I Like Me
I can finally say, I like me. It feels good to know I can say it and it’s filled with truth. But it’s been a journey getting to this place - this place were I can say I like myself, and not falter. A place were I can say it and really mean it. A place where I don’t start talking with my doubts. Where I don’t overthink little insecurities.
I like me!!! That feels good.
I’m 24, nearly 25, and I just started liking myself relatively recently. How did I get here, you might ask? I still think about that answer a lot. There’s no simple answer really, but the main things are time and care. It’s taken time to get here, but the time would mean nothing if it weren’t for the care I’ve given myself and received from others.
Let’s start with time.
Actually, let me take you back in time.
As an 18 year old I moved far away from home, craving freedom. It’s obvious to me now that even though I wanted to be one, so badly, I was no independent queen. Freedom, at 18, was never really attainable for me because I was shackled to my own obsession of how other people perceived me.
I know, I know - aren’t we all kind of obsessed with perception? And in a way, yes. Perception will always be front of mind. We’re only human. We crave acceptance.
But my obsession, at 18, was inhumane and unhealthy. It left me with severe anxiety, bouts of depression, highs of false pride, and a whole world of darkness. In public spaces my heart would race at the thought of people looking at me. My obsession manifested in ticks and extreme shyness. I did everything I could to conform, to fit in, to make myself fade into the background.
I couldn’t handle the thought of people perceiving me in a way I didn’t consent to.
I wasn’t able to notice this harmful behavior about myself at the time. Wildly, I simultaneously wondered why it was hard for me to make friends and form lasting relationships.
I couldn’t see that I was cloaked in my own distaste for myself.
It came to a point where I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I hated the thing I saw. Hardly a person. She was dull and lifeless and losing color. I didn’t like the way she acted, nor the way she looked. I couldn’t recognize her, but she disgusted me.
I wish I could say there was a single event that pulled me out of this depression, but no such luck. I remained this way for another 4 years, it’s severity coming in waves. I compartmentalized like a champ. I curbed some of the pain with talk therapy. I stayed close to the few people who made me feel warm. I grew older. Time passed and I learned.
Fast forward to 23 and I’ve started noticing something beautiful about getting older. With age, we’re also getting more honest.
I had started leaning into that word a lot. Honesty.
I remember this one time when honesty absolutely fucked me up.
My Dad an I were on our way to an art show in Downtown. Sitting in traffic, as true Angelenos do, my poor Dad was just trying to get a laugh out of me. But I was gone. I was not there.
That morning I felt like my soul had left my body. I was in a deep nosedive of emotion and I was going down fast. I was just barely going through the movements. A warm body.
There very well could have been a tiny, dark, storm cloud right above my head. I wouldn’t have noticed, plus there was no need for it. You could already tell, just by looking at me and my body language, that I was Sadness herself. You could trim the fog around me with a dull pair of scissors.
So my Dad said something. What was wrong, he asked.
Where would I start? I couldn’t answer.
Was it him, Had he said something, he asked.
No, no, it’s me.
And then he said something that opened up the flood gates.
Sometimes, he said, I get the feeling I can’t do right by you.
When he said it I felt my body go cold. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. My eyes started to pool with tears. My limbs went numb and my chest felt heavy. I felt like I was going to implode and melt into the passenger seat.
I can’t do right by you. It echoed. I had isolated him.
All at once, my brain became a soundboard of words I had pushed to the side for so long. Words that people had told me, about me. Honesty I chose to push away. Sincerity that I never really let carry any weight. Others’ perceptions of me I had never consented to.
I get the feeling I can’t do right by you.
You haven’t been very present.
I thought you were mad at me.
You’ve been distant.
I just want you to be proud of me.
I’m trying my best for you.
You’d be prettier if you lost weight.
You don’t look like you’re from LA.
You don’t dress like you’re from LA.
You’re a lot to handle when you drink.
I never feel like you’re listening to me.
I don’t get the feeling you care.
All things that have been said to me. I remembered them all.
I hadn’t been a good friend. I hadn’t been a good daughter. I hadn’t been very kind to myself either.
All of these things, whether I chose to consider them or not, were other people’s truths about me. All of this time I spent worrying, and overthinking, and hiding away from other people’s opinions of me didn’t stop them from having opinions about me. It would never stop people from perceiving me. I would never be able to have the control I had pined after for so long. It was an impossible wish.
In that moment, I broke. I started to sob. And for the rest of the afternoon the tears never ceased. I definitely ruined the vibe of a day that was supposed to fun.
I felt bad for my Dad. I know he got the feeling he had said something wrong. He hadn’t really. He was just telling me the truth. His truth. He was telling me how he felt. He was being honest to himself.
It was my turn to swallow the pill. I finally had to accept how other people saw me. More importantly, how I made others feel. How I made them feel about themselves.
It was so much bigger than just me.
Holy shit. It was not all about me.
