On Monday I celebrated my 24th birthday and, as per usual, with another rotation around the sun came the much anticipted plague of anxiety and intense self-reflection one tends to experience when turning a year older. Here I sit, ensconced in my bedroom with the fireplace ablaze and an ominous sky capturing my attention every so often, diarising my pre-birthday thoughts while simultaneously slipping in and out of deep introspection of past events, future goals and present state(s) of mind. Am I happy? What do I want? What are my goals? And other questions I tend to obsess over more often than I should. It’s not always easy answering these questions, and I often think myself in circles trying to come up with some sort of life plan. I’ve spoken at length about my issues with my skin, and how it’s effected my self-esteem and body image, but I’ve never delved into other trials and tribulations that I’ve experienced since relocating to Johannesburg, starting a blog and getting older. So I thought I’d share a bit more about myself and the last year.
The past twelve months have been something of an awakening for me, and I have learnt more about myself during this time than all previous years combined. Although I don’t have any solid answers to the aforementioned questions, I am somewhat content with not having everything figured out just yet. As a ‘recovering perfectionist’ as Lucy Williams so eloquently put it, I can’t think of anything better than letting go a little. I’ve learnt that perfectionism is not a virtue but rather an unhealthy and stressful way of looking at something. I used to wear it as a badge of honour, and while it has pushed me to excel at many things in my life, it’s mostly caused me unnecessary anxiety and at times, prevented me from stepping outside of my comfort zone. Sometimes the greatest lessons can only come from ‘just winging it’, jumping in the deep end and figuring it out as you go along.
Perfectionism has been ubiquitous in all parts of my life, and my pursuit for perfection is insatiable. Trying to attain perfect skin, a perfect blog, the perfect Instagram feed, a perfect relationship, a perfect life and of course, the perfect balance of all those things are just a few examples of unrealistic aspirations that I desired to emulate. While some of these things are a good means of encouragement, accepting that I’ll probably never have perfect skin or the perfect instagram feed is weirdly comforting. And I’m sure if I stopped stressing about those things and just did my best, I’d most likely get my desired results without the added effort. Every day is a tiny inner battle against my demons, and I often resort back to old ways of thinking; even then I like to acknowledge that I’m only human and that habits are hard to break. I allow myself to freak out, calm down, and start again.
Creating an online platform while simultaneously going off the pill and experiencing adult acne sparked all sorts of inferiority complexes and self esteem issues. I harboured so many negative thoughts, constantly comparing myself to established bloggers and people I’ve never met let alone know anything about. I’ve doubted my own potential, have spent far too much time and energy at war against my physical self, and have said things to and about myself that I wouldn’t say to my greatest enemy. However, despite more scars and months wasted by hiding indoors, I am truly happy that I experienced this level of unwarranted self-loathing at a more mature age. I now fully understand how much I let things like success and image define my happiness, and how much emphasis I placed on my appearance.
Beauty is not a one size fits all, nor does it correlate with self-confidence or self-love. I have met what I thought to be extremely attractive individuals with the lowest self-esteem and terrible body image. I have also met more ‘interesting’ looking people who radiated inner beauty and self-confidence and I found myself drawn to them. Beauty can be such an abstract cloud of subjective noise; I have had just as many people compliment me on my ‘slim’ figure as those who have called me too thin. Now that I am posting images of myself on my blog, I have had so many references to my thin arms and small upper body that I now have a bit of a complex about it. And while it seems like it’s not as offensive as calling someone fat, it’s just as damaging to a person who is self-conscious about it. I also don’t think we need to demonize one look in order to validate the other.
