My ex told me she couldn’t hang out any more. She said as an empath, it was dangerous to spend time with narcissists. That hurt, but I felt better once I realised she was talking about me.

It took two words for my eyes to widen like saucers. The future was rife with possibility and hope.

“Healthy narcissism” she said.

I’m starting to think that 6 sessions later, my therapist has developed an idea of how I tick. Therapy is something I’ve always sought, if only to have someone who knows how to guide the endless salvoes of thoughts I shot in their direction. It took a little searching to find the right one, but she gets me and it’s helping. She doesn’t clamp down on tangential thought, but she knows how to taper it, curve it back towards meaningful discourse. This many sessions in, she’s managed to pull a bunch of threads together in order to form a tapestry. My life and admissions have been spread out in front of her and she references them with valid citation. She’s drawing inferences and backing things up, helping me interpret why I might think in certain ways based on past experiences and attitudes. In short, it’s helping me to get a greater image of how I came to be the “me” I represent. What motivates me, inhibits me and why?

I’m a mess of competing impulses at the moment. This Tough Mudder thing is looming I’m having trouble looking outside or past it. Why? Well as we’ve ascertained, I’ve been plagued with shitty body image issues for years, stemming from being a fat kid and retaining the cognitive grooves that left for my mind to tread on repeat. I started working out when I was 14, so as a 28 year old I’ve spent literally half my life pushing towards creating meaningful change. I’ve come from steps to bounds and now I’m driving myself to o’erleap literal obstacles on a 20km course. For years I’ve looked in the mirror and seen disappointment, imagined potential and left drained by the chasm between expectations and reality. It’s driven reality deeper into those cognitive grooves I formed at a young age, making it harder to see the positive aspects in my reflection. When your self-perception sinks, it’s hard to look at yourself with a level head.

Because of the endless drudgery of unrealistic desires, I’ve constantly reached for physical goals. The training mentality at its core is easy: Just keep working harder. That I can do, so every time I mentally hold the chalice of victory aloft, it tells me that I’ve ascended my expectations. I’m getting closer to the “me” I want to be. I’ve been seeing this progression and each time I surpass a goal, it fills me with self worth. It puts further distance between myself and those cognitive grooves I’ve tried to leave in the distance. It tells me that it’s okay to try, that I don’t need to be bound by this weight any more.

Thing is, we’re looking to define exactly what runs through my head when I’m at a low point. When I feel like shit and see shit in the mirror, what words surface? What do I tell myself? What does it sound like at those moments when I hate myself, when I tell myself that the way that I feel is indicative of who I am not just to myself, but to everyone. Right now, that’s hard. It may sound vain, but I’m happy with what I see in the mirror. I don’t feel smug, but confident. I know that I’m standing taller than I did, finding it easier to smile back at people on the street. I’m looking good, feeling good and through this haze of contentment it’s hard to put myself into the opposite haze, the fog of self-doubt.

This vanity is a new development. When I look in the mirror and realise I can see musculature in my arms, cheek bones, or those weird lines that come down from your hip bones, I feel a surge of surprise and validation. It’s strange, alien, but wonderful. I catch myself and for just a second, face micro-displacement. Is that really me? It must be, because there’s nobody else in this elevator. On the other hand, I’ve got such a deep seated opposition to vanity that I’m pricked by pangs of guilt. Isn’t vanity predicated on a compensation for personality? It’s not important how you look, people won’t like you for that. You’ve gotta be an interesting person, a good person. Focus on who you are and let people see that. I’m still listening to the words of a 14 year old, the needle is stuck in that cognitive groove and playing on repeat. I’m 28, logic tells me my 14 year old self is a fucking idiot (as most 14 years olds are. The worst age), but the wily little shit has a tenacious emotional grip. Part of me is overjoyed with how I look and the other part is convinced that makes me a terrible human. I’m being pulled in two opposing directions and it’s hard to shake them both off to walk free. I want to feel confident and feel okay about it. That’s not a huge ask, right?

Then those magical words: “Healthy narcisissm.”

You have my attention.

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