I cannot believe that it’s been a whole year since I made my ‘24 Things I’ve Learned by 24’ post. It was something I had written just for myself, as a chance to reflect on the lessons I’ve gathered over the years and consider what is really important. However, I enjoyed it so much that I decided to make it a yearly challenge, and it was truly difficult to come up with twenty-five unique lessons!
This list pushes me to think about what is important to me, on a big and small scale. It reminds me of all the little things that I take for granted, but also questions who I want to be, how I want my life to look. So here are the biggest lessons of my twenties so far, and in the year to come, I’ll already be preparing for the next list!
1. You can get Brazilian waxes and still be a feminist
2. Healing happens after therapy
3. Clothes should fit you and not the other way around
4. Lessen the salt and you’ll lessen your hangover
5. Hangxiety is crippling, check in on people
6. Loving without abandon leads to feeling abandoned
7. Making friends as an adult is hard
8. You should compliment strangers on the street
9. Catcalling isn’t embarrassing for you, it should be embarrassing for them
10. If you haven’t downloaded Tiktok, don’t!
11. There is nothing karaoke can’t fix
12. Don’t judge other people’s music taste
13. You don’t have to like how your body looks, just value it
14. You’re more likely to over-water your plants than under-water them
15. Let dancing be fun again
16. Every day you get the chance to be the kind of person you want to be
17. Suncream is non-negotiable
18. Separate your insecurities from your environment
19. Gotta be grateful
20. You don’t need many friends, you need good friends
21. It takes more than a few months to recover from a breakup
22. A little bit of obsession never hurts
23. When in doubt, tidy your bedroom
24. Take care of your clothes
25. It’s okay to cry on your birthday
Last year, I challenged myself to not shave for several months. Absolutely no shaving at all. It was a lot harder than I expected, and I told myself I would stop once I reached the point of not caring when people saw my body hair - because it’s just hair. If men can show theirs, why can’t we show ours? Anyways, you can read more about my little experiment here.
But once I had achieved this, I was left with deciding how I’d proceed now. Because the truth is… I like getting full Brazilian waxes. I feel really guilty about it. I know the stereotypes they perpetuate, I know that it’s essentially fetishising young women. But I just really struggle with shaving or having hair down there because my skin irritates easily. I’m not doing it for that bald mole rat look, but for a week or two down the line, where I can feel womanly and yet comfortable.
I don’t want to feel bad for this, and it turns out that I shouldn’t have to. You shouldn’t deal with pubic hair according to what your partner or anyone else thinks. But if you prefer it a certain way, then go for it. We can’t keep turning feminists against feminists and claiming that someone has to be entirely perfect even to obtain that label. It’s okay to be imperfect and try your best, as long as you keep questioning your intentions and don’t transfer your opinions onto others’ actions.
Wax or don’t wax; keep your eyes on your own panties.
I think people really underestimate how much work therapy is. You don’t just ‘go’ to therapy; you ‘work’ in therapy. It’s truly exhausting to confront yourself and actively work to reprogram your maladaptive thought patterns. I left most therapy sessions with a tear-stained face and a need to lie down.
I finished my therapy just over a year ago. I thought I’d be leaving feeling cured, or as close as I could, given that I’ll always have my BPD. But the harsh truth is that healing happens after therapy. Those sessions give you the tools and voice that you need, but it’s up to you to use them in the real world. Since therapy, I’ve had to choose between the right and wrong thing to do when my anxiety or depression kicks in. I’ve made mistakes and sometimes retreated to harmful coping mechanisms, but I’ve also tried my best.
Therapy is essential and necessary, but the actual healing comes after it.
I cried the first time that I had to wear something in size large. I actually cried. I felt like I’d failed at being a woman, like I had let myself down and that everyone who knew my size would judge me. But in another store that day, I fit a size medium.
Nowadays, I’m more comfortable with my size large because that’s the truth about my body. The ‘L’ doesn’t hold any negativity, we’re the ones to place our worth on it. We shouldn’t be trying to fit ourselves into clothes, we should get clothes that fit us, that suit us, that make us feel good. Because those clothes exist, the jeans that hug your bum just right, the top that makes you feel like the most attractive person there. You deserve to feel this way so find the clothes that do that.
