Mind Over Melodrama: 5 Lessons on Self-Awareness and Healing


“Be what you are. This is the first step toward becoming better than you are.” ~Julius Charles Hare

In a few months it will be the two and a half year anniversary of my mental breakdown.

I don’t really celebrate the date, partially because I don’t know it—it’s not the sort of thing that you remember to mark on your calendar—and partially because my entire life since then has been a celebration of what I began to learn that night.

I began to learn about myself.

It’s been a wild ride of healing, helplessness, forgetting, and remembering. Many times, I felt like giving up and running back to drugs and alcohol, but I didn’t.

Many times, I felt like bottling my emotions or lashing them out onto the closest victim, but I didn’t. Many times, I felt disgusted by my reflection and compelled to stop eating again, just for a day or two, so I could feel the sick freedom of an empty stomach, but I didn’t.

I guess after you almost kill yourself, you just can’t go back to being the way you were. There’s something in your mind that says, “No, that didn’t work for ten years, and it won’t work now.”

Honestly, self-awareness saved my life, and I have no doubt that this simple, consistent practice is as essential as exercising and eating well. I like to dream sometimes about what the world would look like if we all committed to knowing ourselves, and it’s beautiful. It really is. We’re beautiful.

Without further ado, here are five life lessons I’ve learned from two years of healing my mind and reconnecting with myself.

1. Self-awareness is self-love.

About two weeks after I broke down, I was flipping through stacks of old journals, feverishly looking for patterns. What I found amazed me: epiphany after epiphany that I needed to love myself, to be my own best friend, to treat myself better.

Those epiphanies never translated into action until I was forced to look at my reflection, raw and real. When I saw her, I loved her immediately.

You cannot love someone you don’t know. In the end, that’s why so many people in our society don’t love themselves, or each other. Not because they don’t try, but because they don’t know themselves.

Once you find who you are—who you really are—self-love is not an option. And neither is unconditional human love, for that matter, because once you find that spark of magic inside of you that makes your heart beat, you find that magic in all of us.

2. Believing all your thoughts is a dangerous thing.

I used to believe everything I thought. For a while, my thoughts told me that I was fat and ugly. Believing them destroyed my confidence. Then, my thoughts told me I needed drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. Believing them destroyed my body.

One day, my thoughts told me to kill myself. Believing them was almost the last thing I ever did.

As human beings, we have this amazing capacity to conceptualize, analyze, and create stories in our heads. That capacity can be used to build spaceships and save the world. That same capacity can be used to harm ourselves and others.

It’s not that I don’t think toxic thoughts anymore. Sometimes, I still get anxious, fearful, and insecure thoughts just like anyone else. The difference is that I constantly observe and question what I think.

I make choices about what I believe is true. And that makes all the difference.

3. There is no quick fix (and you don’t want one anyway).

When I was in elementary school, I tried praying for a few months. I wasn’t sure if God existed, but I was willing to give it a try.

I said, “Dear God, please make me wake up tomorrow having lost forty pounds, with no pimples, and my stretch marks disappeared. If you do, I’ll start going to church. Okay, thanks. I mean… Amen.”

Needless to say, it never happened. About fifteen years later, I’m telling this story to someone and they point out how, if that did happen, my life would have been much worse. Showing up to school suddenly forty pounds lighter is a sure-fire one-day ticket to being a “Freak” (much faster than just being forty pounds overweight).

I was amazed. How could I not have seen this?

Now I know; back then, I only wanted a quick fix because I wasn’t doing anything about my problems. We only crave miraculous, effortless change when we’re not helping real change happen.

I used to tell myself stories about how I didn’t want to change because it would hurt too much. Honestly, healing has hurt more than I can possibly relate, but you know what? It’s not the same pain.

The pain of enduring obstacles on a path that you’ve decided to walk is absolutely nothing like the pain of being trapped in a situation you have no plan to escape. Nothing hurts like helplessness and stagnation. That’s what we actually don’t want.

4. People who adored your mask probably won’t like your authentic self.

This just baffled me when it first happened. When I was self-destructive, rude, jaded, and fake, people couldn’t get enough. When I showed my vulnerable, inspiration-hungry, sparkly-eyed self, most of those same people recoiled in horror.

My first months of healing, I spent alone in an empty room watching TED talk after TED talk eating chocolate chips right out of the bag. I was alone, but somehow, I wasn’t lonely anymore.

Nothing is lonelier than being with people who don’t understand you. Those who love a person in a mask are wearing their own masks. They’re putting on a play for everyone to see—terrified of who they are underneath.

A person who chooses to be authentic around the masked will always be rejected, because the masked reject that part of themselves.

Don’t worry. There are authentic, open, loving people waiting to meet someone just like you in your raw, vulnerable state. They’re just waiting for you to get off that stage.

