Content warning: The following piece contains references to self-harm and suicidality, which might be triggering to some readers.
“The Rebellion of Loving Yourself,” Craig Bidiman
This is my first personal entry for my own nonprofit movement.
Last month I tried to write about my struggles with living with an addictive personality, but the piece got away from me after about 2,000 words. So I gave up. I might revisit that in the future—but for now, here we are.
I wanted my first piece to be something pretty personal.
So I wanted to share about the concept of self-love as someone who lives with depression and suicidality.
This month, we have shared so many powerful new stories, and some from previous months, that all focus on the struggles and triumphs of living with self-harming tendencies and suicidality.
One trope is common—living with these issues is very hard. It’s hard because our brains are at constant war with our body. In spite of that, I am here to shed light on something that which took me YEARS to become comfortable.
Historically, the conversation on self-harm has been centered on the idea that those who harm are selfish, simply looking for attention, or acting out. And that’s ridiculous.
Many individuals use self-harm as a way to get the release they need from their own anxieties, and I would never think to accuse a self-harming person of being selfish. Because living with an inclination to self-harm is not a joyous circumstance. People don’t wake up with the desire to just hurt themselves. It is brought on by any number of environmental, physical, mental, and psychological aspects.
None of which, in my opinion, are selfish.
I live with suicidality. [Note: I've written about this before, here.]
I have a history of cutting, drowning, bulimia, and starvation in order to harm myself. My self-harm stems from a number of things—depression, anxiety, body image issues, being an alienating ADHD kid growing up/also as an adult, and from being queer.
It’s not an easy life whatsoever. But it is my life.
I often felt like an outcast among my friends growing up and even though they were nice to me, I never truly felt like I was accepted by any of them. My depression as a teen led me to attempting to take my own life, and I survived. Obviously.
I now have a tattoo covering the scars from the first attempt.
My second attempt came after a rough breakup during my third year of college.
My attempts did not make feel any better about my circumstances, if anything I felt worse. And if I was trying to get attention, it didn’t work because I still felt sad and alone.
However, I found myself able to push through the darkness to continue through my days and surely I would feel better and better. But even on my best days, the darkness creeps in and I break down. I have no idea how many plans I’ve had to cancel because my depression or anxiety was acting up.
Living with suicidality means confronting the darkness every day. I have to constantly repress the feelings of sadness and the inclination to hurt myself in various ways.
One of the best ways I’ve found to do this is through practicing self-love.
Now, there is no Self Love Awareness Day, but I would argue that every day SHOULD be Self-Love Awareness Day.
Finding ways to promote self-love in your daily life is an important goal in which to strive. LifeHack has a wonderful piece on 30 ways to practice self-love and be good to yourself, in which the author writes, “Practicing self-love can be challenging for many of us, especially in times when we face serious challenges. It’s not about being self-absorbed or narcissistic, it’s about getting in touch with ourselves, our well-being and our happiness.”
Again, this is not about selfishness, it’s about literally taking care of yourself. Taking care of your happiness and wellbeing. To me, that’s the most important aspect of alleviating feelings of self-harm. Self-love is as simple as leaving yourself positive messages in your lunch box, or removing yourself from toxic mindsets of comparison and/or competition with others.
Much self-harm resonates from places of comparison and it is imperative for your health to focus on being the best you instead of trying to compare to anyone around you.
Our society often fuels these comparisons—you aren’t sexy enough (so buy this makeup, or get this surgery, or lose that weight), smart or motivated enough (so put yourself in debt with college, or buy a house), or cool enough (so buy these Beats headphones, or this BMW), or man enough (so get jacked, or takes these supplements)!
In a world constantly telling us that we aren’t enough, being proud of ourselves is revolutionary. Truly, self-love is an act of rebellion. To embrace our imperfections and inconsistencies as beauty is courageous and vulnerable. And vulnerability is a strength, never let anyone tell you otherwise.
I have had the hardest time with comparison and jealousy throughout my life—constantly comparing my life to the lives of my friends, never feeling like I truly fit in or fit anywhere. I was constantly lost, searching for some sort of answer to why I hurt so much inside, even as I would mask this hurt with seemingly unceasing happiness and exuberance.
But that’s exactly what it was—a mask.
The mask is now off and I rebel against my feelings of self-harm by loving myself.
In removing this mask, I have learned many things that are central to how I take care of myself and promote self-love in my every day life—
As much as I say “yes!” to life in many regards, I have learned to say, “no” more often. I have learned that taking time for myself is important. Saying, “no” is so empowering—try it!
I have prioritized eating tasty and healthy foods that don’t bog my down every day. I stay away from sugar and caffeine, and focus more on fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
That doesn’t mean I’m perfect by any means, because my issues with food are long-standing and even a current struggle today. But I try to maintain an optimistic outlook on my diet, even when I’m not completely happy with how I look and feel everyday. I’m forever a work in progress.
I paint and make music, which are two ways that I am able to exercise my brain instead of constantly thinking of self-harm. Art has been so impactful for my mental health that I don’t believe I’d still be alive if it weren’t for my art. I get out a lot of my frustration and anger in my music, and it’s very therapeutic.
I make time to appreciate myself. Looking in the mirror is hard for me. But sometimes I do it just to give myself a pep talk. Like, “hey Craig—I know you’re not particularly happy with your appearance today, but you’re here. You’re alive. And you’re a fucking badass.”
And then, I can take a step back and think, “You’re right, I am a fucking badass.”
Only you can take care of you, but sometimes it is important to reach out for support. Which is why I also suggest making time to be present and vulnerable with your friends and loved ones. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it—chances are that you’ll find more love than rejection if you are honest about your situation.
You are enough. I am enough. We’re all in this together.
About the art:
Craig had me read his story, and work on this piece while he was gone at a concert. I wasn't really able to brainstorm with him, which gave me some silly creative freedom. Since we live together, I get to see the struggles Craig deals with on a daily basis.
I know he really struggles with his body image, and it was great to hear him talk a bit about what he does to stay positive when it comes to looking at himself in the mirror. I wanted to do something happy, cute and simple. I researched some self-love art pieces, and found something similar to this that inspired me to create a version of Craig giving himself positive affirmations.
His tattoos were a little too complicated to fit the aesthetic, so I just lightly drew some of them. I sent it to him, and his immediate response was laughter. I'm glad it was something that could make him smile and put something else positive in the force against his struggles.