I turned 22 at the end of June. I’ve been reflecting a lot (as per usual) and decided to write a post collecting a number of (mostly) important things I’ve come to know about myself over these twenty-two years. Interestingly, a lot of this self-discovery came about in the past two years. What has been the most-recent 10% of my time on earth ended up holding a disproportionate amount of my personal growth, but of course, the two decades leading up to it were important too.
While I tend to think most of my personal growth has happened recently – which to some degree is true, I also know that I wouldn’t have made it here, nor be the person I am today without my entire history. In order to get to know who I currently am, I’ve had to explore a lot of what shaped me. While a great deal of it wasn’t pleasant, I’m finally beginning to foster an appreciation for all the steps, leaps, and stumbles that brought me here.
So here’s a list of things I’ve learned about myself, more for my own benefit than for anything else (ironic, I know, since I’m posting it online) take from it what you will. x
1. I might be introverted, but that doesn’t mean I don’t value social interaction.
I’m more “social” than I thought.
I had a pretty quiet childhood and adolescence from a social-standpoint. I spent most of my time either studying alone or participating in organized sport (which I now realize has always been my primary social outlet). From a young age my anxiety was often crippling – preventing me from going out. Unfortunately, this “anxiety-isolation cycle” continues to self-perpetuate and is still something I struggle with however, I used to just dismiss it because “oh well, I’m introverted, I don’t need to do social things” but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I might need time on my own to recharge and properly process my thoughts, but when I consider what I value most and really want to build into my life – close, meaningful relationships hits the top of the list.
Until a couple years ago, when I got together with my boyfriend, I didn’t know just how close I could feel to someone and how wonderful it is. I couldn’t appreciate how meaningful it was to truly feel heard and now I know why it’s so important to me.
I only recently realized how important my relationships are to me when I stopped organized sport and lost my main social outlet altogether. Long story short, being without regular contact with friends takes a noticeable toll on my mood and when I don’t have this structured social time my social anxiety finds room to thrive. I’ve been working hard to re-connect with people in my life that I drifted away from during the past year. However, it often frustratingly feels like I’m working against my own mind because ironically as socially-anxious introvert, I feel completely unfulfilled without close personal relationships.
Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I’ve also made a lot of progress in being able to open up to people by realizing that while I thought I was sparing them boring details about me, I was actually just making my relationships feel imbalanced by not offering any information about myself.
I’m learning to let go of the feeling that I need to have everything together in order to be accepted or for people to like me because not only is that completely impossible, but I think it drives a bigger wedge between making genuine connections. Our vulnerabilities are what make us human – they’re what connect us to each other.
It might seem obvious, but without ever showing my true self I couldn’t expect anyone to truly know me and that’s all I ever wanted all along – to see others and to feel seen.
In essence, I think I’ve been going through the same social/personal growth phase many teens go through during high school – fighting wanting to fit in and wanting to be true to oneself. Fortunately, I’ve got a couple years of brain development on them which I’d like to think has given me a different perspective on the whole thing but honestly, who knows – better late than never I guess!
2. I like to write
I might not be very good at writing but I can see now that I’ve always enjoyed it. From a young age I remember spending more time using a computer to type out random stories than playing video games.
I always loved reading and writing in english class since it was a chance to be creative in a way that made sense to me but I think somewhere along the way I failed to make time for these things of enjoyment. Academics quickly became a path from Point A to Point B and it only mattered how well you scored along the way, not what the actually process was like. Writing just for the helluvit had mostly left the picture in grade six, shortly followed by the cutting out of reading for enjoyment. I restricted myself to the academic career in sciences that I decided I was going to pursue with time for exploring little else.
I’m glad I’ve gotten back to writing now. Its intrinsic value became clear to me when I found it to be the only way I could make sense of my chaotic thoughts as I began recovery. It helps me hear my own voice. Of course I like positive feedback from likes and follows online, but I also know how helpful both reading and writing have been for me and I don’t want to lose this mindfulness behind judgement and external motivations.
3. My appearance does not define who I am.
4. I’m stronger than I give myself credit for.
I made it this far.
5. I Decide My Own Boundaries
This lesson hit me very recently actually, while reflecting on a conversation I had with my younger sister. She said something along the lines of “if someone tells you something affected them, you don’t have the right to decide it didn’t”.
