8 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me

Careful…this one is preachy.

No. 1 – Nothing is Ever as it Seems

Take everything with a pinch…or a handful of salt. Seeming perfect is different being being perfect. On the outside everything can be shaded in whatever colour we choose but there is always something deeper, there is always more to the story. Be a lifelong skeptic. Not a cynic. Just wary, questioning and curious above all else. Ask things, read things, think thoughts that go beyond the surface. No matter what people say, or how people seem, there is always something you’re not seeing at first glance – positive or negative.

No. 2 – Anxiety is a Chronic Illness

Not terminal. Just chronic. Long-term, pervasive, infiltrating, engulfing, encompassing. I call it an “illness” because sad to say people take terms of physical illness more seriously that they take those of the mental or psychological nature. I was young when I first encountered the term. It was used by a psychologist, to describe me at age thirteen.

“Hannah presented as a very, very anxious young woman who was hypervigilant about any suggestion that she may not be able to cope, and who was very anxious to be successful…protective tests yielded recurrent themes of fear of failure, anxiety and social isolation.”

Say what you want about the science of psychology but, to this day, these words on paper represent no less than 80% of my life. Everything is coloured by anxiety. There is not one part of me that ever stops working. My brain most of all works at speeds that many can’t understand – I describe it as endless spiraling. My mouth and vocal chords as my friends and relatives know virtually never shuts off. Even now, every word I type, I say out loud. I talk to myself, to others, to ghosts. Whether it be a twitching ankle, a jumping leg, a clenching jaw, a pulsing vein, anxiety is as innate to me as breathing. And it is chronic. No one ever described it to me as that, but this is how I make sense of it…and eventually learn to cope through my redefinition of it. Everyday is a fight.

No. 3 – Being Independent Doesn’t Mean Being Alone

I laugh a bit at this one. Growing up I saw what I wanted in the “adults”, the “grown-ups” around me. Everyone seemed to function on their own and be so happy (refer to No.1 above). Now that I’m grown-up, I just think to myself: WTF.

Being independent doesn’t mean being alone, or trying to achieve everything on your own. Because in fact, if you think like that you’re only fooling yourself. Being an adult being accepting responsibility, taking ownership of the bed you’ve made, and having the courage and self awareness to lie in it.

“Independence” never really happens, because we inevitably will always need help. The trick is getting off that high horse and accepting the help – or first being able to ask for it. Everyone started somewhere. Some started from nothing, some started from a little more than nothing, and others started with everything. It doesn’t matter though because one fact remains: regardless of where you start, you still need people, you still need something, you are still dependent. And that’s not a bad thing.

No. 4 – It’s Alright to Make Mistakes

I remember thinking I was worst person ever because one time in school I cheated in a test. I thought to myself, “How could I do that?”, “How could I be such a bad person”, “I’m a horrible student”, “Stupid, stupid, stupid”.

And then someone told me something that to this day I’ll never forget.

She said, “You know what Hannah. This bad thing happened today, and it sucks and you’ll feel bad about it. But guess what, tomorrow will come, and the day after, and the week after. And soon, it’ll be years later. Time will pass and things will get better…and everyone will move on.”

No one else told me anything like that before…and since then no sentiment has ever matched up to that statement. It didn’t make me feel better about myself, but it gave me something crucial – hope. An avenue for atonement. Hope in the possibility that I wasn’t doomed to being what I considered “a bad person” for the rest of my life.

Even now I’m hard on myself on the prospect that not being perfect means I’m less of a good person. But it’s alright to make mistakes – the key is being able to live with mistakes, admitting them in the clear light of day, and being able to not only move on forward, but rise above and be better than your former self.

No. 5 – Succeeding at Everything, from Day One, is Over-rated.

We live in a system where success is rewarded from day one. There’s a “best” at everything, especially academics. And I always had a chip on my shoulder that I never really won anything in primary and secondary school. There was never a prize for “most passionate”. I’d see girls and boys…the same girls and boys win the same prizes every damn year and I just thought “what’s the use in rewarding the same people for achieving the same things that they did last year?” But now, I see something I didn’t see before.

All those times, working and studying and trying and giving a sh!t and not receiving a prize for it…I learned to achieve without having to be acknowledged or rewarded. In fact, scratch that. I was rewarded with the best thing I could have hoped for: Success over time.

