Three things a day.
“Just write down three things,” she tells me. “Three things that you’re proud of that day.” It would sound easy to anyone else. But she’s sat in this chair across from so many of us that she knows that this is not easy. “You are going to want to make it into a big deal that stresses you out, but fight it. Just write down something. Even just getting out of bed in the morning when you don’t want to. That counts.”
I have started calling her SuperTherapist to my friends. I tell them what she tells me, and their eyes grow wide. “How wise,” they say. “I feel like I should be paying her, too.” She has kind eyes, remembers the names of my husband and my friends that I mention, laughs loudly.
She takes no prisoners. When I rehearse my screw-ups to her and tell her how I have failed my classmates, my professors, my husband, my friends, my internship church, she looks at me and raises an eyebrow. I persist, tell her how my recent comments in class have made everyone suspect I don’t deserve to be in grad school or how my essay will prove it once and for all. “Do you think that’s true?” she asks me. “Or does it just feel true, and it’s actually crazy brain?”
I think for a moment, usually. “Probably not true.”
“Yeah, it’s a load of crap,” she says dryly. And I laugh.
She has a Ph.D, and I am a person who was dancing the Cupid Shuffle in the psych ward, so I do what she says. I write down three things. They are small, with lots of modifiers. I do what she says and begin each page with “I am proud of…” I struggle to find three things about myself that I like.
Humility, I read somewhere once, is not thinking less of yourself but thinking less about yourself. I thought the statement was brilliant and wise, and then I forgot it. I am practiced at deflecting compliments, mystified as to why anyone would give them to me. If you criticize yourself first, then maybe no one else will criticize you. I quote Bible verses to defend myself: Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord. Pride cometh before a fall. Consider others better than yourselves. Every mountain will be made low. It is good, Christian even, to despise yourself.
But I do it anyway. I write down the three things every day in my journals, as if they will save my life, and maybe they do. I am proud of myself for getting out of bed this morning, even though it took thirty minutes. I am proud of speaking up in class even though I was unsure of what I was saying. I am proud of myself for making time to share dinner with my friends.
They are small things that I claim. I am proud of making dinner tonight. For preaching a good sermon and not crying about it. For putting down my reading and sitting with a friend. They are not grades, awards, or accolades. I write three things. They come from no one’s mouth but my own. I stake a claim: This is who I am. This is what matters.
The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once said that there are two cardinal sins from which everything else flows: pride and self-hate. So I write down the three things every day like a liturgy, a confession. I pray: I’m sorry for despising who you have made me. I read: Every valley shall be raised up.
I write the three things for months, and then one day, I do not write them. I think them. Three things, and four, and five. I believe them.
I stake a claim. This is who I am. This is what matters.
This post is part of a series, 31 Days of Healing. Check out Day 1 or the complete list of posts. If you want to follow along, you can also subscribe by email or subscribe in a feed reader. Or “like” the blog on Facebook. (We’re all about options here.) And thanks for reading!