As a mental health counsellor, one thing that has become clear to me is that most people struggle to accept themselves as they are. This is also true from my own experience. As a child, I wanted to be social and extroverted like my older brother, Zain. But the truth is that I was a shy kid. I also wanted to be athletic and lean, rather than chubby and ‘cute’. As I have gotten older, fortunately many of my insecurities dissipated because I am able to accept myself for who I am.

As adults, we learn to accept parts of ourselves that are difficult to accept as children. It is only as an adult that I picked up video games after letting go of them in my teenage years. I did not want to be seen as a ‘nerd’ who plays video games. And my dad, my role model as a child, also said video games are a ‘distraction’. In adulthood, I have discovered or perhaps re-discovered that nothing pulls me away from my mental drama the way that video games do. Besides video games, I now have the liberty to watch romantic comedies and admit that Dido is my favourite artist with the kind of freedom that would be sacrilegious as a teenager. In some ways, perhaps, ‘adulting’ is incredible.

Am I all healed now? With a perfect life. No. I have some insecurities that continue to linger.

I still find myself wishing to be leaner. But now I see that perhaps desiring ‘the ideal body’ is similar to wanting to own a Rolls-Royce. It would be nice to own a fancy car, but do I really need to hold my self-worth hostage to a Rolls-Royce? It almost sounds ridiculous when I put it this way. But why should this be any different? What guarantee is there that when I achieve the ‘ideal’ body, I will feel good enough? After all, in my experience, growing up as a larger kid, I am obsessed at some level with wanting to be skinny. This hasn’t gone away even when I have lost large amounts of weight. When the belly protrudes, there is an obsession to want the belly to go in. When the belly is relatively more in (the obsession loop is apparent with the word choice ‘relative’), it’s the hips that appear too wide.

At twenty-eight, I had breast reduction surgery because I had a flabby chest and was too embarrassed by the jiggles. After all, dudes aren’t supposed to look like that, right? And now, I live with the scars apparent on my chest. Sometimes, when I am shirtless, I am even asked- what happened there? And the insecurity I ran away from comes straight back at me. It’s like a whack-a-mole at a theme park, there is no beginning and there is no end to attaining a perfect body.

The point here is that it is my life journey is to learn to live with the body that I have. There is nothing wrong with the desire to want to be leaner. But it is the identification of my body as a ‘problem’ that’s worth exploring. Berating myself has done me no good. Ironically, it is always the positive reinforcement that keeps me going. ‘Your posture has improved’ gets me back to the gym a lot quicker than ‘You look fat in that shirt.’ Though I hate the gym now. So nothing will get me back to the gym. But I swim instead because that is what I love doing.

My friends have similar struggles, often when they push themselves to be more of something. Recently, a buddy shared that he doesn’t study enough for his Bar exams. When I ask him, what is enough?, he shrugs and says, ‘I don’t know, thirteen hours?’. Again, there is nothing wrong with his desire to study more. The struggle is that he berates himself for getting ‘distracted’. Therefore, every thought that takes him away from studying is not counted in the overall study time. It may sound unreasonable to some, but I have compassion for my friend’s struggle. After all, we live in a world that celebrates busyness. As if being busy is a sign of the great modern citizen.

But let’s investigate the truth behind the culture of busyness. A study from the UK showed that most people are productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes each day while doing an office job. This is important information, considering that many of my clients chastise themselves for not being ‘productive enough’. Unfortunately, our standards are clouded by the social myth that everyone is working all the time. But the truth is that we are all human beings. We aren’t designed to be servants of the industrial revolution. So perhaps, there is nothing wrong with you if you are scrolling through social media at work or if you have a thought that distracts you while working. Perhaps you are just human?

This is a fundamental realization that many of my clients have after being in therapy. Perhaps, they are not the problem. Perhaps, the social expectations are too much. Video games aren’t the devil. Not all men can look the cover of a GQ magazine. Not all people need to work like they’re running from the plague. So, what of the impossible metrics that push us to have more or be more? To those social expectations, I push back: who are you to decide the quality of my life?