My dishonesty with myself had been effecting others too. My pretending had been hurting people I cared about. My friends. My family. They had all been effected by the way I hated myself - by the way I took their feelings, their truths, and turned them into nothings because I thought I was protecting myself.
It took me 23 years to learn that being honest with myself was exercise, but it was for other people. It was actually important to take things to heart. To let words hurt you. To let other peoples’ opinions creep in and haunt you sometimes. To let yourself feel pain. Feel sadness. Feel grief.
How do we grow if we don’t first let ourselves be fed?
This is when care came into play.
I had finally started caring what other people thought in a way that was healthy. I finally started to care about criticism. I started to understand this word constructive. I started to care about how I made other people feel. I started to care about someone other than just me.
And the craziest thing of all was that I felt like my actions were being reciprocated.
After learning how to care, in the right way, I opened myself up. Others were able to show me they cared in return.
I remember starting my first big girl job (the job I still have today). The first few weeks I was so emotional because - and I know this is so corny - I was a part of a team again. It was a feeling I hadn’t felt since I was 17. The feeling of being important. And then, eventually, the feeling of being needed.
Plus, a job is something that inherently comes with lots of feedback. There was so much honesty. So much criticism. So much constructive criticism. It was all very new to me. But my walls were being broken down.
I cared so much about what these new people thought of me, but they also cared about me, too. It was a kind of mutual relationship I felt like I had become estranged to.
I remember the first time my boss asked me to try one of her designs on for her to see. She wanted to see it on my body type and fix the fit to be more accommodating. She went through adjustments, asked what I liked about it, what I didn’t like about it, and listened while I nervously talked about my own body.
On my commute home that day, I remember I broke down in tears. Not because I felt uncomfortable or embarrassed. Normally a conversation entirely centered around my body would’ve been shut down or deflected. But this was uncharted territory and it came with the expectation that I would contribute. It was my JOB.
I cried because I felt seen. I felt considered. I felt like someone cared about me, and girls like me. I felt empowered. It was a new feeling - one I didn’t really know what to do with. So I cried, and let myself feel it.
And on that drive home from work that one day, after I had felt seen for the first time in a while, dozens of moments rushed back to me. Moments when I felt so happy, so good, so accepted that I just cried.
It was the same feeling I felt when I was 10 and I played soccer. I have a memory from this time that’s still so crystal clear to me.
We were playing a tough-to-beat team, one with a nasty reputation. I myself was no legend. My soccer days were numbered. I was just about over it.
At the height of the game my team earned a penalty kick and an opportunity to win.
I took it. I stayed collected. I scored. My very own Ted Lasso moment.
The goal part is a bit of a blur. The clear part is after the game, when my Dad hugged me so tight he squeezed the tears right out of me. My feet lifted off the ground as he twirled me around. I can still kind of feel that hug. I was overcome with the joyous thought of my coach being proud of me. Of my team being proud of me. Of my Dad being proud of me. I couldn’t hold back the tears.
It was the same emotion.
The same way I cried when I got my first college acceptance letter. I cried in the bathroom of my Mom’s wedding. I cried when my family came to visit me overseas. I cried when the kids I used to babysit made me birthday cards. All feelings of joy. Feelings of accomplishment. Feelings of acceptance. Feelings so strong they just make you buckle and the tears come out of nowhere.
me crying AGAIN while writing this
That day after work, those memories rushed back and I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Gratitude is the best word I can think of. I was so grateful for those memories - that they came back to me and brought these emotions along with them.
It reminded me of the day I sat in the car with my Dad on our way to the art show and I just broke down. But this time was so different. This time the emotion felt so good. I felt like I had made a breakthrough.
I thought hard about the time between the art show and that day at work. A lot had happened in my life in the mere months between those two instances.
I had become significantly more accustomed to hearing feedback, whether I deemed it good or bad. I aimed to really hear it and feel it. And then, I aimed to move forward with it. I had been working hard to be introspective. To be thoughtful, and mindful, but also delicate with myself.
Then one day, someone was delicate back to me, and it shattered me into a million pieces.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that once I felt like honesty and authenticity had been reciprocated, I saw it as a green light to be myself. Moreover I cared way less about how others were perceiving me. It had been proven to me that honesty and authenticity on my end would be reciprocated by those who even remotely mattered. The more I practiced being open the more I felt like I was getting things in return. That’s when I started to like me.
Everyday is still a battle. Liking myself has come with practice. Being proud of myself is a challenge I’ll face everyday.
But today I can look at myself. I LIKE to look at myself, even. I see a woman who’s making progress. I see someone who cares for others and wants to be cared for. I still crave acceptance and I still need encouragement, but I’m only human.
I know now that I may not be entirely in control. I can only control myself. I can do my best to make sure people know I care. That I care for them, and that I want them to feel seen. I can control how I treat others. I can control how I dress, how I present myself. I can control my own confidence.
For now, I can say that I like me. That’s the truth.
18 year old me would never believe it, but 24 year old me is actually pretty fucking cool.