26 Things I Learned By 26

Published on 1/11/2023

I’m a little late this year as life got in the way. It was a difficult year, a lot has happened since I wrote the ‘25 things I learned by 25’. This year really encompassed the fact that something can be both amazing and difficult.

I had one of the worst bouts of depression I had experienced in years, but I also had some of the best moments of my life. I travelled more than I had in a long time (cheers Covid), and yet I also felt like I spent so much time at home. It was a year of many questions, not enough answers, and definitely a lot of lessons.

Over the year, I picked up 26 key things that I am taking into my new year of living. Here are my nuggets of wisdom, from another trip around the sun.

1. Ageing isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative

This is easier for me to say at twenty-six, I completely acknowledge this. But you’d be surprised how many people my age are complaining about turning twenty-six, thirty, or thirty-five. You might scoff at that - how could people be so ridiculous? Indeed.

My mum summed it up perfectly when I asked how she felt about turning sixty. She told me it felt much better than the alternative. It’s true. You can either get older or not be here with the people you love, and when you put it like that, it’s a gift.

My father didn’t get all the years he deserved, and I wished he could be here, getting greyer and complaining about various ailments. We’re not entitled to another year, and it could be gone just like that, so as hard as it may be, try to feel grateful for the time we have with the people we love.

2. Focus on the things within your control; there are enough of them

I am an overthinker. I tear things apart in my mind. I consider everything I say and do and wear. I’m obsessed with how people perceive me.

But it’s ridiculous because even if I do everything ‘right’, they could still dislike me. Even if I try my best, things could still go wrong. I am spending all of my precious energy worrying about things that haven’t happened, and more importantly, things I have no control over.

A sense of control can provide comfort, but it’s often false. There are so many things we can control, like how we spend our time or who we spend it with. Focus on these things and let the rest follow. Like I said in the previous point, time is precious so don’t waste it worrying.

3. Keep a list of karaoke songs

You’ve finally dragged your friends to karaoke - a feat in itself- only to have a blank mind when it comes to picking a song. All of these amazing songs you sing along too, and you can’t think of a single one. So you end up choosing random songs that are far too difficult to sing, rather than belting the Miley Cyrus classic, ‘Party in the USA’.

Does this sound familiar?

Well, an important lesson I learned the hard way is to keep a list of karaoke songs. Then when you go to karaoke or you’re at a party and trying to think of a sing-along hit, you can whip out your phone. My list includes classic like:

Last Christmas, Wham

What Dreams Are Made of, Lizzie Maguire Movie

Teenage Dirtbag, Wheatus

Uptown Girl, Billy Joel

I Want it That Way, The Backstreet Boys

Make your own list, and never have a dull karaoke session again. Better yet, make it a playlist and never have a dull road trip again.

4. There is no shame in returning to therapy

I had a really difficult summer this year. My depression felt so overwhelming, and wouldn’t budge for weeks on end. I ultimately decided to sign up for therapy again.

It felt like a failure, as if I was taking steps back. But I live with Borderline Personality Disorder, so realistically therapy will always be a part of my life in some form.

I had to remind myself that there is no shame in returning to therapy. It’s there for a reason, and the strength comes in recognising you need help.

5. Love is one of many future joys

We often present the love to be the be-all, end-all of life. We act like life’s goal is to find that other person. Maybe it is for some, but it doesn’t have to be that way for everyone.

I learned that love is one of many future joys. While I hope to be loved again one day, there are many other things I look forward to far more. I want a life filled with writing, reading, travelling, learning, laughing and every other joy out there. My friends fill my life with joy and so I don’t see an absence to be filled by a partner.

You’re not missing out if you’re single, and it isn’t something you have to change unless you meet the right person. Love is one of many future joys, and I look forward to all of them.

6. I can be happy alone

And on that note, I learned that I can be happy alone. This was something I always doubted. I easily grow dependent on someone else for my worth. I revolve my life around a person, and I convince myself that I’m nothing without them. For that reason, I knew I needed to stay single after my breakup.

And then the most wonderful thing happening: I realised how much I like being single. I like being in charge of all of my time. I like not having my decisions and opinions influenced by another.

I recognise people can have these things in a relationship, but for right now, I am so satisfied being a whole person on my own. This is something I’ve worked hard towards and I plan to enjoy it for a lot longer.

