You know how some people say that your environment is a direct reflection of your mind? If your room is messy, then your head must be cloudy or cluttered. If you keep a tidy space, you’re more likely to be centered and clear-headed. I have never found anything to be more true. In the last year, I have seriously reconsidered my living situation. I used to be a slob, and my apartment would get disgusting. Now, I can’t go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink. I’ve found that keeping a tidy space helps me feel like I’m more in control of my life, and for someone with (what can be crippling) anxiety, it makes all the difference.
An area of my life I haven’t been paying much attention to since about March? Relationships. I have been quite literally all over the place when it comes to dating and love since my last break-up. It’s not wasted on me that in the last 10 months or so my mental and emotional health has been all over the place as well. While I’ve for the most part reined it in, the last month really made it clear to me that not everything going on up there was settled. I still have a few more battles to win before I can conquer the war. Now that I’m back in a clearer headspace than I’ve been in quite some time, I wonder:
Is the quality of your relationships a direct reflection of how you feel about yourself?
I obviously don’t know how people make love work. When it comes to the relationship front, I somehow always end up wounded and waving the white flag. Until recently, the only thing I saw on the other side of the battlefield were the men who hurt me. When all was said and done, I’d put on my brave face and stare them down across the field, taking note of the damage done. But now, I see some things I haven’t seen before. I see parts of them that are still innocent, despite their bloodied hands, and when I look down at my own, I see that mine aren’t as clean as I thought they’d be. Funny how hindsight is 20/20.
I thought I knew what I brought to the table in my relationships. Whenever someone promising came into my life, I was very quick to fall. I thought that my biggest downfall when it came to relationships was choosing the “projects”– the challenges, the ones who seemed like they needed saving. Most of the men I’ve known are perfectly content to drown in their misery and self-pity, their “could-have-beens” and “should-have-beens”. Those are their faults; but I never for a second gave any thought to mine.
It never dawned on me that maybe the men I fell for weren’t the only “projects” in my relationships.
I’ve had two serious relationships in the last two years. In both relationships, I saw myself as the woman saving the man she loved. I spent every waking hour trying to make sure that he was happy and that I was always what he wanted or needed. I thought there was pressure on me to be his everything, but now I see that there’s a special kind of pressure in holding a heart that cares more for you than you do for them.
The entire time I was in these relationships, giving and giving and giving in hopes of getting anything in return, I was also trying to maneuver who I was as an individual. And I was FAILING at it. The first time I fell in love, I lost every ounce of who I was in him and our relationship. After picking up the pieces of my heartbreak and moving across the country, my second relationship fell into my lap and I promised to not invest as much of myself in him as I had the last guy. This time around I was a lot less of a doormat, but I still lost a bit of me. Now two years after that first break-up, I’ve just spent a stupid amount of time bouncing back and forth between trying to “save” the men I fell for and reconciling my broken heart. I’ve learned something very important though.
The end of a relationship means nothing if you don’t take the time to look in the mirror.
In the last few years, my room has always been messy – no matter how tidy I’ve tried to keep it. I’ve piled so many clothes on my floor that it was a sight to behold when you could see my carpet. Unread books piled atop my nightstand with random sticky notes and clutter. In my bathroom, I could never fully see my reflection because the mirror was always dirty. I lived in a mess, and my life felt like a mess.
In the middle of that mess, there was always a journal somewhere with pages that begged to be written, and a pen or pencil close by. But when I was in love, I had no idea what to write. I couldn’t slow my thoughts down enough to make sense of anything. I didn’t think about me or who I was or what I wanted in life. I had no goals apart from making sure that the guy I was in love with never left. If I wrote anything, it was about how I could make him happy. When my entire life revolved around one person, my mind became as messy as my room. And it took forever to realize that maybe it was the clothes on my floor that were trying to tell me something all along.
Relationships do one of two things – they either bring out the best in you or they bring out the worst in you. Both of mine brought out the mess in me, and there’s nothing romantic about it. I spiraled into a headspace so foreign to me now that I can’t believe I was ever even there. I used to blame the men I was with for putting me there, but now I realize the only person capable of putting you in such a volatile environment is yourself. What’s worse is that pulling yourself out of the unhealthy cycle that comes with negative thoughts, erratic emotions, and crippling anxiety is just as hard as pulling yourself out of a bed you know you don’t belong in, especially when the person you love most shares that same bed.
I don’t want to turn around now after years of blaming the men who hurt me for all the shit I’ve put my head (and my heart) through. A part of me will always blame them for bits and pieces of the damage done. I think that’s only natural. It’s the risk you take in loving someone. I just don’t want to blame them for all of it anymore. It’s exhausting hating someone who once meant so much to you, and it’s even more exhausting knowing what I know now.
I should have loved me more.
If somebody asked me now if the quality of a person’s relationship is a direct reflection of how they feel about themselves I would answer with a resounding yes. If somebody had asked me that two years ago, I’m not sure what I would have said. I thought when I was 22 I would know how to navigate falling in love while maintaining my individuality. But falling in love only taught me the very harsh reality that I had no idea what it meant to fall in love and be independent. I don’t know how I could have ever remained independent, given that I wasn’t investing anything in myself to begin with. Like I said before, I put everything into these men, and my life – from my atrocious room to my first job to my relationships with my friends – felt like a wreck because of it.
Towards the latter end of last year, I decided that I was going to be my new “project”.
So far, it’s going pretty well. I live in my own apartment. I keep it nice and tidy. Just this last weekend, I spent all of Sunday happily decluttering the junk drawer in my kitchen and the drawers in my bathroom, as well as reorganizing my closet. I went to bed that night realizing that I’d spent a whole day by myself without ever once feeling sad or lonely. That was a huge step for me. I’d invested my time and energy to an entire day of doing something that I knew would make me feel good.
Every morning I wake up and make a cup of coffee, wash my face, then settle onto my couch to write in my journal. After that, I read for a bit – right now I’m reading The Happiness Project. Then I meditate and set my goals for the day. I keep track of what I’m grateful for in an app on my phone. I start the day feeling centered and grounded.
I’ve been working out more in the last four months than I have in years. It’s easier to get into the gym when I’m prioritizing a healthy mind. I meal prep most weeks so that I’m fueling my body right. I watch less TV now and spend more time working on this blog or reading. Lately, I’ve been trying to get outside more on the weekends – either in the mountains or just on a walking trail nearby. I forget how good of a remedy fresh air can be.
But the one thing I never forget? How great it feels to do all of this for me.