The Shrouded Path to Self-Love 

By Sharon Kinsella

As conversations around mental health, self-care, and self-love become more normalized, I often find myself relieved to know I can voice my issues, yet frustrated that I still seem to lack the proper tools and know-how to truly correct my unhealthy and exacerbating habits. While well-meaning reminders from friends and family members to “take care of myself” and “be kind to myself,” are appreciated, I find little utility in these recommendations. What does it really mean to be kind to yourself or to love yourself? What does that require and how do you know when you’re doing it right? The answer might seem intuitive to some. Surely happiness and freedom from stress are indicators of proper self-management and mental health, but what about when joy seems to have dissipated through the cracks of uncertainty, or when the stress is inexorable? As Duke students, most of us have probably accepted the existence of at least a base-level of stress throughout the duration of our careers here. It’s supposed to be rigorous and hard. Outside of our school work, we tend to fill the rest of our time with extracurriculars and other obligations, leaving little time in the course of a day for reflection and decompression. While this is typical of high-achievers and what seems to be necessary for success in this highly competitive world, it also seems to serve another end as well: distraction from our other, often deeper problems. It is easier to ignore your problems when you have constant stimulation to carry you through the day. To surround yourself with others is to never have to confront the demons that emerge when you are the only person around to which your inner critic can direct disparaging thoughts and insecurities. Yet this distraction often comes at a major cost in other areas of life, making the negotiated area between activity and free time wholly unequivocal when it comes deciphering its effects on mental health and implications for practicing self-care and self-love. This poem is an exploration of what attempts at self-love look like when the path to mental health is shrouded in uncertainty, as well as an expression of what it feels like to grasp for practical applications of self-love, only to come up empty handed in times of need. It is my hope that through self-reflection, we may all extricate and relinquish the voice of negativity that prevents us from having relationships with ourselves that are full of forgiveness, compassion, trust, security, and most importantly, love.


I sit in my bed at 9pm on a Saturday night;    

No one has invited me anywhere.

While Netflix plays its illusory scenes of escapism

Before my glazed eyes below furrowed brows,

I do in fact feel sorry for myself.

I put on a face mask.

How many of those equals a full night’s sleep?

I tell myself I will get full night’s sleep tonight,

But I am kept awake by the creeping thought

That my friends don’t really like me.

Eventually I fall asleep,

And sleep until noon the next day.

It’s 9pm on a Saturday night

And I am lonely.


 

I climb into bed on a Tuesday night;

It has been an extremely long and busy day,

But, I feel contented, confident, and untroubled.

I said something smart in class today,

And then proceeded to impress my piano teacher

With flawless fingering.

That catch-up meal after it had “been too long”

Went delightfully, and I didn’t eat too much.

I even went to the gym

And finished all my reading for class.

My friends showered me with compliments

On a successful performance from the week before.

But now it’s 3am on a Wednesday

And my alarm is going off in three and half hours.