“WHAT AM I DOING?” AND OTHER QUESTIONS I’VE ASKED MYSELF IN MY EARLY 20’S

I’m turning 26 next month. Here are a few things I pondered over while trying to survive college, start my career and dodge dudes that didn’t like me.

This doesn’t require much of a preamble other than saying I’m turning 26 next month and saying goodbye to the first half of my twenties so I obviously have every right to write this.

I’M MATURE NOW MOTHERTRUCKERS. BEEP BEEP.

Here’s some of the questions I’ve pondered over, and what I’ve managed to sort out in terms of answering them.

“What am I doing with my life?”

There’s no wrong answer because it’s whatever is happening in the present. It’s an… ongoing answer? Kinda underwhelming, I know, but it’s a half-decent reason to rely on your intuition because you won’t know what you were doing in the grand scheme of things until the end. Not trying to be morbid!!!!! IT’S INSPIRING OK? Go see what you can get away with.

“What do I value?”

I feel like this is hard to know the answer unless you’ve actually thought about it. Once I made a point of answering this question with a pen and paper, I found it a lot easier to actually live out my values. I highly suggest it. Also can be interesting to look back on later because your values can change over time based on life experiences.

I know now that the number one thing I value is integrity.

“How will I know if I had an orgasm?”

I legit Googled this once. I’ll put it this way – you’ll know if you DIDN’T have one. How’s that for an answer?

“Are they into me?”

If you are truly unsure, I’m gonna go with no. See advice below. 

“How does XYZ person afford [insert whatever thing here]????!!?”

Ok, so to be clear, this is a rhetorical question because it’s nobodies’ business how you afford shit. Next, there are a few realistic answers:

  1. Debt. Maybe credit card debt.
  2. Support of some kind that relieves financial burdens and frees up income (perhaps from a sugar daddy who propositioned them in their Instagram DMs?).
  3. Responsible saving. Nobody wants to post about buying two-ply toilet paper on Instagram back to back with their photos from Fiji, but that’s the reality in some cases.

“What happened last night?”

I blacked out from drinking more than I have fingers and toes and teeth in my early 20s so I asked this a lot. Typically, I did something slutty. Or I came home at 3am and destroyed the kitchen making something to eat. Or both!

“Should I say something?”

Usually, yes. This applies to a whole bunch of situations. Have the damn conversation.

As a people pleaser and someone who has always struggled with this, I can safely say it hurts everybody involved more in the big picture when you withhold what you really want to say. Sometimes it’s not as bad as you think it’s going to be, and sometimes it’s exactly as bad as you think it’s going to be. You can’t protect people from their own emotions, and you can’t control how people choose to react. All you can do is speak your truth when the time isn’t right (but don’t wait too long) and tell them whatever it is you need to say.

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I have chosen to have more hard and painful conversations in the last 18 months than I did in the previous 30 years, total. And I think it’s not a coincidence that the more I do it, the more comfortable I feel in myself— as myself. Conflict avoidance is a coping strategy, and a lot of us develop it as a completely understandable response to early life. 🙋‍♀️ But as adults, when we chronically choose the temporary relief of avoiding the hard thing over standing up for our own needs and owning our desires, we eventually pay for that chronic self-betrayal. For me, the price was an un-nameable and pervasive sadness, physical pain, heaviness and exhaustion. Every time I speak my truth, knowing it may not be what the other person wants to hear, I’m still a little surprised to look down afterwards and realize WOW I AM STILL ALIVE. Vulnerability will not kill you. The uncomfortable and temporary side effects of choosing yourself are badges of honor. They’re evidence that you are growing; breaking free of old conditioning and patterns that don’t serve you. Breathe and do the thing and remember who you are. That’s my self-imposed job description these days. #emilyonlife

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“Should I be saving for retirement?”

Yes, if it’s financially feasible, but also…no?

Anytime a question has a ‘should’ at the beginning I ask myself if I actually care about the answer, or if I feel like I’m *supposed* to care about the answer.

Doing certain things doesn’t make you more or less of an adult, and having an RRSP doesn’t automatically mean you have your life together.

“What should I do with my hair?”

I recently did something out of character and asked my new stylist this and he talked me out of doing something really dumb and expensive during our consultation.

Much like when a therapist tells you something is a bad idea, you LISTEN THE FRIG UP.

Sometimes in the heat of the moment we forget that bangs take approximately 9 months to grow out. Whatever you want is the answer, but it never hurts to consult an expert.

“Where do I go from here?”

This is basically another variation of “what comes next?” which is what this entire blog navigates through…arguably. In order to actually answer this question, I had to stop running away from it out of fear and accept that it was up to me to decide.

Sounds easy, but when you don’t trust yourself it kinda feels like hurling yourself off a cliff with a running start. How else are you gonna build self-trust though?????

Anyway, the answer is that I’m going to Australia. G’day mate.

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This is a photo of me standing in my first apartment after I signed the lease in 2016. Just like then, there’s a lot of change and hope in the air right now. Two weeks from now I’m moving out of my beloved bachelorette pad and back in with my parents for a few months before an even bigger change. The day after I turn 26 I’ll be getting on a plane and going to Melbourne with a working holiday visa (no return ticket booked) 😅 This has been the year of big leaps, extreme discomfort and questioning EVERYTHING but I can feel it in my bones that in order to keep growing I’ve gotta go for a lil bit. I also want to be in a different setting to work on my book baby. But between now and November my focus is to be as present as possible and to remind myself to *let go* every time I feel myself trying to resist change. ⚡️🌊 #australia

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OK I KNOW I NEED TO LIGHTEN UP – BUT HOW?

I thought I had to word vomit, exercise, or numb out all the darkness out in order to lighten up. I’ve learned that the best thing I can do is accept it, and light a match.

