Last week, I celebrated my birthday at home. It’s been a weird year; it feels like only a month has passed since I was celebrating twenty-three in a crowded restaurant surrounded by friends. Many of those friends had to leave the country due to COVID, losing their jobs or having their studies transferred to online. I didn’t get to do many of my bucket list items, given that they involved going further than my front door. I have watched far too many shows, and films, the majority not reflecting the best Netflix has to offer, to say the least.
But it has also been my year of most significant growth. Perhaps it was the time at home; perhaps it was the age, perhaps I was beginning to grieve the loss of my father properly. Either way, this year, I began confronting myself, not only through therapy for my personality disorder, but also considering my values, my purpose, my ambition. I got to know myself better this year, and I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to meeting Fleurine more over the year to come.
I got wiser, and with that, I decided to sit down and consider the twenty-four things that I’ve learned by the age of twenty-four. From friends to sex, avocados to Taylor Swift, these are my biggest lessons. I won’t pretend that I’m perfect at all of them, but I work towards them, and I know the truth that lies in each of them. Here’s the complete list, and then we’ll break them down further for those of you interested.
1. Extra avocado for €1 is never worth it.
2. You can’t control how you feel, but you can control how you react.
3. You’re not going to be where you want to be by 24, 25 or even before 30.
4. You have the time to do everything you want to; you simply need to find it.
5. Everyone is making choices; don’t let them tell you otherwise.
6. Feeling low is enough of a reason to cancel plans.
7. Sleep is the best gift that you can offer yourself.
8. No one will understand grief until they experience it themselves.
9. Your negativity says more about you than the person you direct it to.
10. Sometimes friends are in your life for a period of time, and that is okay.
11. If it’s sold at the checkout, you don’t need it.
12. It’s okay to be cliche, a stereotype or unoriginal.
13. ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ is a lie from someone who hasn’t tried a chocolate lava cake.
14. You don’t have to apologise for not wanting to have sex.
15. Always start cleaning up before you go to bed. Your morning self will be so grateful for it.
16. Don’t exercise for weight, exercise for your health.
17. Everyone has shit going on, give people the benefit of the doubt and just ask.
18. Read books. Read any book, read every book, just read.
19. You deserve the same amount of kindness that you give to others.
20. Never respond out of anger. Wait at least fifteen minutes.
21. People don’t have to apologise for being busy and not replying to you; the same applies to you.
22. Stop being insecure when someone isn’t drinking, that isn’t a personal attack.
23. It’s okay to be a Taylor Swift fan.
24. If something is scary to talk about, it’s important that you do.
My list won’t necessarily match your own, but I tried to make it personal to who I am. Now let’s break down each lesson, and I’ll explain how it influences my daily life.
There’s a temptation to go for the extra avocado or guacamole, especially once you have a salary. I deserve this, you think, I deserve to have extra avo on my sandwich or burrito. You tell yourself that it’s healthy! But here’s the thing, the extra avocado is never that good. You won’t taste the difference; all the health benefits are long gone as it sat in the tub waiting to be used. The avocado won’t give you anything that you don’t already have. But that €1 could go to cheese, which will always reap the rewards. Pick wisely.
Let’s dive into the deep! This has been an important lesson for me, as I struggle with BPD and so my feelings are often inaccurate for the moment or trigger. E.g. if someone leaves me on read, I wholeheartedly assume they hate my guts and are preparing to send me an essay of every awful thing I’ve ever done to them. It sounds ridiculous, it sounds dramatic, but it genuinely happens, and my body will experience the fear and sadness brought on by that. This doesn’t mean that my feelings are ‘wrong’, which was another major lesson, but rather that they’re not suited to the situation. I work on reducing this, but still, my feelings will always be more extreme than someone without BPD. I can’t control how I feel, but I can control how I react. I can ensure that I check in with myself; I can express how it makes me feel. You can’t choose how a situation or message leads you to feel, but you are in full control of what comes next, whether you handle it maturely or not. You have the power and don’t forget it.