If a shoe doesn’t fit, would you blame your feet and get mad at them? No, you’d find a different pair of shoes. Treat the rest of your body as you would your feet.
This lesson was gifted to me by a friend on a recent night out. I am the queen of hangovers. I am utterly useless with a hangover and will spend the day moping in bed, convinced that everyone hates my guts. I am also a fan of tequila shots, and once I have one, it’s unlikely that I’ll stop there. But whilst I adore a good tequila with some salt on my hand and lime to bite on, this can be worsening the day to come. If you sacrifice the salt before your shot, you dehydrate yourself that little bit less. And you still have the lime to help with the taste. Think of the effect of this over three tequila shots, and it can actually help your hangover a lot.
Either way, drink water! Drink lots of water. Every drink should be followed by a glass of water. That’s not always possible, so what I do is follow every bathroom visit with a big glass, and drink a lot of water before and after.
Drink responsibly even if I don’t!
Speaking of hangovers, I feel like no one really warned me about hangxiety, and yet suddenly it’s everywhere I look. I am a true victim of hangxiety.
In case you are fortunate enough to not be affiliated by this ailment. A ‘hangxiety’ is defined as “the feeling of being overwhelmed or anxious while recovering from drinking”. You wake up feeling like you’re going to die. You replay everything you can remember from the night before. You feel like everyone hates you, you assume that you humiliated yourself and you swear you’ll never drink again… until you do.
It sounds simple enough to just not drink again. But we live in a society that actively promotes drinking, and also hangxiety can come from having just three glasses, it doesn’t have to be an insane night out.
Hangxiety is dreadful, so check in on your friends who struggle with it. Message them the morning after a night out and remind them that you love them and they didn’t embarrass themselves. Better yet, have a sleepover and distract them the morning after with coffee, a bagel and a fun TV show!
I pour myself into the person I love. I give them everything I have. I sacrifice and compromise over and over, especially when they didn’t even ask me to. I am the definition of loving without abandon. I’m just desperate to be loved and feel worthy. But I’m beginning to learn that when you love without abandon, you end up feeling more abandoned than ever. Because they won’t return your efforts, they’ll just remind you that they never asked you to do this, even if they always accepted and welcomed it.
Don’t love without abandon. Keep enough of you bottled tight. Keep your interests, friends, passions and own needs, make them a priority, and love the person second. Keep that little bit reserved to make sure you don’t end up with nothing. Otherwise, you stumble out of a four-year relationship, no longer even speaking to that person, and realise you don’t really know who you are anymore, you don’t really know where to go.
There are many things I wish we had been taught in the education system, these include taxes, pensions and how on earth you’re supposed to make friends as an adult. Because I don’t really know. Unless you’re making friends through your job or study, it is so difficult. I moved to a new city and have no clue how to actually make friends here. I always hope to make one at spinning classes but I’m too terrified to speak to anyone, convinced that they’ll either think I’m hitting on them or just creepy.
I want to try those dating apps for friends and yet I’m convinced that I’ll look so pathetic. But rationally speaking, other people must be feeling this way too, right? So I’ve learned that making and keeping friends as an adult is hard, and hopefully by 26, I’ll learn how to do it.
On that note, I’ve also learned that complimenting strangers is awesome. As I said, I get super nervous about talking to people. On my way to order in a cafe, I’ll rehearse exactly what I’ll say and doubt it a hundred times over. And yet I’ll still stumble and feel flushed when I try to speak to the barista.
But the few times I’ve received a genuine compliment on the street, it has truly made my day. I am not talking about catcalling or harassment, I mean when someone actually compliments you with no ulterior motive. Someone tapped my shoulder in a crowded bar and told me they loved my pink hair and have always wanted to try having that colour. I was so chuffed, and for the rest of the night, I felt great about myself. Then I once bought a new pair of jeans and wore them out, and as I passed a guy in the metro station, he told me that my jeans looked cool and my outfit was “so summery”. It was tiny, a moment in passing, and yet I really appreciated it.
