As a lifer at BB&N, the value of kindness has been ingrained in me since childhood, and it’s informed many of my goals for senior year. As a leader of the GSA (Gender & Sexuality Alliance) and a Peer Counselor, I aim to create an environment that is more inclusive and educated about the LGBTQ+ community and mental health. I want to leave BB&N having made it a kinder environment for those who come next.
The one aspect of kindness that we too often miss, however, is kindness to oneself. I’ve struggled with anxiety and OCD since childhood, but I didn’t seek a diagnosis until the pandemic because, in the often-stressful culture at school, I didn’t realize the amount of anxiety I suffered through was unhealthy. I became a perfectionist and worked myself so hard I’d get sick, and I thought that being a good friend meant sacrificing my needs for those of others. I put so much pressure on myself to reach an unachievable goal of “perfection,” one that I would never force on someone else, that I wasn’t sure who I was outside of it all.
I am not a psychologist, but through a great deal of therapy, research, and reflection, I am a firm believer in putting oneself first. Now, before we bring out the blue and gold pitchforks of kindness, know that I am not advocating for selfishness or ignoring the needs of others. On the contrary, in order to be our best selves both in school and our social lives, we need to put effort into taking care of ourselves. We often fall into the trap of thinking our physical needs are the only valid ones, when in reality, our emotional and physical wellbeing are linked. People learn, work, and help others most effectively when we have the mental, physical, and emotional energy required. You deserve the space and time to take care of your mind and body without guilt, whether that means emailing your teacher for an extension so you can get more sleep, releasing stress by celebrating with your friends, or listening to sad music and letting yourself cry.
In order to preserve our peace and energy, we need to practice setting boundaries in our lives, both in our relationships and our work. Boundaries are our guidelines, ways of communicating how we want to be treated, how we want to spend our time, or where our “line” is. They can be anything from clarifying when you’re available to FaceTime to explaining that you’re going to keep your college process private. Take stock of your emotional bandwidth in any given moment, and if you need to turn down plans or leave a triggering conversation, honor that. Boundaries rely on communication and, when respected by others and enforced by you, are integral in creating healthy connections and treating ourselves kindly.
Another skill integral to self-kindness is time management. Contrary to popular messaging in our culture of productivity, I don’t mean figuring out how to get all your work done with superhuman efficiency, but acknowledging when you need rest and creating that time. The notion that you must “earn” moments of relaxation or fun is counterproductive to sustaining your mental and physical health and often serves as justification for ignoring your body’s limits and overworking.
We often tear ourselves down when we don’t meet our own expectations, but the way you speak to yourself can have major implications on your subconscious beliefs, including your sense of self-worth. “Doing your best” is going to look different every day as your circumstances change and you evolve, and it’s important to speak to yourself kindly, as if you were talking to someone else you deeply care about. And when you inevitably mess up in life, while it’s important to hold yourself accountable, you must also learn the art of forgiving yourself. Just as maintaining friendships hinges on creating healthy connections, personal growth is much easier when you foster a kind relationship with yourself, one that balances challenging yourself with practicing self-acceptance, given how much bandwidth you have.
Finally, as a former people-pleaser, it’s taken a while to learn that, while we can influence other people’s emotions, we are not responsible for them. Just as one’s actions are their own, you cannot control someone else’s thoughts and feelings. While it’s important to extend basic human respect to others, embracing your authentic self means not everyone is going to like you, and that’s okay. Don’t let fear of what others will think stop you from expressing yourself or standing up for your values. As a queer person, I run the risk of upsetting homophobes just by expressing my identity freely, but to protect their feelings would mean hiding who I am, and I won’t do that.
In order to thrive in a constantly changing world full of complicated people and new situations, we must rely on the foundation of our personal wellbeing. Self-care goes beyond simply taking bubble baths. Although it can be messy, taking care of ourselves mentally and emotionally has powerful ramifications on every area of our lives. My wish for the BB&N community as we kick off this school year is not just to spread kindness and grace to others, but to yourselves.