I know the moment I truly started on my self-improvement journey. I Googled ‘How to stop hating yourself’ in 2016, which led me to a book called Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself  that changed my life. You probably know the rest if you’ve read the post.

Recently, after a difficult but loving conversation with a dear friend about how our relationship was feeling heavy, I Googled ‘how to lighten up’ and found nothing useful. Not one single article or listicle I could relate to.

What the shit!!! It had worked once when I needed a solution. But this time I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be the same.

If you’ve ever read my Instagram captions or my blog – it’s not a stretch to say I’m a heavy person. I’m introspective and tend to get myself elbow deep into the piles of shit most people want to avoid at all costs. It’s the reason this blog exists after all…but it also means I can also come off as intense and a little dark at times.

We all have dominant traits that make us who we are, but when they get out of control they can mess things up in all areas of our lives. We all find ways to manage the internal see-saw. 

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The part of me that hates myself screams “who the do you think you are trying to write a book? Trying to become boxing instructor? Who gives a shit. And moreover, what do you know about any of this?” The part of me that hates myself believes that my urges to numb out every emotion with a grocery list of unhelpful techniques will never change for good. The part of me that hates myself tells me that I am a burden to my friends and family. That I have too many thoughts and feelings. The part of me that hates myself uses shame and fear to motivate me. The part of me that hates myself uses “why even bother” as an excuse to avoid vulnerability. This isn’t about proving other people wrong. It’s never been about proving other people wrong. Besides, I learned a long time ago people’s conclusions about you are less about you, and more about them. I’m trying to prove that part of myself wrong. I am, in fact, becoming the person I also hoped, dreamed and fought to be. Sometimes that part of me just needs a little proof and a lot of love. Sometimes I need to force that part of me to stop yelling and start listening. This isn’t some Bell Let’s Talk shit that exists only one day a year. As much as I can write this caption, I can’t write a clean beginning middle and end to this. This is just what goes on in my head and my work is fighting back against it. Sometimes I have the strength to win that fight, and sometimes I don’t have it in me. And that’s when I reach out for help. 💭🤝 #wholeheartedliving

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I used alcohol to manage as an adult. This isn’t exactly groundbreaking. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I wasn’t an alcoholic before I stopped drinking almost 8 months ago. However, I showed signs of being a problem or grey area drinker. I would deal with negative feelings by drinking or eating them down so I could continue being the life of the party. I was still bitter and aggressive but at least after booze it was in a softened, silly half-cut kind of way. With alcohol, I could take myself from being in a mood where I wanted to cry from stress, to slurring sassy comments and texting people I shouldn’t be texting to generate some fun in the moment.

Alcohol was the easy lever I could pull anytime I needed to lighten up. 

When I first got sober, I lightened up immediately. I felt like I had found the ultimate life hack. All of the ease with none of booze-adjacent struggles. I was saving money! I was making better decisions! I didn’t have the booze blues anymore!!!

Then, inevitably, I dug into the work of recovery and shit got REAL. Sobriety and recovery are not the same, which is a fun fact that hit me like a brick to the face about three months in.

Believe me, I know I was a bummer to be around. I was groping around in the dark in an attempt to figure out how everyone else dealt with bad days on top of having, what felt like, a complete shit show of an existential crisis. I was doing my best, but I truly felt like I couldn’t lighten up.

So I tried all the normal stuff: yoga, meditation, therapy (the counsellor I had when I was in early recovery wasn’t a good fit for me unfortunately), journaling, and mostly texting and talking to my friends when I was feeling shitty. Which was a lot. I also revisited eating and Netflix as coping mechanisms.

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I’ve been doing a lot of reading, writing, reflecting and questioning lately. I guess when I think about it, the other three all feed into my writing. I’ve changed a lot and done a lot since finishing my degree and getting an “adult” job. My opinions are different, my hair is different, my mindset is different. I am older. I am more educated on the ways of the world. I now need special cream for my face (goddam eczema). But there is one thing that steadfastly has not changed, and I hope never will: I love writing. It is a warm blanket after being out in the cold for too long. It is a way of making sense of the world. It is a way of bearing witness. It is a messy mud puddle that you can’t wait to jump in. It is an unruly teenager that sneaks out in the middle of the night but makes you proud at the end of the day. It is trying to herd a bunch of hyenas on acid. Here’s a pic of my writing happy place with a new backdrop. I definitely wrote this while feeling a writer’s running high. Let’s be realistic: It’s not always sunshine and rainbows and sometimes I gotta rip the words right out of me, but it’s meant to be. It’s still love even when it’s hard. #instarealtalk #truth #vulnerabilityisstrength #mentalhealth #bravingthewilderness #writersofinstagram #selfcare #selfacceptance #calledtocreate #winnipeg #everydaygratitude #liveoutloud #parentsupport #findyourself #shameless #gratitude #desksetup #deskdecor

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Nothing seemed to help. I felt like a black cloud all the time, which was one of my biggest fears about giving up alcohol: I wouldn’t be fun anymore. And as it turned out, it sort of came true, but it taught me something really important.

I got into the toxic habit of treating a lot of close people in my life like my personal therapists. It’s healthy to ask for support and to talk things out, but there’s limits and boundaries to how much your loved ones can really help. Besides, now that I have a good therapist I’m trying to see regularly I can safely say that those are much more productive conversations and it means I don’t have to put the people in my life through unpaid emotional labour. Which isn’t cool.

Fortunately, my friends and family were willing to talk to me about what they were feeling instead of just running in the other direction.

So after my failed Google search, I started thinking about a new way forward in my recovery.

I thought I had to word vomit, exercise, or numb out all the darkness out in order to lighten up.