Looking back over the last year, this really took precedence when I finally decided to seek help for my eating disorder. Re: “The Sick Enough” Dilemma.
After months of doctor’s appointments, blood tests, intake assessments, and referrals I began to realize that nothing would come to fruition if I didn’t make it happen. I had to decide that I had had enough. Yes, I could have potentially been forced into hospital (which I thought would finally mean I was “sick enough”) but ultimately things continue as long as you let them. You decide when you’re sick enough. You decide what your boundaries are.
I’m fortunate that help was available to me but I had to ask for it. It sucks – but I think it’s one of the sticky truths of life: we all have a responsibility to take care of ourselves as best we can. Unfortunately, one of the last things someone in my position (with an eating, anxiety, and mood disorder and terrible imposter’s syndrome) wants to do is advocate for themselves to get help and actively have to confront it all.
I spent so long searching for external validation of my struggles – hoping for a new diagnosis, wanting my therapist to tell me what to do, or researching what classified as “abuse” – because I never validated my experiences myself. Turns out a google search won’t tell you if you should seek help, when you should or shouldn’t be upset, or what your boundaries are. You have to decide. You have to allow yourself to be affected by things that very obviously impacted you regardless of whether or not it’s “convenient”. Chances are, if you’re doing a google search for something, it mattered enough. Give yourself permission to say that something hurt you.
A lot of how things make us feel is beyond our control. We have to accept that the way we process things won’t necessarily be the same as someone else, and that’s okay. Someone might be immune to the same verbal insults that another person finds completely devastating. We can however, choose how we respond to what affects us, and shaming yourself for thinking like you shouldn’t feel a certain way is definitely one of the worst ways to go.
Boundaries aren’t necessarily fixed things, nor are they something you can copy from someone else. My boundaries now in recovery are different than they were two years ago and I only realized some of them once they had been crossed. You have to intuit where to draw these lines and remember that figuring it out is an awful lot of trial and error.
6. I love being outdoors.
I need fresh air and regular sunlight – like a plant.
7. I am sensitive.
Just as I dismissed being social, I too convinced myself that I had such a thick skin I pretty much didn’t have feelings. Ridiculous I know now. But from a young age, when you don’t learn that it’s safe or acceptable to express your feelings you also don’t learn how to properly identify or respond to them. For a number of reasons (many of which I’m still exploring) I decided that emotions were inconvenient, unimportant, and a sign of weakness. On the contrary, I now know that not only do they give us important personal insight but in order to live a healthy life (at least for me) I have to make space to honour all my feelings and surround myself with people who will do the same.
I don’t know if I’ve been feeling more emotional recently because of opening the metaphorical floodgates to decades of suppressed emotions and/or the physical and mental changes I’ve been experiencing with recovery, but I do know that I’m no longer going to try to explain my emotionality away. This flood of emotions might be temporary but it also might not, and while I tend to sporadically cry at sunsets and baby animal commercials, I also tend to be incredibly compassionate to others and care for people a great deal. Just as often as I worry that I’ve done something wrong, I’m motivated by strong feelings to help and to do the right thing. As bitter as some setbacks can be, the triumphs parallel in sweetness. The pain of my occasional loneliness seems a fitting contemporary to the depth of my more frequent and meaningful connections.
I don’t get to pick and choose which emotions I allow and realizing I never could has been one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn. Attempting to do so only robs me of the entire spectrum of the human experience – yes, the bad, but also the good. Feeling deeply is what makes us human, for better or for worse.
I still struggle to fight old beliefs and to make room for all my feelings, but I’m finally coming around to the fact that just because I am sensitive doesn’t mean I’m too sensitive, and even though I previously learned to see this as a weakness, maybe I can learn to also see it as a strength.
“The consummate brightness and cheerfulness, even exuberance of spirit can coexist in me … even with an excessive feeling of pain.” Nietzsche
8. I’m not the same person I was last year and I might not be the same person the next.
I am still me but as a person, I believe my capacity for growth and change is limitless.
9. I have a very small bladder and have likely never been properly hydrated before in my life.
Not much to say about this one other than the fact that learning to live a more embodied-experience has made me acutely aware of how thirsty I seem to get, which I never noticed before. It’s a regular occurrence now for me to chug at least a litre of water with every meal and make 4 subsequent trips to the bathroom. In other words – I’m a pain to go on road trips with.
