How Loving Someone Else Taught Me How To Love Myself

How Loving Someone Else Taught Me How To Love Myself

Learning how to love myself with mental illness

I was in the bathroom looking down at ten different shades of purple eyeshadow thinking, "Sure I suffer from multiple mental illnesses, and I don’t have a stable job, but maybe if I’m pretty enough…" When Justin walked through our front door, home after hanging out with his friends, I desperately hoped I looked good enough to get his attention. Lately, I’d been crying a lot and generally been delusional and paranoid. Justin would wake up to me hyperventilating next to him in bed, put his hand on my chest, and tell me to take a deep breath. I felt like I was annoying and dramatic. I wanted to remind him that I was worth all the effort, but I didn’t really believe I was. Who would want to be with a girl who has schizophrenia? I thought maybe my looks could make up for the fact that I had been hopelessly moody and hard to deal with lately. Oh, and that I’ll always be mentally ill because there is no cure. I mean, in movies, people still like the “crazy” girls if they’re cute. Take Harley Quinn in "Suicide Squad." I’m also a delusional bottle blonde with blue eyes. But there doesn’t seem to be a line of people waiting to date me... I don’t wear glittery underwear as pants when I go out in public. But hey, maybe one day I’ll have the confidence to do so and not let movies that glamorize mental illness bother me. Or maybe I won’t feel like I have to be attractive to exist as a woman in society or feel pressure to look beautiful even when I'm deeply depressed and struggle to shower on a daily basis.

I’ve been with Justin for about two years. In some ways, our relationship is like everyone’s our age. We are trying to figure out who we are and what we want to do with our life. But in other ways, our relationship is very different from what you’d expect from your typical young adults. For example, has your partner ever thought you were the devil? Been afraid you were going to murder her? Has she woken up from a nightmare and been unable to distinguish the dream from reality? ...No? Well, those are just a few things that Justin has had to deal with when I’m experiencing psychosis. I have Schizoaffective Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Social Anxiety Disorder. Each disorder seems to exacerbate the other. Paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions are all a symptom of Schizoaffective Disorder. My OCD is characterized by violent intrusive thoughts. And Social Anxiety Disorder? Well, I tend to come off as rude, angry, or extremely shy. A first day of work is always accompanied by stomach problems and a migraine. Body and mind connect in sheer terror. My fight or flight kicks in and usually I just run from people and things.

But let’s factor in the mood disorder. Sometimes I’m on top of the world. I have so many ideas and I’m the life of the party. It feels like I’m the funniest and the smartest. Suddenly I have no reservations about dancing in public. I’m making 200 cookies for Thanksgiving when I’ve never cooked before. I’ve decided that I should become a photographer with no experience and very little previous interest in it. This is where Justin comes in. He tells me to “sleep on it,” to sleep on whatever big idea I have today, and if I wake up feeling the same way, I can act on it; buying new books or craft supplies for whatever activity I want to master next. But if I don’t feel the same, and I usually don’t, then I thank him for preventing me from selling everything I own to become a farmer or deciding to audition for The Voice. That’s mania.

Depression is the opposite. Sometimes I’m angry and irritable and I really don’t want to go out. I don’t feel like dancing. I don’t see how anyone anywhere could ever feel okay. Life seems absurd, sounds are too loud, lights are too bright, and even the wind seems to hurt my bare skin. I’m no longer invincible. I feel like a dead tree. One gust of wind and I’ll fall to the ground. I cry easily and I’m overly sensitive. I’m a coin with two very distinct sides that no one really seems interested in. I’m either too excited or too boring. I talk too fast or not enough. I’m too loud or too quiet. I’m too happy or too sad. People can’t keep up with me running at the park or shopping at the mall, or they think I’m lazy because I stay in bed all day. I'm never quite what people want me to be.

And Justin? Well, he has Bipolar Disorder. We’re two moody peas in a pod. Or, we were, but lately Justin has been doing great. And people grow at different rates. Some berries take longer to become ripe and ready to pick than others, and I guess I’m just still a little bit sour, which is fine, but watching Justin hang off the branch, fat and sweet and deep blue, is hard. Just a few months ago, he couldn’t walk through Walmart without having a panic attack. When I took him to my old high school, he held onto my hand for dear life, only letting go to hide in the bathroom until I agreed to leave. Getting Justin to leave the house was hard and his grades were suffering because he was too nervous to go to class. More than once he drove to school and then sat in the car instead of going in, paralyzed with fear that his peers would make fun of him. Now he has no problem going to class and he’s even made friends. He’s busy with school work and I feel like I’ve been forgotten. Like I am part of a time in Justin’s life where he needed extra help, but now he doesn’t. So, he must not need me anymore.