I’ve learned that the best thing I can do is accept the darkness and all that comes with it, and light a match.

I couldn’t find lightness in numbing because it obliterates everything — both good and bad. Denying negative or heavy emotions also isn’t realistic because it denies a part of you that exists for a very good reason. So now, I’m trying to stop grappling around for a lever or light switch and meet my internal struggles with unconditional acceptance instead of intolerance. I want to be empowered to make my own light.

Part of the journey has been figuring out the people, activities, and places that create light in my life. Especially my newly sober life.

So far, I’ve figured out that reliving ridiculous moments is a great way to light that match. My go-to memory involves a public park bathroom in New Orleans with a broken lock and yeast infection medication. Nothing reminds me how absurd life is quite like that moment.

Also on the list of things that seem to light a metaphorical match in the darkness: Being outside. Riding a good spin class. Looking at old vacation pictures. Writing. Laughing.

I’m looking to add to the list, but I’m still figuring it out. If all else fails, I just lay on the floor and listen to Magic by Coldplay. Can’t lose with Coldplay.


I recognize that seeking professional help isn’t always accessible or financially feasible. Here’s an article about different types of therapy options for different price points.

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ON LOSING “IT” AND MAKING A COMEBACK

No, I’m not referring to your virginity. I’m talking about when you realize you’ve been feeling….off. Maybe it’s been a few days, weeks or even months. You know when you’re not you, but for whatever reason, you can’t get back to being you.

You’ve lost it. *It* might be something different for everyone. 

Your magic. Your connection to a higher power. Your version of balance. Your gratitude. Your flow. Your peace. Your love. Your wellness. Your self love. Your mental stability. Your total and complete SHIT. 

I’ll provide one example.

When I shoved all semblance of self-care aside recently and allowed my perfectionism to take the wheel, I lost it. All of it. Like that entire list basically. And here’s what happened.

I cried. A lot. Whenever, wherever. Literally while standing in an aisle at Superstore picking toilet paper, at my desk at work when no one was around and once when everyone was around.

I was acting like the jacked up 2.0 version of me that was angry and agitated ALL THE TIME. I cancelled plans, cared way too much about what people thought, was overly critical of others, was insanely critical and mean to myself, binged and pursued short term solutions to pep me up while ignoring how they would make me feel long term.  I was full of every kind of fear you can have. It was like gripping life way too tight and losing feeling in my hands.

All of what I described above totally violates my values, and isn’t the version of myself I want to be. The pain of realizing it sucked. I felt like I had totally and completely let myself down. I was also exhausted from being stressed out and in a cloud of rage and tension 24/7.

I would like to say that I corrected my behaviour immediately, but I felt like I had drained all of my energy on holding on too tight.

Instead, I started to feel totally numb and indifferent — which isn’t really any better, I must say. As someone who feels emotions really deeply (both good and bad), feeling nothing is like a curse. I couldn’t bring myself to care about anything. I came home and watched hours of Netflix and stopped trying taking care of my body or my mind. It’s hard to admit and look within, but we all play a part in our own demise. I was the one who kept hitting ‘next episode’ after all.

I started plotting my epic “comeback” and trying to do things that would reset the hell out of me. However, I also acknowledged that creating sustainable solutions, taking stock of the situation and making changes are how I would come back and stay back.

I ended up quitting my full-time job to pursue other opportunities and I’m starting to get feeling back in my hands again. It feels good.

We all need a kickstart sometimes.

With that being said, here are a few things that have historically kicked my ass into gear:

Making the decisions I’ve been putting off

This is open to interpretation, but you’d be surprised how much mental space and energy unfinished business takes up in your brain. Stop shelving shit for later. In fact, for some people (like myself), procrastinating decisions can be a form of self-sabotage.

There is no better time than now and any decision you make is the right decision, simply because it’s yours. End of story.

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You do not exist to please others, to help or to fix them. You exist to help and fix yourself. Once you are completely full you can spread that love as far and wide as you want to help others love themselves too, remembering to top yourself up with love along the way so you don’t run out. This is self care! Something I forgot to prioritise during the chaos that has been the past few weeks, filling everyone else up…but not myself. If you ever feel like you’re giving too much, or you’re a workaholic like me and take too much on at a time, remember to take a day’s rest – you can’t be amazing all the time 💗 Be selfish with your time because it’s YOURS and no one else’s. People will use you for all you’re worth and they won’t give back – so fill yourself up FIRST

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Cutting back drastically on things that allow me to escape

Escapism is the avoidance of unpleasant, boring, arduous, scary, or banal aspects of daily life.[2] It can also be used as a term to define the actions people take to help relieve persistent feelings of depression or general sadness.

Escapism is as easy as hitting next episode again and again or coming home after a hard week and having some beers. The sun always comes out again tomorrow and we wake to greet the same problems we escaped yesterday. It allows me to float through without reflecting. It allows me to numb myself to whatever pain I’m probably feeling.

When it’s just me and my thoughts it forces me to address them. This tactic might not work for everyone, but it certainly works for me. Especially when it comes to social media.

Doing something really really scary 

Everyday fear keeps us in line. Adrenaline reminds us that real fear is supposed to keep us safe. Jumping out of an airplane isn’t for anyone, but whatever seems scary go do it. Once in a while we all need a reminder that sometimes the only thing stopping us from feeling better is all our fears piled high. It might be riding your bike on the road, climbing the highest tree or jumping for the top bar (in Gymnastics), but do it, and even if you get hurt, take that as a lesson too. You’re still here.

Then get up, get a bandaid and say “fuck you fear you aren’t keeping me safe, you’re making me sorry.” Then smother that fear with a healthy dose of self love.

Reading a self-help book

Is it cliche? Yes. Is it cliche for a reason? Yes.

