Updated: Dec 21, 2020
It’s been a rough day. And I know that everyone has bad days, but as someone who has had depression for most of their life at this point, rough days have the potential to be much worse for me, and can easily result in me falling into a pit that is hard to get out of. I know a lot of people who follow this page have similar struggles, so I thought it might be helpful for me to share some of the things I share with my clients and friends when they feel like this, in the hopes that it helps both me and all of you.
For a lot of us, self-love is a hard thing. Particularly for children of immigrants, it’s a well-worn cliche that our parents aren’t overtly encouraging or warm - they don’t tell us we’re wonderful or worthy, they celebrate our accomplishments, and they don’t tell us they are proud of us. And for some of us, the environments we grew up in are outright toxic, places where we have learned that our value is contingent on what we do for others, the degree to which we make ourselves small, the degree to which we serve a need. Sometimes these are places of great harm and abuse. But even if none of these versions represent your experience, we still live in a society that tells us over and over, every single day, in a million different ways, that we aren’t enough - smart enough, pretty enough, fun enough, thin enough, fair enough, fast enough, and on and on and on. And that sense of not being good enough, it starts to live under your skin - you carry it with you as you live and work and move through the world. And even if you’re not always aware of it, it will impact you.
For some of us, it shows up in how hard we work, in our inability to slow down because we have to do more, be better, work harder, to prove we are enough (this is me). For some of us, it’s in our inability to do much of anything, because the weight of the unworthiness we feel is so heavy that even getting out of bed seems like an impossible task. For some of us, it means we buy things we do not need or we make a point of having the newest or best of certain things. In hundreds of different ways, we are each trying to prove - to ourselves and to one another - that we are good, worthy, enough.
For me, on days like today, when things are hard, this is especially true. All those voices that have told me I am not enough, the cumulative experiences of feeling unvalued at various points in my life, start to pull me under. And try as I might, I can’t always find my own voice among that crowd and remind myself that it’s not true.
So what’s a girl to do? My father was a big fan of the old saying ‘physician, heal thyself!’ When I was younger, he would say it to me when I would get into one of these moods, as a way to remind me that I should use all the things I tell other people to help them in order to help myself. To be honest, I always hated it when he said that. But it was probably because he was right. I am terrible at applying the tools I teach to myself. But I’m working on it and have been for a while now.
What tools you may ask? Well, some are basic ones, like making sure I work on my self-care. And by self-care I don’t mean the ‘treat yo' self’ ‘buy this smoothie’ kind of self-care people keep trying to sell us, I mean real self-care, doing the things that nourish you and give your mind and your soul time to rest and heal.
I am TERRIBLE at self-care. Honestly, like so so bad. Because I tend to feel like if I stop to take care of myself the world around me will crumble. And no amount of ‘you can’t fill from an empty cup’ or ‘you have to put on your own mask before you put on someone else’s’ has ever gotten through to me. And I know this is a common issue for many of my clients too, so with myself and others, I recommend starting small.
Because self-care is often rooted in self-love, it is especially difficult when we feel unworthy and when we are in our low points, which ironically is when we need it most. So if self-love seems too hard, aim for self-neutrality. ‘I am ok’ ‘I am a person’ ‘I am the one who waters the plant’ ‘I brush my teeth every morning’ - these are small, simple things that we can say to ourselves to replace the negative scripts we have in ways that may feel more authentic and attainable than ‘I am beautiful’ ‘I am worthy’ (although if those work for you, definitely use them!). ‘I believe that all people deserve to live in a place where they are safe from harm’ is often a lot easier to say than ‘I deserve to live in a place where I am happy’. These kind of neutral statements can be an essential stepping stone towards a place where we are more able to affirm ourselves.
The other tool I use is to remind myself (and my clients) that even when I don’t feel especially worthy or lovable, Allah loves me. That is in fact one of Allah’s names - al-Wadud, the Loving, which is today’s snowflake. When we can’t get to self-affirmations, I suggest trying what I call ‘Allah affirmations’ - ‘Allah loves me’ ‘Allah is with me, wherever I am’ ‘Allah’s Rahma is not conditional on my getting this task accomplished’. And if those feel too hard, it is possible to take it down a notch - ‘Allah loves all creation and I am a part of that creation’ ‘Allah sees everything, not just this one moment when I am struggling’ ‘Allah’s Rahma encompasses everything, including me.’ These are statements we can root in the tradition, in explicit verses of Qur’an, and when all else fails, they can be incredibly comforting. And when all else fails, I try to remember that tomorrow is a new day ‘fresh with no mistakes in it’ as Anne Shirley says. And that when Allah and Anne agree, there’s got to be some truth to it.
“By the morning brightness, and the night when it grows still still, your Lord has not forsaken you, nor does He hate you. And the future will be better than the past. Your Lord is sure to give you so much that you will be well satisfied.” (Qur’an 93: 1-5)