I’m amid a work-life balance high as I peck away at the terrible ergonomics of my laptop’s butterfly keyboard. I dislike typing on this thing, but that doesn’t matter because right now because I’m engulfed in an ephemeral ocean of self-love. I had a moment with myself after wrapping on set the other day. For the first time, I felt a deep sense of inner peace and pride for myself. I wanted to remember the moment for my future self and subsequently mashed a Facebook post together. I thought that I’d extrapolate on that post here since the original posting garnered relative popularity among my peers. Teaching myself to like myself is an ongoing process.

Struggling with Myself

Comments from my peers that tugged at my heartstrings

I’m genuinely overwhelmed by the outpouring of community support. Being myself and liking myself has always been a challenge. My parents immigrated to California and had my younger brother and me. My brother is a special needs person. During the 90s there weren’t as many resources or information available regarding autism. My parents did their best, but I internalized the idea that I am not and will never be as special as my brother. I was born as the normal one with expectations to be successful (whatever that means.) My brother with his condition absorbed the attention of my parents. If I wanted to be seen I thought that I needed to be successful in school or hoard as many external accolades as possible. Somehow my kid-self became toxic and believed that if I could be good at everything, then they’d have to love me. This thought followed me into adulthood. Voices of never being good enough and needing some external element to be enough plagued me. Compound those voices with literally measuring a person’s online following and salary level and you’ll get the perfect recipe for more self-destruction. I gave power to the areas where I thought I was lacking in and therefore failed to see anything positive about myself. Even if people gave me compliments or wanted to form relationships with me, I wouldn’t believe them. I couldn’t see how people could like me when I didn’t like myself.

Let me be clear, I’m not here to throw shade on my upbringing. They did the best that they could with what they had available and I’m appreciative of specific traits that have been ingrained in me. I’m extremely resilient, resourceful, and will not be tied down.

My Roadmap to Liking Myself

I am not a life coach, counselor, therapist, or any professional that is qualified to give any advice or guidance. I just tried a bunch of things because I wanted to stop feeling sh!tty about myself and instead appreciate myself. The following worked for me, they might not work for everyone.

Minimalism/Essentialism

Minimalism or essentialism, whichever label you’d like to prescribe to, had a prominent role in freeing my mind. Up until my mid-20s, I sought external validation to feel an ounce of self-worth. External validation took the form of career milestones, money, material goods, and intangible social accolades such as popularity. In 2016 my then-roommate Jen FrmHeadToToe introduced me to the Marie Kondō book (I think she might have been hinting for me to clean my room at the time) and the idea of sparking joy caught my attention. Why keep things that don’t make you happy? This took me down the minimalism rabbit-hole and I discovered “Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism” by Fumio Sasaki. His book focused more on the mental and emotional effects of purging useless things. After getting rid of his things Sasaki felt grounded in his own identity. No longer did he hold on to physical mementos to identify himself with; instead his identity is grounded within himself. I wanted to feel that too.

Sometime later that year Jen told me that baby Aria was expected and I’d had to move shortly. I took this as a sign to incorporate minimalism into my life and purge the excess out of my life. It is also easier to move to a new place with less stuff.

Gap Year

Finding a decent place to live in Los Angeles is a challenge –especially when you’re not rich and a freelancing artist. Discontented with my potential housing options, I opted to ditch everything and instead see the world by embarking on a solo backpacking trip! I could work from anywhere as long as I had my camera, laptop, Wacom tablet, electricity, and wifi. I sold, donated, and gave away most of my possessions. Then I packed up what I thought would be essential, said goodbye, and left with a Working Holiday Visa for New Zealand. I ended up venturing into Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Europe, Canada, Costa Rica, and chunks of the United States.

I left California believing that I would discover myself through travel. I was wrong. There wasn’t anything to learn about myself. I simply learned to embrace myself by stripping everything familiar away.

Gratitude Journaling

I’ve lived with depression for a very long time and I thought that running off to beautiful New Zealand would instantly cure me of that evil disease. Again, I was wrong. Within two weeks of living in Auckland, I felt that ache of loneliness and the familiar feeling of inadequacy resurfaced. Thankfully, the YouTube algorithm snooped on my emo emotions and suggested Tim Ferriss’s 5-minute journal video for me. The practice is simple. Ferriss ends his days with a quick journal reflection on things that he’s grateful for. I adopted the practice and found that it slowed me down enough to recognize all the little things that I had once taken for granted.

