Saving the world with radical self-love and oxygen masks
November 29, 2016
Ever been on an airplane and heard the safety speech that tells you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before children and your family?
“What the what!?," you might have thought. "You want me to ignore the toddler gasping for breath and blatantly put my own needs and survival first?”
Yes. That’s exactly what they’re telling you because, somewhere along the way, a very wise oxygen mask engineer or airplane devastation minimizer (are these real job titles?) realized that we are a lot more useful alive than dead. Who is going to be around to help the toddler in seat 18E and elderly gentleman in seat 27F if all of us martyrs are passed out on the floor?
This theory, when applied to self-care and mental well-being, is called the Oxygen Mask Theory. It simply suggests that before worrying about improving other people’s lives, you need to take care of your own.
Yesterday, a student at my alma mater drove his car into a crowd of people and opened attack with a butcher knife. According to sources, the assailant was the only person killed and eleven individuals were injured. While speculations have been made, his motives remain unclear.
One of the earliest messages I saw concerning the attack came from the OSU Emergency Management system. It reported an active shooter on campus. “Run Hide Fight,” the tweet said.
“Run Hide Fight”
These are such powerful yet conflicting words. Which of our options is better? The running, the hiding or the fighting? Which is the most likely to bring us to safety? Which is most likely to bring us to peace – both with each other and within ourselves?
There is a great deal of ugliness in the world. Yesterday was just one of too many confirmations of that fact. As I went about my day attempting to process the attack while fielding the other million stimuli and stressors that come with a normal Monday, it was difficult not be overwhelmed by the unyielding reminders of darkness, sadness and fear.
“Run Hide Fight”
I thought about these words. I thought about what they meant in that moment versus what they mean to me sitting at my desk hundreds of miles away. It becomes increasingly obvious with each incident like this that there will be no running from the darkness; it will find us again just as it has before. There is no hiding from it. We are left with one option. We have to fight it.
This brought me back to the Oxygen Mask Theory.
Over the past year, I've discovered the only way for me to live amongst ugliness is to fight it. Yesterday was a reminder of that. In order to survive and make sense of the dark, confusing things going on both within me and around me, I had to start actively fighting for good (which there is also so much of) rather than waiting for it.
That fight, for me, comes in the form of deep, radical self-love. It comes in the form of waking up and living with intention and thoughtfulness. It's never easy and it doesn't always feel like a battle won, but the fight is there every day.
It may be a small thing but to me it is everything. In actively practicing self-love, even on the days where I do not feel I deserve it, I am able to take steps to controlling my eating disorders and my anxiety. This allows me to focus on more important things, like work, art and my relationships with friends, partners and family. This allows me to be more self aware and opens the door for me to evaluate and change the way I interact with the world – am I being kind? am I being thoughtful?
I am not perfect. I still have a long way to go in learning self-love and even further in using kindness and intentional action... but I am making progress. I am fighting.
Looking for some ways to fight of your own? Here are a few, tiny ways you could start saving the world through radical self-love:
1. Stop Apologizing for Yourself
Stop apologizing for your quirks, talents, preferences and needs. Stop apologizing for yourself when you are not harming anyone. It is okay to like what you like or to be good at something – or bad at something. The best way practice loving yourself is to first accept yourself.
2. Work Yourself into the Schedule
Block off time to do whatever it is that centers you: meditation, reading, music, jogging, cooking. Even when life gets busy, Make. This. A. Priority. People will understand and respect it, trust me.
3. Rethink Your Language
Are you being kind to yourself? You don’t have to repeat daily affirmations if that’s not your thing but start by cutting out the negative self-talk – even if it's only in your head. Where are they coming from? When you feel the need to put yourself down, try recognizing it and then letting it go. Don't dwell. Be gentle with yourself.
4. Find a Reset Button
Bad days happen. You will falter. Your mental illness might catch up with you or you might be unkind despite your best intentions. It’s okay. Take a moment to assess the situation, take some notes for next time and then find a “reset” button. Create a path for yourself to make it to the next day and start over.
Feeling overwhelmed by the events of the week? Feel free to reach out or comment here.
Have any favorite self-love tactics? Are there certain things here that present more of a challenge than others? I'd love to hear about it.