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It took hitting rock bottom to finally love myself

When she's not writing, Claire Gillespie can most often be found wiping snotty noses, picking up Lego, taking photos of her cat or doing headstands.

When my life was a disaster, I realized how important self-love was

Four years ago, my world fell apart. And I was the instigator of the collapse. I left my husband – the father of my children – and I ended up in a very dark place.

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I had been unhappy in my marriage for a long time. Too long. "If I don't leave now, I'll have a breakdown," I whispered to myself the morning I handed my husband a letter explaining exactly why I was leaving him — a letter he couldn't interrupt or ignore as he had when I'd spoken the same words.

He read the letter, and I left with our 18-month-old daughter and 4-year-old son on either side of me. We had nowhere to live, so we moved in with my parents, not knowing when we would be in a position to move out.

And as one major relationship went south, another was reignited. My good old friend depression, who can always be relied upon to come back into my life whenever there's talk of a downward spiral. Of course, this particular friend is committed not to lifting my spirits, but to crushing them even further until I'm unable to function as anyone who resembles a "normal" person in any way, reduced to crying night after night for months in the spare room at my parents' house.

I was 34 years old, dealing with a very acrimonious breakup, living with my parents like an overgrown teenager and medicating myself with everything I could persuade my doctor to prescribe me and everything I could get my hands on from the liquor cabinet.

I was so racked with guilt at splitting up my family and resigning my children to years of being passed back and forth between parents who couldn't make eye contact, let alone exchange a friendly word, that I didn't fight for what I was entitled to. I just wanted everything dealt with as hastily as possible so we could all move on. Little did I know that while we might manage to tie up the financial loose ends relatively quickly, it would take three painful years for any real "moving on" to occur. But during that process, I managed to cultivate something that had always remained out of reach: self-love.

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I grew up hearing the phrase "she loves herself" being used to pull a person down a peg or two or call her out for being smug and egotistical. So loving oneself was never a priority. But during those dark times when I didn't know what the future held for myself and my children, when I had no idea if I would ever be able to manage my mental illness, somehow I found small ways to give my own well-being and happiness some attention. With our lives turned upside down, we had to establish new routines, and I wasn't strong enough to take on anything too demanding. I read a lot. I spent time outdoors, walking with the kids or running on my own — rediscovering a long-lost passion for speed and distance. I gave myself the space to think about who I was, who I wanted to be and how I wanted my new life to take shape.

I realized that I wasn't a bad mother for ending my marriage. I was a good mother who wanted her children to see positive examples of relationships. I wasn't weak for walking away. I was strong for following my heart and choosing truth over financial security. My children were happy and secure and still had a great relationship with their father, and that was all down to me. But in order to continue being a good mother and to keep them happy and secure, I had to commit to making sure I was too.

Self-love isn't about thinking you're perfect or better than anyone else. It's about giving yourself compassion and understanding. It's about being your own biggest champion when times are tough. It's about believing that you're worthy of kindness, compassion, love and understanding from others. And once you've got it, it's life-changing.

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