Recovery Is Not About “Getting Over Your Issues”

I used to think that if I could just “get over my issues,” I would be happy.

๐๐ฎ๐ญ ๐ญ๐ก๐š๐ญ’๐ฌ ๐ฃ๐ฎ๐ฌ๐ญ ๐ญ๐ก๐ž “๐ก๐š๐ฉ๐ฉ๐ข๐ฅ๐ฒ ๐ž๐ฏ๐ž๐ซ ๐š๐Ÿ๐ญ๐ž๐ซ” ๐ฆ๐ฒ๐ญ๐ก ๐ข๐ง ๐š ๐๐ข๐Ÿ๐Ÿ๐ž๐ซ๐ž๐ง๐ญ ๐Ÿ๐จ๐ซ๐ฆ. โฃโ € โฃโ €

Plus, my interpretation of ๐˜จ๐˜ฆ๐˜ต๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ ๐˜ฎ๐˜บ ๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ด๐˜ถ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด looked like stuffing them down inside and ploughing ahead, hiding my limping mental health. โฃโ € โฃ

I say ๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ because if I had *actually* been limping physically, I would have stopped to rest and assess. โฃโ € โฃโ €

Not so with mental health. โฃโ € โฃ

Today, I no longer think it’s ๐˜ฆ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ/๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ. It’s not “either you have issues, ๐จ๐ซ you are happy.” It’s not “either you get over your issues, ๐จ๐ซ you remain unhappy.”โฃโ € โฃโ €

The two are not mutually exclusive, nor does one guarantee the other.โฃโ € โฃ

Overcoming ๐˜ฆ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ/๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ, ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ญ-๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ-๐˜ฏ๐˜ฐ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ฌ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ is an ongoing part of the recovery process, for me. โฃโ € โฃโ €

Thanks for reading. xoxoโฃโ € โฃโ €

P.S. ๐˜’๐˜ฎ ๐˜ด๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜ฑ๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ค๐˜ฆ๐˜ด๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ด ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฑ๐˜ข๐˜ด๐˜ต ๐˜ธ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฌ ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ฌ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ข๐˜ฃ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ต ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜จ-๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ฎ ๐˜ค๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜จ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด ๐˜ want ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ ๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜ฌ๐˜ฆ ๐˜จ๐˜ฐ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ง๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฅ. ๐˜’๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜ด๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ข๐˜ด ๐˜ด๐˜ฐ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ข๐˜ด ๐˜’๐˜ฎ ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ฅ๐˜บ.

I’d like to share a post by fellow mental health blogger Megan, because she has echoed a lot of what I’m experiencing from an anxiety perspective: Mental Health Monday: 7 Tips for Having Hard Conversations About Race When Youโ€™re White and Have Anxiety

I will end with this thought, which is imperfect, but my understanding of everything that’s going on is just as imperfect and constantly evolving:

I Am Not Social Anxiety (And Neither Are You) โฃ

I am not social anxiety, but I accept it as part of my life.

I’m still working in the direction of “recovery,” but I’ve made space for a lot of nuance in what I think that looks like. โฃ

I think I used to equate recovery with “cure,” and I used to think “cured” meant no longer socially anxious or held back by “shyness” or “introversion” at all. โฃ

But that mindset came from a place of unnecessary and hurtful self-rejection. โฃ

Self-acceptance

I had to shift to a place of self-acceptance before any recovery could really take place. โฃAnd there have been some other changes, too:

  • I stopped viewing shyness or introversion negatively once I realized they weren’t the same thing as social anxiety (or as one another).
  • I’ve started to see social anxiety disorder as the thing that makes me censor myself from the world. โฃEven from myself sometimes. Recovery has meant learning to turn down the censor and let the real me emerge. โฃ
  • Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned that self-shame is just not a useful tool for recovery.

Not broken

I’m learning to accept that who I am inside is ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฐ๐˜ต the problem. And that recovery doesn’t mean “fixing” the real me within.

I’m not broken.

Please don’t beat yourself up if you experience social anxiety. You’re not bad or weak or broken.

You are not social anxiety.

xoxo

14 Simple Ways To Love Your Socially Anxious Self

There’s a time and place for working on overcoming anxiety, and there’s a time and place for going easy on yourself. Let this post be your gentle reminder to practice the latter when you need it.

