I turned 27 at the end of May. It was a big milestone for me. Most folks figure out too late that life is short. I figured it out early. I was having a crisis about the shortness of life back in high school. Fretting about how everything seemed planned out for me and how my future was so close and so far away. So promising and so mundane all at the same time. Of course, I figured out later that was depression, which spiraled and grew until by 18 I was silently sure I would never see past 25. Due to mental illness and my own hand, I almost didn’t. This birthday was year 27.
Everyone does one of those posts about the things they learned on their birthday. I’m going to be cliche and do the same. I wanna share with you a few things I have come to realize in the extra time I’ve had that I didn’t think I’d get.
College is one path, not the path.
I went straight from high school into college. I was told that was the way, the steps, the natural progression of the world. You just did it that way. You went from high school to college, to a good-paying job. Except things didn’t work out like that for me. College became a nightmare of expectations I couldn’t meet, answers I didn’t have to questions I had never even had the time to think about, and harsher and harsher methods of coping. I took a semester off, then went back, then took medical leave after depression put me in the hospital. I did end up graduating, after 7 years of grinding and debt and constant darkness. So is college a terrible place? No. But it is not the obvious choice for where to go straight from high school. Realize you have other options before you invest your youth and money you don’t have into a choice that society made without thinking about if it is what you want.
Weirdos like you can save your life
Depression is my demon. It has left scars on my mind and my body. It has ruined friendships and relationships. It has cost me scholarships and jobs and sleep. No one who does not have a demon in their head will ever understand that. It is why talking to other people who have the same issues, demons, and darkness as you can be so transformative. You think you are the only one until you meet someone who feels it like you do. This doesn’t just apply to mental illness. Being gay in the south was and is often lonely. The first time a friend took me to Pride shocked me. There were churches there. I had never known that there were Christians who did not think gay people were bad because I had never met one. Find your weirdos. Not being the only one can change everything.
You have to save yourself
I have been to rock bottom. I have lived there and carved it deeper with a pocket knife. I have looked for a reason for living and have not been able to find a logical one. I have flipped through my phone like a bandaid wondering if someone on the other side has the words that will somehow to force me to breathe. I have sat on the bathroom floor, watched the drips hit the floor, and wondered if I had the strength to get up this time. Sometimes no one is going to answer that phone call. Sometimes no one is going to show up at just the right moment with just the right words to give you back your tomorrows. Sometimes you have to do it yourself. It is no one’s job to be there for you 24/7. You are all you have. And you are strong enough.
Allowing people to make choices does not mean you condone them
Ok, so a little politics for you. Abortion, gender, gay marriage, whatever it is that rubs you the wrong way. You can allow it to be in the world without actually agreeing with it. You do not have to agree with me on everything for us to be friends. Maybe I like apples and you think they are gross. That is fine. We can still get along great. It works the same with these issues. Guess what, I do not personally support abortion. But if someone wants one that is their choice to make. I have no stake in it so should have no opinion either way. I don’t personally support plastic surgery or trophy wives either but that isn’t for me to judge as it doesn’t involve me. Allow people to live their lives. It doesn’t have to affect your values because someone else does something that goes against them. If that shakes your values then maybe you need to reevaluate what you believe in.
Dogs should live longer
No explanation. Just a fact
Don’t offer generic advice
I know this is hilarious as this is exactly what this post is but humor me. Many people while I was struggling to graduate college, with depression, to find a job, or to pay my bills would try to give me advice. I appreciated any help I could get because I was beyond in over my head. Yet, I realized that most of the advice I got was not applicable. Stuff like “Never leave your job till you have a new one” or telling me to make a budget. This was not helpful as I had never had a job to leave and having a budget helps none at all when you have no income. I started asking people instead of for specific steps they would take in my shoes. Tell me what you would do to get out of my situation. Funny how the advice petered out. Anyway my point is this, if you can’t offer advice they can act on where they are now, don’t give it. It’s not helpful and gets everyone tense.
Don’t be too logical
I have a terrible problem with this. I work everything out, look at the risk, calculate the odds. That has held me back in life. I didn’t apply for vet school because I looked at my grades compared to group of friends who got rejected and assumed I wouldn’t make it anyway. I transferred colleges because I calculated out that 4 years at a private school was too much debt. After an extra 3 years at a public school I hated, I have more loans than if I would have stayed put. You should look at the facts, see the potential up and downsides. But don’t let all those figures shut out your heart. Make the leap, dare to try. There are always a couple outliers. Might as well be you.
There is no timeline
You are not behind. You are not ahead. You are right where you should be. I graduated college at 25 with only a B.S, the same time as my sister who was 3 years my junior. I saw my middle sister got married at 23 while I as the oldest was still single. It has taken a lot for me to come to terms with the fact that I am doing things on my own time. You do not have to adhere to anyone’s schedule. Go to college at 43. Start a business at 18. Run an Ironman at 58. You decide when you take on the big moments in your life. It is up to you and you are doing it right on time.
Don’t let what you have already done stop you from doing what you want
This is the sunk cost fallacy. You have put so much time/effort/money into something that now you feel you are stuck. That is how I felt about college and the only reason why I finished it. The problem with this is that generally, we regret this. I regret going to college, yet I let that one choice, a choice I regretted hold me captive from making other choices that would have made me happier and healthier. Don’t do this in your own life. Let your choices stay in the past. You can choose to do something different regardless of how much you are leaving behind when you do.
It gets better
That is so overused that it almost pains me to say it. But so many need to hear it even now. It does get better. It can take a long time, months, years, decades even. I know it did for me. But you hold on because it is all worth it. It is worth it to get to tell people that stupid line and when they scoff at you to tell them a story about a girl who hated life, who tried to end it, who fought her mind, who struggled hard, who might not be where she wants to be yet but is finally excited about where she is going. I get to show my arms and say I’ve been there and I got through. I get to be the living proof that someone needs that they can survive what they never thought they could. Because I didn’t think I could. So yes it gets better.