Words can inspire us and comfort us and help us feel less alone. A few words or a quote can have just as much impact as a book or poem or song. There are great quotes that inspire (Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt or Martin Luther King, Jr.), quotes that amuse (Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw or Mark Twain), and quotes that strike us as profound (that can be anyone, really – the profundity is in the eye of the beholder.)
About four years ago, I was going through a particularly rough time. I was stuck in the mire of some pretty shitty situations (in work, in friendships, in family, in mental health), frustrated at my lack of progress/motion in life, and depressed (clinically, not just “bummed”). It was the perfect storm of internal and external stressors, joining forces to twist my thoughts into something resembling a dark, burnt, bitter funnelcake of despair (that’s the image in my mind’s eye—sorry.)
The inspiration and motivation to do something about this came from an unlikely source. Not a family member. Not a psychiatrist. Not a psychologist. Not a self-help book. Not a friend. Not a co-worker or mentor or wise stranger, either. Nope. That would be a super sweet and expected story, and no one would have any reason to mock me or say disparaging things about my taste in pop culture. But no.
Inspiration arose from two sources: “America’s Next Top Model” re-runs and “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Specifically, from Miss J (Alexander), runway coach extraordinaire, and Mama Ru herself.
Miss J: “Keep doing what you’re doing, keep getting what you got.”
RuPaul: “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?”
Yes. Those words. Sorry, profound writers and historical figures. These are the words.
I think the first was a critique of an aspiring model’s posing for a shoot. She kept delivering the same expression and pose, and could not understand why she wasn’t getting better critiques from the judges. This was Miss J’s response (I may have paraphrased a bit, and I don’t think the quote originated there… but that’s where I heard it, and where it found me.) I realized that—aside from being short, a little chubby, and definitely not a model—I was doing the same thing.
If you want a different outcome, you have to change what you do. It’s common sense. We know this. But there are all sorts of reasons we don’t change the way we do things, despite evidence that indicates we should. The Freakonomics guys talk about the upside of quitting… and it’s not about quitting everything. It’s about quitting things that don’t work and not falling prey to the sunk cost fallacy, among others. I was getting what I was getting because I was doing the same thing and expecting the results to somehow change. The outcomes would not change drastically unless I made a drastic change.
For those who may not know, depression is good at many things. One is taking your solitude, twisting it into loneliness, and then twisting it further and further until you’re convinced you’re a horrifying, pathetic, unlovable, unworthy creature, who will die alone and whose body will not be discovered until the landlord comes around wondering where the rent money is/what that nasty funk is. Some of us will accept that. Some of us will accept it but still hope for affection and love and try to care about someone. We’ll accept rejection as the logical outcome because—hell—you’re horrifying, pathetic, unlovable and unworthy. Who the fuck would want to be around you? Why should you bother trying to change anything? THIS IS YOU. And you, dear self, kinda suck.
So. That’s where Mama Ru comes in. I was watching (and crying at the same time, possibly), and her regular old sign off (“If you can’t love yourself…”) suddenly struck me as something profound. Not a tossed-off phrase after the ‘lipsync for your life’ and elimination segment – but wisdom. Of COURSE, Ru. If I can’t love myself, how can I love someone else? If I’m spending all my energy hating on myself, how can I even understand how to care about another human being?
BTW, self-loathing can be an Olympic-level sport for some depressives. We’re fucking AWESOME at it. We are experts at beating ourselves up, and have bizarre quasi-masochistic relationships with ourselves. It doesn’t take much: walk by a mirror and catch sight of yourself; trip over your words talking to someone; use the wrong word or confuse the plot lines of “The Untouchables” and “Goodfellas” in a conversation. Any one of these is fodder for a day/sleepless night/week of self-flagellation over how stupid/ugly/worthless you are and how the world at large is judging you.
Yes, Ru. If I can’t love myself… how the hell am I going to love somebody else? Well, to answer that, badly. In a needy way. In a crappy way. In a way that will chase people away. In a way that will only attract toxic people or narcissists or others who end up using someone who doesn’t value themselves enough to realize they’re being taken advantage of. In the end, these quotes from a reality TV runway coach and drag queen prompted me to get off my ass and find a new job (avec promotion and pay increase), cut out a couple of relationships that fed off of my lack of self worth (or, at the very least, didn’t build me up at all), and make some realizations about myself and my life.
It’s still a work in progress. It’s been much easier to listen to Miss J. The teachings of Mama Ru are more difficult to master.