by Mel Blackwood @troubleon8wheels
Another trip around the sun... yes, it's my birthday today!
I have a lot of trauma around celebrating my birthday. As a child and teenager, I used to really enjoy this day and it was lovely to be the centre of attention for just one day. But during my twenties, something changed. Slowly, slowly, so slowly that I didn't even notice, I started to believe that I wasn't worthy of any attention. That wanting to celebrate this day was narcissistic, and that friends, colleagues and acquaintances wishing to celebrate with me was attention that should be deflected.
I started to hide away when the day approached. I wouldn't mention it to anyone, hoping they would forget. Then when people inevitably didn't know, I felt hollow and unloved! What a vicious cycle! Even when I tried to break the cycle one year by holding myself a little party, people were busy and unable to attend. So, it was a party for one, and it was lonely. I stopped trying.
Thankfully I have unlearned a lot of those toxic values.
How did I learn this? With great difficulty, as I'm sure everyone who has made peace with themselves does. I spent hours, days, weeks, months and years wondering why I wasn't good enough company for people to want to spend time with me, and then beating myself up mentally for thinking that. I spent the same amount of time disliking my reflection and trying to change it. If only I was slimmer / younger / prettier / was less quirky I would be liked more.
The truth was harsh - I didn't like myself. I couldn't accept a compliment because I didn't believe it could be true. (Still working on this). When I talk about self-love and self-compassion now, I do understand the journey.
I started to realise that things I was holding up as an ideal standard were in fact false - I was consuming things that were damaging - particularly social media. I'm very honest and had naively assumed that everyone using these platforms would approach them in the same way.
I used to filter my photos and know all the 'flattering' angles folks use, because I used them. I don't use them now. Instead, when I take a photo, it will be one shot. Whatever happens, happens! Also, I want people to recognise me in real life!
I learned to love solitude and my own company. A party for one is now regularly a choice. I take myself out for coffee, dinner and go on holiday on my own. I have a loving partner and enjoy our time together, but I have found that my energy is recharged most quickly when I take time by myself.
This year, I've been working with a therapist to really work on my mind, re-frame thoughts and challenge long-embedded beliefs. It's uncomfortable to interrogate those parts of yourself that you want to keep hidden. But it's the only way to fully heal and move on. I've now looked those parts of my life in the face and told them 'you don't scare me any more'. No more buried memories, my mind is a safe place for me.
I've also learned to ask for what I want and need. It's my responsibility to do, rather than someone else's responsibility to guess what I may or may not need. As one of my values is personal growth and I'm working every day to improve myself, how can I possibly expect someone to know what I want? It's likely to change. Asking for help is hard, I'm also still working on that.
What I want is a PARTY. Earlier this year, when I realised it would be on a Saturday, I decided to hold the biggest birthday party I've ever had, even though it's not even a 'big' birthday. A roller disco at Leeds Corn Exchange. I'm excited for this party! To hang out with friends from near and far. To make new friends too! For those not able to make the event for one reason or another, I'm not wondering if I'm important in their lives or not. I no longer need the validation from others to feel good about myself. Self-love is really important because you live with yourself 24 hours a day! The messages you tell yourself can be incredibly damaging - we are our own harshest critic and worst enemy.
As someone who has lived this journey from self-loathing to self-love, I have a fair idea of what folks may be experiencing, early in their roller skate journey. The shock of how challenging roller skating actually is, compared to how they thought it would be. This is why our instructor team remind skaters out loud to give themselves permission for the smallest steps. Yes, even if it's just showing up. Our approach may not be right for everyone, which is fine! There are plenty of spaces for the more confident people to skate. But if folks are not quite there yet, we see you and we are here for you.
I'm proud of myself for still being here. Still showing up and running this company. Still pushing forward and doing my best to juggle the rest of my life. I'm doing my best.