I want to give other people that feeling. Because I always notice these things - a cool hairstyle, a trendy jacket, a great outfit- but I never tell them. I try to work up the courage and then I don’t follow through. I want to make someone feel good about themselves. I want to get over my fear and be more comfortable.
As I enter twenty-five, I hope to do it as someone who will compliment people with no ulterior motive.
But complimenting is very different from catcalling. Since moving to a new city, I’ve experienced more catcalling than I have in years, and each time it tears me down. I always leave feeling embarrassed, ashamed of myself. Like I shouldn’t have worn these trousers, I shouldn’t have put on makeup today, I should’ve drawn less attention to myself. I know it can sound silly, and if a friend said this to me I’d straight away tell her it wasn’t her fault, but the sentiment remains.
When I try to tell someone that I got catcalled, there’s this weird energy as if it is bragging. But catcalling isn’t a compliment, and we should be able to share our experiences. I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t been catcalled in the last year, maybe even in the last month. That needs to change, and if we don’t discuss it, then it never will.
I often leave those situations wishing I had said something, wishing I had confronted them. But I’m scared. I’m scared of overreacting and yet scared of underreacting. I’m scared for my safety. I’m scared of the entire situation, and that’s what they love most.
Catcalling shouldn’t be embarrassing for you as the victim, it is embarrassing to them. For putting you in that position, for humiliating you, for degrading you. Catcalling is unacceptable.
Before Tiktok, I had some resemblance of a life. I could pretend I was productive. I didn’t lose hours to an app I once dismissed as being for teenagers. Tiktok is addictive, more so than any other social media platform in my opinion, and sometimes I wish I had never downloaded it. I wonder what I could do with the hours I lose to it, but then I also recognise that if I cared enough, I could just delete it.
Tiktok is so entertaining. The algorithm is smart and picks up on things about you that you’d never consider. Someone told me they realised they were bisexual because of their Tiktok feed, and what it was promoting. I love the honesty of Tiktok, I love the humour and how niche it can become, it shows you that other people feel the way you do. It’s so easy to find a community through it, and feel that little bit less alone.
But given how minimal my willpower is, I kind of wish I’d just stayed away in the first place.
Nowadays, we have more negative coping mechanisms than ever. Living with my mental illness, every single day I have to choose to not slide into these negative coping mechanisms, I have to make the effort to do something positive. To go for a run rather than hurting myself, to call a friend rather than isolate myself, to cook a nice dinner instead of numbing myself with alcohol. And since my breakup in May, I have re-discovered the power of karaoke. I’m sure there’s some science behind it, but all I know is that screaming out emotionally-filled songs is so cathartic, it gives an outlet to my pain and helps me to feel in control once more. The best thing I did since my breakup was an evening ‘breakup karaoke’ with two of my best friends. We had a pitcher of cocktails and the rule that each song must be about heartbreak. It was amazing, not only in how it helped me to work through some emotions, but to remind me that they were here for me.
When in doubt, go for karaoke. Whether that’s at a karaoke bar, in your living room with friends, during a car drive or even in the shower. Sing out loud. You don’t have to be any good, my friends will eagerly tell you how terrible I am at singing. Just enjoy it. Singing isn’t about sounding good, it’s about enjoying the music. Karaoke has the power to heal if you let it.
And on that note, it is more than time to stop judging people’s music taste. I am so over this music hierarchy, where anything ‘mainstream’ or ‘pop’ is considered to be valued lower than something ‘cool’. Music is about subjective taste. Everyone likes something different and that’s okay, stop adding value. Because often it’s pretty misogynistic, as music targeted towards women or by women is considered to be inferior to music by and for men.
If you don’t like a song, keep it to yourself. You can spend an evening listening to someone else’s music tastes, your ears won’t bleed. I’m not really inclined to techno, but I’ve gone to parties that play it, and I’ve listened to it with friends. I survived, just like you’ll survive a night of Taylor Swift. Respect people by respecting their taste.
