18 Things I Could Do at 18, That I Can’t Do at 28 because, (Mental) Health

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18. Not wear sunscreen: As much as I resist the culturally ageist perception of ideal beauty as exclusively young and wrinkle-free, I’m hyper-aware of sun damage in my late 20s and lather up accordingly. As a tanning bed reformist for 10 years, it gives me more peace of mind to be pasty and safe(r) than bronzed and worried about my increasing resemblance to an old leather boot.

17. Skip the stretch: A mistake I learned the hard way when I launched myself into a women’s soccer league one summer and limped away after one game with two pulled hamstrings and lower back pain. This 28-year old requires a proper warm-up and stretch before the recommended 30 minutes of mild-moderate exercise per day.

16. Drink with abandon: Gone are the days of vodka-Diet Cokes, wine by the litre, and double-header party weekends. As the kids say, I simply cannot. With every passing year, my hangovers become more and more wicked and with the current medication that I am on, going over my limit means spending the next several days trolling around in my own misery.

15. Hang out with toxic people just because they are fun: And make no mistake, they were very fun. But on a lazy Sunday, I want to clean up the party with someone who wants what is best for me and makes me feel understood. I’ve become more adept at evaluating character over the years and find myself being more discerning over who I become close with and allow to influence me. When it comes to fun and quality, I say, get friends who can do both.

14. Diet, restrict, and punish my body: Making my body feel deprived and empty used to empower me. Now I just feel empty and deprived when I try to restrict or calculate my food intake or punish my body at the gym when I’ve been “bad”. I try to listen to my body and understand what it is trying to tell me, because I’m learning that it responds better to tenderness than hate.

13. Eat shit: While I’ve moved away from restrictive eating, I do have to be careful of what I put in my mouth because my body does not bounce back from McDonalds & friends like it used to. While no foods are off limits for me (still have a weird aversion to bagels though) I have to consider whether I am prepared for the physical consequences once certain foods have had their way with me.

12. Sleep (without background noise): I used to be such a good sleeper! I could read for a few minutes and drift right into dreamland. My sleep hygiene is a work in progress, but I always try to fall asleep in silence for a few minutes before I inevitably cave and throw on mindless background noise to drown out racing thoughts.

11. Remember… anything: Remember getting somewhere without a GPS device? Knowing phone numbers? Birthdays? I used to. Now I need aids. I think my brain is lazier now.

10. Not own an agenda: how did I even know which way was up?

9. Wait for “next week’s episode”: When someone offers me a television series recommendation and informs me that I CAN’T watch all the episodes in one afternoon, I feel overwhelmed- thanks, but no thanks. I have lost the virtue of patience when it comes to my entertainment.

8. Be a road warrior: While I make the best of the driving I have to do by filling up the time with podcasts, audiobooks, and steering wheel karaoke, I am not the driver I used to be. Long drives take a toll on me, mentally and physically, and I know when I need to avoid them and recover from them.

7. Make everyone like me: I remember being shocked when I was informed that I couldn’t expect to be liked by everyone. That it was possible to not be everyone’s proverbial cup of tea. “If I could only tap into what they liked…”, I used to tell my dear naive self. Let’s chalk this one up to being too exhausted for constant performance art, but I think I’m really more interested in being a person I can be proud of, since I’m the one who has to live with me full-time.

6. Care too much about clothes: My closet was a graveyard for all the dead fashion trends of the past –polo shirts in every colour, dozens of pairs of cheap flats, hip-hugger jeans. I shudder. These days, I wear what I feel comfortable in, what I think looks good, repeat outfits frequently and DARE SOMEONE TO SAY SOMETHING.

5. Unpack and settle: I used to love my room at home, and spent hours putting magazine clippings on the walls, listening to my 6-disc CD player, and losing myself in a novel. Perhaps from all the moving I did in university, I really struggle to settle into a new space. I avoid unpacking and putting things on walls and getting everything I need for the place to feel comfortable. I don’t know why I feel like I need to be ready to pack up leave at a moment’s notice.

4. Deny my mistakes: I went to any length to avoid admitting that I had done something wrong and rarely let me myself believe that something was my fault. Maybe I was holding on to the residual childhood fears of “getting in trouble” and “being bad”. Now I’m not afforded the luxury of denying my responsibility, because I cannot physically sit with the feeling that I may have hurt someone or avoided accountability. It’s uncomfortable and I feel compelled to make it right somehow.

3. Take my parents for granted: At some point in the last decade, my parents decided to become more human instead of the immortal beings that I believed they always would be. The nerve. While they both feel and look good (Hi, Mom), I’ve become acutely aware of their human vulnerabilities and changing pace of life. I get on their case about their health. And I worry about them more.

