The “Rainbow Road” of Mental Health
Being gentle and patient with yourself
By Esther Chan
In this age of social media, it seems like every celebrity, public figure, influencer, etc. is preaching the importance of just loving yourself, learning to appreciate your body, being happy, etc. And it’s not just them. You see it in every cliche Instagram post, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Even at the university, they have various programs promoting the importance of self-love and acceptance. I’m not saying these messages are illegitimate or unimportant, but what’s frustrating is the misleading simplicity they convey—how linear they make it seem.
I like to compare the journey towards improving self-love to the infamous “Rainbow Road” from Mario Kart. The course appears enchantingly beautiful, and nothing seems more rewarding than the opportunity to finish that gorgeous road of colors and stars. But the reality is far from the expectation. Sure it’s beautiful, but it’s also full of turns, spins, slides, and constant falling off. You think it’s going well and then suddenly you fall off, realize you’re going in the wrong direction, or end up exploding just as you think you’re about to finish. It’s not simple. It’s not straightforward. And it’s definitely more than just pretty colors and bouncy music. Sometimes, you can’t even finish.
Being gentle with yourself is more than just accepting your flaws; it means accepting the minuscule, subtle, almost invisible steps of progress. Maybe it’s buying that shirt you love even if it emphasizes your rolls—buying that shirt even if you don’t have the confidence to actually wear it in public quite yet. Maybe you still hate looking at your face or struggle to think of yourself as beautiful, but if you decide that at least your eyebrows look on fleek—that’s progress. If you're like me and spend your whole life despising pictures because you don’t like your face but randomly decide to take a few selfies and actually keep them, even if you never post the pictures or show them to anyone, that’s still patient progress.
Maybe you still break down repeatedly, but if the number of times has lowered in even a week, it’s progress. It’s progress when you realize it’s a little easier to smile when you’re thrown into an unfamiliar environment or when you conquer your social anxiety and hang out with friends, even just once more than usual. Perhaps it’s being brave enough to meet new people and for once be the first to start a conversation—even if your heart is thrashing with nerves.
You would never expect to see immediate results from a new diet or exercise regime. Someone who has torn their ACL or experienced a physical injury would never be expected to heal immediately. Physical conditions such as these are literally measured by steps, why can’t mental health be the same?
Even if it’s just a few paces forward, at least you’re moving. Even when you’re doing so well, you can still fail, whether it’s because of what one person said or from your own doing. And that’s ok. You don’t have to get it right the first, second, thousandth time. Returning to the “Rainbow Road” analogy, more often than not, you’re cruising along, thinking that you’re doing pretty well. But of course, we all end up falling. It always seems like just as you’re in the lead or so close to the finish line, you suddenly tumble off. But no matter what, you’re still lifted up back up and placed back on track.
It’s all about the little steps because when we’re unable to recognize the little progress we’ve made, it’s all too easy to give up. The journey is excruciatingly hard, but it’s worth it. At least I hope so. Because I haven’t finished either. I’m on Rainbow Road, barely 10 feet past the starting line, on my first lap, and the leaders of the race have already passed me a million times. Sometimes it feels like I haven’t even started. But if nothing else, on this Rainbow Road of mental health, despite the pitfalls and tricks and turns, no one can deny that it’s an enchanting, bright course.
The path is difficult, painful, and full of trials, but don’t forget—it’s also beautiful.