Banishing Blockers: Spring Clean Your Self-EsteemMorgan Shanahan
There is nothing I love more than a good purging of crap. On my personal blog, The 818, I do a semi-regular series (which I’ve alternately called Purgeday Thursday/Cut Your Crap) where I tackle all sorts of buildup. I say semi-regular because while I love to organize, I’m not that organized. From the clutter in my makeup drawer, to the shui of my feng, to week-long juice fasts, I try my best to get rid of it all.
I do this because as someone who suffers from wild bouts of anxiety, regularly taking stock and getting rid of all the unnecessary stuff around me is one of the ways I cope. So in an attempt to put my nerves in order, I’m constantly searching for new ways to put my stuff in order. Over the course of countless Purgeday Thursdays (they’re totally countable, I’m just not going to do the math), I’ve started to realize that putting stuff in order is really just moving things around. And if the stuff is holding you back (which if you buy in to feng shui as much as I do, it probably is), moving it around isn’t going to do all that much good. There aren’t enough feng shui bagua energy maps in the world to organize all that useless baggage. The key to moving forward, past my anxiety and back into my life was (and is) to get rid of extraneous stuff completely. To really put the PURGE in beloved Purgeday.
At some probably too early age, I started to doubt my every move. The older I got and the more self-aware I became, the more my inner critic began to speak up. It started small — it was confidence in my appearance that went first: My teeth were too big, my hair was too dark, my skin was too pale, my nose was too … me. Boys didn’t like me (admittedly, they did, just not the ones I wanted), and eventually I started to unwittingly let my anxiety erode my friendships. Over the course of my life, time and time again, I’ve let people I love deeply slip away because I’m certain that my reaching out is going to annoy them. The summer between 10th and 11th grade after returning from summer camp, my best friend had begun hanging out with some kids I didn’t know that well. They were punk rock and cool, and I wanted nothing more than to hang out with her and them every single day. But I felt less-than-worthy of my own best friend, of the person who, up until a few weeks earlier, I had spent every waking moment with. So, I mentally limited myself to calling her once a week. Eventually she told another close friend that she was really hurt that I didn’t seem to want to be her friend anymore. We remained friendly, but we were never the same — we ended up losing touch completely. I still miss having her in my life.
It was one of many self-inflicted losses. Losses I wasn’t able to identify as self-inflicted because I didn’t even know what I was experiencing had a name. I would think of my friends daily, and therefore somehow felt that magically they should know I loved them. The eventual loss always felt like a shrug off, no matter how many unreturned phone calls or awkward bow-outs there had been leading up to it on my end.
When I went off to college, Sara was my assigned roommate. It had to be fate; we became kindred spirits over a plate of fries at Johnny Rockets our first week in big bad New York City. We went on to share every class, every internship, every moment together, even traipsing across Europe and collaborating on films as a pair (in my other life I am a screenwriter). After college, we shared a pilgrimage to Los Angeles, living together for seven years while navigating the crazy maze of trying to find our way in the world. Eventually we split up and moved in with the men we would marry, but went on to plan our weddings together and maid-and-matron-of-honor each other, despite working on films on different sides of the continent. Later there would be pregnancies and children, Sara’s first, and when it was my turn there was my crushing peripartum depression, and all of a sudden it was happening again: I was lost in my own mind, and in my mind, I was a leech on the face of my best friend’s life. I was certain I was an embarrassment to her, to all of my friends really. It wasn’t just my love for Sara that I inexplicably feared was unrequited (I was certain that all of my friends were mocking my pregnancy weight and reveling in my self-perceived misfortunes), but the distance from Sara was the most acute because we had been so inextricably close. We both fought hard. She gave me the benefit of the doubt when I’d resurface to the land of the living, but still, time after time, my own inability to believe my friends could love me in spite of my shortcomings prevented me from apologizing for my own lapses, or even trying to improve them. When Sara moved away from Los Angeles a few years ago, I couldn’t help but feel that my own failures played a role in her return to New York. (We can discuss my delusions of grandeur at a later time.)
This past weekend, my now four-year-old daughter and I flew to Chicago to meet Sara’s third child, who was born early last month. Because Sara has never given up on me. Make no mistake, she has been hurt and confused and wondered why motherhood didn’t make us the daily park and play date companions we had once anticipated we would be. And I was humbled and horrified as I watched even my decade-long soul sister, my best friend, unable to find me through the fog of my own crap self-image. But I’m not in high school any more, and I wasn’t willing to let her slip out of my life. With kids and schedules and life and time zones we still don’t get to talk nearly as much as I wish we could, and she no longer drags me out of bed with my daily morning coffee so I could catch the bus to class on time, she still is one of the most important people in my life, and we’re both making a point of keeping it that way.
My biggest blocker in life has been what I now know is anxiety and low self-esteem. Whether you’re wishing for smaller nail beds, or wishing for a different life, I’ve come to learn that it’s all emanating from the same place, the place where you’re judging yourself in a way that no one else would ever judge you. I’ve spent hours in the mirror staring at my uneven hips, but I’ve never examined another person’s hips for symmetry in my life. I’ve spent hours in bed thinking that phoning my best friend would annoy her, but I’ve never once considered a phone call from her anything but a gift.
What is your biggest blocker? What keeps you from achieving the things in your personal life that matter most to you? What holds you back from reaching your goals? I didn’t even get started on the professional ramifications of my anxiety here, but my low self-esteem has left battle scars on all aspects of my life. The good news? Scars fade — what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I actually think I’m worth having in your life these days. Onwards and upwards, friends. Onwards and upwards.