The Hard Thing I Decided to Try During COVID-19 Isolation: Loving Myself

Chris Lee, PMHNP-BC
A young man in a forrest looking up

Self-love. In bipolar disorder, you meet the Superman version and the self-destructive person and it’s so hard to know which is the real me. I’ve always wanted real confidence and self-esteem, the kind you don’t question. Learning to love myself has been lifelong work, but the world’s events came with a few surprises.

The quarantine took place while I was traveling the world. I was backpacking in Colombia when my greatest fear unfolded. The borders were sealed, flights were grounded and I had to make urgent decision as to where I would seek shelter as the world became decapitated by COVID-19.

It became clear quickly I’d be alone for an unknown period of time. My social anxiety in some ways, improved. The idea that everybody was united in the same routine was oddly comforting. But without family or the safety of close friends close by, the idea of isolating by myself was both terrifying and intriguing at the same time.

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I knew it would be a time of self-reflection and growth. But would I become introspective, critical and harsh about my life’s accomplishments and the stagnation I felt in my career? Or would I show compassion toward myself, be loving and kind to my soul and its intuitive direction? I learned quickly that each required tremendous effort. So I made a decision to explore the latter. And this is what I learned:

1. It’s harder to show compassion towards yourself when you were raised to be critical and taught to mask your “defects.”

It was so easy to think about everything I haven’t done, but took a lot more work to count the things I have done.

I thought about times I was bullied and the sensitivity I developed to be aware of anything that may attract criticism. I realized I spend a lot of my adult life doing things to avoid being bullied. And realizing that made me sad. It reminded me of times I played with Barbie dolls instead of Ninja Turtles. It made me think of times I wanted to do theater instead of lacrosse.

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I told myself how beautiful I am for having so many talents and interests.

2. When others don’t call, it’s not because they don’t love you. It’s often because they think you’re OK.

I hate feeling left out. But I began to realize in isolation that humans are innately kind, it is our instinct to help one another. When a friend becomes distant, it’s not because they are leaving you, it’s probably because they are confident you are OK. Reaching out and saying that you’re not is key.

I told myself that I am important to others, that if I need help, I can ask. And that when I feel nobody is around me, it’s because everybody is standing behind me.

3. Self-love means self-care.

Think of yourself as a 10-year-old child who you must feed, clothe and bathe. Talk to yourself as so. Tell yourself what is wrong and what is right. Teach yourself how to manage disappointment, heartbreak and how to never give up on your dreams.

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I began a daily meditation. I would close my eyes and I would speak to the 10-year-old version of me. And what came out surprised me. I found myself beginning each time with an apology — for every time I let him (myself) down, for every time I didn’t let him do what he wanted to do because I was afraid of what others might think of him. “I’m sorry, Chris, I love you and I promise I will be more brave,” I would say.

Tears would roll down my face as I finally grasped the meaning of true self-love. It’s unconditional.

Self-love is not a pat on the back for your accomplishments, it’s not confidence in the way you look or how you are perceived by others.

Self-love is bravery and standing up for yourself. It’s loving every talent, every weakness, every win and every loss. It’s looking at your 10-year old self deep in the eyes, knowing everything wonderful that he is going to experience in the world, and comforting him when he feels pain. Self-love is saying, “I got you, no matter what. And I love you, with all my heart and my life.”

Self-love is divine.

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