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Sometimes Self-Care Is Ugly

Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

I’m only good at the pretty parts of self-care. I’ve become an expert at buying myself dainty flowers, lighting candles, listening to sad songs and reading my favorite books in coffee shops. I’ve mastered the arts of knitting, dressing in cozy sweaters and writing inspirational quotes in cursive. All of this, just to convince myself that I really do love myself, that I really am taking care of myself. But as important as these little gestures of self-love are to me, I’m discovering that they have been not-so-subtly undermining my mental health.

It’s difficult to spot self-loathing when it’s masked by fairy lights, coffee and lotion. But I am starting to realize that despite my best efforts, I am simply shoving all the clutter under my bed. When I take away the pretty display, I am left with the ugly truth — I hate myself. This truth is terrifying, a little tragic and something I would rather ignore.

There is nothing wrong with candles, taking baths and painting your nails…trust me. I have yet to meet a bigger believer in the power of scented lotion. It is so important to remind yourself that you are worth being caring for, because you really, really are.

But here’s the thing — I’ve been using my self-care strategies to avoid facing the truth. The self-care that I need to engage in is to confront my truths, even the ones that are so scary I can’t admit them to anyone, myself included. This self-care is not pretty. It is heartbreaking, frightening and it doesn’t look good on Instagram. It’s not an aesthetic display of self-love. It’s ugly crying and getting snot all over your pillow and, most importantly, admitting what you’re afraid to even think.

In the past week, I have been forced to face several harsh realities and they have honestly turned me into a heap on the floor. Even typing them out makes my heart race, but here it goes. I hate myself. I self-harm and I don’t want to stop. My psychiatrist thinks I am on the road to an eating disorder. I “accidentally” fall asleep before I take my meds more often than I should. Sometimes suicidal thoughts pop into my head and I’m afraid of what I might do. Most of these boil down to one common theme — I don’t want to get better. Not even a five-gallon bucket of scented lotion could stop the truth from coming out this time.

But even though I’ve never been in a scarier place, I am getting closer to healing. A wise friend constantly reminds me that I have to face the storm before it can pass, and this insight is making more and more sense. Confronting my resistance to healing is bringing me closer to changing it. Although my chest is essentially a hopeless black hole, I can feel a tiny bit of light creeping in. A little piece of me is ready to heal, and that is progress.

I have learned this week that sometimes the most important type of self-care is doing what feels the worst. While I plan to continue my more charming self-care practices, I am also going to try my very best to be courageous. I want to face the scary things, even when they make me shaky and dizzy and very likely to collapse in a puddle of tears. Yes, this is going to be a long process, and it will be taxing. But that new little spark of light in me is telling me that I can persist, that I will persist. I do not propose to tell you how to heal; my experience is unique and so is yours. I only hope that you will be brave when it’s necessary, and that you will be proud of yourself for every tiny step you take in the right direction. I don’t know you, but I do know one thing for certain: a step is a step, even if it’s only a few inches. We can do this. We will do this.

Photo credit: master1305/Getty Images