I know regardless of certificates, trophies or whatever other accolades other kids have I have something that I consider to be worth more. I’m good at improving. I’m good at not making the same mistakes over and over again. I’m good at acknowledging the element of time in the process of growth and transformation. I’m good at failing and being able to come to terms with it…but not accepting it. It’s alright to not succeed in the traditional sense from day one, but it’s not alright to submit and concede to that disappointment.

No. 6 – Being “Great” Comes Naturally

So it comes as no surprise that I live my life in shades of “do better, be better” and my fear of failure and regret drives almost everything I do (refer to No.2 above). Around the time that I was about to graduate from my undergraduate degree the thought about “being great” got stuck in my mind and sent me into panic mode. Somehow I wanted immortality via being known for something, being “great”, making a name etc. etc. and OMG was that thought process the “slinky” equivalent of a going nowhere fast .

In an attempt to control my very uncertain future (having done a degree that’s relevance to the job market was in the negative percentile) I was ready and raring to do whatever it took to maintain a path to “success”. I decided to look toward applying for postgraduate studies and job opportunities and yes, even volunteer positions just so I wouldn’t feel like a “failure”. Or whatever everyone’s definition of a failure was.

After my path took what I can only describe as the path of a plane that has run out of fuel…or that of a baby giraffe learning to walk, I realized one thing: there is such a thing as trying too hard.

In fact great things happen when you stop trying to be great. Just let your life roll on, do ya thang, don’t get distracted and “greatness” – whatever your perceive it to be – will follow. There’s no one definition for “success” or being “great”, or “failure”. Just keep keeping on and everything that’s supposed to happen, will.

No. 7 – Think less about “fat” and more about “healthy”

I recently told my baby sister this, and I immediately thought to myself “damn boo, write that down” #jk #not. But seriously, think about it.

Of course I’m definitely not the first person to come up with this clever thought but my brain only just produced it, so I’m going to put it here. There are so many debates – am I too fat, am I too skinny, I should love my curves, do I have a thigh gap, #bodyshaming and it really made me sink a little when my sister brought up the topic of losing weight and critiquing her body in the worst way. I’m guilty of it too. I’ve practiced smiling in such a way that my crooked teeth don’t show, I’ve tried to rub away my stretch marks, I’ve pressed my breasts together wondering if I should have more cleavage, I’ve cut my hair and grown my hair, I’ve debated what “sexy” or “attractive” meant, I’ve wondered if I should wear less clothes or shorter skirts, I’ve bought make-up and I’ve discarded make-up. Why should I be surprised that she and countless other men and women are obsessed with doing the same?

So I told her in an attempt to comfort, “Think less about fat and more about healthy”. Are your healthy: yes or no? If yes, keep doing what you’re doing. If no, change. Change how you perceive of body image. At the end of the day internal matters more than external and looking, or seeming sexy and fit is different from actually being healthy. I’m skinny, but I know I eat a lot of junk food. Someone might see themselves as fat, when in fact they eat healthier than I do. Don’t hold yourself to superficial standard of beauty, but rather holistic standards of health – mind, body and soul. After all, you only have to live with yourself.

No. 8 – Only You Can Save Yourself

Ok finally. This might not be a popular one, but it’s what I feel and this my blog so deal with it.

I’m not a believer in anything magical or mystical. I’m a believer in myself..and being a good person. Plain and simple that’s how I make sense of the world. Call it naive or foolish or uninformed but I have a right to make sense of the world in a way that makes…sense (to me). I care not to convince anyone of my views except myself so take this one however you will.

Save yourself. Too much time is spent waiting for a prayer to work, attributing success to something, to someone else, blaming others, thanking the universe. I don’t know much about wishing on a star, pinky promises or paying my tithes. What I do know is my own mind, my own potential, my own abilities. And I don’t care what origin story I have, or where I go after I die, or what I’ll have to face in the “great beyond”. Myself, is what I can reasonably make sense of, and even that I’m still battling with. But regardless of whatever people tell themselves, that helps them sleep at night, one thing is certain: this is your life, you have to take responsibilities for the rubbish and royalties it produces.

There’s no comfort in that sentiment, no buffer, no fail-safe, no plan B, no back door, no reset button, no extra life. Just you and the world. So get to it, make an impact when you can (if you want to), never stop helping people and being kind, never stop moving forward and upward, try your best not to move backward, be a good person and try to empathize with others as much as possible, stand for something, anything; and finally just be yourself, be gentle with yourself, be understanding of yourself and the inevitable blunders. that will come.

However big or small the sentiment, don’t wait on anyone or anything else but you, to save you.

Thanks for reading.

(photo credit)

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