On that note, here are 14 ways to practice a little self-love if you struggle with anxiety. (And even if you don’t. You deserve self-love too, you functional adult, you.)

These ideas do not involve extensive interaction with other humans or lofty goals like going for a walk through your neighborhood–because that’s where the people are, and I don’t know about you, but if I am having a social anxiety flare-up, I need solutions that are low-stress.

I’m excited to hear what you think of the list.

Note: None of the links are affiliates or sponsors — just things I like.

#14: Read a book that soothes your trigger areas

Three areas I have experienced a lot of anxiety are perfectionism, pregnancy, and parenting. These books have made a world of difference to me:

Whatever you struggle with (body image? self-esteem? hair pulling?), there’s almost certainly a book that can help.

#13: Get super silly

My kids and I always get a ridiculous laugh out of the filters on Messenger. I highly recommend them.

We sent this to a friend to say, “Have a good niiiiiiiight!” And we laughed our wee heads off.

Remember: You don’t have to actually send the video to anyone if you don’t want to.

#12: Remember your awesomeness

This only works if you’re not feeling like a total self-care rebel (ร  la “No, I will NOT do anything constructive for myself *foot stomp*). (It happens to the best of us…)

Try listing 3 things that you are quite sure are not-shit about yourself. For example, mine would be:

  1. I make people laugh sometimes.
  2. I have the power to create other human beings.
  3. My hot chocolate is my husband’s favourite.

#11: Reach out

If you’re not feeling TOO far gone into hermit mode, it can be nice to connect lightly, gently, quietly with another human, even if all you can manage is a heart emoji by text message. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get the ball rolling.

Actually, with one friend, we use the heart emoji as my code for “I see your message and I’m thinking of you, but I’m too caught up in anxiety right now to engage.” (A friend who will do that for you is GOLD.)

Related reading: ๐Ÿ’œ To the Friends of Those With Social Anxiety ๐Ÿ’œ

#10: Reach in

Basically this comes down to self-compassion.

Just give yourself an inner pat on the back.

Sometimes I (silently) tell myself things like, “You’ll get through this.” or “You feel anxious, and that’s okay.”

#9: Get warm

I learned this from a podcast episode by The Savvy Psychologist on 4 Surprising Ways Depression Affects Your Body (bold emphasis is my own):

A recent Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) study gave depressed participants just one session of whole-body heat treatment using infrared heat. The study showed that, even a whole week later, participants  who received the heat treatment experienced less depressive symptoms than those who got a sham treatment without heat.

So, if you struggle with depression, one inexpensive way to give yourself some relief may be to take a hot bath or do some hot yoga.

From 4 Surprising Ways Depression Affects Your Body

Here are four ways I use heat:

  • I like to take a bath after therapy, when I’m most drained.
  • I lie on a heating pad for a few minutes at bedtime every night. It helps me sleep and relax. (Actually, I just bought a replacement pad because the one my mom-in-law gave me finally died. THAT was a sad day.)
  • I have a microwaveable rice bag that my friend made for me years ago.
  • I ingest much tea (more on tea below).

#8: Do an anxiety meditation

I don’t meditate much. (I have this bad habit of resisting things that are “obvious” methods of self-care. I don’t know why… something something self-sabotage, maybe?)

But anyway, when I really need help stopping the thought-vortex, meditation is occasionally what I turn to, whether it’s for morning encouragement, mid-day relief, or sleep help.

I’ve been meaning to try Headspace, but for now I use the Insight Timer app’s free collection. They have a whole collection for anxiety specifically.

My favourite teacher is Aluna Moon because of her soothing voice and the fact that a lot of her content is short and also caters to my mom angst:

Aluna Moon courses in Insight Timer
Some of Aluna Moon’s courses in Insight Timer.

I also like her Peaceful Sleep Meditation.

#7: Listen to a podcast

Podcasts are great for keeping my mind from going to blah and meh places, especially when I’m doing busywork but my mind is not occupied (and therefore free to spiral).

Here are two of my go-tos:

#6: Make it dark

Dark is cozy.
Photo by Designecologist from Pexels

This might just be me, but darkness is like a cocoon when the world feels a little too big.

I love taking a shower in the dark after the kids go to bed (bonus: heat therapy!).