2. Avoid counselling: As if I was stronger because I didn’t ask for help. Silly girl.

1. Pretend I’m okay when I’m not: I always tell my parents they should have put me in drama and gotten me an agent, for the amount of time I spent in my late teens/early 20s acting as if I was okay when I wasn’t. Was I ever good at faking it. Not only does it seem counterproductive to bury and dismiss my feelings now, but I feel like I couldn’t do it if I tried. Hence, this blog, I guess.

Flip my Phone, Change my Life

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As you may have read, I’ve relegated my iPhone into semi-retirement, only using it when I am connected to wifi, so essentially, at home or as I pop into Starbucks. At work, in the car, out and about, or hanging with friends, I’m armed with my Alcatel GO FLIP phone, which the lads at the Bell store threw in for free with my $29/month talk and text plan. It was all very easy, aside from the technology being ill-equipped to transfer my iPhone contacts to my new “Address Book” and having to half-halfheartedly joke that I was interested only in simplifying my life, not pushing drugs.

It’s been an illuminating experience so far, with the most notable observation being that, before the switch, I suspect I was edging on an addiction to my smartphone. I realized that I would scroll mindlessly, only stopping once I registered that I had seen this post earlier in the day. Because, God forbid I failed to Like a single photo of someone else’s child the moment one was posted. My phone was on my desk at work, in my line of vision, so that I could respond immediately should a notification come in, so really, there was no reprieve from screen time, and I felt a near-constant impulse to stay in the loop.

At work, screen time is unavoidable. We need to use our computers and be connected in order to carry out the functions of our jobs. And many of us are good about taking regular breaks from our desks to stretch our legs and give our eyes and brains a break. But what do we so often do when we take a break from the computer? My guess is to turn directly to our phones to see what we missed.

So, there is no break.

I would argue that our reliance upon our devices makes us feel more overextended in our lives than we actually are. Finding the work-life balance that is right for us and our families is already a work in progress, yet we allow ever more distractions into our personal lives that interfere with our ability to be present.

When we interrupt an in-person conversation with someone to address a notification from our device, we throw ourselves into a state of limbo. We have plucked ourselves out of the real world, that particular human dynamic, full of non-verbal cues, gestures, and nuanced expression, in order to attend to the digital world. But we are not fully in that world either, apologizing for answering the call or text and feeling guilty for not giving our companion our full attention, we might rush through the digital exchange. We don’t get ahead either way. Once we finish with our device, we have to reset the human interaction with a version of “okay, sorry, what were you saying?” effectively hindering the flow and chemistry of the conversation. Do we ever fully return our undivided attention to our companion, or is half our brain still scanning the digital world for information? There is no rest for the screen-stimulated brain.

The more we allow our device to control our attention, the more we feel like we are missing out on something, and this is certainly not a feeling we welcome. Aside from life-and-death emergencies, and other such situations where we require instantaneous feedback, the information will be there whether we address our device every ten minutes, every hour, or once a day. When we get in the habit of requiring constant stimulation, we may never feel like we have fully decompressed and refueled the tank. If our brain does not differentiate between types of screen time, are we really striking the work-life balance we think we are? We may be away from our desks, but our brains are still very much at work processing information from a screen.

So what started as tossing my smartphone to reduce my monthly cell phone bill, has evolved into a kind of vacation of the mind. My flip phone is no frills by definition: numbered keypad, capped talk and text, and no front facing camera- may my unborn selfies rest in peace. And guess what? I no longer feel the same itch to check my device for notifications. I decide when I check it, and attend to that information when I have a moment. I feel less attached to the social media world and feel a diminished need to scroll mindlessly through apps when I do have internet access at home. I use my phone to confirm plans but avoid long-winded texting conversations for the most part– mostly because texting on the number pad is far too time consuming. I feel more rested, present, and would you believe that, the other night, I read a book in its entirety without once interrupting myself by checking my phone. And I say interrupting myself because I have a renewed sense of choice when it comes to tuning into and out of the digital world.

What is it that we are so afraid of missing out on? Does anyone actually feel better after a deep creep? What “they” are doing out there is not where life is. Life is taking place right here, between your ears, in front of your eyes and in your hands. We should be looking up from our screens once in a while and join in.

The Unlearning

I looked to know you,

when we shared the same air, only ours.

Passing warm breath back and forth like secrets.

I see you, beyond and beneath the face I’ve been learning.

I trace your wiring, your make-up, your pieces,

the ones almost forgotten,

like a stack of photographs hidden in an old book.

Your colour, the stitching of your insides,

It’s purple, not quite pink,

because you are flawed, with frayed edges,

So hungry for dilated gazes, and warm skin.

Flawed, and wholesome somehow still,

yellow and gleeful,

but not in my hands.