It’s usually a sign something is off in itself when I start avoiding anything that would make me reflect on my own behaviour or decisions — things like reading books that ask tough questions or meditating. Everytime I force myself to crack a non-fiction book when I absolutely don’t want to, it ends up being the encouragement I need to be better and pull myself up off the ground.

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Book is ‘What a Time To Be Alone’ by Chidera Eggerue

Moving

Whether it’s across the city or to another city, this a real thing that can help. I left my first apartment because my lease was up, but also because I knew I needed a fresh start and a place with air conditioning.

With this being said, no matter where you go, the pain or fear that you are carrying on your back will come with you. For me, my new space invited me in, made me feel good enough to put down the bags and become the person I always wanted to be.

Buying a red leather jacket

While I don’t typically suggest retail therapy as a solution, this jacket was what made me realize I missed colour in my life. It also made me realize I had been dressing, and living, on other peoples’ terms. LAME. Now I wear it and it represents who I really am.

Find your version of my red leather jacket and pick it up whenever you feel like you need some lightning straight to the soul. Or whenever you just wanna be a badass.

Saying “thank u, next”

Take stock of the five people you spend the most time with. Are they the squad that’s gonna help you make a successful comeback? Are they encouraging? Do they want you to do what’s right for you even if it’s not what they’d do? Do they remind you who you are in your moments of weakness? Do they call you on your bullshit, but in a kind way that keeps you accountable? If the answer is no – say thank you. Be kind, but be on your way. Now is the time to rise. You need those who will help lift you, and sometimes holding on to certain relationships means staying down.

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Tag your pals to remind them👇 @yarashahidi

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Changing my hair

Nothing like slipping into an alter-ego version of yourself by making a drastic change that takes 9 months to grow out. No but seriously, I can’t even express the amount of times I’ve used getting over the fear of a hair change to get the ball rolling on addressing my other unfounded bullshit fears.

There have even been a few times I’ve changed my hair only to realize it’s because I wanted other changes. I felt like I couldn’t grasp what I wanted or I was too scared to reach so I changed what I could control.

Moral of the story is: get the bangs, shave your head, dye your hair. It might just help you figure out where you’re at and which glowed up alter-ego you want to embrace going forward.


I thought I’d share in case anyone else is in a position where they don’t feel like themselves and are trying to find their way back.

Fuck any rhetoric that tells you going through rough patches isn’t normal and part of the damn process. Remember your setbacks fondly and don’t forget them — they literally made you who you are and gave you the ability to see things the way you see them now. Because every time we lose it, I think it makes us little bit better at figuring out how to get “it” back. 

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HOW I LEARNED TO FIGHT FOR MYSELF

What made me put on the gloves and get in the ring.

For the majority of my life, I was misguided. I have no illusions about this. 

I went through some heavy stuff when I was younger (that I don’t feel comfortable disclosing), and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect me and the relationships with the people around me.

I don’t need to tell you too much to paint the picture. I’ve thrown up in someone’s parents’ flower bed, yelled at my parents while drunk, fooled around on a soccer field and been taken home in a cop car. I was never one for drugs, which to this day — I’m still very scared of.

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I think I’m 16 or 17 years old here? Honestly I couldn’t tell you.

If you know me now, some of this might come as a bit of a surprise to you. I do talk like a trucker most of the time, which is one of my old habits that hasn’t quite bit the dust yet.


A guy I dated when I was 22 called me something along the lines of “a drunk whore,” (that’s G rated for you) and that was the first time my inner fighter lifted her head, provoked.

I had taken those hits before from people before many times. Metaphorically, my ribs were bruised, lips fat. I was sitting in the corner defeated for most of my late teens and early 20s. But this time was different.

Why? Because prior to that moment, I would’ve said “you’re right.” I’ve written about this before: I hated myself, and I wore the insults people flung like a fitted leather glove.

But I had begun rallying and building up strength in the corner, and I was determined. This was the period in my life when I first discovered self-help books and realized I wasn’t alone in my struggles and flaws.

Everyday it felt like it took all my mental capacity and emotional energy to try to change my thoughts about myself. For those who have never tried to change destructive thought patterns/loops: it’s the mental equivalent of continually practicing a jab-cross-hook-uppercut on a punching bag all day every day. For years.

I worked so hard to make the small amount of progress I had made, I wasn’t about to let someone-that-I-will-not-name come and knock me out cold.

I don’t know how to describe it, but it was in that shitty moment that my months of repeating affirmations changed into an actual belief. Before I would say to myself “you are worthy of respect,” but didn’t believe it in my gut.

But it dawned on me that’s not who I was. I didn’t deserve that title. So put my boxing gloves on and got in the fucking ring. And I’ve been fighting for myself ever since.

I’m not perfect, and I’ve never claimed to be. 

I’ll admit to my flaws and the harm that I’ve caused.

Not all of my choices have been smart. 

Not all of my words have been kind.

I’ve struggled with alcohol use.

I’ve done uncharacteristic things out of shame.

I’ve been deaf and blind to my own emotions.

My words and actions have come from a place of insecurity.

I’ve been self conscious and acted accordingly.

I am sorry for my mistakes.

I do not come from a self-righteous place where I’m claiming that I have figured it all out. I do not come from a place where I’m standing before you saying I’ve always known better. I’m still learning in every way.

I didn’t always understand what it means to be body positive.

I didn’t reflect on my internalized misogyny. 

I didn’t always know about intersectional feminism.

I wasn’t always capable of admitting to my faults. And I don’t deserve a medal now for doing so.

I absolutely haven’t always been the person I am now. Everyday I’m fortunate to wake up and try to live out my values better than I did the day before. I am ready to be wrong and call myself out when I slip up.

