In the past few years, I've done the mental equivalent of losing a lot of weight.
It started by evaluating my current mental diet, as far as I understood it: my knee-jerk reaction to good and bad news, my opinion of myself and of others, my thoughts about the future. I found that my general sense of well-being and my reaction to others was negative. Even though there were days where I felt positive, it was a temporary high. The negative feelings lurked below.
Now, I do thank myself for having those feelings. My younger self grew these feelings for a reason: she considered them a necessary defense against the world as she had come to understand it. On some level, every human being does this while growing up. We're all merely human, and so are the people who touch our young lives. Imperfection and defenses are inevitable.
As I get older, I've moved into an uncomfortable world where those defense mechanisms are no longer necessary. I think this is known by scholars as "the 20s" or "the quarter-life crisis." At first, it felt like putting a square peg into a round hole -- I just couldn't get the world to fit my views of it and my defenses for it. It was incredibly depressing, to the extent that I started taking medication for a little while.
Then, I started to get the sub-conscious sense that maybe my defenses weren't right for the world around me. Although I couldn't articulate the thought at the time, I know in hindsight I was feeling it -- because I was terrified all the time. These defenses I had spent 20 years building were not only useless, they were probably detrimental. I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place: I could either keep my defenses (which, it was becoming increasingly clear, were ruining my life and my most important relationships), or I could jump, utterly defenseless, into the infinite abyss of life.
Terror turned into red-hot anger and resentment that I was forced to make this choice, and instead of moving forward into unknown territory, I doubled down. Just like fast food, I knew those feelings weren't good for me, but they were what I knew. There was a comfort in their familiarity. Some days, I even thought they -- these feelings of inadequacy and self-punishment -- were what I deserved.
The past year in particular has been a period of gradual consciousness. Those sub-conscious seeds of maturity, courage and self-love have finally, finally started to break ground. I am so grateful.
Have you ever lost weight? When you look in the mirror day after day, you don't always see your progress -- but if you take a look at an old photo, suddenly you're hit with how much you've accomplished. That has happened to me a lot recently. Situations where I would have been jealous, hurt or deflated in the past, my knee-jerk reactions have been joy, compassion, and respectfully standing up for myself. This is a Big Freaking Deal. The fact that I'm able to articulate it well enough to write it down (and that I'm willing to share it) is, itself, an indication to me that I've grown.
Make no mistake, it's not "over." I'm not "fixed." Though it frustrates me to no end, I will never be "fixed" -- just like every other human on the planet, I am imperfect. It's just the way we are. Just like physical dieting, everything I'm implementing is a lifestyle change that needs to be maintained.