“Wow, another year older and none the more wiser. How am I still dealing with this issue at 19? How many more birthdays will it take for me to finally learn how to eat like a normal human being?”

This is the self-degrading thought I woke up to today on my birthday. In fact, this is the kind of shaming thought I wake up with most days and fall asleep to most nights. Unsurprisingly, like most people in recovery, I cannot help but be extremely hard on myself, constantly criticising myself for overeating or undereating, for being too lazy or doing too much work and not taking enough time to pursue other activities, for being too aloof in relationships or putting in so much effort that I come off as desperate. To that voice in my head that seems to judge incessantly, I am eternally inadequate, a being entirely unworthy of receiving the love and support that makes life worth living. That’s why birthdays are especially hard—I don’t know why, but in my mind, I don’t feel like I deserve to be celebrated. This morning, I woke up to birthday text after text, to friends telling me how amazing I am, to family members praising me for my accomplishments, and instead of feeling whole and content, I couldn’t help but become agitated.

“If there are so many people out there who think that I possess all these great qualities, why can’t I just simply see it too? Why is it so hard for me to be kind to myself?” I thought. Life is hard enough as it is with its great uncertainty and inevitable obstacles, but when you can’t even rely on yourself as a source of kindness and encouragement, it is all the more difficult to keep pushing forward when times become tough. So for today, I decided to try a seemingly unfathomable experiment. What if I was just, simply put, nice to myself? What if I cut myself some slack and stopped zooming in on my every shortcoming? What if I gave myself some presents for my birthday this year—not material objects, but self-love and validation?

And so I put the experiment into motion. Obviously, it didn’t proceed flawlessly, nor was I completely devoid of self-criticism. However, I was able to allow myself to enjoy a nice meal with friends without beating myself up over not starting a Biology project or my English paper. I was able to walk outside without hurry, soaking in the sun (and much to the dismay of my allergies, some of North Carolina’s all-too-eager pollen). In the end, I tried my best, and isn’t that all we can ask for? I realize, though, that we shouldn’t just treat ourselves right certain days of the year. Instead, we should try to put this experiment into practice every day, and soon, we won’t have to think so intentionally when trying to compliment ourselves—with enough time, the process of self-love can slowly but surely start to come naturally once more.

So, not just for my 19th birthday, but every day after that too, I will try to bestow myself with the invaluable and irreplaceable gift that is self-acceptance. Instead of waking up every morning to a critical thought, I will say an affirmation until it doesn’t take so much directed attention and effort anymore. So, in honor of my 19th, here are 19 of my favorite self-affirmation mantras to help you jump start your career as an artist of self-love:

  1. “If there’s one thing I’m willing to bet on, it’s myself.” -Beyoncé

  2. “Today and every other day, I choose me.”

  3. “How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you.” -Rupi Kaur

  4. “So plant your own garden and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.” -Jorge Luis Borges

  5. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” -Marianne Williamson

  6. “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.” -Coco Chanel

  7. “Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the face.” -Helen Keller

  8. “Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.” -Malcolm S. Forbes

  9. “It’s not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and make your happiness a priority. It’s a necessity.” -Mandy Hale

  10. “Be careful how you are talking to yourself because you are listening.” -Lisa Hayes

  11. “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” -Buddha

  12. “Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we will ever do.” -Brene Brown

  13. “And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?” -Rumi

  14. “When we make peace with ourselves, we spontaneously make peace with the world.” -Debbie Ford

  15. “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” -Oscar Wilde

  16. “Loving yourself isn’t vanity; it’s sanity.” -Katrina Mayer

  17. “If you have the ability to love, love yourself first.” -Charles Bukowski

  18. “When I loved myself enough, I began leaving whatever wasn’t healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs, and habits – anything that kept me small. My judgment called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving.” -Kim McMillen

  19. “If you’re searching for that one person that will change your life, take a look in the mirror.”

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