Over the years, I learned that an important component of improving mental health is learning how to truly love and forgive oneself.
Especially for someone like me who grew up in a society that prioritizes men over women, the concept of self love is something that was foreign to me, still is sometimes. I definitely didn’t talk about it; not with myself, not with my family, and definitely not with my community.
I learned from a very young age how to obey the rules, how to follow traditions and to respond to everything with a yes, even if my core beliefs did not align with it. Even when my body was extremely tired, others always came before me.
I remember vividly as a young girl growing up in Khartoum, Sudan, all the chores that I had to do before doing anything for myself, from cleaning the dishes to doing the laundry and making food for my siblings. The list was neverending.
After doing all of that maybe then I could take a break, read a book or go for a walk or just have a quiet moment to myself. I thought that was normal, but I was so far off.
My relationship with my body has been strange ever since. No matter how many times it has asked me for a break I never gave it one. I was too afraid of rejection from my family and from my society. I embedded in my head that I always had to listen and follow their expectations. I never thought twice about the expectations that I set for myself and whose voice I should really be listening to.
I spent so much time at war with myself that I have forgotten that I am the walls of my own home.
I often wonder how I even get here. But I noticed in my Sudanese community it’s shaped in such a way that we are sort of bound to constantly compete against each other, or even ourselves. We are always trying to reach our short-term goals and trying to better ourselves to match the expectations set upon us by society. Many of us are guilty of traveling the extra mile and feel content that we have achieved perfectionism.
As a consequence, we end up being too hard on ourselves too often without even realizing it. I am so happy that I have finally realized this before it’s too late.
I realized that women in my society don’t have enough time to display their true selves. They are constantly worried about others in their lives and forget to make themselves a priority. They are the worst critics of themselves; especially when they make a mistake they are never gentle and forget they are just human.
I was one of them not too long ago.
I used to hold myself hostage for the longest times. I never wanted to let go of things I didn’t have control of. I felt guilty when hanging out with my friends when there were a mountain of dishes in the sink to wash or a meal to be cooked or clothes to be ironed.
Now I have decided to break the silence and I am learning how to live freely, how to put myself first, and not feel guilty about it. Self love is not being selfish; it’s a necessity.
As I begin to love myself I completely comprehend that generational trauma is real and therefore I must find ways of healing before healing others.
As I begin to love myself I find that hesitation and emotional suffering are early warning signs that I am living against my own truth. Today I know this is authenticity.
As I begin to love myself I have stopped craving a different life, and I can see that everything that surrounded me was inviting me to grow. Today I call that maturity.
As I begin to love myself I have freed myself of anything that is no good for my health – food, people, things, situations, and everything that draws me down and away from myself. At first, I called this attitude a healthy egoism. Today I know it is the love of oneself.
May you find true healing and true self-love, especially now in this time of uncertainty.
Ekhlas Ahmed is a human rights activist and educator who lives in Windham. She is the executive director of the nonprofit Chance to Advance, which raises awareness about Darfur and implements initiatives to make education more feasible for all. Follow her on Facebook and contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.