Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Finding Yourself: A How-To

As my regular readers will know, I'm still on the 'journey' of self-discovery (a journey liberally seasoned with cliche, it seems). But more and more often since writing my post Acceptance, as I carry on in the same vein, I seem to keep bumping into myself. I have moments, frequently now, where I relax fully into myself, my life - moments of, 'Oh, of course. There I am. I've been there all along,' almost as though aspects of my personality were pieces of loose change stranded down the back of the sofa.

Reaching this new stage feels momentous for me. It's as though I can breathe again; I can enjoy the moment and respond to things as they happen in my own way, instead of trying to think of how I 'should' behave, 'should' respond, 'should' feel. I am being authentic. I thought I might lose friends when I stopped trying to be cool, sophisticated, stylish, smart, edgy, Goth, hippie... it hasn't happened. People close to me seem, if anything, relieved, that I've found my genuine self again. Goodness knows I hadn't seen her in a while.
In Brighton, staying with friends, last summer sometime
Suddenly I have time for hobbies again. Things I haven't done in years. Toxic relationships have fallen by the wayside, just naturally. I've learned what I do and don't like; learned how to say no (or 'bugger off') when things aren't OK with me. Learned to answer honestly when people ask an opinion, instead of choking on my anxiety and searching for the 'right' answer. It's not perfect yet, but I feel better and stronger than I have in years, maybe since school (I left school when I was thirteen), and I think it's only going to keep improving. So for those of you on the same rocky road of lack of identity and poor self-image, here are a few things that helped me on my way:

  • Listen to music. Your music. One of the things I got ribbed for a lot as a Goth blogger was my music taste. I tried not to let it bother me, but being Goth was important to me and frankly I wanted to do it as well as possible, so I spent a lot of time trying to listen to the 'right' music. Then, when I started to explore my tastes outside the subculture, I was going through a bit of a rough time in my personal life and music just made me feel overwhelmed, so I sidelined it. A huge step in finding my sense of self has been rediscovering music, my own likes and dislikes. Forget about the notion of 'guilty pleasures'. When I put my iPod on shuffle, I know exactly who I am and all's right with the world. Dismiss music snobbery and find what you truly, honestly enjoy.
  • Find things you like. Do them. When I was preoccupied with fashion all the time, writing, drawing and a lot of my other interests were pushed aside. I simply didn't have time; I was too busy adjusting, refining, tweaking my wardrobe, not to mention funneling all my paychecks into the ever-growing clothes heap. Before that I was underweight and miserable. I didn't have the emotional energy to do anything, even if I had wanted to do anything except endless star jumps and counting out my allowance of lychees for lunch (I don't even like lychees...). Now I seem to have 1,000 hobbies and not enough time in the day. Things I LIKE doing, not things I think I should like doing. Writing fanfic. Practising guitar. Drawing (really badly, because I'm out of practice).These might not be the most exciting things in the world. But damn, I'm happy. 
  • If you're in a dark place emotionally, it's hard to get started doing anything. If getting out of bed - or rolling over in bed - is your biggest achievement of the day, that's OK. It's still valid.
  • No FOMO. (Fear Of Missing Out.) Learning to say no to things without constantly worrying about what I might be missing was hugely liberating. Sometimes I don't want to go out. I want to write, or read, or just have a nap. That's just as valid a life experience as getting blotto and vomiting in a seedy nightclub toilet. And smells better.
  • Accept, and adapt. Personally, I don't feel confident in a bikini. I have previously tried to make up for this by getting a 'bikini body'. Thing is, even at my slimmest and most toned, I still don't particularly enjoy wearing a bikini. I don't feel liberated or sexy, I feel awkward and a bit chilly. Next summer I will be buying a one-piece. It doesn't mean I have 'failed'. It means I know what makes me feel good, and being preoccupied with which bits of me may or may not be hanging out isn't it. Accept what makes you feel good, and adapt accordingly.
  • Similarly, don't force yourself to do things you aren't ready for. In my faux-hippie phase I stopped shaving and wearing make-up. I thought it would help me accept my inner beauty and feel more confident. Actually, I felt like crap. When the dreadlocks came off, the make-up and razors immediately came back out of the closet. But strangely enough, since I have grown in confidence, my make-up routine has been hugely minimised. Unless I'm going somewhere fancy, nowadays I generally only wear concealer, mascara and blush. Forcing myself to feel confident without make-up didn't work - it had to be the other way around. 
  • Ask for help if you need it. You have nothing to be ashamed of.
  • Don't compare yourself to others. I know, I know - so much easier said than done! The only way I could achieve this was to keep saying to myself, 'yes, but you are not X, you are you. She's doing what she's doing. You're doing what you're doing. Don't worry about it.' 
  • Pay attention to your comfort. Don't buy the shoes if they don't fit. If you're cold, put a jumper on. If you're hungry, eat. If you don't like the film, switch it. You're allowed!
  • Notice what you like. Notice what you're drawn to. I have spent hours walking around shops just to see what appeals to me. At first I panicked because no pattern was emerging; I thought I would never have a 'proper' personal style and I would just be flailing around in a fashion wilderness forever. Eventually, oh-so-slowly (literally years), I came to realise I already had a personal style. It's called Stuff I Like Wearing. It makes sense to no one but me. I'm OK with that.
  • You don't have to make time for people who don't treat you right,
  • Sometimes you don't need to be polite. If some douchebagel is rude to you or lays hands on you without permission, you can absolutely kick them in the genitals. You are a citadel; defend your boundaries.
  • Compile and curate stuff you like. That's what I use my Tumblr for. I reblog anything and everything that just really appeals to me. Then when I feel stressed or confused and my inner flailing starts, I just bring up my Tumblog, look at what essentially amounts to a visual representation of everything I like, and voila, I feel grounded in my personal identity again. 
  • Think before you speak. Someone asks you to do a thing, think about whether or not you actually want to do the thing. I always say, "Maybe, I'll get back to you," and go and think about whether or not the thing appeals to me, whether I like the person who is asking enough to do the thing anyway, and whether I really have enough time to do the thing. I went through a stage of saying yes automatically because I felt I should be open to new experiences. This was very stressful and I wouldn't recommend it for everyone. It didn't work for me. You live once; do the things you want to be doing, not what society thinks you ought to be doing.
So this is some stuff that helps me. What about you? Share your best tips and your own experiences, if you like. ^^

