Written by Danielle Browne
It was a late summer evening. We were sitting in my mom's Volkswagen in complete silence, waiting for the other to make the first move. As my heartbeat began to accelerate and butterflies filled my stomach, I wondered if he was just as nervous as I was. For months I had waited for the right moment to express my feelings for him, afraid that if I confessed too soon that I might have scared him away. I just wanted this moment to be special – and it was. This was the first time I had heard the words "I love you". I went from feeling anxious to shocked to euphoric all in a matter of seconds. Every book I'd read, every rom-com I'd watched, and every blog post I'd studied for relationship advice couldn't have prepared me for the intense surge of emotions I would come to know on August 18th, 2019. This was love, I was sure of it. All that was left for me to do was enjoy this amazing new feeling.
If only love were that simple.
A few months after confessing our love for each other, we went our separate ways. I had gone through breakups before, but this time it was different. This was love after all, was it not? Isn't love supposed to conquer all? Should I have gone back to him and beg for forgiveness? Had I given up too easily?
Or did I mistake love for infatuation?
I spent weeks trying to unpack the situation and assess where we went wrong in our relationship, which led to me wonder if I was even capable of finding love. After such a stressful and unpredictable year, this breakup was the cherry on top that sent me into a downward spiral. I had developed an unhealthy mindset, which began to affect my studies, my career, and the relationships I had with my friends and family. The carefree bubbly girl that everyone once knew me as had been replaced by one who was cold and empty. On most days, I would wake up mid-afternoon to go to class, and then come back to my room and reside there for the rest of the night. Eventually, this ongoing cycle became tiresome, and I knew that if I didn't shift my mindset, I would remain stuck in this cycle.
So how did I shift my mindset and turn my life around to become the person I am today?
Well, it was quite simple. It all started with one question: What is love?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines this word in two ways; as an emotion caused by a romantic and sexual attraction to an individual or a strong emotional attachment to a friend or family member. Though some may argue that this definition is an accurate representation of the word, I don't believe that any definition, as detailed as it may be, can completely describe how each individual will experience love. The majority of definitions of love seem to cover to act of loving another person but completely neglect the act of loving oneself. Herein lies the next question: How does one learn to love themselves? Now that's the hard part.
Step One: Letting Go.
Letting go of someone you love is perhaps one of the most painful tasks we face in relationships, especially when you're in the "denial phase". It can be difficult to imagine a life without your partner whilst having such a strong emotional and physical attachment to them.
To begin both the healing process and my journey to attaining self-love, I had to be prepared to let go of what once was to turn my focus on what is and what will be.
I needed to let go of myself; Not by being lazy or unmotivated, but by freeing myself from my negative thoughts to make room for growth. At first, I allowed myself to feel every emotion; This consisted of many nights crying myself to sleep, re-reading old texts, and scrolling through endless photos. Allowing myself to feel was essential to starting my journey because I knew that suppressing my emotions would only prolong these feelings. After a certain point, I had to stop feeling sorry for myself so I could move forward and get back to normal – whatever normal would be.
Step 2: Forgiveness & Affirmation.
As this was a journey to realizing self-love, I needed to forgive the most important person in my life; myself.
I can recall walking back to my residence one afternoon after my first-year biology class. My head was flooded with upcoming assignments and exam dates, I was tired of my terrible sleep pattern – and I couldn't stop thinking about him.
I was not happy.
I sat down in my tiny UofT dorm room to do homework, but I felt like the weight of the world was resting on my shoulders. I was fed up. So, I closed my laptop and put away my notes.
I began by acknowledging all of my troubles, no matter how small or insignificant they seemed. One of the ways I accomplished this was writing down all of my thoughts and assessing them by asking a series of questions: Why am I having this thought? Is this something that I can change? Is this situation out of my control? Is this even about me?
We all make mistakes. We all have bad days. But that doesn't make for a bad life. To practice self-love, we must accept our flaws and imperfections and forgive our past mistakes and wrongdoings. We're human, after all.
My next step was to practice affirmation. The first thing that I did was look myself in the mirror and forgive myself. Hearing and seeing the words "I forgive you" or "I love you" from my mouth helped me develop a stronger appreciation for myself. More importantly, these served as daily reminders that I deserve happiness and love.
Step 3: Self-Care.
I used to think of self-care as one of three things: meditation, a good skin routine, or a healthy diet. But self-care looks different for everyone. Take my dad, for instance; he loves to exercise. Before the pandemic hit, he would go to the gym five days a week at four-thirty in the morning for as long as I can remember. But then we entered into a provincial lockdown, and the gyms closed. Though many people stopped exercising during this time, my dad continued to follow his 5-day-a-week gym routine by turning our basement into a home gym. For him, working out is a way to practice self-care because it fuels his body, mind, and soul. His passion for the gym is one of the things that inspired me to find my own "self-care niche".
During the pandemic, I picked up painting again, which is an activity I hadn't done in months. It started with creating one painting, which eventually led me to produce four to six paintings a week. I was painting on canvases, jeans, shirts, shoes (basically anything that had a flat surface) and was being commissioned by clients to create custom pieces. The most amazing part of it all is that it didn't even feel like work.
I was addicted, and I loved every minute of it.
Whether I'm painting, drawing, designing, or making music, the arts have always been something that I feel connected to, and I've found that I'm most calm and content when I'm creating. So, I began to create every day: I became more active on social media and developed a consistent schedule for content, I started filming YouTube videos and TikToks, I worked on dozens of sets with photographers, videographers, designers, and stylists, and I even learned how to bake bread from scratch.
To take care of yourself means to love yourself, so I encourage you to ask yourself, "What have I done today to practice self-care and self-love?"
Step 4: Growth.
Here is where I'm sitting in 2021. Though I can confidently say that I've achieved my goal of realizing self-love, I felt I needed to include this step because my journey isn't over; With every new obstacle I encounter, I learn something new about myself. I'll probably be sixty years old when I learn that I like putting mayonnaise on my sandwiches (which probably won't happen because mayo is gross). If I ever feel overwhelmed or anxious, I remember to go back to the first three steps; letting go, forgiveness and affirmation, and self-care. Humans are not static; we're constantly moving, building, and evolving. So long as you continue your practice of self-love, you will continue to grow and thrive, whether it be physically, socially, financially, or mentally.
I believe one of the most beautiful things about being human is that we know love. We feel love, we give love, and we lose love. But as long you continue to find love within yourself, then love you shall never forget.