Last Sunday was my 18th birthday. I never thought I’d even make it to 15 (and then again with 16 and 17) and so turning 18, being an actual ‘adult’ is a huge deal and something I’m both terrified and proud of. I thought I’d take the opportunity to reminisce on my 18 years of life so far and all of the things I’ve learnt along the way. I hope you enjoy, and know that I’m proud of every single one of you who is still here with me, persisting despite it all.
- Things aren’t always going to go the way you want them to. I’m pretty sure I’m on plan H now, never mind plan B! And while that can be pretty difficult to reflect on, I like to think that I learnt a lot from every single letter that went wrong and that I’m now putting those lessons to good use. I think it’s a real waste when people dwell on failures rather than using them to grow and learn how to be stronger next time and hopefully I’m avoiding that for the most part today.
- There is always another option. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve thought about giving up (or even actually given up sometimes) because things have gotten difficult. And while I know there have been times where I needed the support of others because I literally couldn’t carry on, I know that, especially in recent years, there have been lots of times when I’ve managed to work around or through things and searched for a way to carry on. There are no situations that cannot be worked through, you might just need to look at things from a different angle – or even start from a completely different place. Just because one attempt or way of doing things failed, doesn’t mean you are a failure.
- Things change, and you’re going to have to learn to be okay with that. I’m not going to lie, I still really struggle with change, even supposedly good changes are stressful the majority of the time, but I’m working on reminding myself to keep an open mind and adapt to changes when they arise because unfortunately they’re inevitable. Plus some changes might turn out to be exactly what you need and if you shut yourself down and get into that unwavering head-space you’ll never get to experience all of the positive things that could come as a result of changes.
- You should always choose quality over quantity when it comes to the people you surround yourself with. I’ve discovered that being ill really shows you who your true friends are, the ones that really care and want to stick around will and everyone else just sort of fades away after a while. At the start that was really upsetting but I realised now that the people I’m surrounded with, while smaller in number than in the past, are exactly the kind of people I want around me, and the kind of people who I know will stick with me no matter what. I think it’s much better to invest yourself in those kind of people than to spread yourself thinly among people who don’t care about you as much.
- You’re not going to get along with everyone you meet. Sure, it’s great to get along with people but there are just some people who you won’t be able to do that with. And that doesn’t necassarily mean that either of the people involved are a bad person, just that maybe you’re two different to see eye to eye. For example, there are plenty of people I’ve met who have differing political views – neither one of us would have been right (despite what I may think sometimes!), opinions are subjective by nature after all, but it was just too much like hard work to spend time with them because we’d constantly be clashing. Sometimes you just have to move on and accept that you can’t convince everyone that you’re right, just as other people wouldn’t be able to convince you to believe in their views if they’re not something you agree with.
- Social media can be a curse… I think people often forget that using social media is not compulsory and you’re allowed to not partake in it, even if it seems like everyone else is. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it all, especially when you’re younger and you feel like you need to do what everyone else is doing in order for them to like you, but it’s not a requirement to do so and really, you wouldn’t be losing out on much if you didn’t have all, or even any, forms of social media. I don’t use Snapchat, I don’t really get the point, and I very rarely use the Facebook app nowadays, because I feel like having Instagram and Facebook messenger is enough for me. And I don’t think I’m losing out on anything by not having Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter or any of the many other apps available. Too much of anything isn’t good for you and that definitely applies to social media as well. It’s a true fact that human brain’s aren’t built to be able to care about all the people and events that we have access to on social media, we just can’t do it! And once you realise that no one but yourself is actually expecting you to, I think it’s a lot easier to focus on the things that are actually important to you.
- …but also a blessing. Sure, a lot of super scary stuff happens on social media but if you use it in a way that’s healthy for you then it can actually be a really great addition to your life. You can make friends from all over the world, connect with existing ones no matter when or where you are, you can talk about the things you’re passionate about, you can help and inspire others, you could even make money if you’re really savvy! In a lot of ways social media has really helped me, it was once a really toxic influence on me but after I realised that you can create your own space online and fill it with only the people who you want to fill it with (and a pretty drastic unfollowing spree) it switched from being hard work and really draining, to being a really positive space that inspires me every single day. I have a one strike policy now, if someone says or posts anything that causes me a negative emotion then they’re unfollowed straight away. It might sound harsh, and it has definitely ruffled some feathers in the past, but at the end of the day your mental health is the most important thing.
