I once overanalyzed this photo because my hair looks stringy.
Reality check: This is what my hair looks like every day.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve criticized every inch of myself.
As a dancer, a runner, and a model (if you consider bridal fashion shows and mannequin modeling in store windows as modeling), all my extracurricular activities seemed to revolve around achieving an ultra-sleek physique.
So I walked around everyday listening to this disgusting voice inside my head say awful things.
“Ugh. Why is my nose is sooo big?”
“Why isn’t my stomach as flat as all the other dancers?”
“Why are my thighs so big? Will they ever not touch each other?”
“I’d look so much better in jeans if my calves were smaller…”
“My hair is so thin. Why can’t it just have some waves… or a little volume?”
“Why do I have acne when I’m 23… 28… 32… 38?! Why does my face hate me?”
“Oh. Great. It’s swimsuit season again and I’m still not ready.”
These intrusive thoughts didn’t stop at my body—they attacked every aspect of who I was and who I am still.
I’ve never felt that I was smart enough. (The sheer agony of sitting in AP English still haunts me.)
No matter how many dance trophies filled my bedroom, I never felt like I was a graceful or even a good dancer.
If I would’ve been able to focus on my skills as a high jumper and 400m runner instead of beating myself up about everything that I couldn’t do, I truly believeI could’ve been much, much better.
When I began my work in education, I’d constantly feel inadequate. My lesson plans weren’t good enough. My instruction was awful. When a principal or mentor asked me to start presenting at conferences, I just laughed. Who would want to listen to me? I had nothing of value to share. At least that’s what I kept telling myself.
How could I hate who I was so much?
It’s no wonder that I began having panic attacks in my early 30s.
I remember my first panic attack like it was yesterday.
this is what a panic attack looks like.
After a long day of teaching and running a basketball league, I was about 10 minutes away from my dad’s house, where I was living at the time,
I realized I was sweating.
I felt a tightness in my chest.
My vision blurred.
I could NOT breathe.
I pulled over.
I was convinced I was having a heart attack.
I thought about calling my dad, but, for some reason, I didn’t.
I just sat there.
“Well, this is it. This is how I die,” I told myself as I mentally prepared my last will and testament.
I continued to sit and wait, not honestly knowing what the heck I was waiting for.
Maybe for it to pass?
Maybe to die?
I still have no idea.
I took a deep breath.
I took a few more.
Clarity returned. My breathing normalized. I could see again. The sweating ceased.
After what felt like hours, I drove the last few minutes home.
The next day, I went to the doctor, which is something I rarely ever did. She took one look at me and said the words, “panic attack,” “anxiety,” and “medication” and BOOM! I was under doctor’s orders to hold off of work for the next week.
I needed to cut the crap.
Looking back, this was the start of a tremendous life change, but at the time, I wasn’t sure how I was going to not work and just be home.
But during that time, I learned that I had to slow down, which is something my crazy-ass inner critic had never allowed me to do—ever.
I was in a constant battle with myself to be better, do better, look better.
It was like I kept entering a boxing ring with my brain, losing, and then getting back in for another round. I was a glutton for punishment.
And I was exhausted.
I never took the time to train or develop a strategy to beat my mind—I just hopped back in that ring and went round after round, just getting pummeled over and over. I had to learn how to cut myself some slack and quiet that inner critic. But how?
Listening to myself and trusting my own wisdom became the most powerful tool I own. I needed to trust myself to conquer my inner critic.
here are few things I wish I knew sooner:
1. It gets worse before it gets better.
I wish that I could say I clicked my heels together three times, stayed home for a week, and my inner critic shut up once and for all. Oh friends, wouldn’t that be so joyous?
But, of course, it didn’t. Life is a journey—a journey with challenges that make us stronger and more dynamic human beings. When I came to terms with the realities of life—unfair or unpleasant as they are—I was able to mentally prepare myself to move forward.
I kept saying to myself, “Well, there’s nowhere to go but up from here.”
2. Some “solutions” just aren’t for you.
I was prescribed Xanax and took small doses occasionally, but it only numbed me. It never silenced my inner critic.
Important: I am not condemning or condoning Xanax by any means, I am just saying it didn’t work for me, personally
I tried hot yoga, but it didn’t silence my inner critic, either, which was screaming “IT’S TOO FREAKIN’ HOT TO FIND YOUR ZEN.”
I went for runs, which gave me brief moments of peace. But when I ran slowly, my inner critic shamed me for running too slow. It mocked me. It “ran” laps around my brain like Usain Bolt on speed just to spite me.
My anxiety worsened. I became so uncomfortable in social settings, even when those settings were with an intimate group of friends.
I would get bloated.
I got sweaty.
I could feel my heart race.
I started taking activated charcoal and senna before going into social settings. I carried Xanax with me everywhere like a security blanket. More often than not, I didn’t use it, but having it available JUST IN CASE became a security blanket.
Ugh. I was so tired of feeling this way, but I didn’t know a way out.
There was no way out of my head, no escaping the not-so-little voice that was destroying every ounce of my being.
Finding peace between the chatter heals the spirit, and that may be easier said than done. But the process of trying and failing to find that peace helped me to realize what doesn’t work for me. And that was at least a step in the right direction.
3. Don’t underestimate the healing power of meditation.
I eventually came upon Calm, an app that helped me settle down whenever I needed a moment of peace. I knew it was working to provide me with stillness because I purchased the full version of the app—and I never buy apps.
My critical mind was still overly active, but I was finally able to catch my voice now and redirect it. It took a lot of work. I highly recommend exploring meditation as a means to self-discovery.
4. Be ready for setbacks.
My grandfather got sick. Then my dad got sick. My life felt out of control. The voice that I had worked so hard to silence had grown strong again. I caught myself sitting at red lights with my arms crossed. I was literally uncomfortable in my own skin.
So my doctor doubled my dose of Xanax.
Not. The. Freaking. Solution. (For me.)
My grandfather died. Less than a week later, my dad died.
My anxiety went through the damn roof.
My life was flipped upside down. (Yes, like the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.)
I’d like to take a second, just sit right there, as I—explain to you that I was purposely
working too much to avoid dealing with the grief.
I kept trying to push down everything that I was feeling instead of facing it. And my inner critic was pumped to join the party.
5. Therapy works. Therapy works. Therapy works.
Fortunately, my brain had the wherewithal to SCREAM at me, “Hey! Go talk to someone!” It took six months to find the right person, but I did find someone who helped me think clearly again.
Learning to listen to the big bad bully in my head—and developing skills to redirect those thoughts—led me to not only have more confidence, but to live more happily inside my body.
My most important takeaway is this:
I can overcome that voice. I have the ability to catch the negative and turn it into a positive. When my head starts to go into, “Your stomach is never going to be flat,” I have the ability to remind myself that I enjoyed a delicious meal. I am healthy.
Mantras are my friend, and they can be yours, too.
I know that I am strong.
I know that I am intelligent.
I know that I can bust a move even if I can’t swing my hips like I used to.
Being able to love and accept yourself is the most freeing feeling in the world. It takes really hard work and you have to be diligent. But you can do it. You can. You. Can. Do it.
My hope is that if you’re reading this post, the next time you hear that critical voice, you pause.
Say something positive about yourself five times.
And accept every beautiful part that makes you fabulous.
hugs + high-fives,