My mom once told me I was born with swagger. For the majority of my life I had a sort of unwavering confidence. I loved to dance and sing; I loved to be on stage and I was never afraid of speaking my mind. Even in the most awkward stages of life — middle school and high school — I was never truly addled by insecurities. I had a powerful confidence that allowed me to connect to all types of people. I had pride in myself. And at the age of 18 I was even bold enough to say that I loved myself.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t without doubts and flaws, I was still a high-schooler after all. I played into social cliques and silly gossip. I worried about what others thought of me, and woke up early in the morning to press my wavy hair with a straightener. But I never really questioned my worth in high school.
People often confuse self-love with vanity. At age 16 I was called conceited on an anonymous website. I didn’t want people to think I was conceited! I loved myself, sure, but I didn’t think I was better than anyone else. I didn’t think I was the most beautiful girl in school, far from it; I didn’t think I was the smartest either, not even close; but I knew I had beauty in my soul and I wasn’t going to let anyone take that from me. Until I did.
I wasn’t with many hardships growing up. I had a happy childhood and a loving family. I had friends, and a warm bed, and good food (even though the organic Oreos my mom bought were never quite as good as the real ones). I was surrounded by love, and that undeniably helped me reach such a high at that young age.
I was missing something, though. I had figured out how to love myself, but I needed someone else to love me too. It took a few tries, but eventually I found a guy who I was so infatuated with that I didn’t believe life could become any sweeter. He was my first love and I fell in deep. All the cliches you can imagine about first loves seemed to be true in my case. I was caught up in a whirlwind and blinded by the new emotions I felt.
Well, if you’ve read even a little bit of my blog, you know how that relationship ended. I’ve written about the distance that made things hard on us, I’ve written about the other girl, I’ve written about getting over it, but I’ve never written about how much of myself I sacrificed for that relationship.
There was more to the story, there always is. There were drugs and lies and nasty words; there was sex and jail and tears; there was infidelity and anger and hope and despair and by the end of it all, crying on the side of a road miles from home, just days after my 20th birthday, I had sacrificed too much and I lost myself.
It is hard to admit, but I struggled through the first few years of my twenties. I was no longer the care-free, self-loving, happy person I once was. I was broken, self-pitying, and tormented. I didn’t feel beautiful anymore, I felt worthless. I couldn’t remember what it felt like to have a peaceful mind and a light heart, which had previously been characteristics of my soul. My friends and family might not have noticed, I hid it well, as I suspect most people who are going through hardships do. But I let my mind eat away at me. I began to think self-deprecating thoughts, I began to think that I must have experienced all of this heartache because deep down I was a bad person. Every mistake I had made in life, every wrong turn, they had all culminated to bring me to this place and maybe I deserved it in some way. I let these negative thoughts take hold of me, and drag me down, until it was hard to imagine climbing back up.
I kept working at it though – through it. I tried to be happy and I tried to believe I was still beautiful, I really tried, but it felt like it was coming from a fake place, from a part of myself that no longer existed. I continued practicing yoga and I found a passion for writing. And slowly, slowly I began to let people close to me know about the tough times I had been having.
As I let people in I began to feel better, but I didn’t feel like the person I had once been, not even close. I had lost my swagger, lost my confidence and I didn’t know how to get it back. For a while I lived in a half-state, somewhere in between a desire to work towards happiness, and resignation. I didn’t want to be unhappy but every time I felt like I made a step forward, something would happen and those negative thoughts would creep back in. Finally, after over a year and a half of feeling like a distant version of my former self, I suddenly snapped out of it.
I remember it perfectly, I was chaining my bike up to the side of my house, feeling sorry for myself for some small reason and, for whatever reason, in that moment I was able to see myself really clearly. I took a look at myself. That's when I realized something: I might have been acting like the type of person I wanted to be, but I certainly wasn’t thinking like it, I wasn’t embodying it. I was letting these small, mean thoughts control my perceptions of the world, and whether I realized it or not, I was projecting that negativity outwards. Sure, I had gone through a tough experience, but that time was long past, and now the only person bringing me down, was me. I wasn’t truly allowing happiness in, I had closed myself off to it, and all I needed to do was open the doors.
And so I made a decision, to be the person I wanted to be. Not to TRY to be that person but to BE that person. I said “fuck you” to all the negative thoughts in my mind, because I had come to realize something else –thoughts are just thoughts. They truly are. They are not what make you, you are what makes you. Your thoughts are just chattering voices lying above your own consciousness, but your consciousness is what dictates who you really are. I began to live by a new motto — life’s what you make it.
I made a change in how I was approaching my life. I decided to live like the person I wanted to be; I decided to embody it in every way I knew how. I started remembering the beautiful things in life. I started remembering the beautiful parts in my soul. I started choosing to be happy and choosing to find happiness in each part of life, and just like that, I was happy.
Shit is going to happen in life, and it’s going to keep happening – there is nothing you can do to stop that. But you also have a choice, you always have a choice. You can choose how you react to situations: you can choose to let things bring you down, or you can choose to stomp those things down. You can choose to dwell on the past, or you can choose to live in the now. You can choose to let the little things in life affect you or you can be happy, simply because you can. I know this advice is hard to take seriously, it sounds so much like the quotes we see scattered all over tumblr and the internet, but they are old and ancient ideals for happiness and I can vouch that they really work. If you choose to embrace all these teachings in your life, even when it seems hard to do, you will undoubtedly see an amazing effect.
I just turned 22 and I feel as if I have a new found understanding on how to take on life. I have not only rediscovered the magic in life, but I am happier than I have ever been. I am no longer quite as anxious, I no longer dwell for extended periods of time on hardships, or worry about people who bring negativity into my life. Because I have realized that I can choose to be happy. I can choose to be good-hearted, and I can choose to see the beauty in life each and every day. And that’s just what I do. Maybe it’s true that you can’t do every single thing you want to do in life, but you can certainly be whoever you want to be. So find out who that person is and start living.
Everyone knows the phrase “Carpe Diem” — seize the day. But, I’m challenging you to do something more than that. Carpe Vitam. Don’t just seize the day, seize your fucking life.