From self-loathing to self-acceptance, the last 17 years of my life
Birthdays and new seasons are always a time of reflection, and as I turned 35 on Monday and this week is also the 17-year anniversary of my move to London for University, from Kenya, I have been thinking back on this part of my journey in life so far.
My original plan was to be here, in the UK, for 4 years only… I had a plan. I was going to focus and do my art degree asap and then get back to Kenya, which I was desperately homesick for – my family, the warm weather, tropical beauty and pace of life. But, life had different plans for me, as is usually the case.
I started University as most teens do – settling in, adjusting and partying and eating a lot. I particularly comfort ate and drank to deal with the cold weather and culture change from what I was used to. I also found it hard as I didn’t have many friends as the art course I was on was very self-directed which meant days, sometimes weeks, of working at home. Not great for an introvert (which I didn’t even know about, or that I was one, back then), or someone trying to find herself as an adult and who felt intimidated by London! I found my way thanks to the help of some wonderful family and work colleagues who I now call friends when I ended up working in PR, marketing and as a PA and office manager for over 11 years, before I finally followed my dreams and started working in the world of holistic health and coaching.
What has stood out for me the most in these past 17 years is how much my relationship with myself has changed. I think it’s common for teens to ‘hate’ themselves and go through an ‘angry-at-the world’ phase whilst their hormones are raging, but it eventually fades as adulthood settles in. My ‘phase’ lasted for a VERY long time. I spent most, if not all, of my twenties abusing myself – through extreme diets followed by overeating, binge drinking and partying and not sleeping enough, and a lot of negative self-talk – I was never good enough in the body I was in, I would never be enough until I got to the ‘perfect’ size, nobody would ever want to be with someone like me – truth was I didn’t want to be with someone like me.
Fast forward to today and I am in a place where I genuinely feel comfortable in my own skin. I have accepted who I am, what my strengths and weaknesses are. I know I have up days and down days and I’m so NOT perfect, but I’m okay with that now.
It has been a huge up and down, back and forth, upside down and spun around (you get the picture) journey to get to where I am today, and something I am writing about in more depth in my upcoming book. But for now, I have just three self-care lessons, things that have stuck out the most for me over the past 17 years, that I would like to share with you. They aren’t new or radical and if you have been reading my posts for a while you’ll have heard me mention them before, but they are things which have helped me and which I have often needed reminding of to get to where I am today.
Learning to trust within.
For years I was looking for external validation from friends, boyfriends, colleagues, the media, anything apart from myself. I’d let other people’s opinions and viewpoints cloud my own, often feeling guilty if I couldn’t live up to their expectations, needs or demands.
I didn’t listen to that inner voice. That inner voice that was telling me I was too tired and needed rest over a night out, because I didn’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings, or because I didn’t want to be seen as weak or a bore. Or the inner voice that would say to not do xyz, which I’d ignore and it later turned out to be something I wished I hadn’t done.
Even the time when I had debilitating stomach pains and diarrhoea for a prolonged period of time and I didn’t trust how I was feeling, self-medicating to numb the experience instead of dealing with it, when my body was clearly screaming at me there was a problem.
Learning listen to what my inner voice and body is telling me, to trust myself and act accordingly has been a huge part of my journey self-acceptance.
It’s the small things that lead to the biggest overall changes.
I tried to change the things I didn’t like about myself (my weight in particular) and my life for so long with a drastic all or nothing approach. Extreme dieting and exercising with grand plans for all the life changes I’d make in the space of a couple of weeks, followed by failure and doing the complete opposite of what I had ‘planned’. It was exhausting and it led to many of years of yo-yo-ing between feeling like I was on the right track one minute and then failing the next.
It’s only when I stopped doing this and started to make just one tiny change which I would continue consistently for a period of time, gradually adding to it another action once that became a habit, that I really noticed a difference in my life. Things I wanted to make happen actually started to happen and change became something achievable.
We sometimes feel that if we aren’t seeing results in a few days or weeks that nothing is happening and there’s no point in continuing. I especially think this is the case in our fast-paced world of technology. Learning to slow down and make small changes is so simple, yet so powerful and one we all could do with re-learning!
(As a little aside the self-care workbook I developed helps you to do just this! Pinpoint one area of your life to focus on for 30 days with a personalised plan to make small lasting changes, before moving onto the next. You can check it out here).
Developing a kind relationship with all parts of yourself.
While today I have a much happier, healthy relationship with myself compared with when I was 18, there are of course still days when I want to revert to old habits, or feel like crap and want to hide under the duvet with every season of a show I want to watch.
What I’ve learned and am still learning to do, is to treat myself as I would a best friend and not be so hard on the parts of me I don’t like so much. The parts of me that perhaps hold me back and can fall into old patterns of self-sabotage. The parts which choose to be lazy and skip the workout and eat two take-outs in one day. The parts which aren’t the ‘perfect’ person I thought I once needed to be.
Stopping and thinking what I’d say to a best friend in the same situation has meant I’m kinder and more understanding. This has enabled me to bounce back from these moments into a place where I feel back in my flow a lot quicker; whereas before I’d feel guilty and spiral into self-loathing if I did something I wasn’t ‘proud’ of, which could last for a few days and sometimes weeks.
There you have it, three simple, but honestly quite life-changing things that have helped me change my relationship from one of self-loathing to self-acceptance, and even self-love.
I SO appreciate you allowing me to share more of my journey with you - this has been a long post. I’d love to know what’s the biggest lesson or lessons you’ve learned in the last significant period of your life? It might be the last decade or even the last month, or year. Please comment below and let me know.