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A Vulnerable, Relatable Self-Acceptance Chronicle

Today I want to shift away from my own thoughts on self-acceptance and focus on someone else’s—those of artist and writer Tori Press in her book I Am Definitely, Probably Enough (I Think): Revelations on the Journey to Self-Love, which came out in 2020. You might know Press from her inspiring Instagram posts (at @revelatori) sharing her experiences with mental health.

Press’s book, while less than 200 pages long, packs in an intriguing and relatable chronicle, as she becomes aware that the belittlement and perfectionism she heaps on herself is not her real voice or her real self. This leads her towards therapy, which allows her to discover how to accept all aspects of her being.

Indeed, the relevancy this book has with things so many of us have been through with mental health and behavior is what struck me the most of Press’s writing and drawings.

Along the way on every page are illustrations that employ clever metaphors to get Press’s points across well. I’ve never seen as apt a comparison as Press makes when she depicts common struggles like relationships, daily tasks, and self-care as jagged rocks her drawn character is left wondering how to handle. Later on, Press draws a literal pool of standing water invading her therapy room after a session in which she opens the figurative floodgates of her emotions.

Relatability is an amazing asset for a book like this to have because if there’s one thing about discussing mental health topics that concerns me, it’s how to present them in ways that are accessible to our everyday lives. “Unconditional self-acceptance,” while a useful concept, is a mouthful of jargon that doesn’t stir a gut reaction. It’s a lot of fancy syllables strung together.

Since this book is grounded in self-acceptance, it doesn’t pretend that navigating mental health challenges are easy. This lack of sugarcoating is another aspect of Press’s book I appreciate. It is rooted in reality. Press’s vulnerability is admirable. She mentions that therapy didn’t “fix” her, as though there was anything wrong or broken at core with her. Press touches upon how accepting ourselves means allowing hard experiences, the valleys in life, and how to learn from them. This book doesn’t conclude with its author somehow being happy all the time, after all. Progress, Press realizes, is almost never linear, but even the zigzags one experiences when battling depression or a lack of self-acceptance is something to appreciate.

Overall, I can’t salute Praise enough for making a topic like self-acceptance as accessible as possible to her readers. Even if you are aware of and knowledgeable about these concepts, this book is still a valuable read because of the elegance of Press’s ideas and the emotional chord struck by empathizing with her journey.

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Starting a week of self-compassion

I don’t know if I would have been able to get through the past ten months if I hadn’t stumbled upon some research last December by a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin.

From the micro (trying to figure out what path would be best for me after graduation once I earn my B.A. in psychology and English) to the macro (coronavirus cases are surging to new highs in the U.S., there’s, um, kind of an incredibly important election that is already going on), anxiety and stress have been pretty up there recently, although that’s been the case for almost the entirety of 2020. At the start of all the disruptions from COVID-19 back in March, I really thought it would be a testament to my resiliency. I would be able to cope in spite of all the shake-ups.

While I’m still here, of course, and able to write these words, I have to admit I’ve had moments where I’ve been deeply disappointed in myself. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, my tolerance for distress and frustration plummeted shortly after I stayed at home. I spent the vast majority of mid-March to mid-June at home, a quarter of the year that’s just a blur in retrospect, and even after some elements of my life returned to a new normal, I was still struggling. Doomscrolling took over my online habits on Twitter and Reddit, counterbalanced by spending way too much time on YouTube watching random videos for the sake of distraction. I spent, on average, just four hours each night sleeping, versus eight back in January and February.

The thing is, and it’s weird to think about, it could’ve been worse.

Back in December, back when I was still a fan of pursuing high self-esteem, I was flummoxed by the research that the concept wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. Naturally, I was in denial mode for some time about it. How could self-esteem, so trumpeted by society and in my mind for quite a while, be so . . . disappointing? Not to mention, if it was used just to compare yourself to others, harmful, as the research was showing?

With that, I began looking at self-acceptance, but there was another aspect to alternatives to self-esteem that I stumbled upon: self-compassion. More specifically, I found the research of psychologist Kristin Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion.

Being kind to myself has never seemed all that normal to me, sad as that sounds. Even bringing up the less helpful theme of self-esteem in therapy had proven difficult for me to do, so in hindsight I’m surprised I ever came around to self-compassion.

Self-compassion has let me pick myself up after a lot of low points this year. In fact, the lows I had in 2020 are worse in some regards to what was going on in years like 2017 and 2018 when my depression was far more severe. Certainly part of the difference can be credited to cognitive behavioral therapy, which has helped me realize that what happens to me does not define me, that I can reframe what I believe and accept about myself. At the same time, I am indebted quite a bit to self-compassion.

As a result, I want to pivot these next few blog posts to exploring self-compassion in more detail. My first few posts spent a lot of time discussing self-acceptance, which can be a prerequisite, if you will, of being kind to yourself. Because after all, if you can’t accept yourself no matter what, it can be harder to extend compassion to yourself the same way you do others.

Of course in these posts, I’m going to be leaning a lot on the work of Dr. Neff, considering how much she has explored and researched this field. This week, I’m going be starting to regularly commit to what she describes as the self-compassion break, and next Sunday I’ll report on how it goes.

More importantly, I hope this allows you to at least entertain the idea that self-compassion might be for you. Rather than beating ourselves up about mistakes or comparing ourselves to others so we can feel good (or sometimes bad) about our behavior, self-compassion lets us commit to our values without hanging on conditions. I might also add that even if self-compassion somehow didn’t help us follow our aim, we would still be deserving of it considering the basic principles of self-acceptance–you’re okay enough to be kind to yourself.