8 comments:

  1. Amy, these are wonderful. I struggle with mental health uses, and when so much of my time is spent trying to get through the day, I forget about things like this. Most lists like this I read and feel like they don't apply to me and I can't do them, but I really appreciate yours, I can tell you're pulling from much experience and personal reflection. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you so much! <3 This has made my day. I hope it's of some use to you. :)

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  2. "Maybe, I'll get back to you." I need to remember that one. :)

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    1. I had to drill it into my brain, It's my lifesaver. Otherwise I end up doing things I don't wanna do and NOT doing the things I do want to do. :-/

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  3. Great advice! I am trying to get up the courage to say bugger off to people! It sounds crazy but being unemployed helped me learn to value myself without a job and money!

    Definitely agree with the comfort thing! I wear my ankle boots almost everywhere, they are pleather and just so comfy! If i ever find something else comfortable i will wear it too!

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    1. Doesn't sound crazy! Sounds like an important lesson :) I had a bad time of it when I was unemployed, I wish I could have taken a leaf out of your book.

      It's amazing how often we ignore the comfort issue: "I'm not hungry, I'm just bored," is an example, or the fact that I wore New Rock boots that didn't fit day in, day out for years on end. I had them stuffed with three pairs of socks. It took a long time for my feet to be normal feet again. :-/ It does make me laugh that I spent so much time worrying about getting my look right, when it turns out that all I really need is an oversized tee, a comfy pair of shoes and a belt to stop my jeans falling down...

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  4. You got some very important points in these! I personally found out about not comparing myself to others. If you are, for example, an artist, it's very easy to bring yourself down if you are looking at others' work and think you will never be that good. Instead it's better to focus only on personal progress and then you start to enjoy it more.

    I should also stick to not trying to always be polite, Often when some stranger talks to me and gets uncomfortably close to me I just ignore it. I have hard time to say ,,back off".

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    1. Thank you :) I agree, it is very easy to bring yourself down unnecessarily! And very difficult not to be polite, even when others are being extremely rude. I hope to learn to stand up for myself a bit more and defend my boundaries. :)

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