- Your mental health is just as important as physical health. We’re not really taught much about our mental health growing up which is something that I really think needs changing. One in four people will have a mental health condition at some point in their lives (and that doesn’t even include people who still struggle with their mental health just not to the extent of having a diagnosable condition) and yet there’s still a huge amount stigma surrounding them. We desperately need to change that. No one should feel ashamed to talk about anything, but especially not something affects over a quarter of people, and by proxy everybody; everyone knows someone with a mental health condition.
- ‘Those that matter don’t mind and those that mind don’t matter.’ This one’s sort of similar to number 5, but I think it’s a really important thing to remember. The people that don’t accept you for who you really are don’t deserve to have you in their lives, and people that do are the ones that matter, and you should hold on and appreciate to those people as much as you can.
- It’s important to recognise your privilege and to be an ally to those who have less privilege. You have to fight first for yourself and then for others. I don’t agree with when people say that ‘you should be grateful that things aren’t worse’ or that ‘other people have it worse’ because I think that’s incredibly invalidating. Everyone has their own struggles and if you go by that logic then only the person that has it the absolute worst in the world is allowed to have pain and receive sympathy for it which is ridiculous. But I think once you’re in the position to help others, maybe things have eased up slightly for yourself, then you should use your experiences to help others that are still the negative places that you were. And I think it’s also important to acknowledge the privilege you have, not in a way that invalidates your own struggles but in a way those shows other people that you don’t take for granted what you have and that you support, acknowledge, and want to help them through their own struggles.
- Sometimes you have to fight for what you know is right. There have been a lot of times in my life, when people have made decisions for me that I knew were not the right ones. And at the beginning I just went with them for the most part, not wanting to upset people, but eventually I realised that if there’s something I want, something I think I need, or, as in most cases, something that I really don’t want to happen, then I need to speak out and be vocal about why I don’t think that’s the right decision for me. A lot of the time it’s been in vain and those decisions have been made anyway, but at least I tried. And I know that I will continue to use my voice to fight for what I believe is right for me, for what I want, and what I want for others. If I know something isn’t right then I will speak out against it and I’m grateful for my experiences for teaching me how to do that, even though I wouldn’t do it again if you paid me all the money in the world. I will use the voice I’ve been given and I will stand up for what I believe in, no matter what.
- Being unique is not something to be feared. When I was younger I was chronically shy and desperate for people’s approval, and so I tried to fit in and be like everyone else for fear of being singled out or being the centre of attention. I didn’t really express myself in any of the ways that I do now and I didn’t give myself the breathing space to be who I really was. I’m really glad that now I’m not as shy, I still struggle with anxiety and meeting new people is still scary, but I’ve come along way from that little girl who was afraid to ever swim against the flow. Now I wear brightly coloured clothes, usually with a vintage or retro feel and I love it – what other people think or like doesn’t come into the equation – I will wear what I want and I don’t care if it’s not to everyone’s taste and that way of thinking carries through to most other aspects of my life. I use writing as a way to express myself and post it online for the world to read, something that I would have been WAY too scared of doing when I was younger, I’m neurotypical, I’m queer… basically everything I am today is everything I would have been too scared to be (or to admit to herself or others that she was) when I was younger. I like to think that younger me would be proud of who I am today and how much I’m able to express myself and literally not give a flying heck what other people think!
