You know how people talk about self-love like it’s a switch you can conveniently turn on the moment you realize it’s lacking? They think we can just somehow learn how to become happier & stronger individuals who recognize & fight for our own needs. I absolutely hate this expectation.
Because it’s unrealistic. It’s not as if we’re protagonists in a Disney movie, destined to have grand revelations that suddenly restore our confidence in the climax.
For those of us who’ve struggled with anxiety, self-doubt, career confusions, depression, and overall trainwrecks triggered by the pandemic (or more personal events) – we know that the journey of finding our faith again … it’s not nearly as beautiful or romantic as they show on screens.
If anything, it’s the hardest thing many of us will ever do in life, and today, I want to honor it. I want to talk about the uncomfortable & boring parts about mental health, the ones that are skipped by the #inspiration & #motivation posts on Instagram. The darker bits we try not to address even when we’re discussing our struggles because we fear it would drag the conversation too far.
I’ve treated myself horribly in the past. And I’m telling these stories so that if you’ve gone through the same experiences, or are going through them, you’ll know that you’re not alone. Maybe someone will read this 30 years from now, and still be able to connect with me across time & space. Maybe that someone will be the older me, looking for a companion who understands.
Firstly, I’ve accepted salaries & work payments way lower than I know I deserve for the sincerity I bring to the table. My friend who holds an identical role at another company earns 10K more than I do but does half the workload I handle. My relatives have questioned why I never bothered to ask for more. People often react with a look of disappointment & pity after hearing that I settled for so much less.
The truth is that I’ve always known exactly what I’m worth, but I was so afraid of not living up to that benchmark, that I thought it would somehow be better to aim lower, go slow, and then notch it up as time passes by. Honestly, I was recovering from a series of back-to-back failures, and so my only priority was not hitting rock bottom again. The goal was just to help my body & mind slowly warm up because I was afraid that firing it fully would lead to the same burnouts that put me there in the first place.
This happens in relationships and many other parts of our lives. As Sam in Perks of a being a Wallflower says, We accept the love we think we deserve. We often accept abusive & gaslighting partners who treat us badly, bosses who humiliate us, and toxic friends who are constantly putting us down, or making us feel dumb, inferior, or not enough.
It’s easy to think that we should’ve noticed the red flags. That we should’ve stood up & answered back. Or that we should’ve simply left & found better opportunities. But when you’re low on self-worth, you try to clasp to whatever crap is offered. The truth is, you’re actually just buying some time to feel more stable, feel anything.
So today, I’m going to forgive myself for not being selfish, because only I know how hard I was trying to keep myself alive, just the head above water. I’m letting myself be comfortable with the cautious actions I took. They may not look logical to the world but are still understandable given in the situation & mind frame I was in.
This brings me to my second point. I’ve also pushed away love & support from people because I felt like I didn’t deserve it anymore. I remember seeing my first-ever Tinder match during the peak of the pandemic when we were all so bored that we reinstalled that app just to kill the time.
I felt butterflies in my stomach when they flirted their way into the DMs. It was a junior from my ex-university, and we had the cutest few long conversations catching up after years. They promised to take me out on a date when the streets reopened after the lockdown. This was my first time being courted by anyone, period. I don’t really even care if they were serious or just casually killing boredom/loneliness like I was.
The point is that it was all going perfect up until the moment my anxiety picked it up and I “Nope’d” out of the conversation for no bloody reason. I ghosted them completely, and when you read it like this without much context, it can sound like the stupidest move in the history of moves.
But then here’s the other side (and I wish they knew this had nothing to do with them) – the match couldn’t have come at a worse time. I was in a terrible place in 2020, hurriedly preparing to leave my well-paying job in Malaysia & come back home to India because of COVID. It was going to mean giving up everything I’d fought for, and leaving behind so many dreams to wither away. At a whopping 108 kilos, I was physically broken inside & also mentally burned out. For a moment there, I felt like the ugliest person on Earth.
For a moment there, I felt like the ugliest person on Earth.
So I wondered how this person would react if they saw the unhealthy me, at my worst, way farther than the prettiest & most perfect snaps I’d put up there, as we all do, on social media. I felt so goddamn sorry for myself – thinking I didn’t deserve to be liked, loved, or touched.
I’m doing way much better now, thanks to rigorous exercise & a better diet. I’ve taken action & feel awesome, back in splendid shape & slowly recovering from the trauma, too. I’ll tell that story some other time. But looking back at that episode of “rock bottom” I went through, I want to tell the younger Manik that it’s alright to feel how he’s feeling.
Sometimes, we all find ourselves looking in the mirror, touching the fat that hangs from our bodies, or the freckles and pimples that distort our skins, or the split-ends of hair that has lost its shine & smoothness. We’re pressurized to quickly “fall in love” with these imperfections but nobody realizes that our relationship with ourselves is just like any other relationship: intertwined with emotions that ebb & flow over time.
