Party of One; Couples Counseling with Myself
Updated: Aug 20, 2019
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “marriage is hard,” or “being a parent is tough,” and “long term relationships take work and effort as time progresses.” People are constantly recommending books, podcasts, articles and support groups based on these topics and relationships. So why don’t we ever talk about how hard or tough our relationship with our self is? Do we not have to put in the same kind of effort with ourselves as we do with our significant others, our best friends, our children? I have to listen to myself all day and as the years have gone on I’ve formed opinions, judgments, pet peeves, likes and dislikes about myself just as I would with a partner. It’s about high time I start giving myself the same attention that I give every other relationship in my life. Majority of my colleagues talk about reading books to help them further their career or brush up on standards of their specialty. Nearly all of my friends have read and enjoyed books to help them with their relationships or communication styles. Regardless of what anyone says, every parent has a book discreetly shoved towards the bottom of their book shelf about how to be the best possible parent... yet we make jokes about self help books or the people that hang out in that section of the book store. What if those people aren’t desperate, but instead have discovered various methodologies to accepting and loving themselves in order to be happy and content in their lives?
Then I thought, "why don’t we ever use our love languages on ourselves?"
While there’s no magic wand or easy button to push that will help you to love yourself and be kind to yourself, there are activities you can do throughout the year to improve your relationship with yourself. I've said, 'I don’t have time for that,' or 'I’m too busy,' countless times. If I’m being honest with myself, I can give up an hour of Netflix in order to reconnect with myself. So do me a favor, think back to when you were truly happiest with yourself, most confident you’ve ever been and content with who you are. Some might think of when they were in the best shape of their lives. Well, working out is time spent with yourself to nourish your body so that’s self care. Others might say it was while they were younger and could do whatever they wanted. So you listened to yourself consistently and asked yourself, “what do I feel like doing?” Again, self care.
For me that time in my life was when I didn’t care what others thought about me. I wore what I wanted, I spent money however I wanted, I slept in if I felt that I needed it, I worked out all week and partied all weekend. I went to a lot of concerts and on trips. Often those trips were alone because I was traveling for work events. I had total control over my life and I felt comfortable making those decisions. I had a lot of time to spend with myself, on my own, free of pressure from someone else or an outside influence. If my friends wanted to go to a club and I didn’t feel like going, I would stay where I was. If I felt like going home early and going to bed, I grabbed an Uber or a taxi and headed home while everyone stayed out. Part of this came from the fact that all of my friends were supportive and wouldn’t judge me or pressure me into doing things I didn’t want to.
I had given myself permission to not care because it was my life and I knew at the end of the day I’m responsible for my own happiness.
This was also one of the hardest times in my life. I was still struggling with anxiety and depression off and on without medication. I was poor because I lived in an expensive city and didn’t make much money. I lived in a run down apartment that was way too hot during Summer and way too cold during Winter. My job was an odd combination of drama, anxiety, freedom and comfort. Yet when I look back all I can think is how I really kind of loved that version of myself including all of my stupid mistakes and flaws. I still questioned myself often, experienced fear of missing out and had phases of insecurity or drama. But overall, I loved that person.
So how did I get there? What was I doing differently? How do I get back to there? I think about this regularly. Below are some of the things I used to do that I’ve since reintroduced into my current life.
Stop living for the future:
I stopped waiting for things to get better or using my goals as punishment. I was tired of looking at clothes and thinking something along the lines of, “maybe if I was in better shape.” I started giving things a shot and staying open minded. Next thing I knew I had recreated my wardrobe to fit who I am now and who I want to be. I took more chances when it came to expressing myself or feeling comfortable in social settings. I began feeling more confident at work and getting more compliments on my outfits. Secretly I wondered if it was because I was happier with how I felt about myself and people were noticing.
I still said no to some things that didn’t fit me or my lifestyle even though I wanted them to. For example, my younger self wouldn’t have worn a crop top even if that trend was everywhere or all of my friends were wearing them because I’ve always been modest about my stomach. This especially stands true today after having a child. I knew I wouldn’t want to spend all of my time feeling self conscious so I’d say no thank you to crop tops.
There’s a quote that I love and it perfect explains what I’m talking about here - “Visualize your highest self & start showing up as her.”
That’s exactly what I did at my happiest. I was authentically who I wanted to be. I didn’t wait for anything to start that. In my current state, I realized I had been thinking of people I saw online and how their life looked from this side of the screen and how that’s what I wanted. It wasn’t in jealousy or anger. It was just a small feeling in my gut and a tiny voice in my head that said, “that’s it. That’s the goal.” Eventually I realized there’s no reason that I can’t be more like that starting now. I don’t need to be skinnier, have more money, have more free time, a different job or a better home.
Start on the right foot:
I always loved my morning commute, in my past life, because I could listen to whatever I wanted, wake up slowly and think through my day before getting started. I was setting myself up for emotional success from the beginning. This might not sound important to everyone, but it was a revelation for me. I hadn't realized how important that was for me as I'm not a morning person.
Over the years I began carpooling with friends and eventually with my husband. I had lost that time to work out my day as I wanted to so by the time I got to work I was already frazzled. In order to implement this in my current life, I started every morning with something that makes me smile so I was in a good mood before even getting into the car. This was trickier and took time because mornings can be chaotic. Some mornings this would be an iced coffee, some mornings would just be listening to my favorite podcast on the way to work with headphones. My favorite mornings include laughter whether it’s mine or someone I love. I've even begun to get up early so I can have a cup of coffee with my son while he plays and makes a mess in the living room.
