I drafted this post almost a year ago, but have debated publishing it because it’s so personal. I decided to go ahead with it because 20 years ago, reading something like it would have given me a much-needed glimmer of hope for a life less burdened with fear and doubt. Maybe it will provide that glimmer for someone reading it now.
I don’t mourn my lost youth much, partly because that would be futile, but mostly because I spent it under a cloud of undiagnosed self-loathing. I wish I had known that the constant drumbeat of anxiety and harsh reflection didn’t have to be there – it wasn’t normal and it was escapable. I didn’t know. I assumed everyone held themselves to the same standard and that my only problem was that I wasn’t trying hard enough, not that the standard was impossible.
I believed I didn’t deserve sleep. In college my days were a grind of work/brief nap/school/study/brief nap, and then back to work for another round. Sometimes, after going two days without sleep I would conk out in the library and this would seem like a failure. I thought that friendships would live or die on the size of my ankles. Really.
I believed that the secret to self-esteem was perfection because perfection would make me unassailable, but all it did was make me miserable and probably annoying.
These days I look at pictures from that era and it kills me because now I see what I could not see then. I was fine. I was more than fine. I was hardworking and effective and tough and funny and smart. Despite my large catalog of perceived physical defects, I looked good. All of this was completely wasted on me because it was never enough. I worked hard and accomplished a lot, but it didn’t mean anything to me because the imperfections loomed huge in the foreground and the accomplishments were puny background accoutrements.
We are all entitled to like ourselves.
No one cares that much about what you look like, and if they do, they’re not worth your time. Nobody will ever notice your mistakes or your flaws as much as you do, and again, if they do, that says more about them than it says about you.
Despite what some of us seem to believe, there is not some omniscient, critical monitor who will discover that you dare to like yourself and ensure that you are swiftly and cruelly corrected. Youth is beautiful. Wisdom is beautiful. Humanity is beautiful. You are not any less beautiful or vibrant or worthy because of the distance between your eyes and your nose, or because your chin sticks out, or recedes, or because gravity has gotten the upper hand. You will notice these things in yourself more than most other people will, and those others who are fixated on your chin or your spare tire or the texture of your hair probably have problems that you don’t need to worry about.
In fact, you don’t need to worry about much of any of the stuff you worry about because it doesn’t matter right now and later it will matter even less and you will regret every minute you spent not being happy with yourself because really, in the end, that’s the only sensible way to be.