Teach your broken heart to beat (or, 25 lessons in 25 years)

I saw a prompt to write out your life story in 6 words. I found it fitting, the timing, as I’ve been in the throws of self reflection — some healthy, some unhealthy. Birthdays do that to you.

25 feels like a nice number. I have always preferred odds, and I have always preferred halves. Even though life has been utter hell this past year, something about the past few weeks have been easier.

So here are 25 lessons in 25 years, in some semblance of order, after trying to build a life for myself.

1- Your brain is wired for survival

It will do what it needs to in order to survive. Including shut down, dissociate, and a whole host of unpleasant symptoms. But those symptoms mean you see tomorrow. You are wired to live. Regardless of whether or not you like it.

2- Feeling your emotions will happen eventually

In the process of trying to survive, sometimes emotions go underground. They will not stay underground. They will make their way out one way or another, so best to give yourself time to feel like the world is going to end once you’re safe.

3- You are both always and never alone

We live in an age where friends are a very short distance away for conversation, with communities spanning the globe. I have a friend in the Philippines, and I have friends all across the States, and in Europe. No matter the time zone, there’s somebody there.

But nobody else has my thoughts, lives my life. Nobody else knows what it’s like to have my personality, my reactions to things. They can watch from the outside, but it’s not the same as feeling it.

4- Learn how to hustle, and learn when to back off

The one universal constant in this world is you have to sell yourself. Learn how to pitch, how to brand, and how to get yourself out there. Then do it with everything you can muster.

And know when to fold them. Sometimes you need to curl up with your favourite things and forget the world exists for awhile, before you can go back to putting it all out there.

5- Validate yourself

For the love of god, validate yourself. Even if your emotions feel too bad to possibly be true, even if they feel inappropriate for the situation, even if you feel it couldn’t possibly be right. Validate your emotions. You will save yourself so much trouble.

6- Find your bargaining chip with life

Aka, what it is you want to work for. It doesn’t have to be a job title. Or anything in your personal life. It can be attending a friend’s graduation. Or seeing their kids. Something that makes life worth living, that gives you incentive to survive.

7- Your friends are everything

They are the ones who pick you up and keep you company. They are the ones who fill your life with love and happiness and weirdness. Select them well. Don’t let them walk all over you. Help them when they need it. Filling your life with good people is a way to make it easier.

8- We are all irrational and wounded

We all go through life wounded. That’s life. Not a single person goes without being hurt, and expecting yourself to avoid the worst is a recipe for disaster. Expecting others to not be hurt is impossible.

People are people. If you peel back graffiti from millennia ago, it is the same stuff we write now. The faster you accept nobody is going to react perfectly logically including yourself, the faster you accept life is messy and there’s nothing you need to do about it.

9- Music will save your life, somehow

Either making it or listening to it. Music moves people, and it’s alright to indulge in it. Even if all it does is drown out the voices in your head for a little bit.

10- Have a goddamn emergency fund

Have six’ months worth of income saved. Preferably more. A lot more. At the very least, a few hundred. You will need it at one point, and you will be happy to have it, even if you have to cut back on stuff to get it.

And if you already have an emergency fund, consider helping others build theirs. You could save somebody’s livelihood.

11- Pick your poison, but be sure to pick something

Courage is still courage even if it’s simply fear of regret. I have shown crushes love poetry when they have made it abundantly clear they aren’t into me, all because the thought of not showing it to them keeps me up at night. Sometimes both options you have are terrible, but one poison is so much worse than the other, and you’ll find you have a stronger tolerance than you thought.

12- Get an organizational system with reminders

I am a large fan of bullet journalling. I am also a fan of calendar apps and gamification. Anything that gets everything you need to do out of your head and onto a place you look at a lot. Then be sure to keep up with them, inserting dates where they belong.

Then set reminders for them, in case you forget to look for a day.

13- Learn to become your own therapist

I identified something was wrong in my reaction to things when I was 17. I wasn’t getting over stuff that had happened years prior. I was nearing a decade of not knowing why I wanted to burst into tears every school year, why every grade under an A made me feel like my world was going to end, and why every time a friend left even temporarily I felt they were gone forever.

Then I discovered PTSD, and I began obsessively rooting out every underlaying trigger.

Eight years later and I’m not spiralling out of control, anymore. I could never afford therapy and still can’t (between no insurance, abusive parents, and not making enough to cover the cost) but I’m rarely in a place where I feel like I absolutely need it. And I’ve developed the internal self awareness to know what’s going on, taking control of my own life.

