Self-image plays a very significant role in mental health. Self-esteem is a tough thing for most people in general, and when you have the heavy weight of mental illness hanging over you it’s easier to see all of your “flaws” and to feel self-hatred more frequently.
“You can’t love anyone until you love yourself” – I’m sure you’ve heard this sentiment a lot. I’m not entirely sure who came up with this idea, but I’m sorry, I have to disagree with you. For the longest time I believed that was true. I have always struggled to love myself; I’m my own worst enemy. So, of course I thought, “How will anyone ever like me when I despise myself?” It’s taken time, and I still have days where I can’t look in the mirror or I want to slap myself every time I open my mouth, but I’ve come to the realization that no matter how I feel about myself, there are still people around me who absolutely do not feel that way. And I do love those people. So, yeah, you can love others despite how you feel about yourself, and vice versa, they can love you too. It’s hard to believe sometimes and it can be difficult not to shut people out, thinking that you’re doing them a favour, but you’re not. Think of all the important people in your life – they’ve stuck with you because they love you despite your flaws.
Now to speak in the actual context of that quote, which is referring to romantic love, I still have to disagree. This is slightly trickier because falling/being in love is this huge, magical and scary idea. Maybe I’m just a young, naïve girl, but I’d still like to believe that love has this power to make the earth spin. Maybe it’s that exact idea that scares so many of us from actually opening ourselves up to love. It’s okay to let someone make you feel happy, and to allow yourself to make someone else happy. It’s okay to let someone in, because it is both strange and beautiful to have someone tell you all of the things you’ve always wanted to hear, but never thought you would. Honestly, if you are with the right person, you sometimes forget how it feels to hate yourself.
The key is to find somebody who understands and accepts you, including your mental illness. You don’t want to be codependent on someone, but rather have someone who will support you. The reality is that it’s actually really nice having someone who understands you, and who can comfort you in the middle of a panic attack and tell you things like, “I wish you could see yourself the way that I do, but it is okay that you don’t. I love you the just the same.”
I’m not saying that falling in love is going to magically change your self-esteem, or make your mental illness disappear. I’m also not suggesting that you go out looking for love, but if you stumble across it, don’t close yourself to love because you don’t believe you aren’t worthy of it. You are. Only time and opening yourself up will show you that you are. Maybe we do “accept the love we think we deserve” according to our own flawed perceptions of ourselves, but we can also learn to accept the love we actually DO deserve (Stephen Chbosky, Perks of Being a Wallflower).
About Emma Holden
18, tea enthusiast, animal lover, word writer, and wants to change the stigma on mental health one blog post at a time.