We don’t always love our partners madly, do we? Sometimes, we can’t stand their sight. That’s actually the same thing when it comes to body image issues, and it’s okay. If we could all just acknowledge these feelings as real & human for a tiny moment before we begin to work on them productively, that’d be great. I get that it’s important to get healthier & fitter if you want to lead a long life, but I just don’t agree with the immense pressure of having to constantly work on bettering ourselves. We all just need a few seconds doing nothing, just to gather our thoughts.
Everybody feels a degree of hate towards how they’ve been constructed – both physically and mentally. We secretly wish we had more or less of some feature or faster learning abilities. More to the point, we all tend to push away beautiful things because we think we’re not worthy to experience or enjoy that beauty. It’s just like how you don’t feel well-dressed enough to enter a party, you get me?
So today, I want to forgive myself for attaching my worth to how I look, or how productive & successful I am at a particular moment in time. I want to remind myself that there are some friends who’ll adore & hold me even at my worst, and I want to forgive myself for not reaching out to them when I could’ve used their help.
Because it’s cool to want to fight your own battles, either voluntarily for the comfort of it, or because you simply don’t feel like burdening or involving another random person in the mix. It’s cool to feel not ready for someone or something. You don’t have to grab every opportunity life throws your way.
That brings me to my major pet peeve with the internet’s concept of “self-love,” nowadays. It treats all other emotions – like hate, envy, sadness, and fear – as problems to resolve and inconveniences to fix. It doesn’t allow people to take the time to process their moments of doubts, or even accept these so-called “negative” feelings as human experiences. We’re expected to put up brave & happy faces all the time, never for once just allowing ourselves to feel totally confused & lost in life.
The moment we do something unproductive (or take no action) to deal with these situations, it’s labeled as a “self-destructive” tendency, when in fact, it’s probably more of a coping mechanism.
If I look at many of my friends, we’re all more or less in “salvage-mode” as growing adults. Coming to terms with how hard it really is to find stability. Because there can be so much going wrong all at once. Something always needs fixing or paying up. Your phone stopped working, so you repaired it. Then your bank details need updating, so you did that.
And you’re just doing things one after the other with no end in sight, but not really moving ahead. When nothing’s going your way, it can set in paralysis of sorts. So you wish that you could skip a few years to a point where you’re just lying on the bed peacefully – finally able to breathe again.
When nothing’s going your way, it can set in a paralysis of sorts.
That point will come, I promise. But it’ll take some time, which leaves us with no other option but to live with ourselves as we are right now. And that’s the final thought I want to leave you with.
Yes, it’s okay to feel like you’re not good enough at times. Because most of us live in silos. Only if you had someone to point out all the extraordinary progress you’ve made over the last few months, you’d be kinder to yourself. That said, we have to prepare for the scenario that’s no one’s coming anytime soon, so I’ll need you to take up the role & keep reminding yourself that you’re still alive & breathing even after everything that has gone down so far.
A handy idea that has helped me is keeping a “Little Good Things I Felt Today” diary, in which I list simple bullet points of small errands I completed or momentary feelings of happiness, joy, and wonder I felt. This has been instances when I’ve congratulated myself for putting together a sandwich or making my bed after days of doing nothing. Or the time when I saw a puppy on the street & played with it for a whole hour, forgetting everything else about this world.
When I’m down, I return to these moments, not to discredit or forget how I’m feeling, but to appreciate the fact that if I never felt like shit from time to time, I would also never be able to understand how joy & peace feel like.
Come to think of it, my biggest achievements & triumphs, or sparks of brilliance in life have sprung from my darkest, most painful journeys. And that’s not me romanticizing the struggles (because they did harm/scar me) but it’s simply acknowledging their place in the whole cycle.
All said & done … today, I want to show forgiveness & gratefulness for not loving myself enough. If I had been able to do that, I don’t think I would’ve felt beautifully human enough today. I don’t think my friends would’ve loved me as unconditionally as they do, thanks to my obvious flaws & inconsistencies.
I don’t think I would’ve had moments of clarity, had I never plunged into chaos. And I definitely wouldn’t have been understanding or empathetic of others who are in bad places, if I hadn’t traveled through these valleys myself.
So to travelers in the middle of nowhere, I know you’re trying as much as you realistically can (even if you think you’re not doing enough).
I see your fight, I acknowledge you, and I think you’re really amazing. Above all, I’m here, too. I can’t promise everybody that it’s going to get better, but wherever we go from here, we’ll have a story to tell, and your struggle now, will be someone else’s survival guide tomorrow, so hold on.