rediscovering self-love

I got diagnosed with a lifelong autoimmune disease, ulcerative colitis, in June of 2019. I’ve been hospitalized twice since then, and I’m still struggling to get the symptoms under control.

For the past few months, I’ve been on a heavy dose of corticosteroids to alleviate my symptoms, which unfortunately don’t make me super buff, but instead offer a litany of unwanted side effects. I’ve scored a new dad belly, acne all over my body, and a big round face that makes me look like I weigh 300 pounds (the official and hilarious medical term for it is “moonface”).

All of these I had reluctantly come to terms with, but what really got me is a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that my hair was falling out. When I shower, I can literally see my hair in my hands as I lather my shampoo.

What challenged me through all of this was this concept of self-love that I’d preached for so long. It was so much different when the game changed. It was harder to “love myself” when I couldn’t look in the mirror anymore; when I couldn’t recognize who I saw. Here I was preaching this as my life mantra, when I couldn’t even keep it up knowing that these symptoms are only temporary.

Scour the internet and you can find thousands upon thousands of articles, videos, quotes and memes about self-love. It’s a pervasive topic and one that seems to just recently have entered the mainstream conversation.

Often the way I see self-love expressed and understood is self-affirmation in every sense.

You are beautiful.
You are worth it.
You deserve this.
You can do it.

Admittedly, it works. It’s motivating. It makes me feel better. But is the ultimate goal to find something that feels good, or something that rings true?

The greatest moments of self-love that I’ve discovered are the ones that break my perspective. That cause me to crack. The earth-shattering realizations that hurt, but give me a deeper understanding of who I am to even love myself in any real sense.

Self-love starts with being honest with yourself, the good and the bad.

I’ve come to terms with my depression and suicidal tendencies, with my perfectionism, anxiety, pride, with my habits of withdrawal, but also gained greater affiliation with my optimism, idealism, courage, and honesty. And in doing so, in recognizing these real aspects of who I am, I can better identify which of these characteristics are really “me”, and which of these are deep-rooted bad habits that I can work on.

My main issue with the idea that self-love = self-affirmation is it’s a denial of reality, and it promotes quick and superficial motivation rather than a deep understanding of who we actually are. Some of my habits and tendencies are not okay. They shouldn’t be validated, but instead understood, explored, and worked on. Which is easier said than done, and leads me to my next point.

Self-love requires grace.

I’m a perfectionist. I always have been. I used to just believe this was who I was. I accepted it and lived with it. Until I began to explore why I’m a perfectionist and challenge it. And I discovered that my perfectionism stems from my aversion to making mistakes and my need to be validated and respected with my work. Which is incredibly unhealthy and something I should work on. And since then, I’ve tried to be more aware of that creeping perfectionism and work on it, to be okay with imperfection, and through this hard process, to give myself grace when I’m not strong enough to leave things be. I’ve got a whole life to figure it out.

The bitter truth is, my hair falling out isn’t sexy. Acne isn’t attractive. My big moonface, albeit hilarious and kinda cute according to my wife, isn’t beautiful. And rather than fooling myself into thinking that it is, why don’t I instead challenge the notion that physical beauty is so important? Why am I identifying so much of who I am, my value and self-worth, with my external appearance?

Instead, I want to use this as an opportunity to challenge myself to be comfortable with anything thrown my way. To establish what really gives my life value. To identify with the right things, and always strive to challenge these notions that I’ve held to be truths in my head, but don’t reflect a true belief in my life.

And I hear Rogaine works pretty well maybe I’ll try that.

February 6, 2020

Josh Swanson