10 Changes in 10 Years — Part 1
When I was 19, I knew something was wrong with my brain.
Today’s post is inspired by something a little unusual — my tenth Reddit cake day. It got me thinking: how much has my life changed in ten years? Think back to 10 years ago: Who were you? What was your life like? How much have you changed? Can you see your personal growth? Are you proud of it?
I’ve been on a huge journey in ten years, from 19 to 29. I’m 30 this year, and I’m actually looking forward to a new decade rather than dreading it like I thought I would. Many things are different now from how they were back then, and it’s humbling to think back to a much younger me who had no idea what was to come. So, let’s dive into the things that changed!
1. Therapy really changed my brain
I’m not going to pretend I’m anywhere near “normal”. I’m far from it. Undoing a dodgy upbringing (to put it veeeery lightly) will be a lifetime of work, but I feel better prepared to tackle it.
When I was 19, I knew something was wrong with my brain. Healthy people don’t have a “half-yearly breakdown” and feel absolutely empty and broken. Unfortunately, instead of dealing with the issue head-on, I ignored it.
Pro tip: Trauma doesn't go anywhere. It waits until really inconvenient moments to pop up and remind you that things are fucked. Thanks, brain!
After over two decades of feeling like a burden, fierce independence overtook me. I don’t need help. I can get through all this alone. Well, as it turned out, I did need help, and I couldn’t do it alone. Thankfully, I took the plunge in 2019 (at 27) and found a therapist. I wish I’d done it a lot earlier, but I got there eventually!
In the UK, we can get mental healthcare for free, but it’s a hugely overstretched service, much like the rest of the NHS. I ended up paying for private therapy sessions, and the NHS refused to help me other than throwing some drugs my way. They were a mixed bag, and for me, I don’t think they did much more than mask what I needed to work through. Still, the citalopram mood boost gets a 10/10. The tinnitus and sweating? 0/10. I digress.
Therapy is great. It’s hard. But it’s really helpful to talk everything through, have my experiences validated, and get to the root of my issues. Initially, it was just about challenging what I considered to be normal.
Quest hint: When you’ve been gaslit and under coercive control for decades, it’s hard to know what is and isn’t real. Very little of what I thought was normal actually was.
Thankfully, I’m pretty good at telling the difference now, although the critical voice in my head is still going. But now it’s around 20% of the time, not 80%.
Access to therapy is a privilege, and I was lucky enough to have savings to pay for my sessions. Luckily, you can find CBT worksheets online, and here’s an excellent DBT workbook if you have CPTSD, too. I plan on diving into some online worksheets to save money for this winter so I don’t freeze to death. Memes are also amazing, they help me feel like I’m not alone, and it’s great to laugh at my dumb shit sometimes.
2. Love is different now
Love isn’t like it appears in the movies.
Love isn’t what my parents taught me.
Love isn’t codependency.
Love isn’t conditional.
I got married at 22 after getting engaged at 17. My advice to anyone who grew up in an abusive, neglectful home is to get therapy long before you consider marriage. While my marriage wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great. My ex repeated many neglectful patterns and the lack of self-reflection and emotional intelligence from my childhood. But that was “normal” to me.
I wish I’d known more about how love was supposed to be. It’s not normal to feel second best to a hobby or like a spare part. Expecting to be in a “bubble” for a decade is unhealthy. We both had terrible relationship modelling, so it’s no wonder codependency seemed romantic. It’s another thing romcoms teach us: it’s cute to be completely inseparable, never argue, and essentially emotionally abuse the other person into never leaving. Yeah, it’s not cute.
If I’d accessed therapy earlier (and if he had, too), I wouldn’t have a divorce to my name. I don’t regret any of it, but it would have saved us both a lot of heartbreak, disappointment, and money.
Shortly after our divorce, I met my other half on Tinder, the most romantic of venues. When we first got together, I thought love was conditional, and I wrote about that here. Thankfully, therapy and his patience showed me that love is unconditional, and it’s a beautiful thing, if a little mundane ;)
We’ve been together three-and-a-half years now, and our relationship isn’t perfect. But I don’t want it to be. I don’t have a romanticised view of what love should be now. I want a relationship where I can say, “Hey, I’m not happy about this. Can we work on it?” And that’s what we have.
Vic tip: After years of thinking no arguments were the sign of a healthy relationship, I discovered that we actually need to have those tricky conversations. Contempt is scary, real, and a relationship-killer.
I can assert myself and my needs much more easily now. Conflict can be healthy, even hard communication is vital, and boundaries are necessary. This conveniently brings me to the next change:
3. Boundaries are amazing, and being assertive isn’t “bossy”
A phrase recently became popular on Reddit: “‘No’ is a full sentence.”
Yes, yes, it is!
If you grew up in a home where people regularly trampled your boundaries, completely ignored innocent requests (“please knock before you come into my room”), and turned you into the perfect people-pleaser, this one is for you. (I’ll jump into an entire article about people-pleasing some other time.)
It’s okay to say “no”, I promise! You’re not responsible for everyone else or their feelings. Obviously, don’t be a dickhead, but if your workplace is trying to manipulate you into working on your only day off for a week, lay down some boundaries. No. It’s your day off! They can find someone else; they just know you’re the easiest option.
Regularly dealing with emotional manipulation and other wonderful guilt trips can mess with your head. “No” can feel impossible, but you can do it! Sometimes, it feels easier to agree to something you don’t want to do to avoid the backlash. That could be anything from paying for the groceries, a sexual encounter, or an unwanted family visit. Want some examples of these lovely manipulative phrases?
“You’d do this for me if you really loved me.”
“After everything I’ve done for you!”
“I’m your mother; you can’t just say no to me!”