7. Stop judging reality TV

I used to judge reality TV, I admit that. Or more specifically, I would judge those that watch it. Funnily enough, this judgement was always towards female-oriented reality TV. Once again, I had been taught that something was lesser if it was primarily enjoyed by women.

I don’t know where I got this high horse from, since I happily watched shows like Gossip Girl or The Vampire Diaries. But I’ve learned better, and I now consciously stop myself from judging anyone for their taste. There is a place for all genres and types of shows. Not everything has to convey a message or be artistically crafted. Entertainment can simply be entertaining. Reality TV is an enjoyable format of television that many use to unwind, and it’s valid.

8. Love and anxiety are different things

I learned this from ‘Conversations on Love’ by Natasha Lunn, amongst many other important teachings. I think we have glamorised the idea of butterflies so much that we see comfort as boredom. We resent safety.

But love can be comfort. It can be the complete lack of fear. It’s the space to be unapologetically yourself. It’s a security of putting yourself first when you need it, and trusting them to do the same.

Feeling anxious around someone can be a bad sign. Feeling like you can’t relax isn’t a sign of passion or excitement, it’s a warning.

When I next choose to be with someone, I want to be with someone who makes me feel safe. I did the crazy passion with screaming matches and I don’t plan to do it again. No matter how physically compatible you may be, it isn’t worth the anxiety.

9. The wonders of double shampooing

Quick break from the serious chat because double shampooing transformed my hair. I am prone to greasy, flat hair, and I was amazed at how much this changed just by shampooing twice. You already notice with the second round of shampoo that it lathers far more easily, as your hair was too dirty the first time round.

I am sold. This is a hair lesson I eagerly take into 2023.

10. Worrying makes you experience something bad twice

Okay, hair talk over, and back to dramatic life lessons. As I’ve mentioned a lot, I’m a chronic overthinker. I worry about every possibility. I’m also very paranoid. I read into every message I’m sent and constantly assume everyone must be mad at me (Thanks BPD!).

Then in my favourite podcast, Should I Delete That?, Em Clarkson said that worrying about something makes you experience the bad thing twice. You spend all this energy being nervous and imagining it, only to then go through it again.

Emotionally preparing for something doesn’t always help. You just lose the present as well as the future. You spend time and energy on something you can’t change, or might not even happen.

This thought really struck me, and when I feel my nervous overthinking starting to spiral, I remind myself of this. If the worst happens, it will happen, but I won’t let it harm me a moment sooner than it has to.

11. Press start on Google Maps

I was directing myself and a friend to a restaurant, and she suddenly looked over my shoulder and asked why I don’t press start on Google Maps. I look at the direction, and then walk it myself. I’m not sure why. Maybe I think I’m capable enough without constant directions, or I like having the overview.

She told me it was far easier to just press start. So I gave it a go.

And she was right. I will happily admit that. Isha, you were right.

Pressing start makes it so much easier to get your bearings, particularly at the start with that little arrow direction to navigate where you’re facing. It also adapts well if you go off-route, such as road closures.

Small lesson but one that took me until now to learn.

12. People don’t take you seriously because you don’t

I always felt embarrassed by my writing. I assumed it wasn’t valid until someone of importance deemed it so. But still I put so much of my time and energy into it, and I couldn’t understand why my friends weren’t openly supporting me.

Then I asked one of them, and she said that she had assumed I didn’t want her to do that. I never shared my work much on social media and quickly changed the subject when it came up, so she thought that was what I wanted of her as well.

People weren’t taking my writing seriously because it seemed like I didn’t either. If I downplayed my achievements, how could they recognise them to be that?

If you feel like people don’t take you seriously, it’s worth turning the question inwards to see if you take yourself seriously. People will follow your lead, so highlight your worth for others to see.

13. When in doubt, get the extra fries

Food has always been my enemy, and the last years have seen me actively work on my relationship with food. My eating disorder will never disappear, it’s ingrained too deeply into everything I know about bodies and food, but I’m finally learning to actually enjoy food. It doesn’t have to be a punishment or a reward, it can just be food.

So when in doubt, get the extra fries, because you know you want them. Get the extra fries so you and your meal partner are not bickering over the few that you have. Get the extra fries to extend this meal and time you have to chat with them. Because conversations over food are often some of the best one.