#5: Normalize your body

If you experience body-related anxiety or insecurities like me (I learned that this is fairly common for those of us with social anxiety), one thing to try is to hop on Instagram and see the bad-ass content creators on there who are working to normalize all bodies and encourage healthier relationships with ourselves.

Some of my faves:

There are so many more. I could write a whole post on my favourite accounts and the uplifting work they’re doing.

And if you need a little extra love, check out my post You (Yes, You) Are Beautiful. xoxo

#4: Eat

Hunger + Anxiety = Hanxiety (Hanger 2.0).

I once cried the whole way to my favourite local Mexican restaurant because I was afraid it would be closed and I wouldn’t get my enchilada platter. (I was very pregnant and it was my birthday and we were running late.)

It was not closed. I got my enchiladas.

Moral: Pregnant, anxious, and hungry do NOT mix.

Just eat if your body needs to eat.

#3: Tea

Tea is warm and soothing and smells nice and it is a truth universally acknowledged that a tea-lover in possession of a kettle must be in want of a mug. Or… something.

Here’s your mug.
Photo by John-Mark Smith from Pexels

My favourites at the moment:

#2: Doodle

Ideally something funny. Like this:

I challenge you to draw a bumblebee ninja.

You will not be able to beat this rendition by a friend who shall remain nameless–unless she chooses to out herself as the bee-ninja artist she is–but your attempts will probably entertain you and anyone you show:

Update: She doesn’t mind being named. Everyone tell Julie how amazing she is and which bee you like best (left, middle, or right). I chose the bee on the right. (This was in her congratulations card to me when I was pregnant with James. We called him Bumblebee at the time. We still exchange many LOOOOLs and BAHAHAHAHs about this drawing to this day.)

#1. And the ultimate way to love your socially anxious self…

Wait for it…

Photo by @thegardenpics // More info in this article // My husband 100% sees the newer version of this on his way to work every day.

Think about it:

No partner = No performance anxiety.

Just sayin’.

(It’s a little more nuanced than that, as you might expect. Anxiety is rarely straight-forward. Read more here.)

There you have it!

Soooo… Would you try any of these ideas? Am I going to get to see some bumblebee ninjas? I will 100% accept bumblebee ninjas in my email inbox (blushygingersadie [at] gmail.com) or on Instagram or Facebook!

Go love your fabulous self in the way you like best!

And I’d be tickled pink if you’d consider sharing this with someone who could use a little pick-me-up today. xoxoxoxo

P.S. Word of loving advice from someone who does this very thing: Try not to let yourself get anxious at the thought of having to try ALL THE THINGS RIGHT NOW. Pick and choose, or come up with your own idea(s). Just go easy on yourself. ๐Ÿ™‚

And remember:

2 Surprising Things That Help MY Social Anxiety

I’m all for exposure therapy and reducing anxiety the old-fashioned way, but sometimes it’s fun to (accidentally) think outside the box.

Over the past 2 weeks, I’ve stumbled across 2 tricks for muffling or reducing how much social anxiety I feel in the situation in question.

Trick #1: Take Off My Glasses

Blurry makes it better.
Photo by Designecologist from Pexels

This will admittedly not work if you have good eyesight without glasses.

I need glasses for distance — I wear them all day.

We took the kids to the swimming pool the other weekend, and I decided to leave my glasses in the locker for a change. (I needed a break from getting pool-water spots all over my lenses and I wanted to show the kids how to use their new goggles.)

The unexpected side effect?

I couldn’t read people’s facial expressions!

This was freeing (if a little headache-inducing) because:

People with social anxiety are more likely than their non-anxious counterparts to interpret a neutral or ambiguous facial expression as negative.

Something I learned in therapy.

We tend to be hypervigilant, always scanning our surroundings for threats in the form of negative expressions (or body language).

I didn’t realize how much I was scanning and being hypervigilant until I couldn’t do it anymore. All I could see was whatever was right up close to me, so just my kids and husband.

It was like putting noise-cancelling headphones on my eyes! I had a much less stressful time swimming than I normally do.

I haven’t tested this in a more open space like the mall yet.

And obviously this won’t work for driving anxiety… please wear your glasses behind the wheel.

But maybe try going glasses-free in a safe test environment and let me know!

