: as a strong person who has survived through some of the worst times.
The process of loving oneself looks different for every person; what works for me might not work for you. But while I cannot guarantee that my method can help you to fight against self hatred, I did want to share my story of coming to love myself so that people can see that they aren’t alone in their battles.
If you ever feel like its impossible to go on, or want to give up, please try your best to remind yourself of all of the good times in your life, of all of the people that love you, and of this blog post, and remember that no matter what, you are deserving of love, just the way you are.
Don’t be afraid to send me a message through the contact form of my blog if you’re ever having a hard time and need someone to talk to.
I have also included some links to helpful websites that you can visit in times of need at the bottom.
And as always, I write this
Links to important websites
Suicide Hotline: https://988lifeline.org/help-yourself/youth/
Teen Line: https://www.teenline.org/
Pixel Thoughts: http://www.pixelthoughts.co/
Self Harm Text Line: https://www.crisistextline.org/topics/self-harm/#what-is-self-harm-1
BOCA Recovery Center's Page on Substance Abuse & Anxiety Disorders: https://bocarecoverycenter.com/addiction/a-guide-to-substance-abuse-anxiety-disorders/