Love has varying degrees, intensities. I’m talking here of self love. Some days I love myself so fiercely that it hurts and others when I hardly take notice of myself and it hurts even more.

Self-love means taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your wellbeing to please others. Self-love means not settling for less than you deserve. I have failed to practice self-love for most of my life. I was selfless in everything I did and around the build up to my fortieth birthday, I realised the damage I had done by not putting myself first. I think its a requirement as a woman to put yourself at the bottom of the pile. A given. An expectation, and when you finally break free of those expectations you are labelled selfish.

Now I’m not going all Germaine Greer on you here, and I believe self-love is something that all humans should practice- young, old and all that’s in between. However, I believe women fall into the selfless trap at a very early age. They are taught it by their mothers and their grandmothers and all the generations that have gone before them. It’s an expectation that they should be the nurturers and carers and the ones that look after and provide the “hub of the home.”

Now I am a fierce little thing when I want to be, and injustice and inequality can rile me at the best of times- but when I became a mum my world was turned on its head and a huge pile of responsibilities fell at my feet like a giant stack of dirty baby-grows needing to be washed. I loved children but wasn’t the maternal type ( think Carrie Mathison in Homeland only slightly softer). I struggled to adapt to the responsibilities rather than the role as a mum, if that makes sense? I found it very annoying that I would be expected to get up and do the night feeds, as I too needed sleep and who gave my husband permission to get his eight hours in? Why was it my responsibility to book my baby’ s injections? Why couldn’t dad do it? I had all these questions yet I just put up and shut up. I never pushed it. Why? Because that’s what being a mum was all about. All the time, I was disappearing as a person. I was losing me. I walked around half-dishevelled, failing to get the sleep I needed, or eat right or even go out with friends. I put myself at the bottom of the pile. It got worse when I went back to work. I had to go back part time, but I wanted my career. I hated it but I hated myself more.

Then one day, I was 37 years old, on the cusp of the new year. Something inside me changed. I couldn’t say why, or how but there was a distinct shift in my attitude towards myself. It dawned on me that I had been at the bottom of the pile long enough. I wanted out. This manifested itself in the form of joining a gym, getting fit, changing my appearance totally and putting my needs first.

As this metamorphosis was happening, I was labelled selfish, as I turned my back on doing everything for everyone else. I was questioned on how I found the time to do things for myself. I was the hot topic of conversation. I was gossiped about and my faithfulness to my marriage questioned. People couldn’t handle that fact that I was learning to love myself and practice self-care. I was finally beginning to like myself.

Self- love isn’t just about getting enough sleep and eating well…its about investing time and effort into yourself. It’s about showing the world that you care enough about yourself to put yourself at the top of the pile. I have developed all aspects of my life. My health and fitness, my spirituality, my mind, my education…my work. I’m not selfish. I’m in a much better place to help anyone now, more than I have ever been. My heart is in a good place, it loves and that love starts with me.

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