Trick #2: Leave Voice Notes

Like this, but less intense.
Photo by Moose Photos from Pexels

DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU CAN SEND VOICE NOTES IN MESSENGER AND INSTAGRAM?

I did not know this until a wonderful human I recently connected with on Instagram (@mckenzie_valenta) sent me a “hello” message, and I wanted to give it a try and reply.

I thought it was so great! One of my biggest anxiety triggers is the phone. Receiving calls, making calls, listening to voice messages… all of it.

But the key to reducing anxiety is to ease into your fears. Baby steps up the fear ladder.

  • For me, making phone calls and answering the phone is still way up there, anxiety-wise.
  • But sending a voice note? That, I can do. It’s still scary, but it’s manageable-scary.

SURPRISE! HERE’S MY VOICE! I cannot guarantee audio quality as I have never done this before.

Was this awkward? Yes, yes it was. Did I do it anyway? HELL YEAH I DID. That’s how you know you’ve found the “exposure therapy” sweet spot.

I’ve started sending messages to friends and relatives, and I feel so much more connected to them!

The audio message sends as soon as you lift your finger off the microphone icon, so you can’t re-record and “perfect” your message endlessly.

I totally recommend this as a way to keep in touch with people, and not just for those of us who have social anxiety! It’s so intimate and heartwarming to hear your friend’s voice once in a while.

Next step: VIDEO MESSAGES?!

What Do You Think?

I’m all ears. (Ugh, least creative pun.)
Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

Would you be up for trying either of these tricks? Or do you have some tricks that I should try? ๐Ÿ™‚

Thanks for reading!

Is Anxiety Medication Worth It?

Medication is not a magic cure-all. But it could be what lets you function well enough to do the deeper work (like therapy) and the physical stuff (like exercise). And sleep. And that’s pretty amazing.

Finding the right dosage and perhaps combination of medications can be a painstaking, drawn-out, frustrating process. But when you get the right balance? It can make all the difference in the world to someone who has already suffered enough from their mental health challenges.

And if you have anxiety, haven’t you already suffered enough?

Here are two things to know about when considering medication, based on my own experience:

1. Side effects are real (but they might be worth it)

There’s a lot of fear about side effects, and for good reason. I’m not going to pretend they don’t exist. Over the years, I’ve dealt with:

  • nausea
  • sleepiness
  • hypervigilance
  • sexual side effects
  • agitation
  • irritability
  • brain zaps
  • appetite changes
  • dizziness
  • and more

You have to weigh the side effects of medication against the debilitating effects of leaving the mental health disorder untreated. In my case, I would have suffered from a lot of the above from having severe untreated anxiety anyway.

This was my life before starting medication:

  • I couldn’t drive.
  • I struggled to go out and do things.
  • I would stress-cancel a lot.
  • I couldn’t handle even the idea of therapy.
  • I basically wanted to hibernate all the time.
  • I had a really hard time feeling like I was actually in charge of my own life.
  • My world became small and lonely.

Medication helped free me from my own mind enough to start driving, become a mom, start therapy, pursue my freelance work, and write about my experiences online.

At its best, effective medication can put you back in the driver’s seat (literally, in my case).

2. Medications can be combined to ease side effects

Combining meds can help you get the benefits of both medications, while trying to balance out some of the side effects of each.

For example, SSRIs can cause sexual dysfunction, but a medication like Wellbutrin (buproprion) can reduce that effect.

Personally, I’m currently taking Wellbutrin in the morning and Zoloft (sertraline) in the evening. Wellbutrin is an excellent medication for mood-related disorders, so it helps with my depressive symptoms.

But it’s also “activating,” and on its own it can make anxiety worse. I started to feel very squirrelly and agitated. So we added Zoloft, which is an SSRI medication commonly prescribed for social anxiety, among other things. It helps with anxiety-related symptoms and with balancing out the activating effects of Wellbutrin.

Final thoughts

Medication is not magic. But it can be a lifesaver.

We only get one life. Isn’t it worth making that life the best we can with what we know and what we have access to? For many people, medication can do that.

It’s like introducing a leash to this situation:

It’s not for everyone. But it might not hurt to look into it. You deserve to feel better.

I’m not a doctor, though. Listen to your doctor. Obviously. ๐Ÿ™‚

Do you have any thoughts on medication? Leave a comment!

