Personal reflections · Psychology and mental illness · Recovery

An Introduction to a New Series: Letters of Self-Compassion

“Things you said about me, it hurt, it did.
What matters more is how I feel about myself
The things you said about me, I won’t forget
What matters now is how I feel about myself.” –Melan, Soul Stream

I want to try something new. I have been doing it in several ways already, but not yet in my writing. Recently I’ve been meditating more regularly, trying to aim for at least 20 minutes a day, but often going past that goal. There are a lot of different topics in the guided meditations, but I’ve been trying to give myself more compassion and kindness. This is an effort to combat the inner voice that is so overwhelmingly negative.

For most of my life, I’ve repeated to myself the messages of guilt, disappointment, and perfectionism I was raised with. I’m never satisfied with myself, and I never allow myself to rest. Every day I try to keep up with too-long to-do lists. Each evening, I’m used to going until I can’t anymore. I fall into restless sleep from a restless state of mind. It’s only recently that I’ve realized that if I don’t unlearn these habits, they will stick with me until I die.

The thing is, when I was growing up, I believed that I would rest – literally – when I was dead. That’s because I believed in a vibrant afterlife where I would never again feel the exhaustion of being tethered to a body. So it didn’t matter if I spent my evenings moving tasks from today’s to-do list to tomorrow’s, cursing the day for its short length of time. But now it matters a great deal that I learn to relax, for a lot of reasons.

For starters, I’m disabled. I don’t have the energy and time I used to have. My body demands that I rest when I’m in too much pain to be up doing things. I could (and do) beat myself up internally for this. After all, the world I live in is heavily ableist, emphasizing the value of working ourselves into the ground. It’s so easy to internalize the messages beaten into me throughout my childhood and young adulthood. The myth of laziness pervades every aspect of our culture, to the extent that even meditation – that is, mindfully doing nothing at all – has gained popularity as a way to boost productivity.

Through years of therapy and learning about recovery, it has slowly become possible for me to find another way of being. I can look at my surroundings, like the unfolded laundry and the sink full of dishes, not as undone tasks, but things that are in cyclical stages. I can choose to remain in my body when it needs to rest, allowing my mind to rest with it, too. I can realize that rest is exactly what the imperialistic, capitalistic world powers do NOT want me to do.

I can hold myself with the same empathy I feel for anyone else who’s been through a lot and is going through a lot. I deserve the same love and compassion that I feel for others. It matters that when I think about self-care, I don’t just think about caring actions, but actual care – something with an internal source. I can literally care about myself, and from that care, I can make decisions expressing that self-care.

So in the spirit of all these things, I am going to start writing letters to myself. I can support and care for myself, with compassion and even cheerleading. I want to address my present self, but also my past self. I’ll be looking at past writing and addressing that person who wrote those things, too.