All people fall into one of two camps: there are people who generally like themselves and people who do not. Common sense and experience tell us that the people who like themselves tend to be happy. Those that don’t? Not so happy.
My mental health has always been more tenuous than my physical health. I was a depressed kid, and have struggled to stay on an even keel as an adult. Like everyone else, I’ve had fewer hard times than some and more than others. I believe that the difference in one’s relative health as compared to others has much less to do with the nature and volume of one’s troubles than with how well one handles them.
In other words, the difference between someone who is well adjusted and someone who isn’t is how well they suck it up and deal.
My secret? Working very hard to become okay, even when I don’t feel that way, because if you feel okay, you (eventually) are okay. This involves making an effort to do things that make me happy until I am happy, confronting others when they threaten my mental health, and trying not to spend too much time in my own head.
Most importantly, I have also tried to like myself. To cut myself some slack. Because, otherwise, I would fall completely apart. Also, I’m awesome so, why not?
What happens if we like ourselves even when we shouldn’t?
Sometimes, liking oneself isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
For example, despite the fact that I have been overweight since puberty, I used to have a relatively healthy body image. I was an insecure tween like most other girls (heavy or not) and then made my peace with my size in my teens and early twenties. In order to be a happy, healthy individual I needed to believe that I was normal, that fat wasn’t so bad, and that I was pretty no matter what. So, I did.
Despite being heavy, my weight never really kept me from doing anything. I was as active as I cared to be and had healthy cholesterol levels, blood pressure, etc. Most of the cute assholes I was interested in still wanted to date me.
I liked being myself and I had evidence to prove that being fat was okay. Plus, my size allowed me to say ‘fuck you’ to everyone who cared about what other people weighed. I enjoyed rebelling against the ‘perfect girl’ image that society so desperately wants us all to embody. You want me to look a certain way? Screw you. I’ll look the opposite.
So, I learned to like myself and take pride in the way that I looked despite being unlike the common opinion as to how I should present myself.
Then, when I was 25, everything changed. I slipped a disc in my back and, after my initial recovery, I began suffering from chronic pain due to two bulging discs. Suddenly, my weight became quite the big deal for me. The more I weighed, the more my back hurt and the more likely it became that I would seriously reinjure it. I was no longer at a quasi-healthy weight. My doctor told me to say goodbye to the Cheetos.
For a while, I fought the need to go on a diet despite the evidence that I should. My weight was as much a part of me as my name and I didn’t really want to change it. I loved Cheetos and the thought of giving them up was more scary than the idea of further injuring it.
Now I waffle between love and hate.
My back really did hurt like hell. I was having trouble sleeping because of it, which caused me to be both tired and sad. Chronic pain is a major bummer and living with it was disproving my “like yourself and you’ll be happy” philosophy. I had liked myself into a back brace, twice daily medication, and three physical therapy visits per week. So, three years after my injury, at age 28, I decided to try my very first diet.
At the beginning, it was just a deal I made with myself: for 30 days, I would try eating 500 calories less than I was metabolizing each day and work out for one hour at least three times/week. After substituting Cheetos with carrot sticks for the initial thirty days, I assessed my progress and realized that dieting was easier than I thought it would be and that there were parts of the diet that I actually enjoyed. It felt good to take control of my food, and I had fun cooking and trying new recipes.
Despite my best efforts, I never found a healthy version of the Cheeto but my success helped me locate my pride. Too much pride, perhaps. In addition to a sense of accomplishment, I became quite vain.
What I didn’t anticipate was the sadness I felt as I changed the very fabric of my sense of self. In order to find the motivation to eat only 1500 (or less) calories per day, I had to really want to change from the person I was. To do so, I learned to hate myself enough to want to become someone else. In a matter of days, I switched from Tracy Turnblad to Amber Von Tussle.
I dieted for almost one year and lost 80 pounds. For a while, hating myself worked. But, in order to be happy, I couldn’t sustain that. Eventually, I gave the hate up and learned to like the new me instead. (Going from a size 22 to a size 10 eased the way a bit. )
That was all well and good for a while, but all good things must come to an end. It took me nearly a year to lose 80 pounds and then three years to gain 60 back.
The hatred that I mustered up in order to go on my first diet was nothing compared to how much I hate myself now that I’ve ruined all of my hard work. If I thought I couldn’t dislike myself any more than I already did, I was dead wrong. Now, I hate myself for being fat and weak.
It’s been driving my partner nuts, I think. She’ll pay me a compliment and, instead of thanking her like I should, I just fire right back about how gross I am and tell her that she’s crazy. She doesn’t truly understand how important it is for me to dislike myself right now. Even if it makes me sad. After almost nine months of saying I was going to go back on the diet, I finally got back on track last week. Hopefully, my hate will keep me there.
What does hating myself mean for my mental health?
I know it’s not good for me to feel this way about myself but I have a tough time maintaining my self-esteem and staying motivated to make big improvements simultaneously. Which makes me happier: liking myself for the person I am or disliking myself into the person I want to be?
More importantly, can I hate myself and be happy at the same time?
Damned if I know. The only thing I’m sure of is that, after all those years of saying otherwise, I’d rather be thin first and happy later. How sick is that?
Footnote: Being hungry has made me grumpy. Stay tuned for more downer dieting posts.