Love is for Everybody
Note: The title of this post is inspired by a poem by Aracelis Girmay. I highly recommend listening to it (poem starts at 0:54 seconds).
I have never believed the aphorism that in order to truly love others, you must love yourself first. At best, it's a well-meaning but half-baked falsehood; at worst, it's a weapon used to make people who already struggle with self-acceptance feel even worse about themselves. No amount of Google searches can unearth the quotation's definitive author, but I wonder whether the people who parrot it have ever experienced mental illness.
As someone living with mental illness, my relationship with myself ebbs and flows like the tide, and my self-love is always variable. I accept and appreciate myself much more now than I have in the past, but it's still a daily challenge to embrace who I am in the context of my anxiety, depression, and eating disorder. At the nadir of my mental illness, I was at war with my brain and my body, and the thoughts I directed inwards towards myself contained much more loathing than love.
And yet- I never stopped loving others. I was not the best friend or daughter or girlfriend or sister during my most intense times of illness, but I loved the hell out of the people in my life. I still do, even on days when I don't love myself. In fact, my fierce love for other people is what pulled me out of the depths of my mental illness when I couldn't find enough of a reason inside myself. What's more, their reciprocal love for me sustained and rehabilitated me when I had none left. In my experience, loving yourself can absolutely improve how you love others - the ways in which you're able to express love - but not how much you love them.
There is already too much stigma attached to suicidal ideation, self-harm, and other symptoms of mental illness. If I refuse to be ashamed of these experiences, then I also refuse to be shamed for trying to love others through them. I refuse to be told, when I already feel like I have failed myself, that I am failing my loved ones, too.
Regardless of how you feel about yourself, know that your love is enough. For everybody.