What would I tell my 18-21 year old self to do differently?
Those golden years aren’t too long ago, so I feel it’s still fresh enough to reflect on, to see the things I regret now, even a few years later. It’s uncomfortable to realise that most of it is advice my parents told me all along, that I brushed away with my naive youth. But realising these regrets also highlights things to focus on now, to not have such regrets extend through my twenties.
What can you change today, to make your tomorrow better? Never forget how short life is, so grab it by the handful.
It feels futile to say, since when you’re that age you care about everything and everyone. Mainly what everyone thinks of you. I look back and it’s true that my main regrets are all the things that I did not do. I was so focused on what people thought of what I was wearing rather than what I wanted to wear. I tried to package myself into what others wanted to see. And that’s why I left this time without a secure identity.
Wear whatever you want to wear. Crop top with that cute strip of tummy bulge. Oversized hoodie. Extensive makeup. No makeup. Shave your head. Grow your hair to your lower back. Shave or don’t shave. Stop caring. Stop looking at your phone because you’re embarrassed to be waiting for someone. Eat alone in a restaurant. Live for yourself. And never let people stop you from doing stuff.
I’m not going to be unrealistic and say watch less. About the age of eighteen is when I managed to get the password to my stepdad’s Netflix, and there was no going back. Also as a writer, I think it is important to watch shows, learn different storylines and character traits. But I do wish I had watched better stuff. Young Fleurine, don’t rewatch Gossip Girl and 90210 yet again, please watch something with a bit more substance and storyline. Your older, enthusiastic writer self would appreciate it, as now she has a lot to catch up on.
You only regret the things you don’t do. It’s got some truth in it. I look back at all these moments and opportunities I turned down, mainly due to social pressures of fear. This Golden Age is one for exploration, for discovering. You don’t know who you are yet, you don’t know what you like, and that’s fine, because this is when you find out.
Kiss girls and kiss boys, whichever you want or both. Go further when you want to go further. I look back and hate how fixated I was on my ‘number’. I had moments where I wanted to go further, really wanted to, and I didn’t because I was scared of being labelled as promiscuous, of losing my worth. Your worth isn’t in who you have sex with, your worth is in whether you are living your best life and proud of yourself.
I wish I had explored more sexually. I wish I had explored more in terms of clothing and hairstyle, tried new things, dared to be different. I wish I had explored interests and hobbies, foods and different sports. Like a buffet of life, taking a little bit of everything on my plate so I know what to grab for seconds.
Here’s where people might disagree with me. I don’t believe your "Golden Age" should be focused on saving. There are anomalies of course. But I believe post twenty-one is when that can start becoming a thought. Like I said, there is plenty to try and experience. So travel, spend your money by visiting new places and exploring cultures so different to your own. Spend money on nights out, if they lead to memories that you want to hold on to. Spend your money on days out, meals with friends. Work and earn money, but then let yourself enjoy it too. This is the least amount of responsibilities you’ll ever have, cherish that. Once you’re working full time, money will never feel as light again.
I don’t know why people say that you discover your identity as a teenager, it really isn’t true. You succumb to pressures and steal identities. I thought I knew myself so many times, but I still don’t know. It was terrifying to leave university, turn twenty-two and realise I had no idea who I was. I actually liked discussing films and watching a variety of them, something that I had been led to believe was pretentious. I loved cooking. I preferred staying in to going out, something people at my university wouldn’t have believed. I want to be a writer, and I’m not embarrassed of it anymore, as it defines me.
You have an incredible identity, you don’t need to borrow someone else’s. You don’t need to pretend to be confident, when secretly you feel like more of an introvert and think it’s wrong. You don’t need to be shy if you’re not, it won’t make you ‘cuter’. You can be sporty, but you can also be lazy if you prefer. Stop thinking of identity as something you buy as a set, you can pick n’ mix your traits as you go.
When I was young and complained about my body, my Mum would always tell me that I’d look back and wish I looked like that. While I don’t completely, since I was too skinny and suffering due to an undiagnosed eating disorder, I get her point. Ultimately, I wish I had loved myself at my natural size and not pushed myself to such extremes to be what I thought everyone wanted me to be. But aside from that, I wish I had enjoyed my body. Worn a crop top because I wanted to. Worn a bikini if I felt like it. I wish I had owned my body, and not let myself believe it was there for the purpose of others. I wish she knew how beautiful she was, bigger or smaller, and cherished it.
I’m bigger than I was then, or than I’d like to be now in all honesty. But I wish I could tell Fleurine of an hour ago the same. And even after writing this, I’ll struggle to take it in. But whoever is reading this, and I mean it: you’re beautiful as you are. With or without toned muscles, with or without a layer of chub, with or without acne. You’re beautiful from within, and the outside.
You don’t need an excuse to not go out, not wanting to is enough. You don’t need an excuse to be different, to be special, to be anything you want to be. Your feelings are enough of an excuse. Something that hurts you is wrong simply because it hurt you, even without intention, even without precursors. You are always the excuse you require.
But also, more specifically, I wish young Fleurine could have understood that she didn’t need an excuse to be hurting. She didn’t need a reason for her mental illness. It doesn’t diminish the weight of it, the pain she was in. That mental illness is her trauma, no trauma prior required to make it believable. I wish she had seeked help, confided in people, and not kept it all bottled up. There is no excuse required to be sad, as you’re sad and so let people help you to be better.
While you should always treat the people in your life as important, I wish I had also recognised limits. I held this fear of being left behind and forgotten (hello, abandonment issues!). I clung to friendships that no longer strengthened me, and wasted time trying to adapt to them. I still struggle with it a bit, but I try to focus on the fact that friendships can be temporary. That doesn’t diminish the bond you had with them. For that time in your life, they were important to you and you to them. You had each other when you needed each other. Either because you were in the same course or had similar experiences to benefit the other. Your life will be a timeline, with different people there for different lengths. And that is okay.
By the time I graduated High School, my relationship with my parents was strained, as their problems within their marriage had created a difficult environment to grow up in. It remained polite once I moved out, but I tried to push them away, see them as little as possible. As time healed my wounds, I told myself that after university I would mend those fences. As soon as I graduated and was less busy, I’d reach out more, and make more effort with them. I had time.
But I didn’t. Because within two months of graduating, my father became very ill and passed away soon after. I never saw it coming. And it left me with so many regrets, ones that haunt me daily. I wish I had tried sooner, as this was the time that he could get to know me as an adult. There will be so many moments he will miss, and I made him miss even more as I thought I had time. You don’t have time. You never have time. If you want to do something, do it.
That goes for repairing friendships and relationships. That goes for more. If you want to be a writer, start writing, make it happen. Spend more evenings at home, work less hours and cut costs. You never know how many tomorrows you will have. Every day is a gift, and don’t treat it like less than that
There it is, my main message for the young Fleurine is to savour each day. I feel like I lost so much time to my mental illness, but that is a choice as well, and a choice I must continue to make every single day. Choose to savour the day, to care for yourself but also to work towards dreams. Friends will tell me to worry less, that many people become authors in their thirties or forties or later. And they do. But what if I don’t have until then? What if my word document manuscripts forever stay that way? Time is short, young Fleurine. So love yourself, love other people, love life as it is. Work to change it but savour the moment. Push yourself but care for yourself.
And a final note to my younger self:
You will not be young forever, but that is okay, don’t fear it. What you should focus on instead is that you will not be alive forever, feel the fear of that, but use it.
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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