Oh I detest the “single girl reflecting on self-love for Valentine’s Day” cliché almost as much as I resent reflecting on “what the pandemic means to me.” But that’s where I’m at, so consider this your fair warning that what follows has quite a bit of both.
It feels poignant to me that Mama Glow’s February themes are love, knowledge of self, and legacy – the very facets of my identity that this year has given me no choice but to confront for perhaps the first time in my life. Credit that to isolation and the extra time in my own head making me a bit existential. Credit that to the social and civil unrest that needfully realigned my priorities. Credit that to the shutdown putting a screeching halt on my career as an actress and pursuit of a dream I’ve held since I was 3 years old. Credit that to this being the longest time in the last 10 years that I’ve spent uncoupled.
The start of the pandemic was, to put it lightly, impossible for me. I was and continue to be beyond fortunate to still have a job, to still have my health, and to still have the safety and comfort of family and friends, but there was a period of time when I just didn’t know how I was going to be okay with what my life had turned into, seemingly against my will. The activities and people who made me feel the most “me” were locked up miles away, I was suddenly without a loving partner to “get through it with,” and the time I’d budgeted to make my mark the way I’d always planned to was ticking away.
For 3 weeks, I wallowed in “why me?” But we don’t need to go back there. I much prefer where I’m at now, which is here:
When my last relationship ended at the start of quarantine, I knew that it had been time for that chapter to come to a close and that “unprecedented times” had finally, gracefully forced our hands. Nevertheless, in the moment it felt so unfair that I was, as a result, stepping into a period of such uncertainty on my own. Why, when all my friends seemed to be taking “next steps” with their significant others, was I back at square one, scrolling through dating apps in my childhood bed knowing full well I would not be meeting or starting anything new with anyone?
It was in the self-reflective months that followed that initial heartbreak that I actually learned what it is about love I, well, love. The feelings and moments I found myself missing were not those I had long credited to my former partner, but rather all the things I loved being able to bring into a relationship. With the revelation that the way I love has always been and always will be mine, I was free to pour that love back into my relationship with myself.
The initial worry that I was running out of time to “begin again” was gradually replaced with gratitude that I had been gifted the time I needed to get my heart in order, so that I’d know what I was and was not looking for once I decided to open myself up to finding it. So that I’d know, most importantly, what it was about loving someone else that makes me fall more deeply in love with me.
On Knowledge of Self
As I thought about what it would mean to really engage in self-love, I realized that for as much time as I’ve spent with myself, I didn’t really know myself the way I thought I did. Sure, I knew my hopes and dreams and plans, but found that I was measuring much of my self worth on hitting certain milestones that, in a global pandemic, were inevitably put on hold. Without those landmark events and accomplishments and the external validations that come with them, I found myself unmoored from what it means to be “Daphne Thompson, 26.”
I only recently regained my footing, after Latham reminded me in a phone call that “We’re validated because we were born.” From that very first moment, our right to exist is affirmed and we shouldn’t have to prove that we deserve to take up space ever again. How many hours have I wasted hyper-analyzing every post or text or comment, wondering if they’d be received as intended? How many words have I left unsaid, for fear that they’d come out wrong? How many times did I read and reread this very article, trying to anticipate whose eyes might be on it and what it might make them think about me?
This past year, for me, has meant stepping into a point in my life now where I don’t have to sit on the sidelines, “just happy to be there.” I have experience to share and opinions to offer and change to make. I release, with thanks, the years of my youth when I’d keep quiet or joke myself out of feeling. I accept the respect I have earned from myself to trust that I can carry “us” forward and continue to do right to the very best of my ability. Because that is how my parents raised me, and how I will continue to raise up myself.
And because I also know that I am imperfectly human, I accept that I will always “check in” to confirm that I am a good and lovable and worthy person in how I’m reflected back in the eyes of the good and worthy people who I’m lucky enough to love and keep in my orbit.
Artists have a pretty skewed expectation of what it means to “leave a legacy.” We measure it in IMDb credits, in books sold, in seats filled, in how much our work will sell for after we’ve died. I’ve always measured legacy in terms of time – how much can I do in the years I’m given, to maximize the amount of time there is someone on Earth who knows who I was after I’m gone?
With a quantitative rather than qualitative understanding of legacy, it felt like the pandemic was stealing time I didn’t have to lose. I agonized over the pre-planned timeline I’d laid out, organizing each year of my life and what would have to happen, and by when, if I was ever to possibly do it all. Could I make strides forward in both of my careers, and continue my education, and see the world, and date to find a partner, and prepare to have a family, when all of those seemingly discordant life events “need” to happen in the next 10 years? And, if not, what could I afford to write out of the story of my life? I exhausted myself with “if, then” math equations in an effort to anticipate which direction I’d have to throw myself once I was finally taken off pause.
As 2020 came to an end, however, I had an overwhelming feeling that that “lost” year was going to have a profound impact on the trajectory of the rest of my life and that I’d have to be okay not knowing how until I looked back on it years down the line.
Which, of course, didn’t stop me from making a few preliminary guesses based on what I learned:
- Prioritizing your wellness is neither radical nor selfish. It is fundamentally required before you can do absolutely anything else.
- Even in periods of rest, you are moving forward.
- In order to sustain all the parts of you, you cannot be all of those parts at once.
- You have to be willing to make mistakes if you ever hope to grow.
- What you say and do has impact, and it is your responsibility to act on that.
- You are the only one who can determine who and what you are.
Let those pillars be my legacy. Let that pandemic-spun knowledge be what I pass down to my children, for generations. Everything else that happens because of them? Well, that is just a bonus.