I did a writing prompt where you can’t stop writing or put down a pen for 5 full minutes minimum about what I want, who I am and my values. Since you're not allowed to stop you're forced to get out everything that comes to mind. You write the first things that you think of in relation to what you want and what you value like a personal mission statement for your life. By the end of the 5+ minutes, you’ve realized exactly what is important to you whether it’s priorities, desires, career choice, lifestyle or anything else. There were inklings I had considered but couldn’t decide on or wasn’t sure I’d be able to do, but following the writing prompt showed me those things are exactly what I want without that level of fear or insecurity to cloud my thoughts. It was eye opening. Spoiler alert: it later lead to starting a blog.
Next step was writing a list of what stresses me out to the point of feeling irritable or frustrated. Then I started to weed those things out over time. Focus on the things you can control or you’ll end up even more discouraged. Each time you think of something to add to your list ask yourself, “is this something I have the power to change?” If the answer is no, don’t put it down, maybe come back to it later. For me this included not rushing as I get ready. Other examples include having a list before going to the grocery store so we can stick to our budget, not getting time by myself each week to relax, running out of my medication without having a new bottle ready. These were things I could easily prepare for without feeling overwhelmed. I'd never realized how simple these changes are in order to feel less stressed out.
Remember what I said about using love languages on yourself? I took myself on dates. I’m dead serious. I’m not referring to dinner and a movie, but things that I loved doing on my own. I like to mix these up so I don’t get complacent. I want it to feel like a special treat. One afternoon could be coffee and walking around my favorite store without needing to be anywhere else at any specific time. Notice how coffee is constantly repeated whenever I talk about self care? Mom life! Another day would be going to my favorite local hardware store to pick up new plants followed by uninterrupted gardening while listening to music or (again) my favorite podcast. Sometimes I would invite friends along as a lady date too. This isn’t something I do every week, more like once a month or every other week.
Put in more effort:
I put in effort even when I didn’t want to and said yes to more opportunities. I kept thinking back to being that lady on the other side of the screen. I can’t sit here and think about how lucky that other person is or make excuses that it’s because they’re more wealthy or they got started years ago. I needed to put what I wanted to be into action regularly in order to get to that goal. This one was hard for me personally. There were a lot of days where I wanted to be lackadaisical - yoga pants, movies, minimal errands and chores. I didn’t want to feel stressed out or have too many plans!
Instead I started getting ready for the day in a way where I would feel fine about running into someone I used to know. I knew if I was ready for plans in advance I would feel much more comfortable with keeping my plans or being spontaneous. I wouldn’t get anxious and become frazzled about having enough time to get ready and then shut down instead and stay home. There’s a healthy way to say no to plans or cancel plans and then there’s allowing your anxiety to rule your life. So I would get ready and make sure to start my morning with what makes me smile & move right into something productive, sometimes accomplishing both at once. I firmly believe a body in motion stays in motion.
This doesn’t mean I started adding more steps to my routine of getting ready. I wasn’t going to start self tanning weekly or putting on fake lashes every day, but I would take a few more minutes to put on foundation even if I was just running an errand. I invested in better workout clothes that I felt good in if I was out in public in them. I even bought a lash system that I can put on and wear for a week straight for when I want to spice things up. If you haven't heard of Lashify, you need to Google that word immediately. Click here for a referral code of $20 off your first purchase.
Don't let anxiety or stress rule your life:
One thing I know about myself is if I’m struggling with my mental health I’ll stay home as often as I can. I’ll stay where I’m comfortable, where I don’t have to hide how I’m feeling. I’ll cut myself too much slack. There had been periods where this caused problems with friends, roommates or significant others because they didn’t understand what it felt like. In my past life, my friends would encourage me to stick to plans because they knew having fun and being around people I care about would always help. They didn't get upset if I said no, but they pointed this out in a caring way without judgement or making me feel bad. If you're interested in how this is done, look up radical candor or just watch Sex and the City. They could see what I didn't. Somewhere in the midst of living with my husband, having a baby, hitting 30 and becoming a true adult... I had lost this.
The worst time was while I was on maternity leave. I had a newborn to take care of for the first time and I didn’t have work to force me out into the world each day. I didn’t know how to juggle taking care of my son and having social plans. Eventually my anxiety got so bad that I would have panic attacks when trying to leave the house and I would have to talk myself into going out in public. This feeling is the worst part of anxiety for me. Every time I push through that feeling I’ve been glad that I did. So while lazy days with little to no plans feel like I’m just recharging my energy, it can lead to something much harder for me down the road. Realizing I’m moving towards that anxious homebody life isn’t something I’ve ever been good at recognizing until it’s too late. I had to become aware and admit that those days weren't making me feel recharged like they used to. They weren’t making me feel less stressed out even though that’s why I was doing it. Having a lazy day or just a day without plans feels great on occasion and I still don’t want to over-commit to plans or extra steps when I’m trying to get out the door, but my lazy days were becoming too frequent and no longer had the same effect. I was constantly overwhelmed and burnt out from one thing or another so whatever free time I had was spent “relaxing”.
Essentially I wanted to feel more like myself. I wanted to be that girl I used to be who I’d begun to idolize in my own head. I need to accept who I am today, appreciate this life in my current state, start adding more of what I want to be and how I want to be seen in order to be that lady on the other side of the screen.
That meant I had to sit down and do a lot of self discovery, be honest with myself, get a little uncomfortable and challenge myself - which lead to more freedom and less stress. I stopped being so hard on myself about what I wasn’t able to get done so long as I was trying. I said yes to more plans and stayed open to being spontaneous. I work at these things every day. Some days are easy and others aren't, but I’m becoming more comfortable with myself and more confident.
It’s a long journey and this is the beginning, but I smile more now. I get more compliments than I have since I was that girl in the beat up apartment, in an overpriced city, who worked out all week and partied all weekend.