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that the reason I am the way I am now is because of what I’ve been through. I have so much empathy for people who are in the middle of that struggle where they want to fight for themselves, but aren’t ready.

With all of that being said, I’ve come to a place in my life where I know I’m flawed — but I’m learning, growing and still deserving of happiness.

I deserve to love and care for myself. 

I am worthy.

I am enough.

And that is the biggest and bravest statement I can make out loud. That I love myself, not despite my flaws and experiences, but because of the person they’ve made me into.

There are people who have tried to put me in my place again since that moment, but I’m still ready to fight for myself. Elbows are down, gloves ready at my chin, ribs are protected. I’m not trying to throw punches, but I am ready to protect myself when necessary.

All we can do is the best we can in the moment, with the knowledge we have at our disposal. I believe that applies, always. We can have the “wrong knowledge” and still believe we are doing what’s right.

I know now he called me a whore from a place of pain, and I don’t hold it against him. We all do shitty things when we are in pain because we’d do anything to make it go away. I know this firsthand.

Admitting your flaws is cool, but you wanna know WHAT’S EVEN COOLER??!?? ADDRESSING THEM! WORKING ACTIVELY TO UNLEARN HARMFUL THINGS YOU TOOK IN GROWING UP! That’s the growth bit. But it starts with stepping up and being able to admit your wrongs or harm, say you’re sorry (when relevant), speak your truth(s) and move forward (ideally with self-compassion, because that tends to make things easier).

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In my personal guidelines of engagement under ‘Read First’ in my highlights, I’ve included this super helpful graphic by my sis @killing.georgina. The reason I’ve included it is because, as stated in today’s posts – most people with white privilege don’t know how to make a sincere apology when they’ve caused harm to BIPOC. This simple but powerful graphic teaches you how to make a sincere apology that doesn’t include ‘buts’, explanations of intent, fragility, defensiveness, further harm, passive aggression or falling apart. Ria also wrote a post about it on Medium in an article called “Oww, Ouch: How to Apologize”. If you find this graphic useful, I highly recommend supporting Ria and her writings on her Patreon at Patreon.com/killinggeorgina.

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Nobody wants to come out, be vulnerable and say they haven’t been perfect. It’s scary and it gives people a chance to hook you in the ribs; but showing up in that way and exposing yourself (in a positive way) puts you on a path to living your full potential. We’re all human. We’re all flawed. We still deserve to shine and love ourselves.

We don’t need to fight each other, but we do need to fight for ourselves. That’s why my  affirmation is “fight for yourself.”

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HOW I’M UNPACKING YEARS OF SELF-OBJECTIFICATION

This narrative of “how to be a woman” hung over my head playing puppet master, making me do things I knew weren’t right for me.

When I was 19, I won a booty shake contest at a local bar (specifically, The ‘World Famous’ Palomino Club, if you live in Winnipeg).

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Me at 19 😂 Sweating profusely, wearing a Hollister plaid and clutching the cash I just won courtesy of booty shake Monday at The Pal. Exhausted, six or seven drinks deep likely and ready for an after-bar McDonalds run. I don’t regret participating, but I recognize now that shaking my 🍑 in front of a crowd of strangers and doing things to get them to cheer me on is the perfect marriage of objectification and self-objectification.  Self-objectification is what happens when you think of yourself as an object of others’ desire first, and as a person second. I wrote all about realizing the impact of self-objectification on @whatcomesnext.co this week, and wrapped it up with the things I’m doing in my everyday life to undo the damage. This post took too many drafts and discussions to finish, but it’s out there and I’m proud 🤷‍♀️ Link is in my bio. #tbt #truestory #olderandwisernow #throwback

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Why did I do it? I was drunk, a friend was egging me on and my boyfriend at the time was unimpressed when I said I was thinking about it. So naturally, I did it to prove a point.

But when I was up there, it felt weird and performative. Even with four (maybe even five?) shots of Fireball in my system, I couldn’t reconcile that feeling. But I walked away with a bunch of cash and bought myself a Big Mac so I wasn’t thinking too hard about it.

Self-objectification (SO) is thinking of oneself as an object of others’ desire first and as a person second. 

In simple terms, self-objectification is objectification coming in an incestuous full circle.  

According to a study done out of Eastern Michigan University by Kroon & Perez, “regular exposure to objectifying experiences socialize girls and women to engage in self-objectification, whereby they come to internalize this view of themselves as an object or collection of body parts.”

As someone who attended my fair share of therapy growing up, and went through an eating disorder treatment program, I’m surprised that the first time I heard about the concept of self-objectification was when I started trying to put words around this thing I was feeling and noticing.

Let me paint you a picture: A guy sees a beautiful girl in a crowd. Maybe she’s sitting in the corner, or has an imaginary spotlight following her as she floats around the room. Her personality or character doesn’t matter. Everything else melts away, and nothing shines through but her beauty. He chooses her because she’s a mythical creature who’s MYSTERIOUS!!!! Why? Because we know nothing about her other than what she looks like.

Oh, not to mention the fact that we’ve also been socialized to believe that beauty = goodness of character.

Iliza Shlesinger has a bit in her Netflix special Elder Millennial on the fun scenario I described above.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve shoved myself into a tight dress (the one in the photo below is leather and especially terrible) and hoped somebody noticed me. I was totally oblivious at the time how much I was setting myself up for disappointment.

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Typing that makes me want to light my computer, and my entire soul on fire. Don’t try to tell me that’s not what we’ve been force-fed in movies and TV. That’s what I ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner growing up; If we are picked out of a crowd based on looks, it means we are valuable and valued.

