Words by Caitlin Johnston Art by Bingyu Zhou
Self-love doesn’t always mean bubble-baths, clean eating and face masks. Self-love is simply a form of self-improvement, which at times can be uncomfortable. I’ve got four pieces of advice shared by fellow Monash students on the messy side of self-love.
A huge part of self-love is being compassionate to yourself. Often when I make a mistake, I’ll immediately fall into this toxic self-loathing hate spiral where everything feels like my fault. Instead, turn it into a learning experience, forgive yourself and move on. You’re allowed to make mistakes. Own them, learn from them, and accept when it’s time to move forward.
WATCH: Anna Akana. Anna is a YouTuber who fuses comedy with mental health awareness in a concise and freakishly relatable way.
READ: The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Alan Singer. It’ll help you understand how to separate your negative ‘inner voice’ from your true self.
You Don’t Need ‘Fixing’
Sometimes the idea of self-improvement can sound like fixing yourself. But you’re not something broken that needs to be fixed. We are messy, complicated, emotional, growing human beings. If you’re sad then just sit with your sadness for a while. Being with your feelings is a hell of a lot healthier than suppressing them. There is nothing more damaging than restrained emotions as they can erupt in strange and toxic ways.
LISTEN: Selfie podcast by Sarah James and Kristen Howerton. A weekly podcast that talks self-care from two best friends in an authentic and humorous way.
DO: Self affirmations and gratitude journaling. Dot down thoughts from your messy mind onto paper.
Often the most self-growth comes from places of discomfort. One of my favourite sayings is “be the buffalo”. It’s a random one, but it stems from the idea that whenever there is a storm, the buffalo runs straight into it. While other animals try to run away, they eventually end up getting caught. In my life, a ‘storm’ looks like me awkwardly trying to balance my work, study, friends, family and rent. I intuitively want to run away and avoid everything. But I’m learning that sometimes the best thing is face the storm head on.
READ: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Promises to make to yourself and implement into your life for your betterment.
DO: Switch up your routine a little bit, or bravely try signing up for something new.
Talk to the Right People
A friend once said to me, “we have a responsibility over the trauma we share” and woah, did it resonate. We’ve been told that sharing our feelings and pain is incredibly therapeutic. And don’t get me wrong, I believe it is necessary to vocalise and release our suffering. But to best protect others and ourselves, we need to share in the right environment with the right people. A safe place to share can always be with a professional counsellor. There is no shame in reaching out.
WATCH: The School of Life. A YouTube channel advocating that the journey to fulfilment begins with self-knowledge, articulated through beautiful animations and calm words of advice.
DO: Explore the Monash Mental Health services. Monash makes finding help very easy through accessing someone to talk to either online, over the phone or in person.
After discussing these ideas with four fellow Monash students, I asked them: What was the hardest thing you had to do in order to love and improve yourself?
“I was one of those people who counted down the days ‘til I was 18 so I could leave and explore the world. I ended up doing just that. It has given me the freedom to figure out who I am, who I want to be and the type of people that I want to spend my life with. I have the most beautiful housemates who are also my best friends. It has allowed me to try new things that I never would have been able to and make my own mistakes that have taught me so much. It is difficult working so hard to pay rent whilst juggling other aspects of my life. Moving out of home has also changed the relationship I have with my family. While I try my best to see them as much as I can while balancing the rest of my life, I often fall short in their eyes. In the end though, it’s all worth it because I wouldn’t be the person I am now.”
– Sienna, second-year Law student
“Cutting toxic people out of your life is hard enough as it is, it becomes even harder when they are your closest friend and you live with them. Recently I had to do this, and it took so long because it was easier to ignore red flags in a friendship than having to confront them. Eventually due to this friendship my anxiety increased, my sense of worth decreased and before long I could no longer deny the impact they were having on my life. The first step forward was them leaving the house. They may not have left on good terms but we were both determined to repair the friendship again. However, the issues only became worse and it was best for both of us to live our own lives without each other. I am still very heartbroken over the loss of friendship but my self-worth and dignity is something I can never compromise.”
– Jean-Paul, second-year Social Work student
“I’ve undergone a lot of self-improvement in the last few years. None of it has come naturally but the most challenging thing I’ve had to do for myself has got to be therapy. It’s confronting to have someone look you in the eyes for an hour, ask what you want, listen to your trauma and call out your unhealthy patterns. Therapy is a privilege that is difficult to access and I was lucky to have the time, confidence levels and access to Medicare required to make an appointment. It has helped me recognise the areas that I was self-loathing or sabotaging. Therapy has helped reframe these ‘weaknesses’ into ‘areas I struggle with’, making it seem possible to develop strategies to improve them.”
– Jack, third-year Marketing student
I was constantly in long-term relationships from when I was 16. For one reason or another, I found myself always coupled throughout my most formative years. Because of that, I came to associate other people’s love and attention for me with my own self-worth. When my last long-term relationship ended and I started dating again, I took rejection from dates as a rejection of who I am and what I am worth. I had spent so many years believing that I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, nice enough because I was in a relationship. While I still struggle sometimes, being alone has been the best act of self-love I ever could have done. It can be scary but ultimately, I’ve learnt that I am nice enough, pretty enough and good enough by myself.
– Annie, third-year Arts student