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The year of self-respect

I'm nearing the end of my first week on the Whole30 diet. I'm still not what sure I think about it: which foods are allowed and which aren't feels a bit arbitrary, and the very fact that the diet has a logo and a trademark is off-putting. On the other hand, maybe it's my imagination, but I feel a lot better. I'm certainly eating a great deal more vegetables.

I've also been better about doing exercise before work so far this year. Usually that's involved running, but I've been doing some weight training, as well as long, brisk walks and push-ups every day. The result is that I'm more alert during the day, and feel free to relax and read / write during the evening. (Whole30's ban on alcohol helps here, too. I had fallen into a pattern of drinking a glass of wine or two most evenings in 2020.)

I suffer from anxiety, bouts of depression, and historically really low self-esteem. At my lowest, I made a plan - never followed - to end my life. Shallow self-confidence has sometimes led me to bad places and poor choices. It's frequently led me to sleepless nights and their subsequent, zombie-like days. I've spent much of my life feeling like I must be physically abhorrent; like there's something horribly wrong with me that nobody wanted to tell me about. As a kid, I was over six feet tall when I was thirteen, and I didn't so much as date until I was twenty-one. Those feelings of inferiority have never really left me.

By rights, the pandemic should have made me feel worse. We were all locked inside; I spent a great deal more time caring for my terminally ill mother as she precipitously declined. The goals I had for my life were out of reach. It should have been a miserable time.

And it was, in lots of ways, but it also gave me something important. I could be in my own space, rather than commuting to work. I was not expected to show up in a certain way. All the worries I used to have about the impression I was casting in the real world - worries that I resented having terribly - evaporated. Instead, I could just be me.

I gave myself permission to write more than blog posts. On a whim, I entered a flash fiction competition, and placed first in the initial round. I enrolled in workshops and courses and continued to practice. Today, I have a regular practice of writing every day.

I ran more than I'd run in my entire life leading up to that point combined: at least two 5Ks a week, which for many people isn't all that much, but for me was an enormous step up. Towards the end of the year, I had some conversations about stressful things that had been building up as reservoirs of bad feeling that were threatening to spill over.

Somewhere in all of this, my self-esteem crept up, and my anxiety started to diminish. I felt less awful about my body and found that the stressful conversations went well. The darkness is not necessarily gone for good; anyone who suffers from depression knows that the cloud can re-emerge at any time. I also don't think it's just because I started to do exercise and did some writing; I think those things were reflections of something else.

Self-respect is something that requires practice and investment, and somewhere during last year, I made the decision to spend the time. It wasn't esteem, as such, at least at first, but I decided that I was worth spending time on. Writing and exercise weren't things that would make other people like me. They were just for me. And a switch flipped, without me realizing it, that allowed me to know that was okay.

In a lot of ways, I feel like a different person going into 2021. I'm full of gratitude, and excited for the future. We're still in an awful, deadly pandemic; I still have the trauma of watching my mother deal with her illness. But in lots of ways, I can meet those challenges with more energy.

There are ups and downs. I had a blip before Christmas where I still felt incredibly low. But generally speaking, every day is a small progression in the right direction. Things are looking up.