5. You are the world’s foremost expert on yourself.

For a long time, I was looking for someone to tell me exactly what to do. I’d read a book and it would have an inspiring idea, but then the implications of that idea would make me feel uncomfortable. Still, I’d try it on. After months of struggling, I realized it just wouldn’t fit.

This happened again and again.

I thought there was something wrong with me because other people’s frameworks didn’t fit me like a glove. It wasn’t until I started helping other people that I realized, they’re not supposed to.

Other people’s words can inspire us, inform us, and, at best, give us valuable frameworks within which to place our experiences. But how we fill in those gaps and connect those dots—that’s still up to us.

Self-discovery is supposed to be messy and confusing. You’re supposed to feel like no one has the answers for you, because they don’t. You have the answers. At most, you need a guide to help you find those answers, and even then, you always have the final say.

These five lessons all came to me as epiphanies at first, but I never stop learning them. These truths continue to come to me in different words and different forms, as I apply them to myself and others, as I forget them just to remember them again and again.

It’s not always sunshine and rainbows, but I always know there’s a way out of any darkness and I know that, even if I forget, everything is going to be okay. And that makes it all worth it.

Woman in Tree Position image via Shutterstock

About Vironika Tugaleva

Like every human being, Vironika Tugaleva is an ever-changing mystery. At the time of writing this, she was a life coach, digital nomad, and award-winning author of two books (The Love Mindset and The Art of Talking to Yourself). She spent her days writing, dancing, singing, running, doing yoga, going on adventures, and having long conversations. But that was then. Who knows what she’s doing now? Keep up at

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  • Hi Vironika,

    I can relate to your story. I agree, self-awareness is very important. It saved me also.

    There is an incredible power in knowing that we have the power to choose and change our negative thoughts.

    Totally agree with this – “Believing all your thoughts is a dangerous thing”. Same goes with feelings. Being lead by our feelings is also dangerous, because it keeps us stuck in the victim mentality state…

    Thanks for sharing this great article 🙂

  • GrizzleWizzle

    This was really inspiring to read. As someone who has 2 months of being clean from “stupid stuff”, I am learning to cope with different emotions that arise in me, with the thought of failure, and how I had come to a complete stop in the journey of self-improvement. It hurts. But reading this, kind of assured me to go ahead and keep my head up. Everything will be ok, it will, must just believe.

    Thanks Vironika.

  • lv2terp

    WONDERFUL post!!!!!!!! Thank you for sharing your story, and these are fantastic epiphanies/insights! Beautiful! And congratulations! 🙂

  • tracey

    Just wanted to say congrats on your 2 month achievement!!

  • heatherms2k

    Thank you Vironika for this post! It resonated with me in many ways. I started my journey of self-awareness and healing almost exactly a year and a half ago. Everything you say in this article is also what I have discovered and have been working on. Yes, there are many bumps in the road, but I look at those as another lesson learned, as well as another reboot of my reactions. Hey, I am not perfect, and I am just being the best me I can be.

    I have been shedding my many masks and have discovered there are some significant people in my life that have not been able to handle the authentic me. I have struggled letting go and moving on, but I am getting there and your article helps me know that I am on the right track.

    Thank you very much for sharing your words, knowledge, and experience!

  • AgileMyAss

    #4 hits the nail on the head for me. I cut a lot of bad habits out of my life this year, and the more I started to focus on myself and my complete health, the less my husband seemed to know me. We no longer have anything in common, and are divorcing on shell-shocked, but friendly terms. He still tries to get me to drink with him so that he can see that person he once had so much fun with, but that person is gone. Even alcohol can’t bring her back. It’s hard for other people to understand how I can be so calm about it, and so hopeful, but not angry. Through talk therapy, meditation and affirmations, I have become a person that I love enough to give the best to.

  • Julie

    After I read this inspiring post I let out a huge sigh of relief, Vironika! I am 29 years old and recently started dating again – I mean, dating… and for some reason instead of listening to my intuition I trust these BS articles from men that write about “How-To Know a Guy Likes You” or relying on my friends’ opinions. And when I came across #5 “You are the world’s foremost expert on yourself.” in your blog post, I thought “HELL YES I am!” I’ve
    had relationships before – I know whether or not someone likes me… what I want
    now is the right person for me to be interested and vice versa. My friends
    keep driving me to continue dating this really attractive guy who is into me to “see
    what happens”… because they say I sabotage myself. But you know what, I don’t see
    it ever going anywhere, so why should I waste another minute pretending I want to get to know him when I am not never going to be interested in “in that way.”

    You absolutely took the words right out of my mouth when you said “For a long time, I was looking for someone to tell me exactly what to do. I’d read a book and it would
    have an inspiring idea, but then the implications of that idea would make me
    feel uncomfortable. Still, I’d try it on. After months of struggling, I realized it just wouldn’t fit.” It made me realize that although people’s thoughts and ideas about what something should “look like” are wonderful for them, but are theirs. You need to follow your own path – because your intuition is well, your own.