I genuinely thought I’d be married by twenty-four or twenty-six, pop out babies before thirty. I thought I’d be a published author, and I thought I’d have an incredible home. The list goes on. The lesson is that your twenties are still extremely young, you have so much growth to do first. You’re not where you wanted to be at this age, that isn’t a failure, that is a reflection of your overestimation of time. Stop hating on yourself for where you are now, enjoy it, as you’ll miss the times before you ‘made it’. Thirty is young; it isn’t old; it isn’t ‘the end’. No one says that to guys so why should females feel like it is? You have time, work actively to your goals but also respect that the best things have the longest cooking time. Don’t be a mug cake, be slow-cooked brownies.
As mentioned, I tend to veer towards extreme emotions and feelings, and so I become overwhelmed quickly. This was an immense relief for me, even though others might hate the responsibility this places on them. I like responsibility as I like the concept that things are within my control, so if I make them happen then they will. You want to read more, but you’re too busy. You could get better grades if you studied more. You want to see friends but also start a side hustle. Don’t lie and say that there isn’t enough time, there are twenty-four hours in a day, and the majority of us sleep for about eight of them. There is time; you need to find it and use it. You need to prioritise and dedicate time to what you want.
And on that note, if someone tells you that they don’t have time to see you, that is also a choice. I’m not denying that people will be busy, but we even choose where our time goes. They can’t spare an evening for dinner with you, yet they visit festivals every month? That’s a choice. They can’t afford the train to see you yet will buy rounds of shots in a club? That’s a choice. This isn’t to say I’m judging how people spend their money or time, only that if someone wants to see or talk to you, then they will. Don’t give someone a tough time, merely realise their priorities aren’t on you, so don’t place yours on them. Every decision that we make reflects how we prioritise, and if your choices aren’t doing that, then you need to change them.
I’m lucky enough to have people around me who understand the struggle of mental illness, and even those that haven’t experienced it are super open-minded. I used to run myself ragged seeing people, feel like I couldn’t say no to plans and then pray that they would cancel. I’d drag myself to see them, feeling depressed or drained, and not have a good time. Then my therapist asked how I’d feel if it was the other way around and if my friend was super overwhelmed or struggling and felt like they had to come and meet me. I would hate that. I would hate to be the kind of friend that you couldn’t be honest with and explain your limits. Wouldn’t you?
You don’t have to be physically ill to cancel plans. If you are struggling with a depressed mood, anxiety or stress, you can explain that and cancel. My rule is always to suggest a date to reschedule if you can, it highlights that you do want to see them and that this is about today and not them.
It pains me to think of all the sleep I’ve lost over the years, and I’ve never even been one for all-nighters. Sleep is so important, and at the wise age of twenty-four, I recognise that it turns me into my best self. Getting enough sleep is a step I can take towards achieving my goals, to ensure that I am present and focused every day. There are exceptions, of course, nights that don’t want to end, and that’s fine. But your ‘average’ day should contain seven to eight hours of sleep. This year, help yourself to become the best version you can be, dedicate this fuel to your health and watch the difference.
It’s not some elusive club that no one gets to join, but rather that we can’t comprehend it until it happens to us. We’re not designed to register and accept death, and so as much as you may sympathise, you truly can’t imagine what it is like to know that someone is gone forever. You can’t comprehend that it isn’t just sadness, that it doesn’t have a time limit and all the other things you don’t know about grief yet. But the plus side is that you’ll forge a bond with people who have experienced it.
A lot of things bother me, as all of us probably experience. Slow walkers, loud chewers, people who talk loudly on their phone. These are pretty standard things to be annoyed by, and I for one have dramatically overtaken a slow walker with that curt stare. But then some things bother us, things that really shouldn’t.
