Stand naked in front of a mirror for a long time, under unflattering light if possible. Trace the rises and falls of the little ripples on your skin — the scars, the dimples, the cellulite — and think about how much you try to hide these things in your day-to-day. Wonder why you hate them so much, and if this hate stems from somewhere within yourself, or as a result of being told all your life that it’s wrong to have physical flaws. Wonder what you would think of your body if you never looked at a magazine, if you never thought about celebrities and models, if you never had to wonder where someone would rate you on a scale of 10. Look at yourself until the initial recoil softens, and you can consider your features in a more forgiving frame of mind.
Listen to the music which makes you want to both sob and dance with uninhibited joy, and allow yourself to repeat any song you want as many times as your heart desires. Think of the person you are when you have your favorite song in your headphones and are walking down a street you feel you own completely, swaying your hips and smiling for no good reason — remember how many things you love about yourself during those moments, how much you are willing to forgive in yourself, how confident you are for no good reason. Try to think of confidence as a gift you give yourself when you need it, instead of something you have to siphon from every unreliable source in your life. Dance because the music makes you remember how much you love yourself, not because it allows you to forget the fact that you don’t.
Write a list of all the things you like about yourself, even if you think it’s a self-indulgent and narcissistic activity. Start as early as you like in your life — put down that time you won a trophy playing little league soccer when you were eight and then got an extra-large shake at the DQ on the way home, and don’t feel silly for remembering it. Try to understand how many sources in your life happiness can come from, how many things you could be proud of if you chose to. Ask yourself why you so tightly limit the things you take pride in, why you set your own hurdles for happiness and fulfillment so much higher than you do with anyone else in your life. Let your list go on for pages and pages if you want it to.
Touch and care for yourself with the attention and the patience that you would someone you loved more than life itself. Rub lotion in small circles on your elbows and hands when it is cold and your skin is dry and cracked. Make soup for yourself when your nose is running and curl up, with your favorite movie, in a pile of expertly-stacked pillows. Light a few candles and let their glow flicker against your body. Admire how gentle they are, how delicately their warmth touches you — wonder why you don’t let yourself do the same. Soak your feet in warm water at the end of a long day, until they have forgiven you for walking on them for so long without so much as a “thank you.” Listen to your body when it aches to be touched, and don’t be afraid to give it every orgasm that you may have been too ashamed to ask for in someone else’s bed.
Be patient with yourself, and don’t worry if a switch doesn’t flip in you which abruptly takes you from “crippling self-doubt” to “uncompromising self-love.” Allow yourself all the trepidation and clumsy, uneven infatuation that you would with a promising stranger. Try only to be kinder, to be softer, and to remember all of the things within you which are worth loving. Listen to the voice in the back of your head which tells you, as much out of sadness as anger, “You are ugly. You are stupid. You are boring.” Give it the fleeting moment of attention it so craves, and then remind it, “Even if that were true, I’d still be worth loving.”
1. Stop reading comment sections on articles which you know are only going to make you angry and disappointed in humanity.
2. Stop engaging with said commenters if you do go down and read their Hitler-referencing drivel. Arguing with anonymous trolls will not get you anywhere.
3. Tell people all throughout your life how much they mean to you and how much you love them.
4. Dare to kiss someone first when you want to kiss them, instead of waiting agonizingly for them to make the first move.
5. Start making your own granola when you get a little time to keep in a jar or Ziploc bag for your breakfasts/snacks. Homemade granola offers perhaps one of the best effort to long-lasting deliciousness ratio out there.
6. Pick a physical activity which you don’t absolutely hate, so you can do it regularly. (Or at least find a podcast you love which makes jogging bearable.)
7. Delete phone numbers in your contacts list which you know you should no longer be texting while drunk or answering calls from.
8. Donate a little bit of your time to doing something for the good of society — even if it just means picking up a little bit of trash that you see and throwing it in a recycling bin, or starting a compost, or making a lunch for the homeless in your neighborhood once in a while. Focus on making the first step towards being more useful with your time.
9. Forgive someone you’ve been holding a grudge against long after they’ve apologized.
10. Decide what you actually want sexually, and start making an effort to communicate it effectively to your partners, instead of living in disappointment.
11. Stop watching terrible reality shows that you know only make you more of a shallow, simple person.
12. Go to see more movies alone on weekend afternoons, especially ones which make you cry and/or feel way too many #feelings.
13. Forgive yourself for dating people who were wrong for you, even if you knew they were wrong for you from the get-go, even if they ended up breaking your heart.
14. Take a chance on a date you normally wouldn’t accept, just to see where it might go and learn a bit more about what you like and don’t like.
15. Remind yourself often of how young you actually are and how much you have ahead of you.
16. Have crepes with Nutella and bananas and/or strawberries for breakfast once in a while. (If you haven’t done this yet, your entire body hates you and you just don’t know it.)
