What My Early Twenties Taught Me

Written by Phoebe Douglas

Illustrated by Laura Buckell

The new decade has got me feeling very nostalgic. I also turned 27 recently, although if anyone asks, I’m still 24, okay? I feel like my early twenties were a steep learning curve. I didn’t take the easiest path at all. I had mental health crises a plenty, I did countless jobs, lost countless jobs, dropped out of university twice. At this point, I probably don’t sound fit to give any advice but I actually learnt quite a lot. I’d like to share the lessons of my early twenties with those going through similar issues.

You can have substance issues without being an addict

I took a lot of drugs in my early twenties. Like, a lot. That’s not me trying to brag. I’m sure it’s the same for a lot of twenty-somethings and I’m sure plenty of them are fine. However, I was not fine. When you’re learning about drugs in school you’re always taught about people who get addicted, therefore, I justified a lot of my drug usage with “but you’re not addicted”. I would only take party drugs at parties and everyone else was doing it.

It then got to the point where my comedowns lasted days. A night out wasn’t a night out without picking up. I would make poor life decisions and put myself in dangerous situations. My drug use for periods lessened but I started drinking a lot more. Anything to numb the pain.

I stopped drinking and taking party drugs at 23 and it was the best decision I ever made. I have started drinking again but quite infrequently, I get properly drunk even less. I now accept the consequences that when I do drink it probably will have a knock on effect on my mental health for at least a day. I give myself the time to lie in bed and maybe be a bit sad for a day.

Get therapy, you need it

Finding a therapist sucks. Going to countless doctors, having to fill in those forms with the number scales on and thinking how the f*ck do I quantify how much I contemplate my own death when it’s literally always on the periphery of my brain?

PHQ-9 depression questionnaire, source: efficacy

In my early twenties I tried therapy on a number of occasions. I always struggled to commit but I also had a fair share of bad therapists. One who asked me to imagine my own funeral and what people would say about me (I have severe death anxiety), one who spent the whole session lying down, while I sat bolt upright. I even tried hypnotism briefly, that was just plain weird. I felt like I lost time.

Finally, in my late twenties I decided to really commit to therapy and as though the universe knew I was ready, I found a therapist I really connected with. It helped that I put myself through the deeply distressing process of getting a borderline personality disorder diagnosis because I could find a therapist who specialised in Bpd.

In all honesty, I wish I had gone through the taxing stuff earlier. I kick myself that I didn’t. I lost so many years to misery and it still hurts a little.

Misery loves company

I spent a lot of my early twenties severely depressed. I was suicidal for years at a time and every time I tried to make a move to improve my life, I self-sabotaged. At the point at which I hit my absolute rock bottom and started to try to make changes in my life, I noticed certain friends would encourage me to make destructive decisions.

I realised many of them were miserable too. Trapped in a similar vicious circle to my own. When you’re in that place it feels like it helps if you have other people who are equally destructive around you. At least then you’re not alone. For the first time I got that saying – misery loves company.

It took a lot of self-discipline to say no to going out, to buying coke, to drinking to oblivion. But I did. I lost friends for it but I made new friends along the way, friends who want to sit inside and chat, go to art galleries, on walks and most importantly, want the best for my well-being.

You will outgrow the club

My late teens and early twenties were defined by clubs. Any dingy dark space with a sound system for drum and bass, jungle, garage, techno – best believe I was there. Cable, Fabric, The Garage and Fire were regular haunts for me. I vividly remember dancing one time and looking around and thinking “I will never stop clubbing”. I had a vision of myself being in the club at 40 and thinking yes, why the fuck not?

Source: Fabric London

Well, by the age of 23 I was sick to death of clubs. I haven’t stepped foot in one for at least 3 years and I plan on keeping it that way. The thought of going to a rave now makes me anxious. I know if I ever stepped back into one I would almost certainly have a panic attack. Nowadays I like pubs, bars and my friends’ houses.

So, what changed? I stopped taking party drugs. When I was 18, before I found out how much white powders covered up my social anxiety, I would go to clubs verging on sober. I couldn’t do that today. These days I love chatting to friends – not just in the smoking area. I like dancing but around friends’ kitchens, I’m not even sure how you dance to drum and bass anymore.

I loved clubs, I’m glad they played such a part in my younger years. I’m glad I went hard, I had wild nights and some of those memories are treasured. But, for me, too many nights were spent desperately trying to score some more coke, a friend getting bottled or me crying in bed on my own, feeling down for days to come, just waiting until I could relive the artificial serotonin spike again. I look back with affection but I’m glad I discovered how great staying in is.

Your early twenties don’t have to be the best years of your life

I remember being 16 and imagining how great being 21 would be. Society idolises these years. The moment you step into the world as an adult and still have the strength and stamina of youth, they are your ‘glory days’. In reality, being 21 was sort of sh*t. I feel way better now at 27 than I did at 21. Life isn’t perfect or where I want it to be, but it is truly happier and I like who I am! However, I reckon my best years are still ahead of me because I’ve got plenty left to learn.

The Author

Phoebe is an ethical and vegan blogger with her main interests being in sustainability and mental health. You can follow her vegan recipes and lifestyle at @thedopeyvegan on Instagram.

Edited by Stephanie Kleanthous

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