I used to hate when people promoted their work, whether it was music, a blog or poetry. I thought they were immodest, bigheaded and showing off. I spent so much time being unsupportive, not checking out the work or boosting them. Then I finally looked within and realised it was jealousy, plain and simple. I had always wanted to start a blog but felt too insecure like my voice wasn’t important enough. I had been writing since I was little and never shared it because I felt embarrassed; I feared being judged. Yet these string individuals were marching on, sharing their passion. It was such a relief to realise this, to have that weight lifted from me. Now I make it a goal to support everyone sharing their pursuits and side hustles. It takes so much bravery and good on them for doing it.
Next time something bothers you, check-in with yourself. Find insight in your negativity. Ask yourself why this bothers you, what emotions are being stirred by the situation?
When I left high school, I was terrified of being forgotten by everyone. I knew many would, I hadn’t found my personality by then and was merely the girl organising school events and desperate to be liked. No one remembers her too well. Whenever I’ve had arguments with friends, I enter a deep panic; I’m terrified to lose them. I fight for relationships that are flailing. I struggle to keep up correspondence or appearances. But here’s the thing; people are in your life for a period of time, when you need them, when you match well, when you’re on a similar path, and then you part ways. And that is okay. It isn’t a failure on either of you. Let go when it is time, as then you’ll preserve what you had. Also, you never know when they’ll come back. You’ll move close to them and reconnect, end up in a similar life phase and reach out. Save your energy for people who help you thrive now and make you feel good, don’t cling to what is already dimmed.
Please take a moment to consider all of your checkout purchases, if you can even remember them. Did you need that set of scrunchies? That nail file, the cute pack of tissues you instantly misplaced, or the extra pack of chewing gum? I am all for treating yourself, but checkout purchases are bought and forgotten seconds later, they add up and keep you from adequately treating yourself. Never buy from the checkout, buy from the store. Once in the queue, keep your gaze ahead and eyes on the prize.
In high school, I adopted the personality of everyone else around me. I liked what they liked, disliked what they did. In university, I joined a sorority and did the same thing. I was struggling with an undiagnosed personality disorder and had no sense of self, but didn’t even realise I was doing this. When I graduated, I received the correct treatment and scaled-down my friend group, and I finally realised that I had no clue who I was or what I liked. It turned out that I didn’t like nightlife, which was the way I had bonded with most of my friends. I loved watching films and discussing them, something I had always considered to be pretentious.
Don’t dislike things for being cliche or mainstream whether that’s music, hobbies or clothing. If everyone is dressing a certain way and you like it, dress that way too. Who cares if five others have an identical sweater, it looks good on you and makes you feel good. If you like Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish, listen to them! Music is about what you enjoy, not about being unique. Things are popular for a reason, as many like them. Base your interests around how you actually feel, not how you should. Anyone who shames you for your interests is not worth your time.
Kate Moss has since publicly announced that she regrets making this comment, but the damage is done. Things taste good, so eat them, enjoy them. We need to stop basing our self-worth on our weight! It’s something I still struggle with daily if I’m honest. But my biggest lesson is to not base the food I eat as something I earn or should feel guilty for. Those chocolate lava cakes are incredible, and everyone deserves to try them. Exercise because you want to, and eat because you want to. Life is too short to be hungry. Embrace the body you have and enjoy the life you have, nothing tastes as good as chocolate lava cakes, and you deserve everything life has to offer.
As women, we’ve been wrongly taught that sex is a gift we offer to someone, that it is something we owe. There is a guilt that comes from not wanting to have sex, in the apology that follows it, the way we question if maybe we should. Unpacking those years of incorrect teachings about sex, masturbation, and the ownership of your own body is difficult, but it’s an important place to start. You don’t owe anyone sex; you don’t have to apologise for not wanting to have sex. Not to your partner, not to your date, not to yourself. Don’t internalise any guilt about that, and certainly don’t allow someone to place it on you.
