It’s one-thirty a.m. as I write this, on august 26, and it’s my birthday. I’m twenty-two today. It feels a little surreal and weird to have gotten here, not that I thought I wouldn’t make it to this age, this very moment per se, just that so much has happened. Everything that transpired over the past year, since my twenty-first birthday, has somehow changed and shifted the entire course of my life.

I’ve honestly learnt so much over the two decades of my life, some of it dark and bleak but some positive. Nothing in life is really unicorns and glitter, it’s unrealistic to expect it to be—but there is always a silver lining to every dreary grey cloud.

And hey, I can’t sleep and i feel weird. Not sad, but happy in a kind of empty way. I don’t know if that makes sense. This post will probably just end up being an incomprehensible stream of consciousness; just spilling out my thoughts and the lessons I’ve learned in the years I’ve been alive . . .

1. It’s completely okay if you don’t know what you want to do with your life yet.

You have a long time to figure that out and you are allowed to change your mind. Even I’m still figuring it out. There are so many things I want to do, so many career paths I would love to venture into. But your twenties are genuinely about learning and experiencing, so grab hold of it and start discovering yourself. Your mind will change, your feelings will change and you will change. With that; your perspective on life will change. You’ve got the rest of your life to figure out exactly what you want to do, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t have it planned out down to a t just yet. Use this time to learn, experience, grow and have fun.

2. A small number of friends is always, always better than a big group!

I can’t stress this enough. Always treasure the small close-knit friends you have, you know who they are. And you’ll always end up finding your forever friends, even if it takes a while. For some people, it takes until they reach sixth form or university to meet their friends-turned-family. While a big group of mates sounds fun and exciting, it really isn’t worth the hassle and drama it drags along with it.

3. Always follow your gut.

Your gut instincts are always right. Listen to your intuition. Trust it. Trust your body’s reaction to situations and people.

4. PEE AFTER SEX!

I’m sure you don’t want a UTI. So pee. After. Sex. Please.

5. Take the opportunity when it presents itself.

There will be moments when an opportunity appears, whether it’s for a job or an internship or some kind of event, or outing, whatever it is, take it. Do it. (Unless it’s an unpaid internship—you shouldn’t have to bend over backwards and do full-time and get paid only for travel expenses. It’s not worth it.)

6. Drink alcohol responsibly (see also: alcohol is not required for fun!)

Know your limits, always have a way of getting home and keep your phone safe with you at all times and fully charged. Always let someone know where you are. But also know, you really don’t need alcohol to have fun. Sure, it’s great being drunk, but drinking all the time is not worth the after effects. And hangovers are a bitch.

7. Ask for help when you need it.

Pretty self explanatory. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed when you’re in need of help, are feeling distressed or whatever. Also note: I am always here to listen if you need to vent or just want to talk. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone.

8. Have that cake or pizza or cookie.

One slice of cake won’t undo being healthy. Its okay to have junk food every now and then, as long as you’re maintaining a healthy balanced diet too. But really, you can still have cake and pizza and burgers and fries, and still lose weight—burn more calories than you consume and drink a litre and a half of water. Exercise. You can still be healthy and eat good food.

9. Tell your crush how you feel.

Worst case scenario: they don’t feel the same and you move on. Best case scenario: they like you too and it’s the start of something new.

10. Splurge on something nice.

Sometimes you just gotta go for it, spend ridiculously on something you want. At least once.

11. Friendships can be just as toxic as romantic relationships.

When you have a toxic friend, you need to end this friendship for the sake of your mental health and well-being. Staying in this friendship and environment is extremely detrimental.

12. Appreciate the small moments.

It genuinely is the little moments, the small things, that add up to the big picture and mean the world. Appreciate it, cherish it closely. Write something you’re grateful for every day or even weekly. It’ll make such a huge change to the way you think too.

13. Love appears in many forms.

It’s never just a romantic display that the movies present to us, it goes far deeper than that. Love is in everything: in the way your mum gets you a plate of fruit when you’ve been studying for ages, the way your friend sees something in-store and buys it because it reminds them of you, the way you feel about your favourite hobby, book, characters, the course you’re studying, the job you’re at. There are so many forms of love and it is always evolving.

14. Believe in yourself. You’re more than enough.

15. Go to the cinema or restaurant by yourself.

There’s nothing weird about it. I’ve gone to the cinema by myself and it was super chill. I loved it. Take yourself out on that date! Dress up, have fun. Learn to love your own company.

16. Take pictures.

Document every moment, remember it. It’ll never come again, so even for a second, capture it.

17. Take the plunge and get that tattoo or piercing.

Piercings and tattoos are fun and a great way to express your personality, albeit a little painful. I have 5 piercings (ears and nose), and 2 tattoos. I want to get more tattoos. Go for it. If it’s something you really want to do, don’t let fear get in the way. Same goes for dyeing your hair.

18. Spend time with your family.

That’s time you’ll never get back.

19. Your mental health comes before your job or your education.

You can always resist or redo the exams and coursework or submit extraneous circumstances forms, or take a sick day or holiday. Or try to find another job that will support you. Granted, it may be easier said than done. But don’t destroy yourself for a place that can replace you within a few hours. Your mental health is so so important so prioritise it.

20. Missing people is okay.

Sometimes, some people end up hurting you, people you loved. It’s okay to miss them even if that is the case. the feeling won’t just disappear. Accept it; embrace it, but remember why you deserve better too.

21. You don’t always have to be productive.

In a society constantly telling us to hustle and grind and reach success by a certain time it often feels like we need to be on the move and be productive; working working working. It passes the message that you need to be up by 9am and working til 5pm; do what you can and more to reach your goals every day. But sometimes you can just let your hair down and relax. Not every day needs to be consumed by productivity. Some days just chill in bed, watching Netflix and having pancakes. Let your mind recharge and recover so you don’t hit a burn-out.

22. Drink water.

It may make you pee, like, 52 times in the space or 10 minutes but it is your best friend. It will help you so much.

—Sumaiya, xo

Posted by:Sumaiya Ahmed

Sumaiya Ahmed is a student, poet and freelance features journalist, aiming to break down the boundaries of cultural stigma and shame attached to mental health and sexuality within the South Asian culture, and bringing marginalised topics to light. She is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Poised.

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