The danger with self-objectification is that it is associated with a number of ills including body shame, appearance anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

Think about how that manifests itself for a second: women who self-objectify put all their value on being seen as a sexual object, then when they finally get to the part where they are supposed to be *~SExuAl*`~and have sex, they’re supposed to shut off everything they’ve learned up until that point and “enjoy themselves and be free.” BUT they are typically so preoccupied with the way their *INSERT BODY PART* looks that they can’t. Even. Enjoy it. (NOT THE FIRST TIME I’VE TALKED ABOUT THIS FOR A REASON)

When I did let good men into my life, there was almost a part of me that discredited them for liking me for who I was as a person. After all, I had been completely brainwashed into thinking the only thing that was valuable about me was my looks, and I found it hard to believe someone was going to give a shit about my personality, goals, dreams and hobbies.

I shrugged off accomplishments and thwarted off feeling proud for YEARS. I didn’t think it all meant anything compared to the cultural currency of beauty.  This narrative of “how to be a woman” hung over my head playing puppet master, making me do things I knew weren’t right for me.

The worst part is — I had no clue.

My self-objectification was so internalized it was totally undetectable. I wanted to be mad at myself, but I know from reading other women’s stories that I’m not the only one.

Not only had I objectified myself, but I knew I had also done it to other women. For example, every time I would worship someone for their body on Instagram without any regard for their humanity.

I actually felt sick to my stomach when I initially started doing research for this article because it felt like too much to wade through. But here I am writing this, so I guess you could say I put on some rubber boots and I’m getting to work.

I don’t regret participating in that contest (being under 20 is the perfect time to do dumb stuff like that), but I recognize now that winning money by shaking my ass in front of a crowd of strangers and doing things to get them to cheer me on is the perfect marriage of objectification and self-objectification.

Once you understand self-objectification and see yourself acting it out, you can’t unsee it.

I’m still coming to terms with the catastrophic damage that years of self-objectification have done. The diet pills, drinking to be less self-conscious, jealousy, following fit girls on Instagram as weight loss motivation and the *all-consuming concern* that someone will see my cellulite.

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2015. Closest I’ve ever come to doing a boudoir shoot and I look so serious. I’m wearing a HUGE pushup bra (I have small boobs, don’t be fooled) and I didn’t want to take off my jeans because I was too self-conscious about my cellulite at the time. Photo by Kanisha Szekely.

When you strip it all away, it’s simply a way of existing in the world. A story we tell ourselves that has been told to us for generations. Awareness is everything. You can contribute to the narrative the media has rammed down your throat, or start to rewrite it.

For me, this isn’t in line with who I want to be, so I’m ready to let it go.

I read in a Psychology Today article that learning about SO reduces its impact (thank goodness), and they suggest that we actively work to…

  • Override self-surveillance (e.g. sitting a certain way to look skinny, looking in the mirror constantly to check yourself)
  • Reduce our contact with sexually objectifying media (e.g. stop reading appearance-focused magazines)
  • Reduce contact with sexually objectifying people or groups (e.g., discussing another woman’s appearance with your friends because of something they posted)
  • Choose clothing based on comfort
  • Challenge sexual objectification when we hear it or see it
  • Decline to participate in demeaning the appearance of ourselves and others
  • Counter critical self-statements
  • Compliment on things other than appearance
  • Cultivate sustainable ways to affirm our worth

Learning about SO helped me find the missing puzzle piece in understanding why my self-esteem was non-existent for most of my life. I’ve gotta say, it’s actually kind of a relief to know what to call it now.

I know it’s going to be a struggle. I know I’ve stumbled already. I know it’s worth it.

The most interesting thing about me has nothing to do with the way I look, and if there’s something I’ve learned in my self-love journey I know I’ll never be satisfied with a well of validation that always runs dry. I have a feeling the next time I get on a stage to prove a point, it’ll be empowering. Not objectifying.

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2014. Winning a community radio award. This photo captured a spark of genuine pride.

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HOW I LEARNED THAT DOING THINGS ALONE IS AWESOME

Turns out riding solo is pretty great.

When I was 21, I went on a walking tour of St. Boniface alone. Being a person who grew up caring WAY too much about what people thought of me (to the point where I let people’s opinions shape who I was for many years), this felt like an act of defiance.

I was still really new to being single at the time, and I think it was the first time I purposely struck out and did something without a friend by my side. It was a Saturday morning and I had no plans that day. I remember when the tour guide asked the group if anyone was from Winnipeg and I was the only one who put my hand up.

I ended up chatting with the French-speaking guide and found out he was moving to somewhere in Europe the following month and this was his summer job. Then I walked with the tourists (most of them were retired folks) and talked to them about what they thought about Winnipeg so far and what they still wanted to do. I learned all these beautiful and unexpected things about an area of my city that had previously seemed so exotic to me.

Not only did the tour put a dumb smile on my face the rest of the day, but it also made me realize that going it alone was more about attitude than about the activity.

I’m now 24, and I now prefer doing most things on my own. In fact, I travelled through France, Switzerland and Italy alone for two weeks this summer and learned a ton about myself and enjoyed the hell out of it. Obviously, it wasn’t always this way. I’ve worked up to this point.

WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

No seriously. Do you have a list, or something specific that you really want to do but nobody will do it with you on the day you want to do it? That’s an opportunity!

I’ve talked about this before in another blog post, but the summer after I finished my degree I wrote a long list of activities that I wanted to check off before the summer was over. Some of them I had to do with other people, but a lot I could do alone. That was the first time I went to the Planetarium alone — highly recommend it — and travelled on my own agenda to Halifax and had to entertain myself.

My advice? Make a list, or at least identify something you’ve always wanted to try or do. Go at it with fury. Stop waiting for your friends to have time or money or both.

Here’s a list of 50 things to do alone to get you started.