“You’re so ungrateful and selfish.”
“I took you out to a fancy dinner, so text me back immediately.”
“…” (the silent treatment)
Sanity tip: It turns out that these tactics don’t really have any power if you ignore them. Don’t rise to the bait. Instead, take the time to reflect on your relationship and why you’re allowing someone that toxic to treat you that way.
I’ve heard them before, and now I laugh at them — it’s ridiculous that people think they can get their way with guilt trips. Nah.
These days, I’m pretty good with boundaries. Deleting all the shitty people from my life has definitely helped (long block list — big family), and learning to be more assertive has helped too. If I’m not happy about something, I speak up (most of the time) and make sure I’m not just harbouring resentment.
I was absolutely terrified of conflict. I’m still not a massive fan of it (you’d have to be a bit weird or an absolute shit-stirrer to like it), and if someone triggers me (you know the gut feeling you get from certain people?), I’m going to struggle.
Side quest hint: If you get that gut feeling, don’t ignore it. Your gut feeling is powerful, and it’s trying to protect you from some hellspawn in human form.
When I first brought something really minor up to my partner, I was shaking from the adrenaline from the fear of it. My ribs cramped up! Conflict truly put my body into fight-or-flight. Thankfully, it’s not as common a problem now.
Also, if you’re a woman, being assertive means you’ll be called “bossy.” It’s just the way it is. An assertive man is a “leader” and a “go-getter”, but you’re a bossy bitch. Duh. This is why we have feminism. Don’t be afraid to show your power. Anyone calling you names is threatened by you. That’s a compliment.
Being assertive is vital for a woman, especially for healthcare. I had undiagnosed endometriosis for ten years, and I only received a diagnosis because I was really pushy. I had enough of the pain and hearing that it was “normal” (it’s absolutely bloody [haha?] not, by the way), and I finally put my foot down. I went armed with a full list of symptoms and a strong “no, I don't just want mefenamic acid; this situation is making me suicidal.” It turns out that they’re more likely to do something if you want to end it. Thank fuck.
I’m not alone; it takes up to ten years for a woman to receive an endometriosis diagnosis. And I’m sure that comes down to normalising period pain and minimising women’s pain. If you’re a woman of colour, you’ve got an even steeper hill to climb as healthcare is full of racial biases too. Don’t worry; you’re not the only one who’s angry about that.
Super pro Vic tip: Don’t take bullshit from doctors. You know your body and what doesn’t feel right. You shouldn’t have to fight to be taken seriously, but sometimes you need to make a little noise. If your condition is making you feel suicidal, tell them. Ask for a second opinion. A third. A fourth. Write an objective list of all your symptoms. Maybe they’ll finally listen to you properly, and you’ll receive the care you deserve.
4. I won’t make myself smaller to please you
Whether that’s my ridiculous sense of humour, my love for weightlifting and food over dieting, or my crazy eye make-up, I’m not changing to fit your ideal. After 27 years of being cut down for pretty much everything about me, escaping that allowed me to embrace the things I love about myself. I don’t entertain people who mock my hobbies, my taste in music, or the person I am.
Vic’s life motto: Fuck that.
Growing up, I wasn’t allowed an opinion unless Mein Vater sanctioned it. These days, it’s hard to get me to shut up about my views if you want to hear them. I love speaking up about things I’m passionate about, rather than listening to people talk absolute shite and not feeling like I can correct them.
An extension of feeling comfortable in myself is accepting my body. I have battled with my appearance since ten years old. Being poked in the belly and called “fat!” by a parent will do that to you. I’m not happy with how I look at the moment, but I accept it. I know I can change it without needing to bully or shame myself into it. Small, sustainable changes are better than a crash diet.
The media we consume places appearance front-and-centre. I only use Instagram for my dogs as I couldn’t bear to scroll through Facetuned, unrealistic photographs of everyone. How many kids will end up with body dysmorphia and planning for plastic surgery by the time they’re 18? And how do influencers feel when they look in the mirror without the filter? Brb, going to see if there’s been any scientific research done on that one!
In my late teens, I read the Daily Mail (sorry for my sins) as I was still breaking out of being unable to think for myself. That pathetic excuse for a newspaper is full of fat-shaming (and every other type of shaming, let’s be honest!), and I’m pretty sure it triggered my eating disorder relapse in 2013. Yep, 2012 me didn’t know that was around the corner! Thankfully, I have a healthier relationship with food now, although binging is still a little bit too easy for me.
5. I found people who love me
None of that, “You’d be perfect if you changed this, this, this, and this” shite over here. Nope. I found people who love me for who I am. I’m far from perfect, but it’s not about that. I don’t listen to someone negging me or my interests now without an eye roll and a deep look at myself. “Wow, how the hell did I miss those red flags up until that point?”
Serious Vic tip: These shitty people can sneak in a little too easily sometimes, so check out my love-bombing article for some signs to watch out for. I promise it’s worth your time! Knowledge is power.
When you find people you can be your authentic self around, it’s incredible! There’s nothing better than being a massive weirdo with a ridiculous sense of humour and having friends who are the same.
If you’re worried about letting the weird out, release it gradually. Little jokes and puns here and there, check how they’re received, and you’ll know if they’re just like you. One minute you’ll be having a deep chat about the universe, and the next, you’ll be hysterically laughing over “Uranus” jokes:
The puns have also astronomically eclipsed this part of the article, so I’m wrapping it up for today! The next instalment includes escaping an abusive workplace and making two of my dreams come true. Stay tuned!
I’d love to hear if you’ve had any massive life changes in the last decade or so. Please drop me a comment! And if you enjoyed this, check out my other stories! Thanks for reading :)