by student T Stastny
A few years ago, around the time I first started counseling, I happened to watch a charming yet very poignant animated film called Mary & Max (which I would highly recommend, by the way) and one of the things that stuck with me was this one very simple bit of advice: “Love yourself first.” With just three words, it represented a concept I had honestly never considered before.
I come from a family of extroverts. My mother, my father, and my brother all seem to jump at any opportunity to socialize in large groups of family and friends. As the overwhelmingly introverted black sheep among them, I have honestly never desired to do anything like that. Never wanted any big birthday parties, reluctantly attended Christmas dinners, didn’t invite my school friends over to my house. For me, social interactions were best kept few and far between.
Growing up outnumbered by suburban socialites, it has been emphasized to me over and over again that I should be less “like me” and more “like them.” The reluctance to participate in conversation at family get-togethers, the refusal of any sort of large celebratory party for my high school graduation, the preference of staying in my room with a Harry Potter book over sitting awkwardly and uncomfortably at a table full of my parents’ friends, all of these things were deemed unacceptable. And therefore, I was responsible for “fixing” them.
It was made evident to me after several counseling sessions during my early college career that I undoubtedly suffer from depression, and that I probably had for a while already without realizing it. I had learned about depression in high school psychology class, and I guess I must have somehow concluded, incorrectly, that depression is a visible ailment. You can look at a person and tell that they have depression. I now know this is the opposite of the truth. Anyone, introverted or extroverted, can be depressed. And it’s not something that you can see.
However, in approaching them about my lacking mental health and my desire for continuing with treatment via further counseling and medication, my parents concluded, incorrectly, that my depression was the cause of my introvertedness. Therefore, remedying the depression would cure me of being this “unpleasant” person who was “doomed to spend the rest of my life alone unless I became more likeable and sociable.”
I was extremely hurt by this because to me, my preference of spending time alone was never the problem. The constant self-loathing and abusive thoughts, the overwhelming feeling of worthlessness, the inability to come up with a good enough reason to stay alive, those were all the problems. And these problems existed whether I was alone or not. My family seemed to care more about the way that others felt about me rather than the way I felt about myself.
I am still in the process of recovering from depression, and it’s probably the most difficult and frustrating thing I have ever tried to do. I am still not convinced that it’s possible for me to love myself first, or even at all. I am working on that part. But keeping that tiny three-word phrase in mind has helped me to realize a lot of things.
It’s not selfish to look out for yourself and your own needs. My family will probably never understand what it is like to be introverted, whilst I will never know what it’s like to be an extrovert. Keeping that in perspective has helped me achieve a great deal in my recovery process, even when my parents seem to challenge me about it. I am more than old enough now to know what I need to do in order to feel content in my own life. And that should be enough.