PUT YOUR DAMN PHONE AWAY

It’s tempting to go out alone and just be on your phone the whole time, but it really defeats the purpose and makes you less present. I think a lot of people reach for their phone instinctively when they feel uncomfortable as a reflex now (myself included), but it’s a cop out and we all know it. After watching a famous Simon Sinek video I realized that people are so uncomfortable with the idea of eye contact and looking bored that when someone goes to the washroom at a restaurant they’d rather scroll on social than look around the restaurant for two minutes.

For example, if you’re going take yourself out for food, at least put your phone away (out of immediate reach) while you enjoy your dish. Be present. Chew slowly. It’s really not that terrible.

GOING IN COLD

Fun fact: our tolerance for uncomfortable situations and the unknown increases the more we put ourselves in situations with elements of uncertainty. We can change our threshold for fear (in safe, non-threating situations of course) if we do enough to challenge it.

I like to call it brain blocking, or going in cold. I’m sure there’s a chapter in a sales textbook somewhere about this, but I think it especially applies to doing things alone.

I shut my brain off and start moving my body before my brain has time to stop me or catch up. I learned this tactic when I had to do journalism streeters in college (this is where reporters walk up to random strangers on the street and ask them for an opinion).  My brain would be screaming profanities at me, but I knew the moment I hesitate I would be done for and fail the assignment.

Get out of your car. Stand up. Move your legs. Walk through the door. The first movement is the hardest. Once you’re in the cold, it’s not so bad.

GETTING OVER YOURSELF

The biggest barrier initially was getting over the what-will-people-think mental block I was imposing on myself.

Here are a few tricks I still use when I start to feel this way:

1) I imagine the worst-case scenario: some dickhead makes a comment to the person or people they are with about me, and I hear it.

“Oh wow look at that person eating alone — how sad.”

Lonely Tv Land GIF by #Impastor - Find & Share on GIPHY

First off, I know I have people who love me. No question. Second, their words aren’t bullets unless I load the gun for them. If I take it to heart, I go down. I don’t have to though — because it’s not true.

Second, what kind of dickhead comments on someone minding their own damn business? Don’t be that person. Let people enjoy their time alone in peace.

Here’s the game plan if this does actually happen to you: look them dead in the eyes, smile and take an enormous bite of my food without breaking eye contact. Nothing says confidence like shoving half a sandwich in your mouth in one bite.

2) I laugh out loud. By myself. At myself. Works like a charm.

A recent example: I was zoned out and walking around Toronto alone trying to find a place to eat, full of anxiety about the thought of sitting in a busy restaurant alone. I accidentally walked in front of a car turning when I wasn’t supposed to and I screamed and ran back to the sidewalk and the car honked at me. There was a guy standing on the curb who had seen the whole thing and he said, “he sure told you,” and I started laughing really hard. Like so hard I almost started crying.

I think he was confused but it totally brought me back into the moment and reminded me to not take myself too seriously.

Don’t know where to start? Go to a movie alone — it’s a great way to dip your toe into the pool of trying things by yourself. Plus you can pick the movie, sit in a single seat, and don’t have to split your drink or snacks with anyone.

p.s. The first ever movie I ever saw alone was How To Be Single and I’m such a cliché BUT HEY IF THE SHOES FITS WEAR ITTTTT.

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Do you have something you love doing alone?

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A LOVE LETTER TO ANYONE WHO STRUGGLES WITH SELF LOVE

I know how hard it is to have a lack of self-love, and I love you for it. I want you to love yourself for it too.

I bought a book a few years ago called ‘Unworthy: how to stop hating yourself’. The cover posed the question what would you do today if you didn’t despise yourself? I remember hiding the book from people when I would read it in public.

“If you’ve felt so unworthy, so unlovable, so alone for a long time, then to realize that maybe you can feel a different way about yourself actually makes some people incredibly sad. It feels like coming home — but coming home can unleash a great deal of sorrow. It’s a ‘missed-you-so-much, where-have-you-been’ situation.”

Anneli Rufus

My counsellor at the time told me she thought people might be surprised if they knew how I really felt about myself. I mean, it’s not like you can wear a lapel pin that says “I am full of shame, and I feel like a horrible person.”

To explain, I spent most of my life hating myself. I think the interchangeable saying would be saying I have very low self-esteem, but when I was looking for the book I found above, I Googled how to stop hating yourself.

If I had to describe what it’s like to have a total lack of self-esteem, I would say it’s like sentencing yourself to live in a cave — it’s all out there to experience, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it. You don’t deserve to see sunlight. You convince yourself this is where you belong, and that the world out there isn’t for you. Maybe you’ve gone out before and it made you want to never do it again. You hide yourself, horrified people will see how ugly you really are. You are both the jailor and the prisoner.

What does a lack of self-love look like?

A lack of worthiness can show itself so many different ways. Many of them might look like personality flaws, odd behaviours, or quirks on the surface.

  • Saying sorry too much, because you really are sorry you exist
  • Saying yes to everything, because you are afraid of what will happen if you say no
  • Avoiding choice and leaving your fate in the hands of others
  • Stunting your own growth and blunting your feelings, even the good ones
  • Struggling with vulnerability
  • Replaying the past and letting it dictate your present feelings
  • Driving your life into the ground with self destructive behaviour
  • Deflecting praise
  • Internalizing failure, shame, guilt and error
  • Staying in situations that are unhealthy or don’t make you happy (this also can look like being loyal to a fault)
  • Letting other people’s opinions dictate how you feel about yourself
  • Lashing out or closing down because of shame
  • Wanting things but denying yourself them
  • Getting mad at yourself for not liking yourself, and so forth

Any of these sound familiar?

