I had come to terms with an ending to my story far too soon, but swallowing the pill and accepting life for what it is can be life changing. When the voices battling it out inside your head–clawing their way into your psyche screaming different tunes of survival–are finally silenced, there’s a peace to it. It’s the most twisted, somber serenity I’ve experienced in this lifetime, but it was something I had settled on. I had made this bed, mostly all on my own, and I had lay in it for far too long. So that was that. I truly had accepted that my fate was self loathing and not self love, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say so did nearly everyone around me.

That was my story.

Now, without getting too sidetracked from the point here: When you’re younger, you never want to believe the adults with all their stories and experiences. They tell you, “Life is short, make good decisions!” And we all scoff and write it off.  We put on a brave face and in our silly youth we decide that we have all the time in the world. Time to make all the mistakes we want, and fix them, and do it all over again if that’s what we truly desire in our little hearts. Unfortunately, time is not always on our side. Youth begins to fade, and you become responsible for the actions you take. When we age, naturally so does our body. The actions we take and decisions we make affect our flesh vessels. If you don’t treat your “temple” properly, it’s not all going to hold up.

I’m an open book when it comes to my mental health and struggles with self love because I want to help, and I want to share. I made a lot of bad decisions in my youth that have left a residue on my current life. Without detailing the tragedies that I willingly hopped right into, I will say I took a lot of damage. Damage to my psyche. Damage to my mental health. Damage to my growing process. Lastly, and what I want to focus on, damage to my body. I lived recklessly because I didn’t think I was going to live much longer. I let my health go to shit. When I did gain that sunny disposition and realized that life was worth living, I had a lot to mend and fix.

Self-loathing is one of the most difficult things I’ve had to accept in this life. With all the thoughts I have swirling through my head (constantly), it isn’t fun when most of them are critiquing and horrendously shaming me so badly that I don’t want to face myself in the mirror when I get out of the shower. Or I only want to go out at night because somehow, I’ve convinced myself I at least look a tad better under moonlight that can mask nearly everything. Worst of all, these thoughts shame me into not being comfortable with my own naked body. These are just some of the ways in which my mental health affects me sometimes.

The statistics for youth battling mental health issues are incredibly heartbreaking. One in five children either already have a serious mental health condition, or will develop one in their lifetime. Depression. Anxiety. Addiction. Anorexia nervosa. Body dysmorphia. Generally in most cases, it’s common that they can be interwoven and you’ll suffer from more than one (oh joy!).

However, sometimes light shines through, even when you’re buried as far down as I was. Something inside of you suddenly awakens, that something that you assumed was long since bludgeoned and dead. Before you know it, the voices are back, but this time, the voices are your thoughts cheering you on with dreams of a future, a purpose, and everything that you deem beautiful and good in this lifetime. You start finding a way out of this hole, and the very next thing you do is seek help. With help, you start to open the door to self love.

As much as I can’t stand it on those days when I feel crushed by the pressure of the world and society, there are exciting small steps. Seeing improvement (even the teeniest tiny bit) is the most rewarding thing: getting to know yourself mentally and physically; learning your body; learning that it’s your body and cherishing it for that. One thing I’ve learned about in this lifetime is nearly all things are changeable. If there’s something about my body that I feel shameful about (for whatever reason) then I work on it. BUT – only if I want to work on it for myself. Because the number one point I’m stressing here is learning how to love yourself.

Learning self-love is something I face head on everyday – and most days it’s a battle. However, the good days are really good days,  and I value those moments when I feel victorious love for the person I am. Those tiny moments when you catch something about yourself – the essence of you – and you appreciate it, that feeling is warm and good. As we navigate these choppy waters we call life, or existence, we should at least be able to do so feeling confident and comfortable as the people we are. Some days it feels unfair but when you look around and understand we are almost all having basically the same experience, you accept it.

So for anyone feeling forlorn today — too anxious to leave bed, or doing so and trying to work through that and go about your day — stop and take the time to appreciate something about yourself. Breathe deep and know that none of us are alone in this experience. Cherish the friends that let you speak openly about exactly how you feel and the friends that let you unravel right in front of them but still love you no differently. If you don’t have those friends, find them. Or find me, because I will be that friend. All I want anyone to take from this is radical self love. Or finding the road to it, as I am. Think of what you want to gain from this lifetime, and make strides at doing just that. Hopefully getting to come face to face with yourself — and loving the thought of that — is on that list. The key to unlocking the self love door is simply solace and serenity.