Are They Shy, or Is It Social Anxiety Disorder?

… It could be both.

I never used to know about social anxiety. All I knew was “shyness.” It took me a long time to learn that they aren’t synonyms, even though they are similar.

Shyness and social anxiety can be confusing from the inside, so I can imagine they must be even more puzzling and vague for friends and loved ones.

My “in a nutshell” explanation of the difference between the two would be this:

I am a shy person who also has social anxiety.

One is something I am. The other isn’t.

This is the simplest way I can think to express how the difference feels from the inside.

You can have shy people with social anxiety. And shy people without social anxiety. And even people with social anxiety who aren’t shy at all.

Shyness is not a disorder, and social anxiety is not a personality trait.

The reason it’s confusing is that it’s not an either/or situation. Shyness lies on a spectrum, and so does social anxiety, and there are areas that overlap between the two.

Then why does the distinction matter?

Because it’s liberating.

It was so freeing when I finally understood that shyness is part of my personality, but that social anxiety is a disorder.

It reassured me to know that I can work on my anxiety issues, and hopefully resolve them in time, without needing to change who I am as a person.

I’m not sure if any of this is reassuring to someone from the outside looking in. Just know that if you are puzzled by a loved one who may be shy or diagnosably socially anxious or both, you’re not alone, because chances are that person is very confused about it all too.

Understanding all this helped me finally be okay with my shy nature, which in turn freed me to focus on easing the symptoms of social anxiety, which is helping my relationships with others.

I still have moments where I wonder, “Am I even shy at all, or is it ALL social anxiety?” Mostly, though, I’m actually kind of proud to be shy.

But it took a long time to get here.

I hope your shy person finds their way here, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

(Maybe you could leave a trail of chocolate along the path.)

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Powerlifting Helps Me Focus on Lifting Weight, NOT Losing Weight

Around February 2019, I realized I was completely and utterly BURNT OUT on trying to motivate myself to keep going to the gym with the goal of getting smaller.

Burning calories.

Making less of me.

My weight-loss breaking point

I had finally reached my breaking point, and I was ready to quit the gym (and exercise in general) because I felt like continuing what I was doing was just making me feel worse about myself.

I was so done with calorie counting, and FitBit tracking, and weekly weigh-ins. The harder I worked to “control” my calories in and calories out, to hack my macros, to measure my inches and photograph my “before” shots… the more I became a prisoner to disordered eating habits and distorted thinking. And I had nothing left.

So I told my trainer, “I’m tired of trying to lose weight. Can we just lift REALLY heavy stuff instead?” And that’s when I discovered powerlifting. Bench pressing, deadlifting, and squatting.

All of a sudden, I was working out to get STRONG, not get SMALL.

Powerlifting to the rescue!

Powerlifting is about strength, not looks. I can focus on trying to LIFT more weight instead of LOSE more weight.

Powerlifting has been the most liberating type of exercise I’ve ever done. I don’t do it as often as I’d like these days, but that has less to do with gym reluctance and more to do with being a human who is prone to December busy-ness, kids with winter colds, and the primal urge to hibernate. (Okay, so a little gym reluctance.)

How I deal with gym anxiety

One of the biggest reasons I’ve been able to powerlift consistently for the past 9-10 months is that I am lucky enough to have an amazing trainer (the one I mentioned above) who understands anxiety and depression, and whose coaching style is goofy and playful instead of “SUCK IT UP PRINCESS” (which would make me cry and quit).

On weeks where my gym anxiety is flaring up really bad, my training session is often the only time I make it into the gym that week. And my trainer gets what’s going on, and finds ways to give me a kick in the butt without making me feel like a lazy piece of garbage for struggling.

I have two other great sources of support:

  • My husband, Jesse, who joins me for my non-trainer lifting sessions whenever he can. Having my “safe person” with me makes the gym anxiety practically vanish.
  • Our gym’s fitness manager (@jesszakk) who strikes a good balance between tough love encouragement and being her clients’ biggest cheerleader.

I don’t always need help getting into the gym. I can be feeling confident on my own for weeks. But for those times when the anxiety is really holding me back, these three people help me get back on track.

So that would be my advice to anyone struggling with gym anxiety — as much as you can, find friends, partners, or gym people who can make working out a little less lonely and intimidating.

