With more people discussing the importance of mental health and self-care, the concept of loving yourself has become a prominent topic of discussion. However, what most people fail to mention is the lengthy process involved with self-love and the continuous battle to stay on the right track towards acknowledging your own worth. In other words, self-love does not happen overnight – it takes time, effort and a lot of internal reflection.
Over the lockdown period, I had the privilege of speaking to Olivia Baker, a twenty two year old woman from London, about her journey towards placing value on her own happiness.
Q. Can you tell me a bit about your story of personal development?
Trying to better myself and do the work has always been quite present in my life. For whatever reason – I don’t know whether I was born sad or something – but I was always just a sad kid. I have struggled with depression and anxiety my whole life and because of that, I’ve been in and out of therapy since I was eight years old and on and off anti-depressants since I was fourteen. Some people are able to put personal development on their backseat because they don’t need to deal with it. For me, it almost wasn’t a choice. I needed to do this work on myself to survive and be okay.
My aunty, who I am really close to, is a therapist, so therapy has always been a norm for me. Personally, I believe that everyone should have a therapist – the world would be a better place if everyone had therapy. There’s this stigma that you have to be f***ed up and in a really dark miserable place to get therapy, but people only tend to ask for help when they hit rock bottom. If people learn to ask for help earlier, maybe when they’re on their way to rock bottom, they could do themselves a lot of good and save themselves a lot of pain. Growing up, I mixed between various kinds of therapies, but it took me a while to find a type of therapy I both enjoyed and a therapist I also clicked with. That’s another thing that people don’t talk about – therapy is not a one size fits all solution. Finding a therapist that actually suits you is so important and it’s sometimes not easy – I personally didn’t find the therapist that I got on with really well until I got to university. The relationship I had with my therapist was so fantastic, I responded to her really well.
When people meet me, the last thing they would ever think is, ‘This person suffers from mental health issues, they’ve struggled with self-confidence and self-love, they haven’t been a very kind person to themselves throughout their life. But on some level, I’ve probably been overcompensating, because I’ve been so scared to show my vulnerabilities to other people. I was so angry at myself for feeling low and embarrassed and for others to see this, so out of fear I put on a ‘show’. Recently, I shared a post on Instagram of myself not being perfect and not being the happy or funny person that I always felt that I had to be and, honestly, it was actually the most freeing experience that I have ever had in my life. It is so easy to think that people don’t want to see you miserable and upset, people aren’t going to be there for you, even though sometimes I am like that and that is okay. As soon as I pressed post, I could not stop crying, but it was just years of stress and anxiety of trying to prove to other people that I was happy being released. This perfect person was literally being released from my body and it was the most cathartic experience, as I could finally just be me.
Q. Was there a moment where you actually wanted to embark on the journey of self-love, rather than feeling like it wasn’t an option?
Half way through second year of uni I hit rock-bottom and I thought to myself, something has to change. When you’re in that position, you just look around and it feels like nothing is there apart from emptiness. At that point, it’s up to you to make the choice that you’re going to try and get better, and fortunately or not, no one else is able to make that choice for you.
Growing up, I was such a negative person, I would see the worst in everything. But learning something like gratitude has completely changed me. Keeping a gratitude diary every day has transformed my thought from seeing the worst in the good, to finding the incredible growth opportunities in the very bad. Making that choice and thinking, ‘Right, I’m going to do it for me,’ is the first step – choosing that you’re going to do something because you love yourself and you’re worth the time. And I think for me, doing my gratitude diary and going to therapy was the first step.
That all came in around the same time I started exercising because I was just so unfit and unhealthy. When I was feeling really low, when I wanted to drop out of university and frankly drop out of life, boxing gave me the safety to know that for at least three hours a week I could be happy. And, I chose it – it was me making the choice that I was going to f***ing try, even if it took every strength of my being to get me to that gym.
Q. What have you found hard about the journey towards self-love?
One of the hardest things when you go through massive periods of growth in yourself is accepting that even though you’re growing, it doesn’t mean the people surrounding you are also growing. Because of this, tensions can arise – you’re not the same person, but they still are. That means sometimes these relationships, even though you care about them, don’t really work anymore and you have to let go of people that have brought you joy for a certain amount of time. You are still grateful for what they did for you, but you have to accept that they don’t serve you anymore in your life like they used to. And still being brave enough to be you, even though you know that you might have to lose people along the way that you care about – that’s really hard to do.
Q. You say that you have always dealt with depression throughout your life. How have you personally found happiness in life?
It sounds weird, but I think a lot of people take their happiness for granted. Some people’s natural state is just continuous happiness and that’s so amazing for them. I often feel jealous of those people, I think to myself, ‘Why the f*** can’t I be happy like that all the time?’ and obviously they’re not happy all the time, but I feel like people don’t have to work for happiness in the same way as I do. I have to work to be happy, it’s a choice I have to make every single day when I wake up. It’s really exhausting and it’s hard sometimes, but it makes me appreciate happiness so much more and it tastes so much sweeter. As I’ve felt the detriment of not having it, now, happiness has become my most treasure and valuable possession.
For a long time, I was so angry at myself for not being happy, for being depressed and feeling low. And that just fed into it all – it would just be a vicious cycle of, ‘I’m really sad, then I’m angry at being sad, then I’m even more sad.’ When actually, accepting when I was feeling shit, not numbing the pain, just feeling it and accepting it for what it was helped it pass so much easier than trying to fight it. Letting it come when it needed to and having the faith to know it will pass. You’ve felt like this before, but if you carry on doing the things that you know work, you will not feel like this forever.
