DISCLAIMER: This column contains mentions eating disorders and may be triggering for some readers. Use caution before reading.
February is the month that we all think of when we think of love, right? As a child, one of my favorite days was Valentine’s Day. I remember opening cards from my classmates, usually accompanied by a tiny edible treat of some kind, and really feeling special.
By my teenage years, Valentine’s Day started to take on another meaning. My peers were trading in their 2×2 inch square Valentines for flowers, candy and unsupervised dates to the movie theater.
I, however, was not exchanging love letters with my high school crush or salivating over a shirtless photograph of Zack from Saved by the Bell (ageing myself here). I was beginning what would become a long, arduous and often hopeless path towards loving someone far more important that any high school or Hollywood crush. I was learning (or at least trying) to love myself.
My battle with depression began in late middle school, but it really didn’t go into full swing until I was in high school. That was the point at which I began extreme dieting and then eventually became anorexic/bulimic. I spent Valentine’s Day of my senior year of high school in a psychiatric unit for eating disorders. It would be the first of many holidays I would miss out on as I tried to win the battle against a hideous and dishonest disease.
I had no self-love. I felt useless, hopeless, helpless and worthless.
I felt less.
I will spare you the gory details, but I will say that I am very lucky to be alive today and the only reason that I am is because I have learned to love myself.
I did not recover from my demons until I was in my mid-20s, and they still rear their ugly heads sometimes. But, I have learned how to counter the lies of a mind that is sometimes distorted and the intrusive thoughts are now mostly fleeting and sparse.
But, something is to be said of my inability to overcome such distortions until I learned how to love myself.
I have been hearing of many sad occurrences in which people my age and often much younger are succumbing to these thoughts and leaving behind a slew of unanswered questions and unfulfilled hopes and dreams. And when this happens, we as a community are always so shocked.
“He was so funny and happy,” “she was so smart and successful,” and “they had so much to live for” are some of the things we hear, as if mental illness cares about our personality traits, careers or earthly possessions.
We all have things that we don’t like about ourselves. Sometimes we can change these things and sometimes we cannot. Despite these less than desirable traits, we NEED to love ourselves.
So this Valentine’s Day, I am challenging my fellow students to engage in some introspection. What do you love about YOU?
Maybe you are funny, perhaps you are a good listener or can pull together a delicious meal from things you purchased from a dollar store. Maybe you were gifted with the ability to express yourself through the art of dance, spoken word or song. Or maybe you are reliable, always there for others and a loyal friend.
Whatever the case is, before you go to dinner with your date or party with friends, talk kindly to yourself this Feb. 14. Tell yourself all of the wonderful things about you that everyone else already knows.
It’s nice getting compliments from people that we love, strangers even. But, really, you need to hear it from yourself for it to truly matter. And if you don’t believe your own words at first, that’s OK. Still say them.
Get used to hearing that you are important, that you are special and that you matter.
Because, it’s true.
Happy Valentine’s Day.