What ‘Be You For You’ Revealed to me About the Stories I Told Myself
I conceptualized Be You For You as expressive writing workshops at a time when I didn’t understand the full import of ‘we are the stories we tell ourselves’ and the significance it would have in enabling me to finally have a constructive relationship with myself!
October commemorates year three since I opened the workshops to the general public.
October also commemorates another milestone: of beginning to take a hard look at my narratives and learning to unlearn ‘learned helplessness’.
What inspired the creation of ‘Be You For You’
It was late 2015 when the idea of creating workshops that would invite and hold space for folks across the board – i.e. minus any disqualifiers – to express and explore themselves (to themselves primarily) using the pen and paper as a medium took root in my head. To this day, I can’t recall how I came up with the phrase Be You For You as the name for the workshops!
The motive was 100% altruistic. Not only had expressive writing been a recourse since my teenage years (even though I didn’t know that’s what it was called) but through a few trainings in therapeutic interventions I’d partaken in to help manage my own mental health at that time, I soon found myself ideating on simple activity-based-tools that could encourage participants to reconnect and re-engage with themselves – something I wish I had during all the times I couldn’t make sense of myself.
With Be You For You, I thought I was preaching what I was already practising. Turns out, the more I held space for workshop participants, the more my own practice could and most certainly would go deeper and get richer. I was being a student while I being a facilitator.
But this is the good stuff. The difficult stuff followed soon though.
The stories I told myself
Because even as I began to do workshops – slowly but steadily – my mental health continued to go through the motions. While some rare days were better than others, some other days were filled with dread, desperation, and desolation in quantities that made seemingly simple tasks like getting out of bed and meeting a friend for chai – let alone reaching out for help outside of therapy – an onerous one.
What made coping with this situation more challenging and exhausting were the default yet unhelpful stories I was telling myself then. Why am I like this? Why can I not feel better? Why can’t I be normal? I shouldn’t be feeling like this. Don’t I have things to be grateful for? I don’t like who I am when I am like this! When will this mood go away? I am such a shit. I am going to have to bail on plans again. They’re just going to give up on me.
Unhelpful does not even begin to describe these stories that went on and on. On loop and repeat. Sadly, my bad mental health days weren’t the only times the unhealthy stories took over. They found me on days when freelance work was slow to find. They found me on days when workshops drew zero participants. They also found me on days when I’d think of sitting back and enjoying a day of rest. They found me at many other vulnerable moments and the message was always the same: I’m not doing enough. I am not enough. I am shit.
This continued for a lot longer than preferred. This continued until the day I sat myself down – many months later – and decided to be for myself the friend I’d always been to everybody else. As a friend I had never discounted, discredited nor disrespected another person for feeling what they were feeling or thinking what they were thinking …and yet, extending that same kindness to myself when I needed it the most had seemed like the last thing I considered extending to myself.
What ‘Be You For You’ inspired within me
Because, just like the ‘resident critic’, I also had a ‘resident ally’ within me; one who had a language of her own – albeit a ki nd, empowering, and constructive one. Over the weeks and months that followed since then, I leveraged the strengths of the resident ally to neutralise the resident critic. In other words, I began to counter the unhelpful stories by speaking to myself in the same supportive manner in which I have spoken to friends and loved ones going through a challenging phase.
Being supportive to myself didn’t mean leaning into toxic positivity. “Just be positive. Everything will be alright” never worked for me, to begin with. PSA: It doesn’t work for anybody. So, being supportive of myself meant creating and holding space for the uncomfortable and the ugly. It meant acknowledging and accepting what was …for what it was and not what I wished it to be.
This is the self-work I knew I wanted to do to break free from being held captive by memories of unhelpful stories.
I simultaneously also began to explore the premise and the backstory of the unhelpful stories. The more I probed, the more these seemed strangely familiar: a jibe by a caregiver, a taunt by a teacher, a careless insult by a role-model figure …all locked up in the memories of the child I once was but owned and imbibed into the persona of the adult I was now! How strange it seemed to me that without the slightest inkling, I had internalised the very voices that hurt and scarred me when I was younger. I would gradually learn that our formative interactions and exchanges shape our self-talk.
It’s taken me a couple of years but the unhelpful stories and the disempowering self-talk have been contained. There are days when the older default takes over but it gets nipped in the bud right away.
self talk + self care = self love
I used to think that the way karma worked was that if i was kind to someone, someone else would be kind to me. years of working on myself – sometimes half-heartedly, TBH – forced me to reckon with some inconvenient truths: • healing ain’t linear; so do the work of showing up for yourself – in the same way you don’t give up on showing up for the people in your life, sometimes even when they don’t show up for their own selves • intentions are nothing without action AND action is nothing with a debilitating self-talk. “charity begins at home” they say. be charitable with yourself. be the champion of your own cause and run every proverbial marathon you need to • you can teach yourself how to be kind to yourself; don’t blame the lack of everything only on your upbringing. own your story and reclaim your power. be you for you • the way you treat yourself is a reference point for how someone else can (& in all probability will) treat you. show them how it’s to be done …but first sit with yourself and learn the “how-to” • just as a bull won’t not charge towards you because you’re a vegetarian (or a vegan), expecting niceties in return for your own niceness is nothing but naivete. healthy boundaries are bae
Mine continues to be a journey of reclaiming and rewriting my many stories; of rewording them as many times as required to craft out supportive, redemptive narratives. Mine continues to be a journey of discarding and dismantling the narratives – whether inherited or co-created – that don’t support me in my endeavour of a wholehearted existence.
I’d like to reiterate that all of the above has been a process and nothing remotely about it has been as clean and linear as it may sound/read. P.S.: I still don’t understand why self-talk and the stories we tell ourselves do not receive the importance they deserve!