The Struggles of Practicing Self-Love While Battling A Mental Illness

By: Rhiannon Gessaman

Practicing self-love in the face of mental illness can feel impossible.

When you feel like your world is spiraling out of control, it is difficult to remember to care for yourself emotionally, even when it occurs to you that gratitude and self-acceptance might be just the medicine you need.

Depression and her friends can convince you that you’re not ready to heal, or that you don’t deserve to feel better.

They remind you of the mistakes you’ve made, the potential you’re not living up to and the solution—isolation, suffering, emotional pain and the refusal to believe that you deserve a better life than this.

Pain and isolation are the dearest friends I have sometimes.

While I meander through an emotional community of gratitude, love, acceptance, and happiness—and I feel them calling to me, reaching for me—fear, suffering and neurosis seem to dominate my periphery.

They claw their way through the crowd to get to me and use their manipulative language to convince me that they truly care, that they want to help and that their intense focus on me is something to embrace rather than fight.  

Her words have a powerful effect on me.
When she’s not around, I realize that our relationship is toxic and that I’m happier without her presence, yet her powerful force sometimes seems to overcome me.

When she finds me at my weakest and weaves her magnetic web amidst a backdrop of threatening, icy and desolate winter storms, I embrace Depression like a warm blanket. I crawl into bed with her, and we sink so deep that I never want to leave.

Sometimes she is accompanied by acrid tears, other times by a sort of apathetic numbness that almost tingles.
We wallow together in my dark, dank apartment, laughing at my Himalayan Salt Lamp who tries so earnestly to diffuse our negative energy while we create a palpable, swirling air of self-loathing and melancholy.

There are times when I try to deny her a place in my sphere; I create a protective bubble of crystals and medicines, tinctures and exercises meant to keep her at bay, where she belongs.

I don’t wish to punish her—I know she is trying to help, in her own way—it’s simply too hard to live my life fully when she’s by my side. It’s so easy to cocoon myself in her open arms and say “no” to the world around me.
We watch movies, peruse the internet and spend a lot of time sleeping.

Basically, anything to serve as a distraction from the immense pain that Depression brings on her visits.

A Personalized Visit

For some people, she shows up alone, acting as an intrusive, yet singular, houseguest. When she comes to my house, however, she brings her friends Anxiety and Borderline Personality Disorder, the latter of whose nickname is BPD.

Many people are familiar with the neurotic, terrifying aura of Anxiety. Her frightened spirit is perceptible to everyone around her. She brings her fears, rational or otherwise, wherever she goes–reluctant and incapable of relaxing.

For me, Depression and BPD are a package deal.

BPD has a sort of chaotic allure to her energy.  She’s certainly the most fun of the bunch, but her erratic behavior is hard to contend with.

She is impulsive, wild and strong. At times, she can be charming and appear to be free-spirited, yet her well of emptiness can be seen behind her spontaneously predictable masks.

She abuses drugs and alcohol and takes unnecessary risks to feel anything other than the deep pain that resonates from her very core. Her relationships become rocky due to her wildly changing moods and her tendency to overreact.

These energies accompany me through life, sometimes quiet and hibernating in the distance. Other times, for weeks or months, they follow me wherever I go.

Our relationships are strained, and I’ve come to accept the fact that they are toxic. They hinder my ability to accept and love myself, which is my ultimate goal.

You Are Not Alone

I know how lonely it can feel when you’re surrounded by these seemingly dark forces who refuse to leave you alone.

You are not alone. Remember this during these times of duress. I support you, and I believe in you. And beyond that, there are people around you that admire you even though you may not realize. It’s hard to see the positive effect you have on your surroundings when you’re mired in melancholy.

It’s hard to know what you need.

I’ve come to learn that self-love is critical during these periods of doubt and suffering. It feels impossible to crawl out of the hole, but one of the step-ladders on the way out is self-acceptance, and the torch that lights the way to the fresh, open air is self-love.

It might seem easy to give into the grumblings and instructions of the sad girls who reside within us.

It may seem silly to personify these struggles, but it makes it easier to accept the fact that we do carry within us myriad versions of ourselves; beings from the past who used to walk in our shoes, incarnations of who we used to be. The children of our youth remain wandering the halls of our souls, seeking the love and affection they may have needed so many years ago.