Q. Do you feel that developing yourself has changed your goals and aspirations in life?
The more work that you do on yourself, the more you see your own ego for what it is. You’re able to recognise, firstly, when you’re doing something for other people and not for yourself and, secondly, whether you’re feeding into a toxic mindset of yourself that doesn’t help anyone because you’re doing it for your own ego. Growing up, all I wanted to do was to be an actress: I loved attention and just wanted to be a star. But through developing myself I realised I don’t need this attention and admiration from others to feel satisfied and content in myself.
When you do all your work on yourself, it helps you shift your dynamic from ‘me’ to ‘us’. I have realised that if I’m doing something, whatever I want to do in life, it needs to be serving other people on some level, otherwise there is only so much fulfilment that you’re going to get from it. When you stop yourself from feeding your ego, what you want changes. For example, even with exercising, you can go from a somewhat-toxic ‘I really want to fit into these jeans,’ to a loving and compassionate ‘I actually want to be strong and healthy.’
That shift in what you want and why you want it has been the biggest change for me. I have started trying to do things for me because I love myself and I am worthy, and not merely to tick boxes for other people.
Q. What have you learnt from your journey towards self-love?
I’ve learnt a couple of things. Firstly, you can only love other people as much as you love yourself. The relationship that you have with yourself, and being comfortable with who you are, is the most important thing. The way that you treat yourself is going to be reflected back at every single relationship that you have in your life. Also, I’ve learnt to just be present. I find it really hard to not get lost in my own thoughts and to be aware of what is going on, because I think that’s where a lot of your true happiness and joy comes from. Just being grateful for what you have now is really important, try not to worry about the ‘what if’ in the future.
I strongly, strongly believe that the most important thing anyone can do in their lives currently is to invest in themselves. Not to waste their money and time in clothes, in trends, in all this kind of stuff that is meaningless and not worth it. Long term, that’s not going to be enough – you need greater foundations. Obviously not everyone has the means to afford therapy, but I am sure that if you have enough money to buy a self-help book to start learning to do the work on yourself, that is the most important thing. Buy a book, buy a course, watch YouTube videos, educate yourself on how you can invest in yourself, because that is something that no one will ever be able to take away from you.
Ultimately, there can be the most beautiful house that you’ve ever seen, with all the most amazing wallpapers and furnished with gold and silver, but fundamentally, if the walls and the foundations are made of paper or straw, as soon as a storm comes along, as soon as any discomfort comes along, the whole thing is going to crumble and it’s going to uproot everything. And that’s what it is – you have to build your foundations, you have to strip back everything and work upwards from there because if you don’t, the external things in your life are going to be shallow if you are not rooted in yourself.
Of course all of this costs time, energy, resources etc, but ultimately everyone has a choice in how they prioritise in life and that’s not for me to judge. My priorities aren’t aligned with others as we are all different and on different journeys. However, for me it will always be my happiness and my mental health, and if it’s the same for you, I want you to ask yourself – how badly do I want to be happy? How badly do I want to look back in thirty years and be happy with who I am and feel comfortable with the life that I live? There is no right answer, but I can tell you that the sooner you start doing the work on yourself – and yes, it’s going to be hard, often it’s going to be raw and it’s going to be f***ing uncomfortable – but the sooner you do that, the closer you are to living an authentic happy life.
Q. What would you say to anyone else who wants to embark on a similar journey?
Just have courage and faith in yourself. The thing is, when you start, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Be open to the pain and what you’re going to endure. Know that you’re going to come out the other side a whole lot better and a whole lot stronger. In these periods where we’re doing our work on ourselves, it’s really tough and you may sometimes go into darker places. But these places can also be incredible because they give you the ability to grow and rise in the way that you wouldn’t have been forced to do otherwise – it makes you aware of your own strength.
Looking back on my own journey, I had to work on myself because of my own mental health – it was almost forced upon me. But just because I had to, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t just because you’re comfortable. Life is more than just being comfortable, it’s about being happy and fulfilled. You grow the most going outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes doing the work on yourself is so uncomfortable and painful, but that’s where you’ll find your values, who you are and what you really want in life.
Surround yourself with what you want – if you want to go on a self-discovery journey, then read the books, educate yourself, follow the people on Instagram – get rid of all the sh*t on Instagram that isn’t going to help you on your journey. Make sure you’re reading good healthy stuff that’s going to feedback into your life and inspire you. Whatever motivates you, whatever gets you going, get more of that shit into your life.
I still don’t have all the answers, not even nearly all of them, but what I do know is that the more wholeheartedly you are able to love yourself and accept the beauty of you for just being you, the more love, compassion and joy you will be able to spread in the world – and what’s life without love?
Talking to Olivia about her journey with self-love provided me with the opportunity to reflect on my own way of living. I’m sure quite a few of you will resonate with me when I say that I have a habit of completely disregarding myself and my own mental health when I am intensely invested in helping others. Unfortunately, by disregarding myself in this way, I am allowing myself to reduce the value of my own self-care and increasing the value of other people’s happiness. Am I actually helping other people to my best of my ability when I am completely disregarding myself? Short answer – not at all.
We, myself included, need to stop using the excuse of helping other people to allow ourselves to slip beneath the cracks. We all deserve to be loved, especially by ourselves. I’ve been working on my own journey towards self-love for the past couple of years now, which has included seeing a therapist, learning to set boundaries with those that negatively impact my wellbeing and learning to acknowledge when I need time to myself. Now, I’m nowhere near the end of my journey, and I’m not sure I ever will be. Self-love is a lifetime journey! But as work on myself, spend time looking after myself, put effort into making sure I’m doing better than just coping, life seems to flow a little easier.
As the iconic RuPaul once said: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”
I’d like to thank Olivia for taking the time to speak to me about such an incredibly important topic and for being incredibly open and honest about her personal journey with self-love.