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Why I Had to Hit Rock Bottom to Love Myself

Looking for love in all the wrong places.

By Leon MacfaydenPublished 26 days ago 6 min read
Image by Adene Sanchez on iStock

Self-love eluded me for most of my life. Despite my parent's love, I faced relentless bullying at school. As a kid, you pay more attention to your peers. You reason that your parents have to love you, while your peers are more honest.

The physical abuse healed with only a single scar on my left hand, but the mental torment lingered. They mocked my teeth, hair, weight, the way I walk and run, my name, my parent's house, my eyes, and the way that I shouted for help as they beat me.

When they ran out of physical things to mock, they resorted to telling me that no one loved me and that I should end my life.

My dad used to get frustrated at my inability to defend myself. He said he'd take me to boxing classes - as if the school punchbag could find the guts to step into a ring. He gave me tips on changing my appearance despite my fear of the unknown.


Self-love through the martial arts?

After several years of this schoolyard abuse, I couldn't take it anymore. I was feeling suicidal, so I had nothing to lose. I finally found the courage to take up Karate and boxing. You'd think my dad would've been glad that I finally did as he wanted. Instead, he told me how pretentious martial arts are and how they have no relation to the real world. He didn't like the more aggressive version of me, and he didn't approve of the passive version. He died in 2019, and I never did understand what he wanted from me.

I became devoted to Karate, boxing, and weightlifting. I earned the coveted black belt and boxed in front of an audience. The younger me thought this was it - this was the route to self-love. People were showing me respect, the bullying was over, and I even had a girlfriend.

Deep inside, I still felt something was missing. I was trying hard to look and act tough because I lacked confidence. No one observing me would've noticed, but that's because society still values aggressive, dominant men.

I thought I loved myself, but that love always depended on acting a certain way. If I gave in to fear over anything, that love would come crashing down like a sugar pedestal. I was only as good as my last brave act, and bravery to me always meant something physical.

This need for dominance and physical prowess led to me joining the police.


Self-love as a police officer?

Now, I was certain I'd find self-love. I thought I'd prove to my dad that I was physically capable. I'd be fighting criminals on the streets and no longer in the controlled environment he chastised me over.

Alas, his next issue was that the police wear their uniforms for protection, so it's still not a fair fight. But his opinion wasn't as important to me now. I felt important. Everyone has an opinion about the police - even if you hate them.

My police career seemed like the ultimate proof of my worth. I saved lives, caught criminals, and finally felt important.

And yet, still, that gnawing doubt inside me. That doubt grew as I became traumatized by my work, and doctors diagnosed me with PTSD. My career, which meant everything to me, came crashing down as I was told I was 100% disabled for life and medically retired.

External validation is indeed fleeting.

I was a broken man - everything I stood for had been destroyed. I sank into a depression that lasted years. But sometimes, you have to lose everything to find the real you.


What does it mean to love yourself?

After a brief stay in a mental hospital, I had all the time in the world to contemplate two extremes - I could either end my life or change it.

I knew that my attempts at self-love had never been successful. Part of the problem was that I didn't understand this term.

As I'd lost everything, I reasoned I couldn't look for self-love outside of myself. It wasn't hiding in money, experiences, or other people. It can't be connected to power, status, or situation.

Self-love meant that I understood my value and treated myself as I would a best friend - in a loving way. The problem was I considered my value to be zero. But if I had a best friend in my situation, I'd be full of reassurance and sympathy. I'd tell them it wasn't their fault. I'd stress that I wasn't a victim of PTSD and bullying but a survivor.

Most of all, I'd highlight that the most beautiful part of the human condition is you can always make a new choice. Regardless of your past, you can reinvent yourself whenever you choose. It doesn't matter if you get it wrong because you can keep trying. As long as you're alive, you can do things differently.

Mental illness lends itself to narcissism. Everyone tip-toed around me, fearing saying the wrong thing and setting me off. People withheld their own opinions about things to spare me any more stress. The pain and effort required to survive each day meant I had nothing left. I didn't consider the feelings of other people.

While narcissism is excessive self-interest, self-love is positive. It means you have a good understanding of your weaknesses and strengths. Self-love has a positive effect on relationships, while narcissism crushes them.

I finally understood. Self-love means accepting myself the way I am. I have intrinsic value unrelated to my achievements or lack of them.


Self-love through writing.

As my mood began to lift due to medication and familial support, I found the new love of my life - writing.

Writing was a way to untangle the knots in my head and make sense of what happened to me. It made sense of my pain and allowed me to help and connect with others in similar situations.

Writing has ensured that my struggles and suffering didn't go to waste. I understand what it's like to be bullied and go on to suffer mental illness. It would be a waste if I didn't let others know they aren't alone. Writing is my vessel for connecting with people who feel alone and abandoned by society.

Self-love isn't dependent on writing. It grows from the voyage of self-discovery that writing facilitates.


Accepting compliments.

I've always loved praise and most of my writing is well received. I even keep a folder full of the most beautiful comments I receive from people worldwide.

Many people with low self-esteem put up a barrier to compliments and throw them back at the giver. We need to start embracing any positive regard others show us.

Whenever someone compliments me, I reply, "Thank you." Acknowledging the goodness in you is not egotistical.


Embracing my past.

The final piece of the puzzle came from accepting my past mistakes. Yes, I had been walked all over at school. I'd been physically and verbally abused, and I hadn't responded in the courageous way I'd have liked. But that's ok. That poor boy didn't know any better, and he didn't have an aggressive bone in his body.

I also let the anger towards my abusers fade away. Not because I like them, but because I have too much to be thankful for to waste time hating people.

Every day, I'm grateful for where I am in life. I have a partner of 20 years. I am close to my mum, who lives nearby. I'm financially secure and have time freedom. My mental health is better than I could've imagined just a few years ago.

Most of all, I now accept all of me - my weaknesses, the person I was, the person I tried to be, and the person I am now. Self-love now exists within me and won't be going anywhere.

To anyone struggling, remember: your value is intrinsic, and self-love is within your reach.


Download my FREE ebook, 'Mental Health: Myths, Realities, and Hope.' Discover the truth about mental illness, debunk common myths, and find resources for support.

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About the Creator

Leon Macfayden

From a police officer to a psychiatric ward and recovery.

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    Leon MacfaydenWritten by Leon Macfayden

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