In June, I made the decision to get psychotherapy. I went for my assessment the day after I'd had some disappointing news, and I cried like a very big boy. By the end, I was all but wrung out, emotionally.
There's a lot of work involved in trying to be a healthy person, and sometimes it's difficult to know where to point your nose before you can start sniffing out what's wrong. But what I've come to learn so far is how much I've written myself off.
This was evident in my own personal brand: the version of myself that I put out to people who aren't my friends and family. For example, this past year I've run with a bio with some variation of the following:
Owner and operator of the tiny podcasting machine called Podiant. One man argument. Basically a beard with legs.
"One man argument" just symbolises how often I've disappointed myself, by espousing views I don't necessarily feel like I hold when I stop seeing red (I don't see myself as having "a temper", but just because I don't shout and throw things doesn't mean I've not been just as angry as someone who does).
"Basically a beard with legs" is a great way of reducing myself to a poorly-drawn caricature. "Basically" suggests I'm not worth your time, and "a beard with legs" simply says I have nothing to offer but my occasionally-changing facial hair.
It's eight words, carefully chosen to ensure I don't raise expectations.
The banner image of my blog was a storm cloud, and the tagline was "An ongoing argument Mark is having with himself". Again, this tells you that I'm unhappy with who I am.
To be clear, I hadn't put that much thought into it, but I really think it demonstrates my mindset for the last year. I've not been super happy for a while, but with the work I'm doing on myself, that outlook is changing.
One of the discussion points my therapist and I return to often is satisfaction. It seems like an odd word, and I think contentment is possibly easier to get one's head around, but it's a useful word that isn't as high-pressured as happiness or as lofty as fulfilment.
"Self-satisfaction" is often seen as a negative trait, in the same way that, as a child, being "sensitive" was always code for being "touchy", but enjoying oneself – ie: enjoying your own company and being on your own side – is a great goal to strive for. We can find satisfaction in other ways too: in the company we keep or the way we maintain our homes, but knowing what makes us dissatisfied – discontent or unsettled, perhaps – is the key to not making avoidable mistakes... or at least, making fewer of them.
That song goes "learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all", and that's fine if your Californian, but it's just not for the rest of us, right? Yeah I guess, but if we can't learn to love ourselves, can we at least try and like ourselves?
That's part of what I've been working on, and what made me realise my own personal brand was out-of-whack with my self-image. There's still plenty about myself I want to improve, but it's mostly surface stuff, because of something crucial.
For an awfully long time, I've viewed myself as having no real value. That's a difficult sentence to get right, because it suggests that I gave it some thought. I really didn't; I just didn't see myself as having intrinsic worth. I didn't (always) hate myself or think I was garbage (some of the time); I just didn't think I had the right to want things, let alone demand them. And when I did want something, I wasn't able to fight for it because ultimately, I felt like I didn't deserve it.
When you put yourself at the bottom of any social structure, you're always in the wrong, because everyone else is smarter or more capable than you. There's maybe a bit of narcissism in there – although we'll get to labelling in a minute – because it doesn't take into consideration other people, their flaws and their motivations. (This is all a bit cryptic so I apologise, but this story isn't all mine to tell.)
Realising you're allowed to want things and to need things, and to have dealbreakers or lines you won't cross is, I feel, a great step forward if you're someone who has historically undervalued yourself.
So I'm going to wrap up this ramble and talk briefly about labelling, which is a great way to box us all off so that we don't have to think about things in more detail. It's also a great way to not support yourself. We slap labels on things we don't understand, because we're pattern-recognising machines and that's an easy way for us to feel like we understand something. "I slammed the door in her face because I have a bad temper" is one way of looking at a situation that might equally-well be described as "I slammed the door in her face because she said something that triggered me in a way I wasn't prepared to deal with". (This might not be a good example, and also it's not something that happened to me.)
There are lots of fine lines and tightropes in all of this, but at its core it's about supporting yourself. Being on your own side, talking things through with yourself, rather than labelling your actions or your personality traits. There's no downside to being on your own team, and it doesn't have to mean that you're excusing yourself, because if you're genuinely on your own side, that means you want to improve, and you'll probably improve more quickly if you're kind to yourself, rather than beating yourself up when you screw up.
I'm really only at the start of this whole thing. I've got lots more to learn about the process and about myself. It's not a linear progression, either. The week before last was difficult, but by talking myself through it, I was able to come out the other side a lot closer to satisfaction than when I started.
Therapy is an expensive process and it doesn't always mean you come away from a session with a eureka moment. But having someone who doesn't have to be on your side but is so anyway, is incredibly valuable, as is knowing that I don't always have to be OK; stuff can suck and be difficult, but I'll have a place to unburden myself that doesn't impact my friendships.
If you've ever considered it, look into it now. I'm not where I want to be yet, but I know that I should have done this a long time ago. And speaking as someone who struggled with the finance of it: it's worth it.