- Words have a lot of power. I have wanted to be a writer ever since I was really little. I still remember proudly presenting my grandad with my first ‘book’ (i.e. a few pieces of green card stapled together) and telling him that I was going to be an author when I grew up. Probably one of my earliest memories is of waking up the morning after falling asleep reading ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea,’ with my Mum picking the book up of my face as she woke me up. I loved words from the second I they turned from squiggles on a page into things that had meaning applied to them. And that love hasn’t faded, even 14 or 15 years later. I love that we can use words to change the world, to invoke all kinds of different emotions – I love that we can use them to do so much good, at the same time as fearing how much power they have. It could only take a few words for me to spiral downwards into the blackhole which is terrifying to think about, but they can also be used to heal and support me, and everyone else. I’m constantly in awe of the fact that 26 little letters can make and break everything. And I hope that I will continue to use those letters, to mix and match them in every way possible, to harness their power, to make this world a better place.
- Asking for and needing help is nothing to be ashamed of. This one should really go without saying but unfortunately it does not. There is so much stigma around people asking for help, it’s still seen as a sign of weakness when really I think it’s a sign of strength. To be able to say ‘Look, I really need some help,’ to me, says that that person wants to get better or be able to do something that they can’t right now and that is something to be proud of, not ashamed. It shows you want to grow as a person and receiving the help you need to do that is not a bad thing whatsoever. You are not weak for needing help, in fact I think it just means that you’ve been strong for too long. A lot of the strongest people I know are really open about their emotions and find it really easy to ask for help and I think it’s really admirable.
- Holding things in just means you’ll explode later on. I think people often forget this, remember Frozen? Once Elsa learns to express herself properly she doesn’t hurt anyone anymore but when she was holding everything in her ice just exploded all over the place (and yes, I am making a Disney metaphor). Just talk about things, have lots of tiny explosions that are easier to control rather than being of the ‘conceal, don’t feel’ mindset. It’s a much healthier way of living. Express yourself, talking about how you’re feeling and what’s wrong and then people can help you sort things out before it’s too late.
- It’s important to appreciate everything that you’re grateful for. It’s so easy when you’re busy to just feel stressed and forget about all the good things you have going on. You don’t even have to write things down (although I think that can be a really nice thing to do) but just dedicate a couple of minutes in the evening to thinking about what you’re grateful for that day and you’ll honestly feel your mindset switching to a more positive place. Even on your worst days you can find something, even if just it’s a tiny thing, to be grateful for. It’s so easy to focus just on the bad things, I know I’m guilty of that a lot of the time, and when you’re doing that you sometimes forget that there are actually good things going on – sometimes it’s as simple as just remembering to remember or focus on them.
- Your life can be whatever you make it. You can be whoever you want to be and you can do whatever you want to do. But you have to decide what those things are, you can’t just expect them to come to you. I think the mindset of ‘What will be will be’ or ‘If it’s meant to be then it’ll happen’ can actually be really dangerous. If you really want something to happen or your life to turn out a certain way then you have to actively search for those opportunities and do the things to make that happen. You can’t just leave things up to fate because chances are you’ll be waiting a long time for something that might never happen. If you put the work in and find the opportunities that you want then I can guarantee that your future self will thank you. It’s the people who sit around saying ‘I’ll start next week’ or expect things to be handed to them that end up missing out on what they really want. Fate can be fickle and is definitely not something to be solely relied upon; just go out and do what you want to do and be who you want to be, don’t wait for it to just magically happen.
- You’re a lot stronger than you can even imagine. If you had told me even just five years ago the things that would happen to me, the extent to which I would struggle,and the number of times I would hit absolute rock bottom, then I wouldn’t have believed that I’d still be here to write this blog post. I wouldn’t have believed that I could withstand even a tenth of what I have done. But I’m still here, still fighting against it all and I think that’s something to be proud of. I’m not naive enough to think that everything will be fine and dandy forever, I have no doubt that I will continue to struggle probably for the rest of my life, but the fact that I’m still here despite everything that I’ve felt and everything that happened, fills me with hope.
So there you have it, 18 things I’ve learnt in my 18 years of life. I really enjoyed writing this – I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to come up with 18 meaningful things but they just kept popping into my head, I could definitely have kept going for longer! I hope you enjoyed reading it 🙂
(Remember you can always find me on social media – the links should be to the right or at the bottom of this page)