Last Monday was magical. I had an emotional breakthrough. It surprised me like the waves of joy I experienced in Ireland. My self-image improved in an instant and I’ve been enjoying the benefits ever since.

The magic began in the morning. Mondays are my deadline day and I had to write a feature story and come up with a column. Normally, I would feel the pressure of the “dreadline,” but I thought to myself: Why should I feel stressed out? I love writing and spent the whole day playing with words, while listening to classical music.

When I was finished, I was pleased with the two pieces. I also barely made the deadline for the St. Ignatius Alumni Newsletter. I submitted an article about my classmate, Mike Brady, being inducted into the 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame. It would run the next day.

That evening, I was reflecting on the trifecta of articles I submitted and suddenly I was filled with a sense of well-being. I was in such a good mood when I went to bed that I couldn’t fall asleep. That had never happened to me before. Insomnia caused by happiness. For the first time, I had a positive self-image.

Later, I consulted the ultimate authority about everything — my phone — and learned we form our self-image around the age of 5. That was a particularly bad year for me, getting expelled from Kindergarten. Plus, I was one of the few Irish Catholics who developed a poor self-image from my treatment at home, at school and in church. 

Many of us grew up in chaotic families, were educated by negative critical teachers and shamed by priests. As a result, I always felt bad, regardless of what I accomplished. This did not match reality but it’s a tough feeling to shake.

I’ve tried shaking other people out of their negative self-image. I told an employee, “You’re the only person in the world who doesn’t know how great you are.” My words didn’t immediately help. She continued to set impossibly high standards and feel bad about not achieving them.

It helped me, though, when I received encouraging words from readers. Most columnists get little feedback. Writing is a solitary exercise and we don’t know if anyone is reading it. When someone would tell me they read my column, my standard reply was, “That makes two of us.”

That was no longer funny when the pandemic hit. Like everyone else, my life was in disarray. At the newspaper, we felt disconnected from our colleagues and it was impossible to interview people in person. Then, during the depths of the plague, I met a masked woman at Ed’s Way. She told me I was respected in the community and should keep writing despite the pandemic.

I’ve been living off her words ever since. I also received positive feedback from others. I even welcomed negative feedback. It showed me that someone cared enough to read the column and made the effort to respond to it.

Living in the close-knit community of Forest Park also helped. I cannot believe how many community-building events we have here. Gatherings that are fun and life-affirming. It’s great for connecting with neighbors and making new friends. 

When I finally woke up on Tuesday, the euphoria was gone but the new self-image remained. When adversity came, in the form of negative or toxic people, I was much better at handling it. I shared the news about my emotional breakthrough with my wife.

She was happy that after all these years my 5-year-old finally grew up. 

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.