And that’s why choosing the right shade of eyeshadow seemed so important. I wanted to look pretty and accomplished and confident. I wanted to create the illusion that I’m doing just as well as Justin. I want him to know that I’m good enough to wait for because I’m still hesitantly taking my first steps while he’s already running at full speed. I feel left behind. He used to sob into my lap about how school was too hard. I used to race home because he would send me cryptic text messages about life being meaningless and I was afraid he would attempt suicide again. When he would shower I would make sure to let him know I noticed because even daily hygiene was hard for him. And even going to the mall was a big deal for him. He was so sad for so long, and I patched him up, stitching up the tears and holes that had gaped open for far too long. ‘Cause that’s what I do. I’m drawn to people who need help, and then I fix them, or I try to. But it’s been two years, and Justin doesn’t need fixing anymore. What does that mean for me?

It means that it’s time for me to stop trying to fix other people and work on myself. It means that I can finally put as much love and time and effort into my own recovery as I did helping Justin recover. I don’t like needing help. I loathe anything less than independence, but here I am, finally admitting it’s my time to cry, it’s my time to be held, it’s my time to accept all the love and support that Justin has been trying to give to me since we met. Because that’s the thing: I don’t need the perfect eyeshadow to impress Justin. And he’s not falling for any illusions. I’m not tricking anyone but myself. Trying to make it seem like I know what I’m doing is pointless because Justin knows I’m struggling, and he’s ready to be there for me. I just need to be there for myself.

I finally fell apart when he actually did mention that my eyeshadow looked pretty. I felt stupid for thinking it would make me feel better. It wasn’t even about that. I blurted out the truth, sobbing “Who would want to be with me? Who would want to be with a girl who has schizophrenia? You’re doing so well, and I’m going nowhere.”

“I do,” he says, “I want to be with you. I love you.”

Choosing the right eyeshadow wasn’t about getting Justin to notice me. It was about getting me to notice myself. As I brushed the color onto my lids, I looked in the mirror and remembered the girl that I’d forgotten about, the one who had been trying for so long to get me to notice her. She was hurting and I only noticed her when she was pretty enough to get my attention. I was afraid Justin judged me like I judged myself. Because I’d been made to believe an ugly, lazy girl doesn’t deserve love or happiness. I’m depressed, but it’s not acceptable for me to look depressed. My greasy locks hang off my head. My dark roots have grown out despite another box of bleach sitting under the bathroom sink ready for me to use. My breath stinks and my face has broken out. Justin loves this girl, the one who won’t shower for a week and who lost her toothbrush, so why can’t I?

Am I ready to love myself the way Justin loves me? Am I ready to be there for myself the way I have been for him? Forget the bullshit about learning to love yourself before anyone else can. Falling in love with someone was the only way I could ever understand how to love myself the way I deserve. It’s time I put the same amount of effort into my own recovery as I have with Justin’s recovery. It’s time I congratulate myself for showering just like I do when Justin showers. It’s time I love myself as unconditionally as I love him. He may be a few steps ahead of me, but his hand is outstretched behind him. He is waiting for me to take his hand.

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A Senior's Last Week Of High School

The bittersweet end.

Well, this is it. This is what we've worked so hard the last four years - who am I kidding - basically what seems like our whole lives for. This is the very last week we will set foot as a student in our high school's hallways. As most schools are getting ready to set their seniors free at last, it all begins to set in - the excitement, the anxiousness, and also the sentiment and nostalgia.

For seniors, the years since our first day as a freshman at the bottom of the high school totem pole have seemed endless, but as we look back on these last few weeks, we realize that this year in particular has gone by extraordinarily fast. It was just yesterday that we were sitting in our classrooms for the very first time, going to our 'last first' practice, and getting our first taste of the (very real) "senioritis". With all that's going on in our lives right now, from sports and clubs, finals, and the sought after graduation ceremony, it's hard to really sit down and think about how our lives are all about to become drastically different. For some it's moving out, and for some it's just the thought of not seeing your best friend on the way to fourth period English; either way, the feels are real. We are all in a tug of war with the emotions going on inside of us; everything is changing - we're ready, but we're not.

THE GOOD. Our lives are about to begin! There is a constant whirlwind of excitement. Senior awards, getting out of school early, parties, and of course Graduation. We are about to be thrust into a world of all new things and new people. Calling our own shots and having the freedom we have so desperately desired since the teenage years began is right around the corner. Maybe the best part is being able to use these new things surrounding you to grow and open your mind and even your heart to ideas you never could before. We get the chance to sink or swim, become our own person, and really begin to find ourselves.