Waking up with a hangover is rough, and it’s not getting easier as the years accumulate. Start doing things today that your tomorrow self will be thankful for, and one of those is cleaning up. Coming downstairs to find stained wine glasses and a table of crumbs isn’t fun, it halts your mornings, it slows your progress down. Take the ten minutes to clean up at the end of the night, even just to put a dent in the work to be done. It’ll allow your morning to be filled with hope and a clean environment that translates to a calm morning. Start the dishes; you’ll never regret that.
Many of us hold challenging relationships with exercise. Even those that haven’t struggled with eating disorders have at some point, felt insecure in their body, or tried to change it. We relate exercise to weight, or more specifically, to losing weight. It is a path to be thin or muscular, that is all. But that doesn’t have to be all; exercise can bring us so much more if we allow it too. Instead, view exercise as a path to health, which actually isn’t only related to your weight. I know far thinner women who eat more junk food and exercise less than I do; your weight isn’t the best reflection of your health. But even more than that, allow exercise to help you in other ways. To be your way out of the house during this pandemic. To be a freeing moment for your mind and the constant barrage of thoughts. Allow exercise to be free from guilt, and instead to be a happy place, one of growth and strength. Do exercise that you enjoy, and remove the word calories from its dictionary altogether.
Let’s stop assuming. Let’s stop assuming that no one else is struggling, instead realise that we’re not alone as well as to understand that everyone is facing their challenges right now. Give people the benefit of the doubt when they don’t text back, when they cancel plans, when they need space. Don’t assume that things come from a place of negativity; don’t assume that it’s a direct attack. Everyone has their own story, their own experiences and daily hurdles, and they don’t need you to be adding to that. If in doubt, just ask. If you think it’s about you, or that they’re acting differently, just ask. What is the harm in asking? At the ‘worst’, nothing is going on but they’ll appreciate that you checked. You should prioritise yourself, and so should they, don’t expect more than them than you hold yourself to.
I’ve been an avid reader since I was little, devouring a book a week to my father’s dismay, as trips to the bookstore were frequent. I knew all the librarians by name, and I would check out the maximum amount of books each time. I loved the escape; I loved the chance to be someone else, finishing a book and feeling like them for days after. Most of us lose that drive for reading as we age, maybe once we’re forced to read, it seems less appealing. But reading is the best investment in yourself. If you pick up any hobby during this pandemic, let it be reading. Carve a ten-minute window into your day, mine is just before sleeping, and read during it every single day. Repeat it until it becomes a habit, until it becomes something you desire to do.
And don’t force yourself to read classics unless that’s what you enjoy reading. Getting back into reading is hard, you have to build the muscle of it, so make it easier by choosing books that you can’t put down. Stop reading what you should want to read, and instead read what drives you. Non-fiction, biographies, vampire romances, young adult series, self-help books and more. It doesn’t matter. Find what you love to read and do that every single day.
Why does everyone else get to enjoy the best of you? Why do they get this thoughtful friend who cheers them up and motivates them to continue, whilst you get a barrage of self-hatred? Stop putting yourself down, be your own cheerleader. If you think every size is beautiful in others, give that kindness to your own body. If you think having unproductive days is okay and part of self-love, take that lesson inwards as well. Stop giving everyone the best parts of yourself and leaving none to enjoy. You deserve kindness.
You deserve kindness from yourself and others. If you’re giving it to people who aren’t returning it or are taking more than they give, now is the time to change that. Being a loyal friend is rewarding, but that doesn’t mean it can be one-sided. Treat yourself how you would treat a friend. When struggling, imagine what you would say to a friend in that exact position. I guarantee it’s a lot nicer than you usually are to yourself.
As mentioned, I have a flair for the dramatic and overwhelming emotions. So I’ve responded out of anger or emotion far too often. Once you’ve calmed down, you always regret it, without a doubt. So when you start furiously typing or your mind is consumed with the most horrible things to say, press pause instead. Put the phone down or leave the room. You can tell them that you need a moment to calm down and think about things so that you don’t speak out of spite.