I also realise now more than ever that happiness has to come from within, and shouldn’t be defined by the way I look or my success. In terms of my lifestyle, location and passion-turned-job, technically I should be a very happy person. On the contrary, I’ve never felt more inadequate, unproductive, discontent, and all round unhappy. There are obviously many factors that contribute to these feelings, but ultimately it’s up to me to make myself happy no matter the circumstances, and I can’t rely on having the perfect day or the perfect mood to be the deciding factor. Happiness needs to be something I choose every day when I wake up. It needs to be the perspective through which I choose to view life. It needs to be the overall feeling I have even in the midst of temporary emotions like anger or stress. Something that helps me achieve this is affirmations. In my notebook, I have dedicated two pages to a list of all the things I love and value about myself; things that I am grateful for and often forget. Before I begin my day, I take 5 minutes to read and fully engage with this list, and this helps me set the tone for the day. I get distracted sometimes but I always make sure I finish reading it.
Morning meditation and yoga have also been instrumental in shifting my attention to where it should be. I’ve swapped my overplayed mp3 playlist for inspirational and educational podcasts, and gone on a social media diet and I’m trying to refrain from Facebook and Instagram until the end of my day. I’m also trying to read more and find that social media cuts into my reading time. I’ve taken up journaling as a way to de-clutter my mind and hone in my writing skills, and I set aside 10 minutes after breakfast to write down anything and everything that comes to mind, without worrying about spelling or grammar or even punctuation; literal pages of unfiltered, unedited word dump. I am also slowly but surely starting to exercise more consistently, which I find has a massive impact on my mental health and kick starting my day. Our bodies and minds are very much connected – whether it’s from the positive endorphins, increased blood circulation or just looking at myself in the mirror and seeing the results, I always feel so much better afterwards. I’m not talking about waking up at 4am for a 5km run or planking in between meals, but some cardio and high-intensity workouts every second day are becoming something I look forward to.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment, constantly striving for better things and greater successes, however it is vital that we take time to stop and fully appreciate all that we have and have done, no matter how small or mediocre we think they are. I think it also comes down to being more selfish with your time, energy and emotions. I feel physically and mentally drained after investing even half an hour of my time in any form of external stimulus, whether it is social media or politics, or even a sad article I read online. It’s something of a sensory overload.
Dan and I sometimes feel that we’re too old for our age, and crave a simpler life devoid of external pressures and societal constraints. We loathe renting our ‘home’, would rather immerse ourselves in nature than at a club, and after this past weekend’s hangover from hell, never want to get drunk again. Although a night out on the town is amazingly liberating and plain old fun, we’d enjoy a quiet dinner just as much. Also, once you’ve partied in Bali and enjoyed copious amounts of wine and cheese at your friend’s three story lake house on the shores of Lake Como, nothing really compares. It’s this perspective that encourages us to never settle, and is also probably the reason we almost exclusively have older friends.
Following on from that, I’ve discovered that it’s quite difficult to make long lasting friendships after school, when you aren’t forced to co-exist with 800 other people, and it’s even more difficult when you live in a foreign city and work almost entirely from home. I am a social introvert at the best of times, lack the stamina for small talk, and couldn’t be worse at keeping in contact. So working for myself, by myself, at home, with the only communication being emails and texts isn’t particularly good for me. However, another lesson learnt, and I now value friendship more than ever. I also value quality over quantity, and no longer feel that I need many friends, nor do I feel inclined to hold on to an old friendship that brought me more tension than enjoyment. I think as you age you’re more aware of the limited time you have and are less willing to compromise it for people who don’t add some sort of value to your life. At least that’s what I’ve discovered.
Getting older is becoming easier for me the less I fight it. Besides the physical aspect, I’ve begun to welcome age; the way I think now is vastly different from the 19 year old Maxine or even the 22 year old. I’m less interested in sweating the small stuff and more committed to doing things that make me happy. I’m going to end my rambling with this sentiment: it’s never too late. It’s never too late to change your path if it doesn’t fulfill you, or change your career because it makes you unhappy. Life will challenge us and hurt us and surprise us and that is beyond our control. Change is constant and I’m not where I want to be, nor am I the woman I aspire to be. But I’m not going to hate myself until I get there, and neither should you. So go out there and do something that makes you feel happy and confident; for me that can be anything from taking a nice long bath to adorning myself in a beautiful dress and running around in nature.
Stay you. xx