Self and the City is a column intended to increase visibility and dialogue surrounding mental health, relationships, harmful stereotypes, and the necessity for self-care and vulnerability. Self and the City will be headlined by Jessa Chargois on a bi-weekly basis. Submissions and guest columnists are welcomed to send work to email@example.com.
I believe, too often, we treat others as medicine.
Obsessive romance as a remedy for hardship. Toxic friendship as a cure for heartbreak. Detrimental intimacy as an antidote for solitude.
Seeking external validation and distraction from what haunts us often harms us. Relying on others as a metaphorical crutch has inhibited my own personal introspection, stunting internal growth and self-healing in turn. Over time, as I have learned to provide for myself without the use of these personal crutches, I have rebuilt a foundation of self-reliance and self-preservation. A lesson learned the hard way, emotional independence has strengthened not only my romantic relationships, my familial connections, and dearest friendships, but my unapologetic admiration for myself.
I have spent far too many years defining and formulating my identity through the romantic relationships I have held. Rather than turning inward for strength, I have found solace within intimacy. I was dubbed the girl who always has a serious boyfriend, naively believing the stereotype was a compliment. Upon reflection, I am able to state that stereotypes are inherently problematic, collectively formulating assumptions based on preconceived notions and bias. By removing the personal autonomy, intolerance pigeon-holes those who may possess qualities that land them within this societal norm. However, during this phase in my life, I felt as if I knew my place. With a partner by my side, it was a constant internal reminder that I was “good enough” for someone else.
After the melancholy conclusion to my most recent and most influential romance, I sought an immediate distraction. Throwing myself into my social life, I became wildly extroverted on the surface. Without the constant reassurance of having a significant other to lean on for support (too heavily, I may add), I sought validation in unhealthy outlets. My dearest friends watched in a mix of horror and confusion as I quickly booked back-to-back dates throughout the weeks, jumping from man to man. I created profile after profile on an array of dating apps, swiping so often that frankly, I ran out of data on my cellular plan. I was seeking any sort of connection that would fill the void left by my ex, craving a sense of romantic instant gratification. As my friends grew tired of my toxic behavior, some voiced their disapproval and concern. Without their bravery, I can confidently say I would have had a difficult time pulling myself out of the depressive and cyclical hole I dug for myself. Rather than process my rejection, I attempted to put on a brave face, masking my pain and naively hoping the phrase “fake it ‘till you make it” would apply to my emotional wellbeing. Upon reflection, it is clear that my behavior was destructive, however, at the moment, I felt invincible and desired. I was looking for a temporary solution to a deep-rooted issue.
I wish I could say there was a single poetic moment where I was able to look at my behavior clearly and recognize my quest for outward affirmation. I wish I could say that the void in my heart is completely healed. I wish that I could go back and apologize to many of the intelligent, hard-working, and kind men who fell for my antics this past summer. However, in order to grow, I’m recognizing the need to forgive myself and be gentle with my own feelings. I am allowing myself to cry and to be angry. The biggest obstacle I’ve faced is the fallacy that emotions eventually fade. I’ve ignored my darkest pains and betrayals for far too long, and I have yet to find that time heals. Rather, I’ve found that life turns to shades of grey, a depressed gradient of masked emotions. In order to live life in the vibrant kaleidoscope I desire, I want to let myself feel the good, bad, and ugly. I’ll cry so hard it hurts, and I’ll laugh so hard it echoes. I am accepting my flaws as they come, which happens often. I was naive to believe that I could ever walk, run, or dance alone when I had previously placed my stability within others.
Rather than fill my free time with dates, I’ve begun to plan more events with friends and carve out time to be alone with myself. I’ve found joy in volunteering for causes I am passionate about, such as Books Behind Bars, an all-volunteer run collective that sends free and donated books to incarcerated people throughout the country. I have signed up for an array of writing courses and seminars in an effort to pursue the clearest method of expressing my emotions. I’m pouring myself into my career, working harder to be more focused in my day-time role. I’m exploring new methods of working out and finding joy in previously hated spaces, such as the insufferably hot sauna conditions of hot yoga or the intimidating ropes of a boxing ring. I’m taking care of my creative wellbeing, blowing the dust off of my beloved camera and my paint brushes, and I’m diving into exploring methods of artistic expression in my adulthood. I’m calling my parents more and finding joy in explaining the ups and downs of my days to my absolute role models.
Finally, I’ve stopped dating around for now. I don’t believe in the saying you have to love yourself before someone else can love you. Frankly, the world does not operate in such black and whites. Rather, I believe it is possible to understand yourself deeper as you experience the highs and lows that accompany intense feelings of love. I’ve stopped searching for the illusive “perfect person” because as cliche as it sounds, no one is going to complete me. I’m totally complete as I am, far from perfect, but unapologetically me. I am allowing myself to explore a connection I made throughout my time in the dating scene while working on the relationship I hold with myself. I’m going slow, something that usually is not held in my repertoire. We’re taking our time getting to know one another. I’m guarded, but it feels good. I’m on a path to self care and self love, and I understand that this will be a lifelong journey, relying on myself. An emotional band-aid only patches the wound from the surface, but internal healing is the only way to find yourself whole again.
I am admitting my past decisions were a bit reckless, self-indulgent, and cruel. I am admitting I am far from perfect. I am admitting that I placed too much pressure on past relationships to act as my emotional crutches and support system, unfair to all involved. I am admitting that on this journey of self-actualization, I will hit many roadblocks, obstacles, and speed bumps. I will fail and I will falture.
I refuse to take any more emotional medicine.
Feature Image via Jessica Golightly