  • You are so welcome, and so right! I find that leading by feelings, though, is an incredibly useful and powerful thing – I’d advise it even. I say this because emotions are produced by thoughts. Victimized emotions come from a victim mentality. If we watch our thoughts, we can let the feelings slide along with the thoughts we don’t want. When it comes to keeping the thoughts we DO want, following THOSE feelings is amazing! Imagine acting on thoughts like “I am interconnected with everyone and everything.” What a revolution that would be 😉

  • Congratulations and thank you! Keep on walking, my friend. It’s the best journey you’ll ever be on. <3

  • I wish I could send you a hug. I know how that is. I know what it’s like to have a past personality die. Thank goodness we’re not our personalities – we’re something much more. In the end, your husband will be better off as well. People deserve to feel like their values are reflected in their lover’s eyes. You both deserve that. All the best of your journey! <3

  • You are so welcome! It sounds like you’re doing well. Good for you, my friend. Keep on walking and don’t forget to share your story with the world while you’re at it. You’ve officially become a role model 🙂

  • You are so welcome! Thanks for reading.

  • heatherms2k

    I would have to say that you have become my role model. So we will both support each other through this journey called life. 🙂

  • Reba Linker

    Hi Vironika, I love your writing, your honesty and your wisdom, which is all hard won, first hand, and I truly, truly applaud you for that! You write: “Many times, I felt like bottling my emotions or lashing them out onto the closest victim, but I didn’t.”

    That, in a nutshell, is spiritual wisdom. That is it, right there. That holding back from harming another or ourselves, that is identification with the higher self. That is what raises us up. Well done, and long may you wave, darling! Much love, Reba

  • juan

    Hi! i´m having a very rough time right now…feels like a really need a change, loads of horrible intrusive thoughts and negativity…a lot happening in my life right now.

    What kind of meditation are you into?

  • SueKearney

    Oh, you beautiful woman, thank you for your honesty. You inspire me…

    Point #2, about believing your thoughts, that one shines brightly for me. I love the way someone described it at a 12-step meeting in Brooklyn: When you’re alone with your mind, you’re in a bad fu**ing neighborhood.


    Luckily, we don’t have to do this alone!


  • Lacy

    Great post! Thank you so much for being real and honest. I find it hard to love myself very often, but I’m currently in the process of learning how to be my friend and take good care of myself.

  • Good for you Lacy! Keep it up. Like any relationship, the relationship with self takes some time to get intimate, but when it does – it’s the most incredible experience.

  • And we can make friends with that mind too! Clean that place up 😉

    Thanks for reading and for your kind words, Sue!

  • I’m sorry you’re having a rough time, Juan. Good for you for reaching out. I suppose I’m into my own kind of meditation. I really found my own way when it came to self-awareness.

    I believe the process of healing the mind involves uniting with our authentic self, developing an awareness of toxic thoughts, and then applying specific nourishing daily thoughts each day. Just like tending to a plant 🙂
    You can feel free to get in touch with me or read the book to know more!

  • And it gets much easier as we go on, let me tell you! Thank you for your kind words, Reba 🙂

  • Makayla

    Believing all my thoughts is a hard one for me. I constantly find myself comparing myself to “what I should be.” I loved reading this. Thank you.

  • Ryan

    Thanks for sharing this article.

    I can totally relate. It’s not until we start becoming more and more aware of our thoughts and feelings, choosing the ones that make us feel good and rejecting or learning from the ones that make us feel bad, we cannot truly live our own fulfilling life.

    I am convinced that our thoughts and feelings are programmed during our growing years and the truth really is with the heart, it is better to follow your true heart (not romantacised love heart) than the mind.

    It’s not always easy, but a lot more peaceful that I have accepted myself for who I am and what I stand for, and now taking the steps to live everyday to become more of my authentic self.

    Thanks for sharing your journey

  • The first step forward is noticing 🙂 You’re on the right track, Makayla!

  • Thank you for sharing yours too! It’s easier to follow all of our emotions when our thoughts are right – then we don’t have to pick between authentic and inauthentic desires. We just know. And that is true freedom 🙂

  • 🙂 You make me smile. So much love to you!

  • You’re right on the money, Julie! And that’s the most incredibly liberating thing in the world, isn’t it? Realizing that you have the answers?
    I think we’re brought up to value dogma and, now, we’re all collectively recovering from that cultural toxic thought pattern. People deserve to trust and be trusted, to love and be loved. <3

  • heatherms2k

    🙂 Glad to make you smile. Love to you as well!! Take care!