First things first — these things are not your fault. These behaviours are learned from life experience. I don’t care what anybody says, if you’ve ever felt the pain of feeling worthless, that shit is horrible and equivalent to getting a tooth pulled with no freezing. We adapt to those pains. We act in response to that pain. Sometimes we’d do just about anything to avoid that pain (some of them are a protective mechanism to avoid further pain).

For people reading this who don’t know what this is like, it’s the difference between forgetting someone special’s birthday and thinking “oh shoot, I feel bad, I’ll make sure to send that person flowers and write it my calendar for next year,” and “I’m a shitty friend who isn’t there for the people I care about, I’m going to call them and apologize profusely for forgetting and try hard for the next month to make it up to them.”

Lol true story on my part, but yeah. You get the idea.

Now that I have hindsight, I look back at the things I did as a result of that pain I was causing myself, and I’m not terribly surprised I did them.

Awareness is half the battle. Once you can start recognizing these behaviours and how they impact your life, change comes next. I highly recommend you call in the big guns for change: a counsellor/therapist/psychologist will definitely help get you there faster if your resources will allow for it (work with whichever works best for you).

Even now that my life and feelings toward myself have changed drastically, and I have a very high level of awareness of my self-hatred habits, I haven’t been able to kick them all the way out just yet. And that’s ok. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work.

But we’ll get there.

These thoughts and actions aren’t YOU

It doesn’t matter how we get in the cave, or how deep we are in. Everyone has their own challenges and experiences that drive us in there. I am telling you that no matter what has happened to you, or what you have done, or what has been done to you, you don’t deserve to be in there.

This is going to sound really weird, but every time I feel myself retreating back into the cave, I ask “have I robbed someone lately? hit a pedestrian? lit a house on fire?” Sometimes we feel the need to back in for the smallest of things, but these phrases help put things in perspective sometimes when I think I’ve done something I feel like I’ll  never forgive myself for.

This whole blog is about the moment you step out of the cave into the blinding sun and it’s so beautiful it brings you to your knees.

I remember the moment I realized I could feel differently about myself. I sobbed uncontrollably, not only because I was mourning all the years I’ve spent “in the cave” but also because I had never had hope like that before.

Just because society screams at you to be thinner, smarter, manlier, anything-er doesn’t mean you can’t come out of the cave as you are. It actually means you NEED to come out the cave as you are.

I want to share something I read in that book I mentioned earlier.

“Our true selves are the selves we were before we twisted, bent, and beat ourselves into the shapes we had to take in order to please others: the shapes that we hate. Our true selves are the selves we would have been had no one tried to break or shame or change us. Our true selves are what those who actually love us see in us. Our true selves are who we have always been, even if they have been in hiding all this time. Our true selves are who we will, in that sheer blue zone above self-loathing, always be.”
Anneli Rufus, Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself

The true you is in there somewhere. When you do come out, you be a force to be reckoned with. In the meantime, don’t hate yourself more for it. You’ll get there.

Accepting your experiences

The time you spent hating on yourself? You’ll never get it back. But it taught you a lot, created some really special traits within you, and made your goals and purpose so much stronger. It is not lost time.

Once you realize that you’re worth fighting for, you’ll never be able to un-realize it. The journey from there is a long game full of rediscovery, mistakes and triumphs. Back sliding into the old habits that are well worn grooves in our brains. Charging forward and standing up for ourselves in small ways.

Everything I’ve talked about doing in this blog — finding hobbies, making new friends, learning lessons, letting myself feel sad and so much more — have all been part of my process of coming out of that cave. It has literally been life saving, in every way. Even this blog has been an act of self-love in the face of raging self-doubt.

Just by having a blog, I have become vulnerable. It is terrifying and worth it. Every time I post something, I remind myself that this is for me — as much as it’s for the internet to read.

What have you done for yourself like this? Hold it tight. Appreciate it. Celebrate it. Don’t let anyone take it from you or make you feel differently about it.

What will you start doing? Something to ponder on for your new years resolutions.

Learning to knit won’t undo years of trauma or f*cked up shit, but these things subconsciously say to your brain, “it’s time to start rebuilding regardless of those things.” Every time you try something new you show yourself that anything is possible.

Being good as a result of feeling bad, and asking for a hand up

You can grow positive traits as a result of being someone who hasn’t always felt good about themselves. You might become more compassionate and empathetic, never take a moment of joy for granted, be introspective and maybe “a little too deep/intense” for some people (and that’s ok) and so many other good things.

I am not claiming to be on the other side of self-hatred. More like, I have come out of the cave, cried in happiness a bunch, stumbled around and wondered what the hell to do, and now I’m slowly starting the process of hiking away. It does pull me back from time to time, but the more tools, lessons and tricks I have up my sleeve the better shape I’m in to run further away.

While the war is fought inside your head, having people there is crucial. They can’t fight it for you, but they can be a huge influence on your mindset.

People who can see this struggle to improve in you, and can appreciate it, are worth keeping around.

People who are empathetic and will be vulnerable in return are worth keeping around.

People who hold you accountable to the person you want to be and don’t let you talk shit about yourself or about others are worth keeping around.

People who make you want to love yourself more are worth keeping around.

There is so much self-love in going through the process of rebuilding your self-esteem, even if it doesn’t feel that way. There is love in realizing and acknowledging things need to change. There is love in every small and defiant act of vulnerability. There is so much love in self-compassion and care.

And you deserve it all.


While this post was based on the literature I’ve read and my personal experience, I recognize that everyone’s experiences and situations are very different and I have privilege in being able to afford a counsellor, books and so forth. I wish you all the best on your personal journey, whatever it may look like.

I hope that one day you’ll be able to look back at old journal entries and realize how much you’ve changed. It’s an amazing feeling.

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