on putting yourself first


Iman Baber

Lying in the bottom drawer of my desk is a journal I have owned for seven years. 

It’s first thirty or so pages are filled with the doodles and chronicles of nine to twelve year old me. Rereading the innocent entries, I can’t help but smile at the crooked handwriting, cartoonish people, and the excitement through which I recounted my day to day activities. 

However, as I progressed through my tween and teenage years, the entries became less and less frequent. Months or even years would pass before I wrote another thought or story in it.

The pages on which I have most recently written, often with entry dates months apart, follow a similar pattern. 

In junior high, I started turning towards the journal as a crutch, no, more as a trash bin, in which could discard my deepest debilitating emotions and thoughts. I wrote in it at times when I would feel small and unworthy. These few, sporadic pages are filled with lists of goals I screamed at myself to meet, but never met. These pages are filled with me questioning why I am the way I am, and why can’t I change. These pages are filled with letters to people, apologizing for being me. These are pages are ones which I want to tear out and throw away. In a sense, the journal has almost become a trash bin I never empty out, and I am forever reminded of its existence. 

The journal is a rather prominent and dramatic example of my self-belittling nature. But it outlines a habit I feel that has been a part of me for forever. 

I remember feeling incredibly stressed every time I order at a restaurant, because I have always felt like it is wrong for me to want and ask for something. 

I apologize towards everyone, even if it isn’t my fault. I always feel as though it is something that I have done. 

I can never say no to anyone, even if it is someone who has asked for a million favors and has never returned one. 

I have broken down several times, late at night as the clock nears midnight and the house is quiet. The to-do list impedes my brain, and I just blubber, scolding myself internally. 

“There are kids out there who have sports and a job. There are kids who only get two hours of sleep and they are succeeding. There are kids who run clubs and are leaders. And you can’t even finish this math homework?! How are you going to succeed in life? At this rate, I don’t even think you will.”

And the list goes on and on. 

Of course, we all need an inner conscience to guide us through this chaotic world. My inner conscience just happens to be a terrifying mix of overcritical and overdramatic. She berates me over every little mistake now and every little mistake before. She panics and she questions if I’m really doing enough. Am I a good person, or am I just selfish and lazy? Do I really deserve good things? Do I deserve to have anything? 

She panics and she questions if I’m really doing enough. Am I a good person, or am I just selfish and lazy? Do I really deserve good things? Do I deserve to have anything? 

All these pent up feelings recently reached an epitome, one in which I realized that I had to do something to curb this tendency of mine. 

I decided to turn to my journal again.

I turn past the joy filled stories written by a young me. I turn past the self belittling lists and letters, and I turn to a blank page. 

I write new goals for myself. 

Goal number one: accepting the fact that I can’t be perfect. To make mistakes is to be human, and I can’t punish myself for eternity because of the mistakes I make. 

Goal number two: learn to say no, and stop saying sorry. I am not responsible for the feelings of other people. I am only responsible for myself, and should learn that saying no does not make me selfish, rather I am placing a barrier about myself. 

Goal number three: learn that it’s ok to want something. I shouldn’t feel bad asking for something I want, and shouldn’t punish myself if I do get something for myself. 

Goal number four: learn to recognize my own hard work. I need to stop worrying about if I am doing enough, and instead, appreciate my own hard work and successes. 

I know that meeting these goals is going to be easier said than done. I find myself struggling to stay true to these new rules I have outlined for myself, especially in this crucial year, that will quite literally determine where my life goes on from here. 

But, there’s only one me. Learning to appreciate all the ways I am “me” will only make me better, and see the beauty in the uniqueness that is me. 

And I know what my first step is going to be. 

I decide to “empty out the trash bin”. 

Slowly, I read through those dark few pages, the words of which my inner conscience repeats in my ears. 

And slowly, I tear each of them out, ripping them into small pieces.

And so, I say goodbye to the self belittlement and tears. 

And I accept the fact that it is okay to put myself first.