All music is considered to be good by someone, even if that’s just one person. You can like what you like, and they can like what they like, so suck it up and listen to Taylor Swift.
I’ve often felt like a fraud, writing about body positivity and yet adamantly hating my own. I want to love my body, I just don’t even know how to start. But then an Instagram post shed some light for me, as it explained that the start of self-love isn’t liking how your body looks, it’s learning to value it. You can’t erase everything you learned about being skinny, but you can begin to understand that your body doesn’t exist for others, it exists for you.
I don’t always like how my body looks but I appreciate everything it does for me. I am grateful for how it lets me walk, dance, run, love, travel and more. Don’t set the high standard of suddenly adoring your body, instead value and care for it.
You always see jokes about forgetting to water your plants and killing them all off. I saw so many of these that when I finally invested in some houseplants, I killed them off within three weeks. How? I tried to water them about four times a week. I genuinely thought that forgetting a single day meant I was failing as a plant mama. Now that’s definitely on my lack of accurate research, but I feel that the message rings true. Most plants need to be watered once a week (depending on the environment) and you’ll do more harm by over-watering them, and causing the roots to rot, than forgetting one week.
I think this is often the case in life, that we’re so focused on not doing the cliche that we over-burden the other perspective. We don’t want to be flakey so we message our friends too much and cause them to feel smothered. We don’t want to frivolously spend money so we say ‘no’ too many times and make ourselves miserable.
Remember that in life, there’s underwatering, but also over-watering, so don’t be guilty of the latter when you’re trying to avoid the former.
Remember when you were younger and dancing was so much fun? When you’d let your entire body go, and you’d just move instinctively, yelling the lyrics and completely unaware of people around you. I always see these videos of toddlers or little kids doing it, just dancing because the music compels them to, not caring how they look or who is watching.
Dancing is still enjoyable at this age, but it’s definitely not as fun as it used to be. Now when we dance, we’re aware of people around us, and we’re conforming to them, even if we don’t mean to. Dancing in a club is trying to look attractive, not dancing because you love the song. Sometimes when you’re drunk enough, you can let go of this visibility and just dance, but we shouldn’t need alcohol for that.
One of my major lessons in the past year is that I want to recapture that youthful joy, the kind that lets you dance without sucking in your stomach or trying to look hot. I want to dance because the song is so good and it feels amazing to move my body like that.
We all see ourselves in a certain way. When you finally drown out that negative voice that puts you down, you recognise the positive characteristics you attribute to yourself, or the values you aim to live up to. We don’t always act this way, but we try, and that’s what matters.
Every day, you get opportunities to be that person, the one you would be proud of, but it’s up to you to take these opportunities. If you want to be productive and work towards your goals, then use the time that you have and start making an effort. If you want to be kind, then stop to help that stranger on the street, or reach out to a friend. If you want to be daring, then try new things whenever you can.
Life is filled with commitments and obligations, but in the cracks between these, you’ll find these small moments that you can take, and it’s up to you to actually take them. Life is short, so be the person you want to be today, don’t wait.
Reaching your mid-twenties is being confronted with the truth that your youth won’t last. Your outside starts to match how you’ve been treating it, whether that’s exercising regularly, smoking, irregular sleep schedules, a lack of nutrition or any other habit. A lot of those factors take larger lifestyle changes or at least effort. But there’s one thing you can do every single day that will make an impact. There’s one thing you need to do every single day, and that is non-negotiable.
You’ve got to start wearing suncream every single day.
It may sound crazy to be slapping on some suncream in the middle of winter, but believe it or not, your skin is still exposed in these times. So buy a nice suncream specifically designed for the face, it doesn’t have to be anything too pricey, and integrate it into your morning routine. Every day, after you’ve done your skincare routine and before you put on makeup, slather on a light layer of suncream. If you don’t do skincare or use makeup, then get straight to the suncream.
