WORDS: NIKITA ANDESTER
Be gentle with yourself.
That is what my body has been telling me for these ten long years. Be gentle with yourself.
I have endometriosis. I have had five surgeries since 2008, my most recent one including the removal of an ovary, and I am in pain almost every day. It has taken me nearly 10 years of overwork and undernourishment to learn this: be gentle with yourself.
We are raised to be our own harshest critics; that our best is not truly our best until we are anemic, running on the coffee and mania that we millennials somehow sustain ourselves on until we can barely turn our key in the lock, kick off our shoes, and collapse onto the couch. We are told that when we reach our limits - whatever they may be – that we aren’t doing enough, that somehow this is not enough.
We punish ourselves for our diets, our work ethic, our relationship to food. Following the road that’s been set out for us, it is all too easy to berate ourselves. This feeling festers, inflaming the parts of us that already hurt, until the pain of shame and frustration spur us beyond our physical limits.
My first job post-grad was working 6 days a week teaching English in Moscow to teenagers. It invigorated me, but my insides were simultaneously fighting me tooth and nail, telling me to work less. My body was begging me to take my coat from its hook, walk out the door without looking back, and sleep the entire metro ride home. But I was deluded. I reminded myself that coffee existed in the breakroom for a reason, and that exhaustion, dissatisfaction, and office dread were a sort of rite of passage. To tap out, saying, “This is too much. I’d like to get off this ride now,” would be to admit that I had failed, or that I was somehow not enough. So I pushed myself until I had difficulty walking. And even then, I could not quit. As I laid there, I blamed myself for my pain. That somehow, my pain was my creation, my monster I had sculpted from my own lack of trying.
I did not – could not – learn in our given societal framework. We are taught to nurture shame and quash gentleness. Through careful and intentional unlearning – staying home and painting, reading naked in bed with a glass of wine – I have learned the art of loving myself.
And what I’ve learned is this:
Self-love does not mean pushing yourself to your limits every day. It means listening to your body, acknowledging where you are, and celebrating it.
Self-love includes forgiveness. It is OK not to work 40 hours this week. It is OK not to go to your yoga class. You are allowed to watch Broad City instead of reading the dense political manifesto that’s been sitting on your nightstand for a month. You are allowed to eat another cupcake; go ahead, eat another cupcake.
So many of us feel broken at the thought of one failure, one hiccup that we fear has wiped away all of our hard work. And I want to tell you all that it’s OK. One moment of loosening your grip on your bursting schedule does not undo every other effort you have so diligently put forth in this millennial economy of the hustle. You deserve this moment of respite. Close your eyes, rest your furrowed brow against my chest. I’ll wrap you up in my lazy, winding arms, and I hope you’ll hear me when I whisper, “Hush, baby. Be gentle with yourself.”