Things we don't even know yet are in the works with new people we haven't even met yet. These friendships we find will be the ones to last us a lifetime. The adventures we experience will transform into the advice we tell our own children and will become the old tales we pass down to our grandkids when they come to visit on the weekends. We will probably hate the all night study sessions, the intensity of finals week, and the overpowering stress and panic of school in general, just like we did in high school... But it will all be worth it for the memories we make that will outlive the stress of that paper due in that class you absolutely hate. As we leave high school, remember what all the parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors are telling you - this are the best times of our lives!

THE BAD. The sentimental emotions are setting in. We're crying, siblings are tearing up, and parents are full-out bawling. On that first day, we never expected the school year to speed by the way it did. Suddenly everything is coming to an end. Our favorite teachers aren't going to be down the hall anymore, our best friends probably won't share a class with us, we won't be coming home to eat dinner with our families...

We all said we wanted to get out of this place, we couldn't wait, we were ready to be on our own; we all said we wouldn't be "so emotional" when the time came, but yet here we are, wishing we could play one more football game with our team or taking the time to make sure we remember the class we liked the most or the person that has made us laugh even when we were so stressed we could cry these past few years. Take the time to hug your parents these last few months. Memorize the facial expressions of your little sister or brother. Remember the sound of your dad coming home from work. These little things we take for granted every day will soon just be the things we tell our college roommate when they ask about where we're from. As much as we've wanted to get out of our house and our school, we never thought it would break our heart as much as it did. We are all beginning to realize that everything we have is about to be gone.

Growing up is scary, but it can also be fun. As we take the last few steps in the hallways of our school, take it all in. Remember, it's okay to be happy; it's okay to be totally excited. But also remember it's okay to be sad. It's okay to be sentimental. It's okay to be scared, too. It's okay to feel all these confusing emotions that we are feeling. The best thing about the bittersweet end to our high school years is that we are finally slowing down our busy lives enough to remember the happy memories.

Try not to get annoyed when your mom starts showing your baby pictures to everyone she sees, or when your dad starts getting aggravated when you talk about moving out and into your new dorm. They're coping with the same emotions we are. Walk through the halls remembering the classes you loved and the classes you hated. Think of the all great times that have happened in our high school years and the friends that have been made that will never be forgotten. We all say we hated school, but we really didn't. Everything is about to change; that's a happy thing, and a sad thing. We all just have to embrace it! We're ready, but we're not...

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To The Girls Who Have Doubts About Their Worth

You can do so much more than you know!


I won't say I'm a professional at this, but it is a frequent state of mind. I think that's just something we all go through. Whether it be during high school, college, or even later. There's a small part of your brain that whispers, "You don't deserve this" or "You're not good enough." And despite all of your accomplishments and how far you've come, you believe it. It's not your fault, it's none of ours, it's just something that makes us second guess everything about ourselves. It's not intentional, it just happens. Sometimes even without us knowing it. So, this article is for you all. I hope it helps.

This past semester has been the best one of my three years of college. I got the best grades, the highest GPA, and I actually enjoyed myself. I am in my major classes, and it really made me proud that I made the scary switch. I am in a much better place and I am so thankful. I am changing apartments next year and living in the same complex as three of my best friends. I am going to get a job and enjoy my senior year. So, despite having all of these amazing things in my life, there is still a sliver of doubt that I don't deserve it. Since I found my passion, I'm not allowed to have two fantastic internships or a summer job. Or time next semester to enjoy my college career. And it doesn't matter how many times my mom reassures me that I'm doing great or my friends tell me that this is the happiest they've seen me, I still have this doubt.

My advice for dealing with the negative thoughts is this: tune them out. Say f*** it, and just do your thing.

All you can do is better yourself and your future. Take risks and do something that you actually enjoy. I didn't realize how much I hated business until I switched to journalism. Even a small change like that has really turned my entire life around. I have met so many fun and awesome people that I now call my friends because of this switch. It's OK to be nervous but take that leap of faith. Trust yourself. You are capable of so much more than you let yourself believe. As long as you are safe and careful, make things happen. Apply for that job. Get that tattoo. Do what makes you happy. Because that's all any of us want. We all want to be happy, and if you can do that, you can do anything.

Yes, putting yourself out into the world is super scary. But it's worth it when it matters and it's something you want to do. You are worth so much more than you are aware of, and that stupid, little voice in the back of your head should be your motivation. It should push you to become the best version of yourself you can be. Don't let it hold you back, let it push you forward. You don't want to miss out on awesome opportunities because of that stupid voice, right? Right! So, just tell that voice, "Give it your best shot" because you just use that voice to motivate yourself to do the best you can. Nothing should hold you back, even that little voice, because, you can move mountains and change the world.

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