So I’m fast approaching the big 2-8.
Getting older naturally brings with it a period of reflection, often about what we have or haven’t achieved over the past year of our lives. As a self professed perfectionist, I often measure my worth in my achievements. Although this has its merits, recovery has taught me that there are other attributes I should be valuing too.
This is why I wanted to reflect not on my successes and failures since I turned 27, but on all the lessons I have learnt over the years that have carried me through to today and shape who I am as a person.
1. Not everyone will like me. And that’s okay. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been a ‘people pleaser’ as such but I definitely used to find the idea that people didn’t like me difficult. I’ve come to find that the kind of people who don’t like me generally don’t share the same values as me, and therefore I probably don’t like them either.
2. I have a voice, and I can use it for good. The last few years of volunteering, tweeting, writing and blogging have shown me what a difference just one voice can make in the movement of mental health awareness. I plan to carry on using it for as long as I can.
3. It’s okay to say no. It’s so easy to go along with things that you don’t agree with or feel comfortable with just to avoid looking difficult or disruptive. It’s okay not to agree, or to need to take some time out for yourself, or to not do something you don’t want to do.
4. I am brave. I have overcome so many obstacles over the years and although it has been difficult, I have proved to myself time and time again that I can face the challenges life throws at me.
5. Women have a rough deal. As I have gotten older I have become very aware of the injustices women face not just in western societies, but worldwide. I try my best to talk about feminism and equal rights when I can.
6. I have privilege. Becoming aware of gender inequality also opened my eyes to the wider picture. Although I do experience discrimination, I understand that as a young(ish), white, cis woman I have the better end of the deal. I chose to open my eyes to the discrimination my sisters of different races and the LGBT community face and try to make my feminism as intersectional as I can. I probably don’t always get it right but I try to.
7. Travel makes my soul happy. I’ve explored more countries in the last few years than in pretty much my whole life before that, and it’s the most fulfilling, heart warming, soul cleansing thing I have ever done. Seeing the world opens your eyes to how much bigger things are than just yourself and your bubble, and we all need a reminder of that sometimes.
8. It’s okay to be vulnerable. I have and still do put a brave face on and pretend everything is okay when it isn’t. It’s a habit I am trying very hard to break but I admit I’m still not very good at letting my guard down. I hope that if I keep telling myself this it will get easier.
9. Talking saves lives. I wouldn’t be where I am today without so many years of therapy, both traditional therapy and the kind you only get from your friends.
10. It’s okay to ask for help. Even if you aren’t really sure you need it or deserve it. If it’s even crossed your mind, just ask. You are always deserving of help no matter what you might tell yourself, or what other people might tell you.
11. I really like tattoos. I always knew I wanted tattoos from when I was young, but I didn’t know quite how much I would like them! I’m up to around 25 now I think and still have a couple more planned.
12. I am independent and stubborn. This is sometimes a blessing and sometimes a curse, but it’s a part of my character that I have grown to appreciate with time.
13. I can trust people. Growing up I had experiences with people that led me to put my guard up and think that others are inherently untrustworthy. I’ve surrounded myself with so many wonderful people as an adult that I now know that there are kind, honest and pure people in the world.
14. Holding grudges is a waste of energy. I’ve tried the holding grudges approach. I gain nothing from it but exhaustion and upset. I try to forget it or address it now, but not to carry things with me. There’s no value in that.
15. Friends are family. I have a very small family. I don’t really have any extended family that I am in contact with and I grew up essentially as an only child. I always felt jealous of people who had big, close families, but I now know that it doesn’t matter if someone is a blood relation to you or not, it’s how much they love you that’s important. Friends are the family you choose for yourself.
16. I cry a lot. Not just when I’m sad, but when I’m angry or frustrated or happy or excited or overwhelmed. I cry at music and the telly and my pets and memories and bad jokes and things that are beautiful and things that are horrible. It’s involuntary and I’ve come to accept that I am a crier and there’s not much I can do about it!
17. I hate gardening. I never had a garden of my own until I moved into my house which happens to have an enormous, complicated garden. I hate gardening, I can’t do it, I don’t understand it and the fact that it is never ending makes me want to cry (see? There I go!).
18. Life doesn’t always work out how you plan. I started secondary school as an above average model student and opted in to 14 GCSE’s. I ended up taking just 4 as an inpatient on a psychiatric ward, and went on to study art with a focus on fashion design at college for three years. I was preparing to move to London for university to study fashion. I’m now a mental health nurse. It’s not at all where I thought my life would go but it feels like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
19. The world is kind of shit. Everywhere you turn you can find negatives. People are getting murdered and raped and abused, getting cancer and starving and losing their jobs and their houses. Animals are becoming extinct and the world is dying. Lots of people aren’t very nice and that’s kind of inescapable.
20. The world is kind of amazing. You have to look a little harder to see this because our lives are so saturated with bad news. But with just a little effort it’s easy to find random acts of kindness, kittens, animal sanctuary’s, true love, new friendships, medical advances, technology connecting people all over the world, swimming in the sea, spotting cloud shapes, making daisy chains. There’s lots of things about life and the world that are pretty cool.
21. No matter what you do, people will have an opinion. I know I will never please everyone. But as long as I am living by my values and trying to be a good friend, a good person and a good nurse, there’s not much else I can do.
22. Volunteering is amazing. People always say to me they don’t know how I found the time to volunteer so much. But I made the time and it’s been life changing. I’ve met some of the most amazing, inspirational and brave people and I’m now lucky enough to call some of them my friends. It’s opened up so many doors for me that are so much more valuable than money.
23. There’s more to life than numbers. I’ve spend my whole life measuring myself in numbers. My weight, my size, my grades, my awards, my running times, how much I can lift, my blog hits, my social media follows. But none of these things really matter as much as being happy does.
24. I should’ve been a vegetarian sooner. It’s been so easy and I kick myself at all the years I toyed with the idea while still contributing to the suffering of animals. But also I’m proud I’ve made that change now and I know not to be too hard on myself.
25. I don’t always have to be the best at everything. This is a hard one for me. I am a perfectionist. I HATE getting things wrong, I find it horribly uncomfortable and I catastrophise – I’m either good at something or terrible and there’s no in between. It’s this black and white thinking that has presented so many problems for me in the past and I am trying very hard to challenge it whenever I can.
26. Jealousy is a nasty emotion. Part of wanting to be the best at everything is measuring your progress against other people’s. Although this desire to ‘win’ has helped me be successful in different realms, it also means that if I’m not the best, I feel jealous of whoever is rather than proud of myself for my achievements. It’s a cycle of feeling bad about myself, guilty for feeling jealous and then bad about myself again. It’s pointless and I’m much better at controlling it now. Life isn’t a competition, it’s a journey.
27. I’m a good person. Mental illness can make you believe truly awful things about yourself, and when you’re in the pit of depression or an eating disorder it feels like nothing will change those thoughts or feelings. I see now that I try to be kind, I am a good nurse and a good friend and I put a lot of time into trying to do what I think is the right thing.
28. Getting older is okay. Getting older is scary. I still think I’m 20 when I’m actually nearly 30. But with age comes knowledge, memories and growth, all of which I’m incredibly lucky to experience.
I am a child at heart and I am genuinely terrified of growing old. As a chronic over thinker, I really struggle with the idea of my own mortality, and the more birthdays I have the more I am aware of it. But when I reflect on where I am in my life right now, I couldn’t ask for more. Sure, I’d like a little more money, to work a few less hours, to go on more holidays. We all have things in our lives that we would like to be different. But with each passing year I know myself better, and I am probably the most content I have ever been now.
Maybe getting older isn’t so bad after all.