Self-love has been a struggle for me over the years. As a teen I often suffered with depression and suicidal ideation. My living situation was tough for me and, more often than not, I felt ignored, alone and invisible amongst my family and had very few (if any) friends. The idea of unaliving myself felt more natural than the reality I found myself in.
This inevitably led to my running away and living as a nomadically roaming homeless teen from the far East Coast of Maine to the deep south of New Orleans to Vancouver, Washington, and down to Portland. I had seen 39 states before I was 18 and done it all alone. Somehow this act of being alone came to be my best form of self-care.
I learned more about what I was capable of in that amount of time than I had in my entire childhood—not just survival but living; where my moral compass landed, what really mattered to me in life and how to find true contentment in any situation.
I would often find myself sitting with a book under some bridge, people watching or drawing passersby. I’d imagine what their lives were like and reminisce on what it was like to have the simple things in life whenever you wanted for them. Food, warmth, shoes that weren’t riddled with holes, or maybe even just somewhere to hang out between activities without having to worry about people staring at you, cops questioning you or people trying to offer you money because you’re a sickly-looking, thinning kid out on the streets alone at all hours of the day and night.
My life became a zoo-exhibit for others to gawk at and judge. Scoffing at my way of existence, assuming I’d be better off at home, but never actually taking the time to know my circumstances or what brought me to where I am today and why. No one, but my other displaced acquaintances, ever understood why I felt more at home out there alone in the cold than I ever had in my childhood “home”.
The transients and outcasts were where I fit in and it didn’t take long to see that these down-and-outs were my true people and why. They taught me to selflessly share, to be patient, loyal, honest, and to have strength, integrity, and know the true value of being a good friend and why.
The act of being humble could get me through any situation with grace and come out the other side with a sense of inner peace and acceptance of who I am.
It was these experiences that led me to the person I am today. It was a long road of adjustment when entering back into society; trying to get used to the idea of possessions and not having to guard them like a crow with shiny objects or being allowed to sleep in peace without the painful kick to my side of an officer telling me where I couldn’t rest my tired body after walking across New Orleans in the hot sun, just to find a safe place to plunk myself for a few hours a night.
But I have never forgotten my lessons learned in my time as an unhoused youth. It gave me the strength to work through multiple traumas from my younger years in healthy ways, bring myself up again from having nothing and still maintain my ability to care for others in the same ways I had always hoped someone would care about me.
So, what do I do for self-care? I’m patient with myself. I give myself time. Time to rest and stop whenever I know something is becoming too much for me or I feel the need coming on for a break. I appreciate my existence and all I’ve made it through.
I make sure I’m my best advocate and never push myself or others to do something I’m or they’re not comfortable with—no matter the consequences. I now recognize with ease that my feeling safe is always more important than any reaction or judgment another might put upon me. I take time to cook healthy foods, so my body is nourished, and I spend time with my loving partner and son watching movies or stepping back from society to feel like part of nature again. I make time to connect with the Earth through nature walks and leave small offerings of food out for my ancestors letting them know I appreciate their guidance through all those years I went to sleep wondering if I would wake again the next morning.
I make it a point to actively love myself every day, at least once.