"Help: I'm stuck a rut and feeling so sad—and it's my birthday!"
I am a frequent reader of HelloGiggles and love the idea of getting advice from a mom who is not your own. So, after reading many columns I, decided it was time to get some help with my own problems. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom and she gives great advice but she can be a little biased in her opinions, especially about her own family. Here goes…
I turn 20 in about three weeks and I feel as though I have nothing to show for it. I know 20 is young, but some people have lived an entire lifetime by now. So, in just 18 days I’ll be a 20-year-old virgin who’s never had a real relationship, because the guys I date don’t stick around for more than a few weeks. I’ll also be a 20 year-old who has no idea what to do in college, because I still don’t know what I like at this point. I’ll be a 20 year-old who stays in most nights because I’m shy and haven’t made that many new friends at my university. I’m stuck in a rut and it just leaves me feeling sad most days.
This is where you come in, Sarah.
Please help me to help myself. Why have I not changed, why haven’t I really started living?
—Permanently-Stuck in Canada
I won’t write to you as “permanently stuck” because you aren’t going to be. Birthdays can trigger a lot of self-reflection, and if you aren’t in a good place at that moment, also sadness, regret, and anxiety. “Milestone” birthdays (20, 25, 30, etc.) can feel particularly scary and emotionally overwhelming. However, as someone who has passed through many, many of those milestone birthdays and survived, I can tell you that you wake up the morning after, not in some important new stage, but simply you, living your own life at your own pace.
The first thing you need to do is stop comparing yourself to others. I know that can be really, really difficult, especially with everybody broadcasting their successes and posting their prettiest selfies and competing for bazillions of “likes” on social media. Remember, all of the information your peers are putting out there (not to mention celebs with their posses of stylists and clever assistants and photo retouchers) is carefully curated to display a shiny, hip, sexy, super happy image—not NEARLY the full picture. And, please, try to drop the notion that anyone has lived a whole lifetime by 20! Again, this idea is a byproduct of the culture we live in where the media spotlights and drools over one-in-a-million baby moguls like Mark Zuckerberg or Lorde. They’ve done awesome things, but aren’t normal! You know those timelapse videos were a flower grows to full maturity in, like, 60 seconds? Ninety-nine percent of people your age are just like you, figuring stuff out and inching into their grown-up selves at a natural, sloooow pace.
Developing solid self-esteem is about doing stuff you love, surrounding yourself with people who love you, and shushing the self-directed trash talk in your mind. If you are spending a lot of time alone, hibernating in your dorm, you probably aren’t doing any—or much—of the above. Think “baby steps.” Invite some nice, approachable person in class to get a coffee and study together, join a student organization that champions a cause you really care about. Make your goal be to get out into the world more and experience some joy—not to figure out your whole life plan or find a serious boyfriend right away. To help shift your thoughts from being critical and negative, each night before you go to bed write down three things that went well—its a simple exercise, but it really gets you noticing the small blessings you encounter every single day. Honestly, I’ve had my seriously sucky days when all I can dredge up is, “no traffic” or “good weather” —but still, the practice is rewiring my brain to think more positive. If you are feeling lonely, why not call your mom or an old friend? Hearing warmth in someone’s voice as you chit chat is a huge mood booster—it doesn’t have to be a heavy conversation.
If you find your bluesy-ness if preventing you from going to work or class or interfering with your sleep or eating habits, you should go to your school counseling service for extra support and help.
Try to befriend yourself—offer yourself the same kindness, patience, and generosity I think you would treat a loved one in your spot.
You’re going to be OK.
Have an issue that could use a mom’s-eye-view? Our advice column features a real live mother of three who is ready to discuss any of your burning questions judgment—and baggage—free. Email AskAMom@hellogiggles.com with the subject line “Dear Mom.” Please include your first name or nickname and where you are from. Questions may be edited for clarity and length.