17. Eat lunch in the park, instead of at your desk or in a crowded restaurant, whenever you get the chance.
18. Learn how to do minor repairs on your clothes, such as replacing buttons or fixing a small tear, and keep a needle and thread with you when traveling or going somewhere important. You never know when you might need it.
19. Dance more by yourself in your room, to whatever absurd music you like to listen to when you’re alone.
20. Sing louder in the shower.
21. Accept that, in many situations, you are going to be the one who ends up loving more, loving longer, and loving more painfully. Know that this doesn’t make you a bad or faulty person.
22. Start being more selective about your online presence, and to whom you give the privilege of learning your stories.
23. Send handwritten cards to thank people for things, instead of just a thank-you email. Taking a moment for a handwritten card truly make all the difference when it comes to saying thanks, and makes people feel like you really appreciated them.
24. Make a concerted effort to remind yourself of the parts of your body you like, and what you can do to treat your body better and make it more energetic.
25. Don’t saddle yourself with unreasonable expectations about what you’re going to be able to accomplish or sustain over the course of one year, but push yourself to make the small, doable steps towards your goals.
26. Don’t judge your success or your failure over the course of the year by your waistline.
27. Be honest with yourself about which friends are not challenging or encouraging you in the right ways, and which friends may even be bringing you down or preventing you from doing the things you want to do.
28. Remind yourself to be proud of your accomplishments, even if you’re not used to congratulating yourself or savoring your accomplishments.
29. Keep the plans you make with your friends, even if it means going out of your way. Understand that a time when most of you are unmarried, independent, child-free, and within drivable distance of one another is something which will not come again in life, and take all the advantage of it you can.
English is so bad at describing what it means to grieve. We use words like bereft or bitter or sad, or we say we have a broken heart. But none of these really get at the nuances. The words don’t seem to capture each exquisitely painful feeling.
For example, there should be a word, maybe borrowed from German, a language so good at expressing complicated mental states in a single lengthy word with many chewy consonants, for when you miss someone so incredibly, achingly much, when that person pervades every thought, every interaction, every waking moment, but you also loathe them. Because they treated you badly, or because they were too weak to be honest with you. Because you were betrayed. And because you loathe them, you hate yourself for missing that person so intensely. For missing the laughter they inspired; for wishing for the easy intimacy that you built. You hate yourself for knowing that they aren’t worth so much sadness, that such an outlay of mental energy is entirely wasted and useless. But you feel it anyway, and you cry in the shower or into your pillow or anytime something reminds you of that person. Which is all the time. There should definitely be a word for that.
There should also be a word, maybe from the French, who do existentialism so well, for the feeling of disconnection you cultivate when you walk through the streets with your headphones on, sad songs blasting into your ears loudly enough that you can pretend you are alone. You pass by other people almost without seeing them, since you can’t hear them. You walk by shops and offices on the sidewalk, going somewhere or maybe not going anywhere in particular, feeling like the music in your ears is a soundtrack to your sadness. This song makes you think of that person; that song comes close to capturing how lonely you are without them. You isolate yourself physically because you feel so isolated inside; surrounded by people, you are still alone, because you have been abandoned by that one person who made you feel somehow less alone.
English is also missing a word for how it feels when you know that person has moved on so quickly. When you find out you weren’t as important as you thought you were. When you realize that they were acting selfishly instead of caring about you, or when you understand that you didn’t really come into it at all for them, they were just doing what they needed to do. Maybe it should come from Russian, because the Russians know despair. You thought you were finally getting over them. You could almost go an hour, if you were busy with something really important, without thinking about them. Then you see a Facebook post or hear some gossip from mutual friends, and you realize you weren’t over it. Not even close. You realize you were still holding out hope that you would get back together, that there would be some way to repair the damage, to be happy again. When that hope is crushed, the fragile Jenga tower of your life tumbles down. There should be a word for that kind of defeat.
And there should also be a word for when you’re just so tired of being sad, for when you are tired of being lonely but somehow don’t know how to stop. When you’re tired of crying, tired of thinking about that person, tired of missing them. You can’t yet make yourself recognize all the bad things; remembering how you’ve been done wrong doesn’t help. But the hurt over the good things, the things you still miss so much, is a dull twist in your stomach now, instead of a gaping hole in your chest. You don’t know how to turn that off, don’t remember how to be happy. But you sort of remember happiness as it existed before that person, and you want that so desperately. You want to stop this misery that drags at your ankles and eyes and insides. You know it will take time, but sometimes just the fact of being tired of crying makes you cry. Maybe we could co-opt a word from Japanese for that, since melancholy is a specialty of theirs.
There should be an English word for all these feelings of grief. And I desperately wish they existed now, just so I could tell you, next time you ask, how I’m doing in only four words, instead of all these.