10. I can be impatient
Not necessarily with others, but certainly with myself. I tend to rush and stop to forget to smell the flowers. My anxiety has pushed the pedal to the metal since kindergarten when my loud french teacher called me out in front of the class for rushing through my assignment screaming “Where’s the fire?!”. Life catches me up in a whirlwind. I let it. I have to deliberately remind myself to slow down and just be. Busy is an armour I use to protect myself – a twenty-ton shield that also weighs me down.
11. I’m me. And that’s all the “identity” I need.
My concept of identity has been a big part of my mental health meltdown of sorts (as I’ve briefly mentioned before). The more I used ways to ignore my feelings, the more I found I was ignoring my whole self – my hunger, my thirst, my likes and dislikes. Essentially, I had very little idea of who I actually was despite spending two decades on earth. That’s not to say I have a much clearer idea now, but I am less terrified about trying to put who I am in words or narrow Me down to a singularity. I don’t expect that I (or anyone else for that matter) can really describe who they are as any sufficient substitute for anyone just getting to know them.
I used to solely define myself based on goals and achievements, things anyone could learn about me by reading my resumé, but I’m beginning to make space for everything else. The quirks and idiosyncrasies that I’ve discovered over time. It’s surprising how your personality reveals itself the less it’s eclipsed by illness.
Sitting around a table at group last February, I remember discussing the very common fear that there would be nothing left to Us once you took the illness away. For the first time I began to realize that I don’t need to put so much pressure on myself define who I am. Looking around the table I saw people. Not illnesses or labels or conveniently-packaged, neatly-defined snapshots of humanity cause that’s not how it works. For me, I guess apart from job interviews, where my general personality and competence are evaluated, no one really expects me to put myself in to a convenient little box for them, and I won’t should they ask. If people are going to make snap judgements about who I am as a person based on a small taste, they’ll lose the opportunity to truly get to know me – and I’m okay with that.
There has always been a Me underneath it all, I just never knew her very well. I buried her beneath armour so thick, I lost sight of who I was protecting. I shut her out in fear of pain – creating instead a world of suffering. It’s been a slow excavation, but it’s so hopeful to see signs of life popping up like flowers in the spring. I didn’t know what I’d find, but somehow choosing to dig meant I’d be happy to find anything at all.
You’re not defined by single moments or mistakes, nor are you defined by your accomplishments. You don’t have to be “the best-“, “the most-” or “the only-” anything. All you have to be is you.
13. I’m empathetic
A blessing and a curse. I do believe I am traditionally empathetic and able to put myself in others’ shoes but I also tend to get caught up in other people’s emotions and let them impact me far too much so I have to set boundaries on my personal responsibility.
14. Honesty is really important to me.
15. I am capable of surviving uncertainty and sitting with discomfort.
16. Sometimes, the only reaction my emotions need is for me to truly acknowledge them.
17. Quality time and words of affirmation are important in my love language.
First coined by Gary Chapman in his 1992 book, “love languages” are exactly what they sound like – ways people express and experience love. I can’t comment on whether or not the original list of five love languages holds any psychometric validity, but in my personal experience (and from the little research I’ve done) it seems that the general premise holds true and can be applied to non-romantic relationships as well.
Essentially, if you expect that someone who cares about you will demonstrate that by often telling you so, but that person expresses their love for you by buying you gifts, you’re not speaking the same language. And as we know, it’s generally hard to be appraised of something we haven’t ever considered before and necessarily this can leave us feeling disconnected or generally “unloved”.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that someone’s inability to connect with me (or to speak my love language) doesn’t mean I’m not worthy of being loved or that I won’t be able to find the connection I need somewhere else. I have to vouch for myself to get the support I need.
18. My thoughts and feelings aren’t facts.
They are real but not necessarily true.
Anxiety and depression spin tall tales that feel very compelling but aren’t always to be trusted.
19. I am worthy.
All humans (therefore me included) are inherently worthy of love and respect.
20. For all intents and purposes, music could have saved my life.
21. I truly love to learn
Something I lost appreciation for when my self-wroth got tied up with the external pressures of grades and evaluations. Intensive learning environments give my anxiety and depression so many opportunities to run wild but I’m slowly becoming more grateful for my opportunities and capabilities to learn.
22. I am not alone.