Get the extra fries, because a size doesn’t matter, and life is measures by good moments.

14. Self-abandonment is not an act of love

In my last relationship, I sacrificed a lot of myself. I gave up on what I wanted, thought and felt. He didn’t specifically ask me to do this, but in my head, that was what you did for love. I thought that putting him before myself meant it was real and would work. Spoiler: it didn’t.

I’ve come to learn that self-abandonment isn’t an act of love. Constantly sacrificing who you are and what you want isn’t love. Because the right person won’t let you. Because you should always love yourself first and them second.

There will be times of compromise, moments where you bend, but you should never snap. Giving as much of yourself as you can doesn’t help yourself or them. Often the best thing you can do for your partner is to take care of yourself.

15. It’s okay to have flaws

I always felt like flaws were something temporary, to be embarrassed about until you fix them. I felt shame about my shopping habits, my untidy desk, my sensitivity, my dramatic nature. I felt like I was imperfect and yet no one else had anything to fix.

But you will always have flaws, because what we consider to be flaws differs per person. You can’t please everyone. A flaw to one person is an asset to another. Everyone has their own taste, and so you can’t be everyone’s taste.

You don’t have to be perfect. You can work on yourself to be your happiest version, but if that includes messy desks and a loud voice, that’s alright. You’ll always have flaws, so don’t focus on what they are to other people, but rather on which ones actually matter to you.

16. I really do regret everything I never did more

I’ve spent my life conscious of how I’ll be perceived. I’m always wondering what they think of my body, my thoughts, my actions. There is so much I didn’t do for fear of judgement.

They say you regret the thing you don’t do more than the ones you do, and I think they’re right. I’ve made mistakes, kissed frogs I pretended were princes, said harsh words I can never take back. But I don’t regret those things as much as everything I didn’t do.

There are opportunities I was too scared to take, but the rejection would never have been as bad as simply not knowing.

I’m done being scared of ‘what if’s’. I just want to know, the good, the bad and the ugly, at least I’ll be sure.

17. Make a separate travel fund

Every month when I get my salary, I move some money into my savings. Then later that month, I move it back when I’m broke and waiting to be paid again. It’s a flawed system.

Additionally, I have huge travel ambitions. I want to go absolutely everywhere and experience everything. So the lack of saving was a real snag in my plan.

Then I realised that with my bank I could make a separate savings pot, as many as I wanted even. So I made a travel fund and set up a monthly automatic transfer, not too much so that I’m never tempted to steal it back. The results have been amazing, for the first time I’m actually leaving my savings alone. It’s too painful to steal from my travel fund, and so I’m learning to budget better.

18. It’s up to us to make Instagram a safe place again

I’ve written in the past about how daunting Instagram feels nowadays. I’ve come to realise that it’s up to me to reduce my fear of posting. I can either not use the app, or if I want to, I need to just do it. Rip the bandaid off enough times that I’m no longer scared.

Because honestly what is the worst that can happen? Someone doesn’t like the photo, cool. Someone thinks that I’m vain for posting, cool. These aren’t people that matter me, so what’s the issue?

If we want Instagram to be real and approachable, we need to make it that way.

19. You can rule the world in the right pair of jeans

There is little in the world that feels as good as wearing a pair of jeans that are just right for you. I don’t care about flattering or stylish, I mean a pair of jeans that just fucking fit right. That feel like a hug. That make you feel good. A pair of jeans like that is immensely powerful. You can rule the world in those jeans. So take the time to find that pair. Don’t get distracted by whats trendy or makes you look thinner, find the pair that makes you feel powerful.

20. Choose a tattoo artist, not a studio

This year I got three new tattoos. It sounds dramatic but they’re small, as I’m working on my sticker sleeve. I got all of them from the same tattoo artist and I feel so lucky to have found her.

My biggest advice to anyone getting a tattoo is choose an artist over a studio. Most tattoo artists have social media accounts sharing their work, or at least a profile somewhere at the studio. Choose the person whose style reflects what you want, as they’ll do an immensely better job than someone working outside of their style. Don’t bring them an existing tattoo to replicate, but let them design one for you which is similar. This ensures they can do it well.