Therapy

I settled back into California in 2018 and felt quite good, but still a little off kilter. I decided to heed the repeated advice of my friends (@jungsoph + @_bokehmon_) and give cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) a solid try. I’ve tried other forms of therapy in the past. Most of those prior experiences consisted of me sitting on a couch bawling my eyes out. Those sessions were cathartic, but they didn’t help me move forwards. CBT works for me because it taught me practical tools to become more aware of how my thoughts, emotions, and behaviors influence one another. As a result, I have a deeper understanding of myself and can deescalate before a triggering situation arises.

Giving

I grew up in the Catholic church and have been jinxed with the idea that if I didn’t give tithes when I had nothing, then I’d never give when I acquired abundance. When I was a full-time freelance photographer, I carried inner shame for not be generous enough. I never felt like I had anything to give because my mind was always worrying about securing the next gig and then the next one after that. Abundance was a novel idea. However, our current environment of shelter-in-place and racial injustice has provoked me into action. I’m gradually realizing that I have a higher capacity to give than expected. My idea of giving in the past was limited to monetary donations. I’m learning now that it’s just one of the options and that there are many more avenues to give support. Some alternative means I’ve been giving:

  • Amplifying voices of social justice warriors on my social media feeds
  • Hosting free Photoshop and Retouching workshops
  • Writing snail mail to friends across the country
  • Helping friends and neighbors with household chores
  • Connecting colleagues to potential gig opportunities
  • Shopping locally

I still believe that there are unexplored opportunities for me to showcase generosity and empathy. I’m choosing to be open and ready to serve whenever possible.

Allowing

A recent addition to how I’ve been able to curate self-love is the act of allowing. I now allow myself to marinate in a pool of emotions. I allow myself to be present (I’m also in the middle of meditating for a 30-day challenge, I’m certain that the daily meditation is causing this effect.) In the past, I’d never permit myself to fully feel things. If I were happy, I’d instantly begin fretting when the moment when happiness would end. If I were sad, I’d assume that the world is about to end. By permitting myself to sit in the present I’ve learned to appreciate the fleeting nature of everything. Nothing is permanent, and the temporal quality of things is life’s charm.

Final Thoughts

I’m not a perfect person, there is still a lot of room for me to grow. However, being good to myself is a good start. I only wished that I could have been kinder to myself earlier. But then again, if I were then I wouldn’t be the person I am now and I like who I am now.


References

5 Comments

  1. Porter 2020-08-27 at 19:30

    Wow. Melly, this is so vulnerable and brave. Truly inspiring. Thank you for sharing your invisible self and creating a safe space for others who may feel the same or have had a similar upbringing. I love that you recognize your parents did their best, we’re all trying to do our best. Look at you go! Keep taking us with you.

    Reply
  2. Joy 2020-08-28 at 04:53

    This is such a powerful post, Melly I really resonated with your “unlearning” of ideas and “unattaching” from items. And your relearning and learning through gratitude, CBT, and the act of giving and allowing. I loved that you have your journals- I save mine too! You are such a gem in this world!! Thank you for sharing these personal stories so eloquently and courageously

    Reply
  3. Jen 2020-08-31 at 22:43

    Thank you so much for being so open and vulnerable. It’s not easy sharing all of the struggles you’ve had to navigate through, especially with your family and brother but I know I’ve learned so much from you just sharing your experiences. You really do have a soul that touches people deeply even if we all joke about tough exteriors. Thank you for being sensitive, present, and you!!!

    Reply
  4. Jason Lee 2020-09-01 at 21:07

    Love this so much. <3

    Reply
  5. Julie Zhan 2020-09-17 at 05:08

    It’s been an incredible journey seeing you embrace yourself more and more in the last decade. No matter how tough life has been, you’ve always managed to find new ways to challenge yourself, face yourself, and grow into a truer, more loving version of yourself. Loved what you said about being where you are because of everything that’s happened, not in spite of it. Let’s keep growing 🙂

    Reply

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