A Head Full of Hell: How We Talk to Ourselves.

I used to call them my “Emo Days,” with an inflection of disdain, an inherent curled lip for what fullsizerender-copyI considered a despicable weakness. I would wake up hating everything about myself, intellectual and physical. And this loathing manifested itself as a deep and pervasive lassitude. There were days when it hurt to be awake, and it was a struggle just to get out of bed, much less pretend to be normal. Sometimes, I just didn’t.  That’s something I’ve never shared with anyone, but I share it now for a couple of reasons.

There Are Others Like Me

First, I decided to share this secret today, because I know I’m not the only one who goes through this. I belong to a group on Facebook that focuses on body positivity.  Often, other women post things that sound a lot like what I just wrote, and I want anyone who feels that way to know they aren’t alone. Because a central feature of this mindset is isolation. You feel like the only person who could possibly be this pathetic. This feeds any feelings of unworthiness lurking, waiting to pounce.

img_1141Something else I’ve discovered as my healing has progressed is that there are a variety of reasons people feel this way.  My own experience–in which I was made to feel ugly and inadequate via constant body shaming from both parents and two older brothers and then the culture to which I belong–is only one possible source. It surprised me at first to learn that Bad Body Days also happen to people with disabilities and autoimmune diseases.

The less visible the condition, the more likely a person is to struggle in this way.  And it’s a mirror for the effort it requires to maintain a semblance of normality, because while these conditions are varied, they all use you up, leaving you exhausted mentally, physically or emotionally. Some days, it’s all three, and there aren’t enough “spoons” in the world. Some days, you wake up with none at all, through no fault of your own, but life and many people in it, don’t understand.  They couldn’t.

IMG_4480And so you do that tortured psychological maneuver, in which to turn your exhaustion into your own shortcoming. That is the opening step in a dance of self-recrimination and negative self talk that may last all day. It’s quite literally a killing move, but I don’t blame you. It has a lot more to do with how Western cultures, particularly America, idealize visible effort, endurance of socially valued deprivation in pursuit of status, and, in short, ” the hustle.” If you can’t hustle, people judge you.  You judge you. And all that judging eventually takes a chemical toll, as if you didn’t have enough to worry about.

Smooth Curves Are for Trig Problems

This morning, I woke with my head full of Hell. The demons of my childhood and young adulthood were up before me, and they were feeling disgustingly healthy. You see, while I’ve made a good bit of progress towards killing them off, they have a disturbing tendency to respawn, often making more of themselves in the process. constantine-2005-spear-of-destiny-keanu-reeves-rachel-weisz-36That makes said progress feel illusory, which is one of their tactics designed to make you give up and let them have their way.

But I am stubborn and contrary. These two negative traits, which people have criticized me for all my life, are exactly what has saved me. This is what will continue to save me on days like today, when the poison wells up and the hypercritical voices of my past, my negative body image, and my deeply rooted imposter syndrome whisper,

“You can’t. You’ll never be good enough. You’re so ugly and pathetic, you don’t deserve to be loved. Face up to reality–you can’t write or teach or make any difference in the world. Just give up.”

photoWell, if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s accommodating. So I get up. I drink coffee and stare at things. I take selfies and I force myself to look at me–because I tried denying my physicality as a path to self-acceptance and healing. The thing of it is, since my physical self and my sense of being was where the world wounded me, ignoring it was about as healthy as ignoring a gaping gash in my flesh.

I could say it didn’t hurt. I could refuse to look at it or apply any sort of remedy to it. But that wasn’t going to fix the problem. On the contrary. It made everything worse, and Hell just got louder and closer.  So, I look at myself, now. Selfies are my way of forcing that confrontation. And while some days, it really doesn’t make me feel better about myself, it has worked in a miraculous way for the most part.


Progress is not a smooth curve. I still have Bad Body Days, when I just can’t be positive or like myself.  I’m pretty sure anyone in a long term relationship knows that you can’t always like your lover. But you can still love them. And what else is our relationship with ourselves but the longest-term relationship ever? So, on days like today, I make some sort of affirmative move. I post a picture or write something about my commitment to myself–like a love note when you’re still mad at your S.O.–and then I give me some space.  What is important, just like with other relationship tiffs–I must not say anything to me that I will regret later.

The rough weather will blow over. Things will get patched up. I’ll remember why I’m worth fighting for.  Because, at the end of the day, I am worth fighting for. I have so much love to give me. I’m the only me I’ve ever met, and this was just one bad day.  They’re not as frequent as they once were, and though they may never go away completely, they will become easier to move through. They have.

The fact that we do this, walk this path, fight these battles, does not mean we are weak. Even when we have to yield and stay in bed, even on the days when the voices of self-recrimination, guilt, and depression win, we are strong precisely because those days are not everyday. If we have scars, they are not marks that we are unworthy of love, but that we are worthy of the highest regard. We have ridden out to face the world, glory and danger notwithstanding. And we are still here.


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