Trust me, I have a tattoo from a respected studio that didn’t turn out well. He was a professional, but he copied the design I showed and scoffed at how girly it was. Well, that disdain shows in the final work.

Don’t just choose a studio, choose an artist.

21. Let them be mad

You can’t control what upsets people. You can’t control how people react at all. So instead of cushioning the people you care about and assuming their reaction, let them react. And if someone is mad, let them be mad.

This doesn’t just apply to friendships, but also to the online sphere. I used to fret so much about negative comments. I felt the need to defend myself or apologise. But I’ve finally learned to let them be mad.

Recently, on an article about BPD, someone accused me of further stigmatising Borderline Personality Disorder. I was so upset, and my instinct was to explain how they had misunderstood my words, as this is opposite of what I’m trying to do. But then I realised that whatever I said wouldn’t matter. They had an opinion of me and they were entitled to that. Because around that comment were many others telling me that they felt understood by my words, and appreciated my honesty. I chose to focus and reply to those comments, and to let the first person be mad and hold that negative opinion of me.

You’re not responsible for their anger, nor do you have to correct it. Pick your battles and let them be mad.

22. If it’s not a HELL YEAH, it’s a no

This has become my life motto in so many ways. I tend to buy too much, and so I have to stop myself by saying if it isn’t a hell yeah to an item, it’s a no. I am a real homebody, so if it isn’t hell yeah to a plan, it’s a no-I’m-going-to-read-on-the-couch.

You need to feel passionate about the people in your life, about the ways you spend your time and money and energy. If it isn’t a hell yeah, it’s a no, as simple as that.

23. Let people love the real you

Part of my BPD meant that I was always trying to mirror the people around me. I presented everything I thought they wanted to see. I hid pieces of myself, to the extent that I didn’t even know who I was anymore.

Recently, I’ve narrowed down my friends a lot, and the outcome is that I feel far more comfortable being who I am. I’ve stopped reigning myself in and allowed myself to be loud, passionate, dramatic, silly and everything else. I am finally showing the people in my life who I am, the unfiltered version, and it feels amazing.

Because it gives them a chance to love the real me. It shows me that these people know me and choose to spend time with me. My friends let me plan elaborate murder mystery dinners, and they not only come in costume, but they give it their all. For me, they do that for me.

Show people the real you so they can show you how worthy of love you are.

24. Sometimes you have to heal from the same thing multiple times

Went to therapy, did the work, healed - right?


It turns out that sometimes you have to heal from the same thing multiple times. Some cuts are too deep to just clean once, and so you have to go back in there. Some injuries will keep flaring up at the worst moments, and so you have to keep healing them.

There is no shame in returning to therapy. There is no failure in healing from the same trauma. Just do your best.

25. Allow yourself to grieve any loss

I speak a lot about my grief over my father’s death, something I’m still coming to terms with, four years later. I think I’ll always be healing from this loss. And a large part was allowing myself to grieve, in whatever form that is.

But there are losses that have nothing to do with death, and we struggle to allow ourselves this space to mourn. You can grieve the end of a friendship or relationship or situationship. You can grieve your friend getting married or pregnant, because even though you’re so happy for them, you might feel mixed emotions. You can grieve the loss of a future you once thought you’d have.

Grieve whatever loss you feel, as then the emotions won’t turn against you or infect your relationships. Allow yourself to feel the sadness, because it’s there either way.

26. Hot girl walks are always the solution

Hot girl walks are a Tiktok trend which involves… going for walks. It’s as simple as that. Dress up if you like, or go in your sweatpants. Listen to music, podcast or an audiobook, or just enjoy the sounds of nothing. Just go walk. Because walking makes everything better. This year I struggled heavily with my depression, and sometimes these simple walks were the only thing making me leave the house. On the days I could barely manage to talk to anyone, I would go and walk for thirty minutes, with Taylor Swift singing her heart out. And that kept me going.

When I feel like crap, I go for a hot girl walk, and everything feels manageable again.

And with that, we have reached my 26 lessons I learned by 26. All of them have helped to shape who I’m becoming. Some are lessons I need to keep learning, mistakes I keep making, but I’m aware of them. I’m aware of who I am today and who I want to be a year from now. It doesn’t matter how quickly you’re moving, as long as you’re not going backwards. So forget the yesterday, enjoy the now, and a build a tomorrow that you can look forward to.



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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