14- Do art, even if you’re terrible at it

It is an outlet, it is therapy, it is a way to get what you think and feel onto paper and into words. Your wardrobe can be art. You can smear paint on a canvas. You can arrange your furniture and put up pictures that look pretty. You can pick up an instrument and play it until everything feels alright. Dance until you’re out of breath.

The important part is connecting with yourself.

15- Your parents are wrong about a lot

Yeah, yeah, they’re right about a lot, too, but they’re wrong about a lot. The sooner you take their advice off a pedestal, the sooner you can become your own person and not let their limits on you stop your growth.

16- Your negative thoughts have just as much use as the positive

So let yourself think them. Let yourself explore the deepest, darkest parts of your fear so you can prepare for it. Acknowledging fear and letting your anxieties run away with you isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of feeling ill-prepared. Combat it by writing down the fears and creating backup plans should you get worst case scenario.

17- Accomplish something every day

Even if that “something” is brushing your teeth, cleaning your mirror, or checking your email. Accomplishing something helps starve off depression, and it can get you off on a roll of getting the next task on your list done. Even if it doesn’t, you can still point to something done.

18- Curate social media wisely

Social media’s health benefits or detriments (and there are both) depend on you. Blacklist what you can, unfollow accounts that don’t make you happy, and unfriend if push comes to shove. It is possible to actually get some reward out of it if you use it right.

19- Rock bottom isn’t as scary as you think

This isn’t to say “go seek it out,” just that it’s not the end of the world. I have hit rock bottom too many times to count. I am not particularly proud of it. What I am proud of is I’m getting to the point each hole is new. And while I sometimes go through months of falling deeper and deeper wondering how much worse it could get, I unearth things.

It’s not the end of the world to be at the end of your rope. You’ll be okay.

20- Have scripts for hard conversations

By “scripts” I mean a general sense of types of reactions that help get the best result. For a major disagreement, it’s “Is now a good time to talk to you?” and learning to use “this act hurt me” (while also learning not to use your extreme emotional reactions as a method of control, so even if you feel like the worst person ever, don’t say that act made you feel like the worst person ever— just say you felt badly). Learn how to apologize and take responsibility for your actions (“I’m sorry I behaved in a way that hurt you. Thank you for letting me know. [insert either asking them for more details/clarification or saying you’ll work on changing]”). Learn how to respond to hearing “I was abused” or “I’m a recovering addict” or “I’m mentally ill.”

There are general guidelines for how to interact kindly with others, to minimize harm. There are guides on how to call people out. Read them and absorb them. They will help.

21- Use systems instead of goals

“Make an extra thousand a month” might be a very solid, very real thing you need to do. But if you put your focus on it, then it’s likely everything you do will fall short and you won’t feel it’s worthwhile to keep plugging away for less than your goal.

But “start a Medium account on a regular schedule to build a portfolio so I can begin pitching my writing skills more seriously and pick up clients” is a much more attainable bite-sized step you can take that will get you somewhere eventually. You just have to take the next step, and after awhile, your system will lead to the goal.

22- Figure yourself out (especially major life milestones like marriage and kids)

I figured out I was some flavour of queer in my late teens. I figured out that maybe my opinions about marriage and kids— my reasons for not wanting them— were wrong in my early 20s. My orientation has changed probably five times in life, but each time I feel a little closer to who I am. I’m glad I didn’t jump into anything.

Don’t commit to something so big and hard to reverse (or, in the case of kids, irreversible) without seriously thinking about it. Learn your own emotions and wants. It’ll serve you well.

23- Develop a personal style for yourself and no one else

At work you might be on the straight and narrow, but at home, during time off, you can be whoever you want to be. Go ahead and make the absolute most of it. Get that quirky painting, that daring shirt, that set of novelty mixing bowls. It’s your style. Show it off.

24- Take care of somebody else unconditionally

Whether that’s through volunteering, caring for friends, getting a pet or a plant. Taking care of somebody else without expecting anything in return helps you feel part of something. It helps you remember you have the capacity to do that thing, to love something or someone.

25- You have value

So take care of yourself. Eat what you need, and eat enough. Sleep enough. Drink water. Exercise. Take yourself out on dates. Get that nice cupcake. Ask for that raise. You’re worth it.