When I was in high school, we once had an assembly where they asked a volunteer to push toothpaste out of a tube, and then to try put it back in. They said the toothpaste was like words, once said you couldn’t take them back, even if you try. I’m not quite sure about their choice of metaphor, but it has stuck with me.
Once you say something, it will forever hang there, even if you try to move past it. Take the time and space to calm down and then approach the situation. I’m not saying you have to give in to the other person, just that when you respond you should make sure you’re speaking from a place of honesty and not blind anger. I do this in arguments with my partner, and when we come to talk again, we’re both ready to have a mature conversation and not sling insults that sting. In "Women Don't Owe You Pretty", Florence claims that this will ensure you respond instead of react, and will allow it to be a conversation rather than a defence.
We’re in a pandemic, and people have other things on their mind, people need a break from social media and their phones, so stop taking it personally. It can be difficult at first, I’ve had insecurities when friends stop replying as much and are doing their own thing. But don’t make someone apologise for it. If you really find it to be an issue, start a conversation, see what’s going on. But don’t come in with blame and aggression, as they won’t respond well to it. As I said, you don’t know what’s going on, so don’t assume that it reflects how they feel about you. Give people a break, stop associating their response time to how much they care about you. Find a compromise that works for both of you. Because you making them feel guilty, doesn’t make them want to talk to you more.
I’m definitely guilty of this one. As someone who always struggled to be the only one not drinking, I’d be insensitive when someone else wasn’t drinking, I’d try to convince them to. Yet when it happened to me, I would find it irritating. We need to stop assuming people will drink, that is a choice, and they don’t even need a reason not to. We also need to stop making others drink as much as us to feel comfortable. You’ve heard of the saying that you should mind your own plate, well now you can mind your own glass too.
I already spoke about embracing your own interests, but this is a particular case. I think Taylor represents far more than just pop music; it’s the epitome of scrutinising a woman rather than her male counterparts. It’s completely fine if people don’t like her music, taste is subjective, but when people dislike her for being ‘annoying’, writing songs about her ex’s or talking about feminism, you’ve got another issue on your hands. I spent a lot of time pretending, even to myself, that I didn’t like Taylor Swift. I joined in on the mockery, skipped her songs in the queue and agreed that she’s obsessed with dating. I even convinced myself. But once I started considering what my interests actually were, compared to following the group, I realised something important: I love Taylor Swift. I love her music, her songwriting, her process, her documentary and how she interviews. I am a major Swiftie, and that isn’t any more ‘embarrassing’ than being a Sam Smith or The Weeknd fan. Because music taste is subjective, there is no better or worse, only what you enjoy listening to. Don’t tear yourself down to fit other people’s moulds, and don’t lie to yourself about what you enjoy. It’s about the music that sounds good to your ears, not what everyone else prefers. I am twenty-four, and I adore Taylor Swift.
I started writing on my blog and Medium this year, particularly about mental health and my experiences with mental illness. It’s still tough to be so personal and talk about these topics, knowing the judgement I could face, the fact that employers or family could read it. Just last week, I hesitated in posting ‘My Body is a Museum of My Survival’, an article about my self-harm and eating disorder. But what drives me is the fact that these things shouldn’t be this hard to discuss, as they happen to so many of us and they don’t reflect personal failure. We should be able to talk about our mental health openly, and we shouldn’t be discriminated for it in our workplace. If people spoke about their struggles with mental illness, others would feel less alone and have the proof that it actually does get better. So I will continue to talk about the most challenging topics, the ones that lodge deep in my throat until it’s no longer ‘brave’ but just normal.
These are my twenty-four biggest lessons, but they may not be your own. Take time to consider the things you have learned for yourself, the rules that you aim to live by. Write them down, or even share one in the comments. By accumulating our knowledge, we’ll be ready for adding new ones each year. As we live, we grow.
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Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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