By Dinah in New York
Similar to hell, the road to self-love is paved with good intentions. According to millennial myth, the algorithm for mental and physical peace is simple: you ditch your desk job and predictable boyfriend to hop time zones. You experiment with ashrams and healers. Maybe you try Ayahuasca. Maybe you climb Kilimanjaro. You document your journey one #nofilter sunset at a time. You rejoin society drunk on self-love – certain of your place in the world.
You watch your henna tattoo fade as you scroll through Instagram.
If the road to self-love is that direct, (and I followed the GPS), why did I spend so many years feeling worthless?
Since legal adulthood, I’ve concealed a mind-numbing depression. The kind that some days I could suppress, and some days pinned me to the bathroom floor. It was a never-ending game of emotional roulette: which version of me will appear today? I hoped for the good girl: sweet to a fault, sends postcards from Europe, sees potential in everyone (particularly those least deserving). Or maybe I’d be the crazy girl: filled with self-hate, a prisoner of her own subconscious, incapable of stumbling out of bed except to binge Ben & Jerry’s and force it back up.
Having been raised in the don’t air your dirty laundry South, I believed the world would only accept me if I were pretty (but approachable), confident (but not loud), charming (but not opinionated), and kept my problems to myself. I had to, or I would jeopardize my highest future honor: an M.R.S. degree.
So I did what every Texas-bred bottle-blonde does to survive: I bought my war paint at Sephora and my armor at Lululemon. I fueled myself with the lowwholecarb30ketoSouthBeachjuicefast. I “found myself” in smoky Parisian nightclubs and on Argentinian hotel rooftops.
I smiled so big, no one could tell I was wincing.
Every time I thought I’d escaped, depression barged back into my life like an ex on your birthday, his text a thinly veiled plot to remind you he’s still breathing.
Seeking a cure, I fell victim to influencer monologues claiming that if I simply decide to love myself, self-loathing will evaporate.
As though it’s a conscious choice.
So, I wrote in my gratitude journal while soaking in Epsom salts after SoulCycle. I worshipped my divine gods, Deepak, Gwenyth, and Oprah, from my meditation pillow.
In my relentless search for wholeness, I found travel and wellness rituals relieve temporary discomfort (and are pretty damn fun). But gorging myself on green juice didn’t bring me one step closer to self-love. It left me frustrated, confused, and bloated.
After years of drowning in self-care, alone in my apartment cluttered with crystals, succulents, and a well-worn yoga mat, I found myself paralyzed in bed. Fully clothed, beneath a mountain of blankets, shaking uncontrollably. I’d hit my breaking point.
The week before, I’d left a crumbling relationship with a man I still loved. Sadly, he was still in a volatile relationship with another love: cocaine. In the days that followed, my dormant depression ensnared my mind. I clung to my meditation practice, my journal, my palo santo, but my tricks were futile this time. Defeated, I shut my phone off, silently surrendering to the disease, blocking myself from calling for help.
It was my 28th birthday.
Since the day I got my passport, I had mapped out the experiences and accomplishments that would validate me in this lifetime. Bare necessities included a healthy relationship, a fulfilling career, and overwhelming self-love. But as I put the finishing touches on my twenties, all I’d attracted were men with substance-induced tempers, a job selling smoke and mirrors, and Stage IV depression.
My Himilayan salt lamp couldn’t heal my suppressed trauma. My yoga teacher couldn’t fix my eating disorder. I couldn’t smudge away toxic exes, no matter how much sage I burned.
I needed a harsher drug.
I needed therapy.
Self-care is a butterfly bandage where depression requires stitches. A trained professional must pierce the wound with a needle, sewing it shut, one dripping segment at a time. Even when the gash continues to ooze, and you cry and scream, you must tolerate the sewing until it’s sealed.
My prognosis required being completely taken apart and pieced back together. Therapy didn’t just close my wound, it healed the infection beneath the surface.
It’s the reason I have any self-love today.
My earliest days of therapy were my darkest. Every week I left slumped over in a cab — my body couldn’t walk me ten blocks home. I was tormented by nightmares. I cried to the point of vomiting. My hair fell out in clumps. I lived in this pattern for months, resenting myself for not leaving my demons alone. I could be dancing on East Village tables, getting high on attention, but my ongoing lobotomy stopped me.
Therapy sliced right through my #nofilter bullshit. Stripped of my self-care crash diets, all I had left was truth.
It’s. Hard. Ass. Work. I confessed my psychosis to a stranger. I committed to the most vulnerable relationship of my life. I’d never truly committed to anything, or anyone. My therapist, Susan, no longer a stranger, pushed me in front of the mirror to stare depression in the eye. I didn’t break focus for a year – no dating, no distractions. She trained me to confront past assailants, destroy enmeshment, and kill trauma inflicted by the lack of self-respect and invisible boundaries I’d known since childhood.
Through the artillery dust I emerged, bleeding and naked.
But I won.
Standing on shaky earth, embers of my former self still smoldering, we began to rebuild. I experienced new sensations, like a foreign emotion called anger. I observed that when I speak, people actually hear my voice, and they listen. I liberated my imperfections, even the hideous ones, and let them breathe for the first time.
I learned that in the sunlight, my ordinary brown eyes reveal flecks of gold.
Susan rewired my brain to know love – that I’m worthy of love. It was an excruciating, beautiful process and I’m forever grateful to her. I now understand the paramount love exists between my own head and heart, not at the Full Moon Party in Thailand.
Today, there are emotional scars that hurt faintly when touched, but I remain committed to recovery every week. Just as there are no quick fixes, there are no permanent ones either. The only semi-permanent imprint is in Susan’s chair.
Each night I wash my face, removing the dirt and soot from the city I love, exposing my truth in the bathroom mirror: I’m the good girl. And I’m the crazy girl.
In my reflection, I smile at them both.