Thursday, September 25, 2014

Things I'm Just Beginning to Understand at 25.

I still can't believe it. I'm 25 years-old. A quarter of a century. I'm about a third through my lifetime if I'm lucky. It's come to my attention that I am not the same person I was in college and I'm starting to realize how much I've done and changed. There are mindsets and beliefs that have changed drastically and I feel like a more complete person for it. I'm sharing only a few of them here and I wholly expect to continue changing as I finally start to feel the weight of adulthood. So here are some things that I'm finally starting to figure out at 25.

Being "Fit"
I touched on this one a bit in Physcial Wellness- What I Wish They Would Have Told Me, but I think this is the one concept related to health that still eludes me. We're all told that being "fit" is the ideal, but no one ever bothers to provide any clues as to what it actually is besides images of thin, lean people working out. When I worked at a Subway restaurant in Milwaukee, one of my more memorable customers always came in on break from a run. I swear this woman had no body fat. No curves, no boobs, nothing but lean muscle. Is she "fit"? Is she the pinnacle of "fitness"?

A quick google search of "fitness" will provide this definition:

1. the condition of being physically fit and healthy.
Gee, thanks- had no idea "fitness" had anything to do with "being physically fit". Also, being "healthy" is a separate thing. Even when I was 195 pounds I could go to my physical and get a clean bill of health (after which my doctor will say, "Now about your weight...").

The West Virginia University Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences center has a pamphlet on healthy living which provides this explanation:
Fitness means being in good physical condition or being healthy. Fitness means
having more energy and better sleep patterns. A person who is fit is also able to
carry out tasks more easily.
"More energy", "better sleep patterns", "able to carry out tasks more easily". Now we're getting somewhere. Of course, these are different for every person which means fitness is going to be personal as well.

The global increase of depression is well-known and according to the National Institute of Health, there is a strong correlation between depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders and insomnia. There is no clear evidence to suggest whether the psychiatric disorders cause insomia or vice versa, but they do make each other worse. This creates a vicious cycle that's hard to break out of since exercising will give you more energy and better sleep, but it also takes some energy to get started in the first place.

Since physical fitness is such a personal measure of health, I've learned that gauging it should involve certain personal benchmarks. For example, I decided that being able to go up the two flights of stairs at work without by heart racing and being winded was my first step. With the 15 pounds I've lost and my increased activity level, I can definitely say I'ved mostly achieved that and I sleep better and feel better during the day. I am by no means a paragon of fitness, but I am well on my way.


Closely linked to fitness, we have self-esteem. This is probably the topic on this list that surprised me the most. About a month ago I had in epiphany of sorts. I was standing in front of the mirror and came to a realization: I like my body. More surprising was the realization I didn't really like it before.
My usual reactions before included "Meh", "I'm alright", and "Could be worse...". I considered this to be good self-esteem because I thought it was the best I could do both physically and mentally. Now when I look into that mirror, I think, "I actually LIKE my body!"

The confusing part was my body hadn't really changed. I'd dropped a few pounds developed a few muscles, but they hadn't made that much of a difference in the broad scheme of things.

Considering my body hadn't changed all that much, I tried to think what had: I'd started working out and keeping track of my calories. I'd started archery and kendo. It seemed like the results of what I was doing wasn't as important as the fact that I was doing them. Just trying and pushing myself raised my self-respect and self-worth. I found out I was capable of so much more than I thought.

As kids we're told to look in the mirror and say to yourself, "I'm beautiful", "I'm awesome", "I can achieve anything I want", but there's a difference between saying these things and actually believing in them and making them a reality. Telling someone with low self-esteem to just start loving themselves is like telling a person suffering from depression to just be positive. You can't wish feeling and emotion into existence. The only thing that can change anything is action.

Don't like your body? DO something about it. I'm not saying lose weight and get thin. I'm saying work your ass off for something you truly want. Don't settle for anything less than what challenges you. Does it suck? Good- it means your learning and improving. Take that anger and frustration and throw it into the face of what's in your way. Your body and mind will thank you for the work you've done and you'll love yourself for it no matter what the outcome.

"Getting a Life"

Let me be clear here: "get a life" is an insult. It's a veiled attempt to assert your superiority complex over someone.
I only use this phrase because I assume most people want "a life", but don't know exaclty what that is nor how to "get" one. Unfortunately (like almost everything on this list), it's too personal to have a cut-and-dry answer.

Here is what I thought a "life" was at 18: graduate high school, go to college, graduate college, career. I thought that was the natural progression of a successful individual. Any step outside it was a fast-track to loserdom. It shames me to think I used to look down on those that deviated from this path, but the truth is that I did. Things had been pretty smooth sailing for me. I was a good girl, kept my head down, flew through high school, got into my private, expensive, university of choice, and met the love of my life when I got there.

