Am I a better me?
This is a broad question, and not unintentionally so. Better is a strong word, but I’m going to go ahead and use it. I’m getting there. I’m getting better.
There are a few notable things that I did over the rough course of the past year that have contributed to this feeling of general improvement. This is not a comprehensive exploration of every single factor, but rather a nod to the biggest. These have unquestionably spread their influence into other parts of my mind, and aspects of my life, and for that I’m going to give them the recognition they deserve.
The first thing I want to talk about I will do briefly, as I have talked about it at length before. This is, of course, living alone. I said at the time that it was the best thing I’ve ever done for my mental health, and I absolutely stand by that now – almost six months after moving back home. I learned so much about myself. I got to know myself as my own companion. This is an incredible thing to do for yourself – to be your own home. I believe that the influence this experience will have on my ability to live harmoniously with others in the future will be positive and tangible. More importantly though, the gift that this experience gave me was the ability to spend time alone. This is a skill I had lost over the past few years to depression. Not only did I hate being left alone with my thoughts, but I was actually terrified of it; I would panic at the thought of spending even an hour or two by myself. This is what made the decision to live alone so enormous and so very scary... but I did it. And it worked. And now, I am able once again to relish time spent in my own company. To enjoy it, to plan for it, and to love it. Nothing is worth more than feeling safe in your own company.
After becoming comfortable being physically alone, came the decision to be romantically alone. Or, to put it more normally: to be single. Ever since my first proper relationship had its tentative start when I was fifteen, I had not been emotionally single, choosing instead to attach myself to relationships and, when they ended, to remain attached to the same people. I needed to let go, properly for once. I needed to be emotionally available, and to give up finally on the idea of rekindling old relationships. I finally achieved this for myself at 22, and in March of this year I went on my very first date with a stranger. Over the following three months, I threw myself into dating with gusto. I met so many new people, mostly wonderful, and learned a lot about others and about myself. And although the idea of making conversation with a total stranger has always seemed to me like total nightmare fuel, I can honestly say that I found the experience really enjoyable. I got better at being open, aiming for total honesty when asked about myself. My social anxiety has been noticeably soothed by the deep-end that is a one-on-one date.
My favourite thing that this experience gave me though, was simply the knowledge that I am not undesirable. I don’t need to keep one foot in an old relationship – I don’t need to hold on, or to look back. There are people out there, people that I haven’t even met yet, who share interests and goals and senses of humour with me, and who even find me attractive. There’s a whole world out there that I had convinced myself didn’t exist. How exhilarating is that knowledge? Now, as I find myself in a new relationship and therefore off the market once again, I can tell you that it’s like no relationship I’ve been in before, for an interesting reason: I know that I don’t need to be in it. I know that I don’t need to be in it, and that’s the best thing that I can know in order to put myself fully into the relationship. I don’t need to be in it, which means that what is left is wanting to.
Off the back of the dating scene, I’ve also made friends with new people, and even become more confident about going out to gigs and the like. Having this influence on my confidence in meeting people, introducing myself, and how I socialise, has made a huge difference to my life. These are aspects of my confidence that I hope to nurture and grow. I feel like I can be discerning in who I devote my time and energy to, and like I won’t allow myself to end up in a situation again where I’m friends with people for the wrong set of reasons. I’m nowhere near done with meeting new people, and that’s something that really excites me.
Finally, I’m going to talk a little about my mental health. Most of you won’t know this because I didn’t talk about it a lot, but I was on medication for combined anxiety and depression for a long time. I was on it for about a year from the age of nineteen, and went back on it again from twenty-one. The medication is designed to stabilise your mood, and to inhibit the production of the neurochemicals responsible for anxiety. It’s very good, and worked really well for me. It helped enormously over the past year and a half, by supporting my brain while I fixed my life around myself. While I was making these big changes in how I spend my time, who I spend it with, and how I treat myself, my medication was there to cushion me should I fall.
Two weeks before my 23rd birthday, I took myself off it. This was a really big decision, and I can’t know just yet whether or not it was the right time for me to make it. It’s been just over five weeks now, which means it’s too soon to assess my mental health, but I wanted to bring it up for the reasoning behind it. I have made such huge strides in changing my life and bettering myself, that I now finally felt comfortable enough to see whether I can do this on my own. Whether I’m in a good enough place to support myself through depressive episodes or anxiety attacks. Whether I’ve made enough changes to lessen their frequency, intensity or effects. These are very big questions, and I don’t yet know whether such things are even possible. But for the first time in a long time, I think that they could be.
Let’s return now to the overarching question. Am I a better me? I intend to keep asking myself this forever – this is neither a question that stopped being relevant as I turned 23, nor one that will stop being relevant after I turn 30 in 2023. I’m not ever hoping to stop improving. There is no end goal here other than upward motion and wherever that takes me. There is one thing, however, that I will give myself here.
I’m a better person this year than last, and nothing makes me more proud than the fact that I did this for myself.