This doesn’t just apply to women, although we’ll probably notice the effects quicker over the years. Everyone should apply a layer of suncream each day, as this small step will truly make a difference, and there’s no time to start like the present.
I have spent years feeling like everyone around me thinks I’m less intelligent than them. I felt like I was written off as some sorority girl, another blonde who enjoys a good time, and that people didn’t bother to look further than that. This used to frustrate me a lot, and it made me feel restricted in what I could do, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy that leaked into every area of my life.
But then my friend asked me whether people act that way, or whether I just assume they feel this way. She had an excellent point. Whilst some people do write me off and make assumptions about me, I’m also quick to beat them to it, to take the smallest actions or words as indications of this. Because inside I do feel like I’m less intelligent, less aware of current events, less well-versed in topics they discuss. I feel stupid and so I assume that everyone else feels this way too.
I could tell you all the things that I do know, or the reasons I’m actually intelligent in other ways, but I don’t need to prove myself to you, only to myself. This was an important lesson for me, as it reminded me to question whether something is actually happening, or whether I’m letting my insecurities cloud my perspective. If you feel a certain way, question whether they’re doing this or you are. Often it will be the other person, so then you have every right to rain down on them! But other times, particularly when it’s a pattern and not overt, it might be time to confront yourself first.
Gratitude lists are all the rage in the self-help industry, and for once, I have to agree. My sister has been doing this habit for a few years now and kept recommending it, so I finally caved and decided to give it a go. At the start of my day, I write down three things I’m grateful for, and then I make my to-do list. It sounds simple enough, but it can be quite difficult to compound this into a habit, so you’ve really got to force yourself to stay consistent. You can be grateful for anything. My sister aims to write things she did, to celebrate her actions, such as going to the gym, finishing a project or escaping her comfort zone. I’m a bit vaguer, as often I’ll be grateful for a specific friend, a family member, my health or something else. Just try to have something in mind when you choose your gratitude list and write it down on paper.
Why bother? Keeping a gratitude list encourages a positive mindset, as you look at everything you have rather than the things you don’t have yet. It’s been shown to reduce stress and boost your self-esteem.
Growing up, the focus has always been on how many friends you have. The more friends you have, the more popular you are, the more liked. Even in films, you’ll see people throwing huge birthday parties and having an entire posse of friends. And yet, as you get further in your twenties, you start to realise that this isn’t always the case, that it’s hard to make friends and hard to keep all your friends.
But aside from that, you also realise that you don’t really need that many friends. It’s lovely to meet new people and widen your circle, but keeping up with a lot of friends can be really difficult. It takes time and energy, something you may struggle to distribute evenly. Growing up is realising that it isn’t about how many friends you have, it’s about having the right friends. The kind that answers your call, that keep up with developments in your life, that care and want the best for you. You can have more casual friends that you see on a night out or catch up with every few months, but don’t fixate on the number of these, instead focus on the depth of your relationships with your good friends. Those are the people that will get you through life’s hurdles, not a roomful of acquaintances yelling ‘Surprise!’ once a year.
You don’t need a roomful of people, you just need the kind of people that make a room feel full to you, the faces you search for when you enter a party.
I am a hypocrite. I used to roll my eyes at people still talking about their breakup, or crying about their ex, when months had passed. I hadn’t been in love yet, I hadn’t known the way it consumes you, the way you grow to depend on someone like you would air or food. I was a fool, and looking back, I didn’t deserve to have an opinion on something I knew so little about.
Then I fell in love. Then I shared my life with someone for four years. Then I got to experience a breakup firsthand. And now I know that I’m a hypocrite because I’m the person who can’t stop thinking about them, who struggles to rebuild their life, who mentions them six months later and still feels trapped in the healing process. They’re with someone new and I’m still here wondering who the hell I’m supposed to be.
Some people get over breakups quickly, and whilst that is great for them, it doesn’t mean the rest of us should too. Some people take longer to heal, process, rebuild and move on. That’s okay, breakups don’t have a timeline, and we need to accept that everyone is on their own path, and that life after love is possible, but takes a little time.
