Since my teens, I've gone through a lot of turmoil – running away from an abusive family, dealing with mental illness, living in poverty and applying for disability. Through these obstacles I've also dropped out of university, attempted to keep a stable job, taught myself how to work for myself and navigated many relationships.
I'm not saying I'm a pro at any of it, but bluntly put, my teens and early twenties were by far educational. Now that I've settled into my mid twenties and am in a much more stable and confident place, I want to share with you 10 things I learned about self-love, wellness and getting your shit together.
1. Talk to Yourself the Way You Would Others
The critical part of me sometimes wants to say that I'm a loser because I live on disability, struggle with mental illness and have trouble with just getting out of bed some days – but I also worked my ass off to improve my condition, got the government to see that I qualify for disability and started a magazine during those six years.
When I catch myself being self-deprecating, I look in the mirror and tell myself what I would say if I were someone else: That I'm incredibly strong, resilient and can succeed at whatever I want to work towards next.
2. Learn to Keep a Strict Budget
I'm an emotional eater – my compulsions don't care that I don't always have the money for junk food. A few years ago I decided I really needed to get my spending under control, and after a lot of practice I have it down pretty well. First, I take into account how much each bill costs, how much the laundry costs, how much my birth control costs – everything I spend my money on – and then create a food and entertainment budget based on what's left over.
If I'm about to run to the store for PMS cravings but already spent my weekly budget for food, seeing the numbers written on my iPhone helps to give me a visual reminder that as much as I want vegan ice cream, I just can't afford it.
3. Face Your Issues Head On
My parents were raised in a time when it was believed that if you struggled with something you needed to keep it to yourself. When I was growing up, they didn't understand my health issues and encouraged me to sweep them under the rug and forget about them. When this just made things worse, writing about my experiences and going to a therapist really helped me process and work through things.
As painful as it is to deal with your struggles rather than try to ignore them, I'm in such a better place because I was able to learn to dissect my emotions so I could figure out how to move on. Dealing with things is different than dwelling on them.
4. Routine is Important
I can get overwhelmed with juggling tasks like eating three meals a day, exercising, getting work done and socializing. Because of this, I started making detailed, timed lists of everything I need to do. Things don't always go according to plan, and sometimes I get too overwhelmed by the lists themselves and have to wing it – but having the structure of knowing that when I wake up I'm going to blast music and workout for 20 minutes and after dinner I'm going to go for a run gives me something to look forward to and really helps me remember to take care of myself.
5. The Best Skin Care is Your Diet
Struggling with painful cystic acne well into my 20s, I never, ever thought I'd have clear skin – until I decided to change my diet. Prior to my breakthrough, I'd tried every face wash, face cream and prescribed treatment aside from Accutane. When I started experimenting with what I ate to treat my Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, not only did cutting out dairy help me cut my mood swings as well, but it cleared up my face completely. I learned to use dairy substitutes like coconut milk and vegan butter – and through some trial and error, realized that goat cheese didn't make me break out, and I could even eat other cheeses the week after my period.
I'm not saying this will work for everyone, but it was one of the best decisions I've ever made because now my skin is my favorite accessory.
6. You Don't Need Anyone's Approval
When I dropped out of university because of my mental health, I felt like I lost my identity. Suddenly at parties I didn't know how to connect with other 20-somethings. My confidence only got worse when I went on welfare and then on disability. How could I fit into society if I felt so far removed from it?
Being an entrepreneur and a freelance writer helped, but I still felt insecure that I wasn't making a living from it or that people would judge me based on the intensely personal issues I wrote about. However, the more I learned to love myself the more I learned to stop caring as much about getting approval from others. I'm proud of what I've overcome and that I'm able to be so open about my past experiences – I don't need anyone's approval, and neither do you.
7. Figure Out Your Style
When I was in my teens I put so much effort into my appearance – straightening my hair, putting on a full face of makeup and always buying new clothes. When I went on welfare I stopped caring as much because I had more important things to worry about – but now that I'm in a more stable place in my life, I've been able to re-discover my style and save for pieces that show the world who I am.
While I have a much more minimalistic, laid back style now than I did when I was in my teens, putting in the effort to look good – even if it's just a nude lipstick and a rad tank top – helps me feel like I deserve to be seen.
8. Learn What You Actually Like
Dealing with social anxiety, I've always had a tendency to do what other people wanted to do – usually a party where I knew the people there and there was alcohol to hide behind. When I stopped drinking, I felt so isolated because I was used to everything revolving around it. I've had to learn what my interests really are and find people who want to do the same things as me.
Picking events that I'm into helped my social anxiety because I get excited to go instead of worrying about making conversation, and when we do talk, we have a common interest to discuss. It's also helped me work towards making lasting, meaningful friendships – something that's difficult as we get older.
9. Blood Isn't Thicker Than Water
I've never had a good relationship with my family, but I've always desperately wanted to connect with them on a deeper level. Since I cut them out of my life, I've put my energy towards discovering what it's like to have healthy, respectful relationships – starting new traditions like Friendsmas, where I have my close friends over for dinner around the holidays. I've discovered what it's like to really feel heard, and that there are kind people out there who truly want what's best for you.
For so long I felt guilty for choosing to not be around my family – but the longer I spend away from them the more I feel like myself.
10. Serving Others Will Give You Purpose
When I started receiving disability I went through a bit of an identity crisis. I wasn't struggling to make ends meet, so now I had to deal with all of the issues I had pushed away while I was in survival mode: My disability, my mental illness, my addictions, PTSD flashbacks from childhood. Not having something to distract me from dealing with these things put me into a serious state of anxiety.
What got me out of it was being there for others – whether it was putting an empowering article up on the website, joining a community event or just asking how someone's day was.
Got any happiness lessons of your own to share? Let me know about them in comments.