For as long as I can remember, I’ve criticized every inch of myself.
As a dancer, a runner, and model (and I use that term loosely. Basically, I did a lot of bridal fashion shows and mannequin modeling in store windows), all of my extracurricular activities were looking for really fit and mostly (too) thin physiques. Not to mention (I say as I’m mentioning it), I grew up during the era of (too) thin models and excessive photoshopping. (Thank you, Tyra Banks for keeping it real with your big ass “fivehead”. She said it.)
So, I walked around everyday, listening to the disgusting voice inside my head that said awful things, like:
“Ugh. Why is my nose is soooo big?”
“Ugh. Why isn’t my stomach as flat as all the other dancers?”
“Why are my thighs so big? Will they ever not touch each other?”
“I’d look so much better in jeans if my calves were smaller…”
“My hair is so thin. Why can’t it just have some waves…or a little volume.”
“Why do I have acne when I’m 23? 28? 32? 38? Why does my face hate me?”
“Oh. Great. It’s swimsuit season again and I’m still not ready.”
Those intrusive thoughts didn’t stop at my body – they attacked every aspect of who I was and still am.
I’ve never felt that I was smart enough. The sheer agony of sitting in AP English still haunts me.
No matter how many dance trophies filled my bedroom, I never felt like I was a graceful or even good dancer.
If I would’ve been able to clearly focus on my skills as a high jumper and 400m runner instead of beating myself up about everything that I couldn’t do, I truly believe that I could’ve been much, much better.
When I began my work in education, I’d constantly feel inadequate. My lesson plans weren’t good enough. My instruction was awful. When a principal or mentor would asked me to start presenting at conferences, I just laughed. Who would want to listen to me? I had nothing of value to share.
At least that’s what I kept telling myself.
Shit. Just writing that was exhausting.
This is the dialogue I heard non-stop inside of myself for more years than I care to count.
How could I hate who I was so much?
It’s no wonder that I began having panic attacks in my early 30’s. You can only listen to that negativity for so long before you start to lose it.
I remember my first panic attack like it was yesterday.
After a long day of teaching and running a basketball league, I was about 10 minutes away from my dad’s house, where I was living at the time –
…then, it hit me…
I realized I was sweating.
I felt a tightness in my chest.
My vision blurred.
I could NOT breathe.
I pulled over.
I was convinced I was having a heart attack. I thought about calling my dad, but, for some reason, I didn’t.
I just sat there.
“Well, this is it, this is how I die”, I told myself as I mentally prepared my last will and testament.
I continued to sit and wait, not honestly knowing what the heck I was waiting for.
Maybe for it to pass?
Maybe to die?
I still have no idea.
I took a deep breath.
I took a few more.
Clarity returned. My breathing normalized. I could see again. The sweating ceased.
After what felt like hours, I drove the last few minutes home.
The next day, I went to the doctor, whom I infrequently visited.
She took one look at me and said the words, “panic attack,” “anxiety,” and “medication” and boom, I was under doctor’s orders to not work for the next week.
Looking back now, this was the start of a tremendous life change, although at the time,
I wasn’t sure how I was going to not work and just be home.
I learned during that time off that I had to slow down, which is something my crazy ass inner critic had never allowed me to do – ever.
I was in a constant battle with myself to be better, do better, look better.
It was like I kept entering a boxing ring with my brain, losing, then getting back in for another round like a glutton for punishment.
I was exhausted.
I never took the time to train or develop a strategy to beat my mind – I just hopped back in that ring and went round after round – getting pummeled over and over. I had to learn how to cut myself some slack and quiet that inner critic. But how?
IT GETS WORSE BEFORE IT GETS BETTER.
I wish that I could say that I clicked my heels together three times, stayed home for a week, and my inner critic shut up once and for all. Oh friends, wouldn’t that be so joyous?
However, life is a journey. A journey who’s challenges make us stronger and more dynamic human beings.
I think it important to note that I was prescribed Xanax.
It was the smallest does and I only took it occasionally – but it numbed me and that voice that was incessantly telling me that I wasn’t good enough.
Then, I found yoga.
I took hot yoga, which gave a voice to my inner critic which just battered me with the thought that I was just too freaking hot the entire time to actually find my Zen. Running would give me moments of peace. Except when I ran slow. You know, then I was too slow… and the voice “ran” laps around my brain like Usain Bolt on speed.
My anxiety worsened. I became so uncomfortable in social settings, even when those settings were with an intimate group of friends.
I would get bloated.
I got sweaty.
I could feel my heart race.
I started taking activated charcoal and senna before going into social settings. I carried Xanax with me everywhere like a security blanket. More often than not, I didn’t use it. It was just peace of mind having it available – JUST in case.
Ugh. I was so tired of feeling this way, but didn’t know a way out.
There wasn’t a way out of my head – away from that little voice that was destroying every ounce of my being.
“HEY YOU, I CAN FREAKING HEAR YOU. SSSSSHHHHHH.”
I found an amazing little underground yoga shack on James Island and started going to yoga once, twice, sometimes three times a week. I became aware of my voice.
There were times that I felt good in my skin and my inner voice was still. I found that on my mat, I could breathe, focus, and listen. Also, I began to be aware of the ugly voice that beat me up every day.
Then, I discovered an app, Calm.com that helped me get settled in the evening, in the morning, whenever I needed a moment of peace. I knew it was working to provide me with stillness, because I purchased the full version of the app – and I never buy apps.
My critical mind was still overly active, but I was catching that voice now and beginning to redirect it. It took a lot of work.
But as life goes, there are setbacks.
My grandfather got sick. Then my dad got sick. My life felt out of control, which woke up the voice that I had worked so hard to silence. I caught myself sitting at red lights with my arms crossed – literally uncomfortable in my own skin. So my doctor doubled my dose of Xanax.
Not. The. Freaking. Solution.
In August 2016, my grandfather and dad passed away within less than a week of each other.
My anxiety went through the damn roof.
My life was flipped upside down. (Yes, like the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.)
I’d like to take a second, just sit right there as I explain to you that I was purposely working too much to avoid dealing with the grief.
I kept trying to push down everything that I was feeling instead of facing it. And my inner critic was pumped to join the party.
Fortunately, my wise mind had the wherewithal to SCREAM at me, “hey! Go talk to someone.” It took six months to find the right person, but I found someone who helped me think clearly again.
Learning to listen to the big, bad bully in my head and consequently developing skills to redirect those thoughts led me to not only have more confidence, but to live more happily inside my body.
When I think about how many years I fought my mind, it’s alarming. I would never think or say this shit to someone else. Why was doing it to myself?
The reasons for the brain battles were plentiful, but my most important takeaway is that I can overcome that voice. I have the ability to catch the negative and turn it into a positive. When my head starts to go into, “your stomach is never going to be flat,” I have the ability to remind myself that I enjoyed a delicious meal.
Mantras are my friend.
I know that I am strong.
I know that I am intelligent.
I know that I can bust a move even if I can’t swing my hips like I used to.
Being able to love and accept yourself is the most freeing feeling in the world. It takes really hard work and you have to be diligent.
My hope is that if you’re reading this post, the next time you hear that critical voice, you pause.
Say something positive about yourself five times.
And accept every beautiful part that makes you fabulous.
Hugs & High Fives,