The depth of our being is infinite and houses all the aspects of our personality; the jealous girl, the angry chick, the feminist, the chef, the waitress, the student, the writer, the selfish brat, the free-spirit, the paranoid delusional, the cat-lover, the skinny girl, the not-so-skinny-girl, the rebel, the freak, the sinner and the saint.

There are so many beings that comprise the sum total of our wacky, beautiful, perfectly imperfect parts.

And they all need some damn attention.

Self-acceptance is about embracing these innumerable selves that conjoin, like pieces of a puzzle, to create the intricate masterpiece that is your soul.

Taking Your Girls to Tea

My mother frequently spoke of the “girls” that prance about our subconscious, and the damage they can do when they aren’t carefully watched over and tended to. As she put it, we need to “take our girls to tea” when they begin to act out and become destructive.

This means addressing those inner entities who each have a mind of their own, acknowledging their concerns and politely asking them to go and take a nap.

It’s important for your inner frustration, fear or grief to be heard, to feel that you’re listening to what these emotions are trying to tell you. Sometimes a bit of focus is all they need to take a long-awaited rest from the forefront of your mind.

At first blush, it may seem trivial or even silly to conceive of such thoughts. But realizing that I have so many different aspects of myself that need to be expressed is one of the enlightening moments that has led me to a path of self-love and self-acceptance.

And it isn’t always easy. I still (frequently) have days that feel too hard to conquer.

Depression still shows up at my door with her friends, a tub of ice cream and no plans to leave any time soon.

I have to take a step back each day, sometimes each hour, to realize that this intruder will not become a live-in guest. I will not harbor these emotions for the rest of my days, convinced that I don’t deserve otherwise. And neither should you.

Where to Start

Overcoming depression is not as easy as reading an article, or watching an inspiring Ted Talk—as I would so love it to be—and typically involves therapy, medication or a combination of the two. These are methods that I currently use to walk my path toward mental health and utter self-admiration, with cognitive behavioral therapy being the most effective for me personally. I also employ the powers of yoga and exercise, positive thinking, crystal healing, sage smudging, and volunteering to raise my vibrations and keep my mind on productive activities.

I’m not going to lie—and as I’m sure you know if you’ve been visited by the tiring presence of Depression—it can be a daunting task, tending to these issues day in and day out. But our society seems to celebrate the measures we take to achieve physical health while ignoring the steps that need to be taken to maintain mental health. Your mental health is every bit as important as your physical health, and you should do whatever you can to make sure that you’re as emotionally and mentally healthy as possible.

Acknowledging and addressing this suffering within is one step, on the path of many, to take toward a better, healthier relationship with yourself. A relationship wherein you can honestly say you feel comfortable, accepted and loved.

It’s time to free yourself of the toxic relationship you’ve had with Depression and her posse for so long, and protect your many selves from them.

Love Thy Neighbors and Thyself

Remind yourself that you are a unique entity with a dazzling presence, even in the fact of the blues. Feel free to wear those blues like a bohemian dress complete with flower-crown and an overdue visit with Lana Del Rey.

You have the strength to face the brats inside who want to control you. Remember that you can certainly let them ride in the car, but they’re not allowed to drive. They exist and they’re acknowledged, but they won’t be allowed to manipulate the situation or dominate decisions.

We need our girls. They’ve got our back. Sometimes they’re immature, overly sensitive and dramatic. Sometimes they throw fits and try desperately to get their way. But mostly they want to be happy, and they’re mostly happy when you’re happy.

So be easy on yourself. Embrace your flaws, but try to really embrace your gifts. Sometimes it’s easy to neglect the fact that we are talented or special in any way, especially if we’ve been less-than-proactive about fostering self-love and self-acceptance. Take some time each day to express gratitude for the incredible person that you are, blemishes and all.

When you’re feeling lonely, try to be there for yourself. Be the friend that you are to your own buddies. Don’t beat yourself up for your mistakes; learn from them and move on. Celebrate your successes and the contributions you bring to society. If you feel really lonely, start volunteering at your local animal shelter. There’s no love like the love of an animal that doesn’t have a forever-home to sleep in at night, and giving of yourself connects you to your community. But be careful—you might end up with a new roommate!

Learn to love all the parts of yourself. Every aspect of you, the sum of all your parts, is worth loving. Even those girls who sometimes give you trouble.

It’s time to care for yourself and care about yourself.

It’s time to be blissfully, brazenly, boldly you. Allow your bits to blossom, your pieces to persevere and your girls to grow.

And it’s time to get up, get dressed and take your girls to tea.