More affordable alternatives

I know it’s not in everyone’s means to have a trainer. We find a way to make it work because of how much it helps my mental, emotional, and physical health. But I know not everyone can do that.

I’ve seen a very cool powerlifting program online called Stronger By The Day that’s only US$8/month. If we ever stop being able to afford personal training, then that program is where I would look first. It helps that the program creator is Megsquats, on whom I might have a sliiiight girl crush.

I haven’t tried the program other than the free sample, so I’m mostly just sharing where I would look first based on how much I enjoy Meg’s YouTube channel and Instagram accounts.

Where my body image is at now

I’m not completely “cured” of my body image issues. I still have moments where I dwell on my “c-section shelf” and how it seems to always be visible (to me) no matter how I dress.

But changing my focus to building muscle has helped me stop weighing myself obsessively and tracking my calories to the point of neurotic, perfectionistic burnout.

I want my baby girl to have a strong, healthy-minded role model mama.

That said, I do find it really hard to find balance in one area, and that’s this: How do I make sure I’m getting as much protein as I “need” to build muscle, but do it without triggering obsessive calorie counting and restriction?

I haven’t figured that out yet, but a bad-ass weightlifting friend of mine (see her amazing lifting pin-up girl tattoos below) did share her approach, which we summarized as basically “intuitive eating plus a daily protein shake.” And I think that does make a lot of sense for people who have a history of disordered eating, or being on the restrict-binge pendulum (both of which are true for me).

Okay but seriously, aren’t Sydney’s tattoos GORGEOUS?

Conclusion: Barbells for everyone!

Long story short, I’m a super big fan of powerlifting. Clearly. It feels SO GOOD to feel strong. And it powers me up for everything else I do in life, like carry my cupcake-covered 3-year-old to the sink before she turns my friend’s house green.

Have you ever tried powerlifting?

Has another sport helped your body image or self-esteem?

Let me know in the comments!

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6 Things I’d Tell My Shy Younger Self (About Mental Health and Self-Acceptance)

How many times have you wished you could go back and give your younger self a hug, or maybe a good shake, to spare them (you) from all the tough stuff that’s still to come?

On the one hand, I know that there is huge value in learning the lessons and doing the work. I don’t know if I would *actually* go back and tell myself the things below. But on the other hand, it’s cathartic and therapeutic to imagine what you would say, you know?

So here are 6 things I would tell a younger me about shyness, mental health, and accepting myself (including my body):

#1 You don’t have to please everyone all the time

I’m not saying you can’t please people ever. I’m just saying you don’t have to do it at the expense of your own needs. (I say, as someone who still does it. But this is a time travel letter so I can change the past which then changes the future, right, so do as I say and not as I have done thus far in my/our life.)

If you spend your life as a chronic people pleaser, it will lead to:

  • thinking of yourself as a social chameleon
  • censoring and filtering yourself to match the energy and personalities of the people around you because you’re afraid of how people will react if they know the “real” you
  • feeling like your preferences (and often just your existence ) are an imposition on others

The more time you spend grooming yourself to be as inoffensive as possible to the world, the more you will be tormented by the question, โ€œWho am I, then?โ€

Don’t live your life apologetically.

#2 It’s okay to make mistakes

Perfection is a toxic mind mirage, and pursuing it will shatter your self-confidence and productivity. You will become desperate to just reach perfection so that you can finally relax.

Perfectionism in the clinical sense is not healthy. It goes beyond just being driven, or “Type A,” or having high personal standards. It is disordered thinking.

Here is the ridiculous list of things you will strive to make perfect:

Youโ€™ll want to be:

  • the PERFECT mother
  • the PERFECT wife
  • the PERFECT entrepreneur

Youโ€™ll be obsessed with nailing down:

  • the PERFECT daily routines
  • the PERFECT home organization system
  • the PERFECT wardrobes for you and your children
  • the PERFECT meal plans
  • the PERFECT workout routines
  • the PERFECT defensive driving techniques (not even kidding)
  • the PERFECT path that PERFECTLY balances your PERFECT career choice and PERFECTLY PURSUED passions

What, was that annoying to read? Was there clearly an excessive emphasis on the word PERFECT?

YES, YOUNGER SELF. TRY LIVING WITH THAT TRACK ON REPEAT IN YOUR BRAIN FOR 20 YEARS.