  • Lorraine

    So true we always keep learning and experiencing to greater depths. I also love the interplay of these five lessons in that cycle of growth. Awareness for me is the underlying foundation for the other four to happen, and as our awareness expands, so too are the other four lessons brought forward to look at again from this new perspective.

  • What a beautiful description, Lorraine. What a beautiful way to live life. 🙂

  • Amy

    I love this bit:
    “..healing has hurt more than I can possibly relate, but you know what? It’s not the same pain.”

    I am going through a physical healing from a crisis that also triggered a spiritual/mental healing. It hurts, to be sure, but it’s nothing like the stress and pain of feeling Stuck in a life from which I was desperate to escape. I may have days where I feel like crap, but at least now I know I am taking responsibility for my life and well-being, making positive changes and learning how to love myself.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    “I used to tell myself stories about how I didn’t want to change
    because it would hurt too much. Honestly, healing has hurt more than I
    can possibly relate, but you know what? It’s not the same pain…. Nothing hurts like helplessness and stagnation. That’s what we actually don’t want.”

    “A person who chooses to be authentic around the masked will always be
    rejected, because the masked reject that part of themselves.”

    “For a long time, I was looking for someone to tell me exactly what to do. I’d read a book and it would have an inspiring idea, but then the implications of that idea would make me feel uncomfortable…. I thought there was something wrong with me because other people’s frameworks didn’t fit me like a glove.”

    These are some of my main struggles in life for a long time now & the way you articulated them, gives me a bit of a better perspective! Thank you for sharing your wisdom & being so vulnerable & authentic in not only sharing your struggles from the past…moreover, admitting these struggles are still a work in progress, even after all the epiphany & self-awareness you had about them. This was truly insightful; one of the best blogs I’ve read in Tiny Buddha recently…:)

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    I loved reading this blog & enjoyed a lot of the people’s comments & your views as well…However, as much I wanna believe the optimism, “I think we’re brought up to value dogma and, now, we’re all collectively recovering from that cultural toxic thought pattern,” unfortunately with today’s media & so-called “globalization”… I feel more & more of us are becoming part of a single dogma more than ever before…

  • LesAnonymes

    “Nothing is lonelier than being with people who don’t understand you.” I definitely agree. I’m in a healing phase right now after an abusive boyfriend. I didn’t realize how badly it affected me, but I wasn’t my authentic self because his narcissistic personality often overshadowed mine. I also had a friend come visit me, who wouldn’t stop criticizing me and trying to control me. I am still trying to shake off that experience, the friend won’t stop talking to me over chat, and I am doing the ‘slow fade.’ Unfortunately that friend doesn’t understand boundaries and respect, and if I tried to stand up for myself she reacted very badly and became manipulative. After these experiences I simply want to hang out by myself most of the time, not talk to anyone new, just with people who I trust with my raw, vulnerable self. Hopefully I’ll pop out of this phase with a shiny and new perspective on life, that will help me stay away from energy vampires. I want things to be going so well that I can easily walk away from unhealthy situations. I think this friend of mine is a start. I used to feel guilty if I didn’t fulfill her needs, today I don’t feel guilty at all by putting distance between us. A LOT of distance, like I really don’t want to talk to her anymore.

  • LesAnonymes

    hehe “stupid stuff” I like that!

  • In the whole history of the world, it has only taken a handful of people to be passionately leading progressive change for it to materialize. Sometimes, it’s only taken one. I feel I am surrounded by such people, and that is purposefully. Find a tribe, focus on changing, the optimism will come effortlessly. 🙂

  • That’s a very kind thing to say, Heather, thank you. I only reflect in you what you are awaiting to realize about yourself. You’re everything you want to be, simply awaiting recognition.

  • kiwi

    i believe theres truth in (self) awareness related to healing or manifest things, i read a lot about the law of attraction the past 2yrs and i remember a youtube video with Bob Proctor who said that awareness is the first law of creation, so this makes sense to me. Great article Vironika, grtz from Holland

  • kiwi

    also taking responsibility for not having what I want and stop blaming outside forces helped me a lot in getting my life back, you probably heard of the phrases i love you im sorry please forgive me thank you(hooponopono healing technique)

  • Katy

    Thank you so much for this. I can relate..After the ‘breakdown’ happened to me, I got much softer and vulnurable, so it is in a way painful. But I had this pain before and was closing myself to it. So I had ‘two pains’ in the end: the actual one and another pain of rejecting myself and being trapped. I’m so grateful to muself for making that jump and opening up. Don’t lose courage if it’s painful, surrender and believe that you can go through this pain and be OK, best wishes to everybody here!

  • Marjolein v.d Bosch

    Wow, really liked your blog. Especially number 4. This is something that challenged me lately. Nothing is so lonely then being with the wrong people. Keep going on! Like it very much. Life has its ups and downs, but keep moving and listen to your Inner voice.