Then I started failing classes. I started seeing the possibility of not being able to make it through. It terrified me, and when I finally threw my hands up and admitted defeat I was at a loss. I knew I wanted to transfer somewhere else, but I didn't know where or what for or how to pay for it. I didn't know where I was going to live. I didn't know where my relationship with my boyfriend whom I was very much in love with was going to go.

Looking back, I think that's when my true "life" started. That's when I started to have to actually work to survive and get what I wanted.

After I left the Milwaukee School of Engineering, I fought to get into UW-Milwaukee (which is ironically easier to get into than MSOE), moved into my first apartment, and made the unwise choice to let my boyfriend move in with me and kept it from my disapproving parents. From that moment, I felt like almost everything I did was against their wishes and expectations. It was like all the angst and rebellion I'd suppressed as a teenager had festered and burst open. I started doing things because it was what I wanted and not necessarily what others wanted from me. I learned that I'd been mentally trained to feel guilty about doing so. Sometimes everything seemed like a fight whether at school, in my crappy job making subway sandwiches, in my relationship, or with my family.

But you know what? Between the challenges, between the frustration and tears, I was happy. I was finally "living". Fighting the tide instead of letting it take me wherever it was going made me feel alive and more like myself (whatever that meant at the time). With every challenge I faced, I built up pride and self-respect.

I met some of the best, the worst, most-interesting, most terrible people at my job. I met artists, I met hippies, I met drug dealers, I met homeless people, artists, musicians, hair stylists. I realized that a "life" can just be exactly that- life. Shaping it into whatever you want it to be. And unless you're causing harm to other people, who is anyone else to judge? The only judge that matters in life is you.


This one's hard to think about even now because I feel like I've lost many friends in my lifetime and I can't figure out where the relationships went wrong. It's not like I ever start a friendship with the thought that it might end. Sometimes a person you thought you were getting along with for a while starts ignoring you in passing while others you met only once in real life end up becoming good facebook friends.

Somewhere in life we start to separate aqcuaintences from friends, but I still have trouble understanding why I can't be friends with my aqcuaintences too or why friendships fade with time. In Girl Scouts there's a song that goes,

"Make new friends, but keep the old.
One is silver and the other's gold.
I used to think, "Why can't they all be gold?".

When I left MSOE I still hung out there regularly. But then time passed, and friends graduated and moved on until I had only a few left in Milwaukee who became understandably busy with their own lives and careers. I realized that someday I'd have to move on too. People change. They never stop changing. Some people grow together while others grow apart.

I didn't start getting a feel for who my "gold" friends until after I left college. I've learned the best friendships are the ones that endure through distance and time and it's worth the pain and loss of finding them.


 There are people I've met that seem almost too happy. You know the type- the bubbly, smiley ones that have an unbeatable zest for life and their facebook statuses are nothing but sunshine and rainbows.

These people bug me. It's not like I don't like them, but something about them rubs me the wrong way. I used to think it was because I felt resentful and jealous. I believed that level of happiness was the baseline for "normal" people and if it wasn't you were doing something wrong.

Now I know it's the inherent insincerity. These people aren't as happy as they portray themselves to be. It's nothing I hold against them- it's just the persona they've learned to present no matter how they feel. As a person who wears her heart on her sleeve, I hold emotional honesty in high regard.

And if I'm being honest right now, I'd say I'm mostly happy. I've learned that money can't "buy" happiness, but not having enough to survive certainly lowers your baseline. I've learned that putting yourself first is okay. I've learned that you can have great relationships with people even when you disagree with them (or even because of it). I've learned that the highs aren't a baseline and we wouldn't even appreciate the highs if we didn't have a baseline or the lows.

I've learned that when people talk about "happiness", they're really talking about "contentment". If you can say, "Yeah, I'm doing just fine.", I'd say you're happy. You have enough highs in your life to off-set the lows. You have enough to get by. You have a little more than enough so you can enjoy things beyond mere survival. You have an emotional safety net of people you trust and care for. You're body and mind are functional in a way that allows your daily life to run smoothly.

Most importantly, I've learned that happiness is different for different people. This goes back to the whole "having a life" thing a bit. If your current life is happy for you, than don't let anyone judge you for it. Love who you love and do the things you love to do.

And if you're not happy, DO something. Anything. One little change can make all the difference. If you need a big change, break it into small, less intimidating changes. It's hard, I know. Breaking out of the vicious cycle of a negative mindset is difficult. If you need encouragement or help, don't be silent. Reach out. Know that failure is a natural part of the learning process, not a stop sign.

After writing this, I'm amazed at how different I was ten or even just two years ago. As a quarter-of-a-centurian, I've experienced a lot of things and it's good to know I've actually learned a thing or two from them. If there are any other mid-twenty somethings out there, I encourage you to take a moment and think about what these things mean to you. I have a feeling that all too many people watch life pass them by and not take a second to fully appreciate exactly what and who they are. You're the only one in the entire universe and are here for only a brief time. Wouldn't it be nice to get to know yourself while you're here?

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