It came to me in the middle of the night, staring at my ceiling.
You’ve never liked yourself.
Whoa. That couldn’t be true.
I conceded my childhood and teens. I was good at one thing: school. I pushed myself to excel because the acclaim I received being a good student was the bright spot in an otherwise difficult childhood. As I entered my teens, I added “self-righteous good girl” to the mix. I didn’t like myself anymore, being “not like the other girls,” but it turned down the volume on the impossible-to-please voice in my head long enough for me to do okay in high school, settling into a safe spot as the “quiet” one among my group of friends who were cooler, tougher, and more worldly than I was.
So yeah. Didn’t like myself much then.
But what about college? There were those first two and a half years of on-and-off depressive spells while I worked through introducing my “good girl” to adult vices: sex, drinking, parties. Did I like myself then? Eh. Less often than not. But surely, after a rock bottom first semester of my junior year when I went home for holiday break and came back brand new? When I created that sassy, head-held-high persona and faked it until I felt it in my bones and charmed everyone along the way?
Did you like yourself or did you create a person you could like because you weren’t enough?
It went on like that for a while; me scanning my memory for moments where I held myself in high regard and realizing that I was trying to feed that evil, needling voice that insisted I wasn’t enough. As a kid, I fed it with academic excellence. As a teen, I fed it with a wholesome virgin routine. And as a young woman, I fed it with big attitude and ambition. Each time, it ate and ate and ate until it swallowed me whole, burped out the waste, yawned and fixed its bored expression on me like “Is that all?”
Some part of me figured this out in my late twenties when I realized I wasn’t actually ambitious. And another part of me clicked last year when I declared myself “perfectly average.” On some level, it hit me that insatiable hunger for bigger, better, more didn’t serve me; it exhausted me. So I stopped wanting altogether. To want was to plunge myself into a deep sea of “what you don’t have,” that space between one’s desires and one’s reality that’s supposed to inspire action but instead pulls me into a malaise of self-loathing.
You’ve never liked yourself.
It was true when I woke up the following morning. True when I made my coffee and ate my breakfast. True as I sat on the couch watching YouTube videos.
But what the fuck was I supposed to do with that? Try to rewire my brain? I’d spent enough time and energy on self-help to know I was over that phase. Trying to steer my mind off its desired course only led to vicious double-downs.
What if you just accepted it and got on with life?
That thought felt as true as the one that had inspired it.
But wait. Was I supposed to resign myself to some Charlie Brown/Eyeore style of existence where I hated myself and nothing ever changed because what was the point because I’d always hate myself? Not even my pragmatic, weary 37-year-old mind could wrap itself around that idea. A low-key, everyday existence was one thing. Living under the foot of some evil bitch in my brain was something else entirely.
No; that wasn’t it.
Because maybe it wasn’t that I didn’t like myself as much as I’d given that voice in my head too much power. I’d done its bidding. I’d argued with it. I’d tried to ignore it. What if I tried living with it?
If I was truly a creative writer, I’d make up a scenario that described how living with it works. But truthfully, I can’t think of one. In the last couple of weeks since my revelation, every time that annoying little bitch in my head pops up, I just say “Okay. But you don’t like me, so…”
And she does the Alonzo Mourning nod before slinking off to do whatever she does when she’s not terrorizing me.
The fact that I can’t recall a word she’s said in the weeks since tells me this nifty trick just might work.
For now, at least.