Actually no, DON’T TRY THAT. I forgot the goal of this letter for a sec.

Listen. You will NEVER, EVER get โ€œthere.โ€ Because “there” will keep moving even if you get closer to it.

Good enough is good enough and you’re good enough so stop it. (But also seek help because you don’t need to get over this alone.)

#3 Your body is okay

I’m not going to say “your body is perfect and flawless and you make sunsets cry” or any other platitudes that do no one any good.

No one has the perfect body. (If they did, they probably wouldn’t think it was perfect anyway and also everyone poops so next time you’re putting other people up on a pedestal just remember it’s not the only kind of pedestal they sit on.)

Someday, youโ€™ll look back at photos of yourself over the years and realize how totally okay you’ve been all along.

But at the time, you were worried about things like:

  • Cellulite
  • Stretch marks
  • The scar from where the doctors saved you and your sonโ€™s lives with an emergency c-section (your tummy now hangs over the scar, creating what you consider a โ€œshelf of shame“)
  • The fact that you think your face looks “weird” and “like a naked mole-rat” without glasses on. (You really need to work on your self-talk.)
  • The angle of your teeth (“underachieving on the bottom and overachieving on top”)
  • The slope of your nose (“it gets way too proud of itself halfway down and then wallows in its own shame at the bottom”)
  • Your cuticles (“who gave them permission to just keep GROWING all the time?”)
  • Your hair (“too ginger / not ginger enough / not the right kind of ginger / too curly / bad curly / too mom / too cocker spaniel / too unkempt / mutates when I sleep on it”)

And so on. You fixate on various things and then move on until you come back to them and realize they’re still there.

And in case you’re wondering, you will seek help for this and be screened for body dysmorphia. You will be told you donโ€™t meet the diagnostic criteria, which will floor you, because if this level of body-criticism isn’t clinically significant, does that mean there are countless other women walking around thinking the same things about their perfectly imperfect bodies?

Look. It’s okay to care about your appearance and about looking/feeling pretty and dolling yourself up and exercising and all that stuff.

But don’t believe for a second that how you look is the most interesting thing about you.

#4 You are worthy of self-care

Many of us have a brain bully who whispers things like:

  • โ€œThe real you does not take care of herself.โ€
  • โ€œYouโ€™re just faking it right now, going through a phase where youโ€™re trying on self-care for size, but it won’t last because you never stick with anything.โ€
  • โ€œYou donโ€™t really deserve this.โ€

The advice is simple here and comes from a future friend: “Fuck you, brain bully.”

It’s okay to take care of yourself. Act like you love yourself and slowly it’ll start to rub off on you. (It’s not that easy but it’s a start.)

#5 You deserve to heal

Eventually, when you burn out and hit your emotional rock bottom, you will see a psychiatrist and she will give you the permission you didn’t know you needed to start taking care of your mental health.

You’ll find out that over the past 20 years, you’ve developed severe social anxiety as well as perfectionism, generalized anxiety, and, eventually, depression.

And you will be RELIEVED to hear this… because you always thought you just โ€œsucked at being a human.โ€

You will finally understand that this is more than just โ€œsadnessโ€ or โ€œshynessโ€ or โ€œbeing kind of hard on yourself.โ€

If you had been trying to walk around with a broken leg, you would have noticed it, addressed it, and let it heal.

Take your mental health as seriously as your physical health. Treat your mental and emotional wounds like a broken bone. Because broken bones can heal.

#6 You. Are. Good. Enough.

You have been seeing yourself through a cloudy, cracked, warped filter.

It’s the FILTER that needs to change. Not who YOU are inside.

Take a step back sometimes. Get out of your own head and take an honest look at other peopleโ€™s imperfections.

Think about the people you care about and love. Do you see their imperfections and love them anyway? Of course you do, because you see the whole person. Start doing that with yourself. Start seeing your whole good messy self. (Yes, even when you have cocker-spaniel hair days.)

Give yourself permission to be a work in progress. Forever.

Life is not a fairy tale with a happily ever after. Not every day will go in the win column.

I don’t have it all figured out and Iโ€™m not writing to you from a place of โ€œperfection.”

But that is exactly the point.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Let me know in the comments. ๐Ÿ™‚

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