I love passionate people. I love when people get excited about something, when they can talk about a topic for ages in a quick and energetic tone. I love when people care about stuff. Because too much of the world encourages us to not care and paints interest as weakness. I reject this entirely. I care about a lot of things, I care “too much”, and it’s one of my favourite things about myself.
You’re allowed to have an obsession in your life, as long as it isn’t one that negatively impacts you or others. Whether you’re obsessed with a TV show and frequently quote it, or fixated on a specific artist and listen to their songs on repeat. Maybe you’re obsessed with baking or running, maybe you simply can’t live without books or writing. Whatever you’re obsessed with, embrace it, and it makes you who you are. Anyone raining on your parade for it just doesn’t understand the joys and colours of passion.
An obsession allows you to find your people. I love that my Tiktok is filled with videos about Taylor Swift, as it makes me feel like I’m part of a bigger community. I love finding Tweets about my favourite books and telling my friends about them in detail. I love caring about stuff, because that’s what life should be filled with.
Reject the notion that caring is a weakness. Reject the myth that it’s embarrassing to like someone or something. Put your heart into your passions and thrive off the energy it produces.
I will never claim that something as small as a household chore can fix your mental illness or greatly improve your mental health. I am a big believer in therapy and getting the appropriate treatments. But I will say that when you’re struggling, sometimes this can be a great first step. I’m sinking into a depressive episode, a really big one, and daily tasks are starting to feel harder to complete. I feel isolated and lost. I’d love to be writing loads of articles and finishing up my goals for 2021, as I am so far behind, but that just isn’t feasible right now. But what I can do is tidy my bedroom, so at least this small space feels safe and welcoming. What I can do is tidy my bedroom and tell myself I achieved something today.
When life feels difficult, when anxiety is looming, when you’re in an argument and trying not to lash out, tidy your bedroom. When you feel lonely, when you’re impatiently waiting for something, when your hangxiety is raging, tidy your bedroom. It is a small step, but it is still a step. A tidy bedroom will give you the space you need to breathe and process, and the physical motions of tidying will give you a release.
Whether you’re looking to keep your clothing longer for financial or environmental reasons, or simply because you love the item and can’t get it again, it is time to start taking proper care of your clothing. Those little labels weren’t stitched in to make you itchy, they have actual information on them, and are pretty useful. So whilst a lot of your clothing can just be bundled together and washed, make sure to take the time to check for important pieces. Start washing your clothes at a lower temperature to reduce wear and tear, don’t wash them too often as this degrades them and use the right washing liquids.
And for the love of God, look after your wool items.
I cry every single year on my birthday. It’s a fact that I’ve come to accept. I always cry on my birthday. I do this for a variety of reasons. I’ve struggled heavily with my mental illness since the age of fifteen or so, so each year is a reminder that I’m not better, but now I realise it’s because I’ll never be ‘cured’, I have to learn how to manage and live with my mental illness. There were many moments where I felt I couldn’t go on, so birthdays are a stark reminder of how close I came to never reaching this age. I truly never thought I’d be here to celebrate twenty-five, and that’s a confronting thought that brings tears to my eyes.
Birthdays are a happy reminder of the people you have in your life, everyone who cares for you and feels grateful for you. But they’re also a reminder of the people you’ve lost, the ones who couldn’t be there.
So it’s okay to cry on your birthday. It’s a unique experience for everyone and there is no perfect way to have a birthday. I manage to both put too much pressure on my birthday to be the greatest day ever and run from it to be more low-key.
It’s okay to cry on your birthday so long as you have cake.
Twenty-five life lessons that I learned by the ripe age of twenty-five. These are the most important lessons of my twenties so far, and I’ll keep learning more as I go. These are the lessons that teach me how I want to enjoy twenty-five, as I’ve got a full year of it to go. Your twenties don’t have to be the best time of your life, as you’ve got so much ahead of you. But it’s worth living your life to your rules and values, because life is precious and you deserve to be happy. Design a life that you’re eager to wake up to, whatever that means for you.
What are your top life lessons for your twenties? I’d love to hear them!
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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