Everything I Learned During My Year Of Radical Self-Care

Unsplash / Rodolfo Sanches Carvalho

Twenty-eighteen was a lot of things, but perhaps the least accurate description is “easy.” Many of us faced struggles we never could have predicted or found ourselves reeling from world events we had no control over. But for me, despite all the bad, 2018 will always have a special meaning: it’s the year I stepped back and recognized I needed a big life change, and fast. Thus began my year of radical self-care.

For an entire year, I decided to put myself first. I spent time cutting out the unnecessary stressors in my life, practicing healthier lifestyle habits, and exploring the things that make me happy. And along the way, I learned a lot of difficult (and important) life lessons that will stick with me forever.

Strength Isn’t The Absence Of Emotion

I’ve always been told that I am incredibly soft, perhaps impossibly so. As a kid, I was often told to “toughen up,” that “big girls don’t cry,” and that the right way to handle a situation — the mature way — was to show as little emotion as possible. My natural conclusion was that my inability to cut off my emotions meant that I was weak.

But there isn’t only one brand of strength in the world, and if there were, I’m not sure why we’d want it to be the kind that requires people to numb themselves to their emotions. The ability to understand your feelings and maturely act on them is strength. Compassion is strength. Empathy is strength. Strength has more to do with conviction, sense of self, and confidence than it will ever have to do with restricting the way you feel or hardening your heart.

It Isn’t Selfish To Set Boundaries In Your Relationships

I’ve always been the person who has close, intimate relationships with my friends. I’ve prided myself in being the first person people call when they were in trouble, the shoulder they’d cry on when in need, the ear for all their secrets. I liked being this person, so much so that I didn’t even recognize when it began to grow unhealthy. I thought it made me a good person, selfless and kind. A lot of times it just left me feeling heavy and depressed.

Your relationships should not exhaust you. If your friendships dredge up your own mental health issues or leave you mentally and emotionally drained at the end of the day, you’re allowed to ask for time alone. You’re allowed to step away from someone else’s problems when they start to become your own. You’re allowed to say, “I want to help you, but today I’m not in the right mental space.” You’re allowed to set boundaries for your sake and your sake alone. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for that.

Your Emotions Are Just As Valid (And Important) As Anyone Else’s

So many of us downplay what we feel, especially when we’re trying to avoid disrupting someone else’s emotions. We swallow back our own hurt or anger and tell ourselves that our feelings aren’t valid, then continue to beat ourselves up over when we can’t just make them go away.

But that’s the thing: you have the right to feel anything, even if it’s something that makes others uncomfortable. If doing what makes everyone else happy makes you miserable, it’s probably something you shouldn’t be doing. If you’re constantly walking on eggshells in a relationship because your feelings upset the other person, it’s probably not a healthy one. Your emotions are valid. Acting in accordance with those emotions is valid.

Healing Can Be Uncomfortable, Confusing, And Downright Painful

I spent a lot of my life believing my I’d healed my trauma because I’d found a way to avoid feeling it. In reality, I was avoiding having to do anything to heal myself at all. I didn’t talk about the trauma; I refused to even acknowledge that it happened. I pretended that it didn’t exist and when others asked, I said I was fixed.

But 2018 forced me to face my trauma head-on and examine the way it’s affected my life and the way I respond to the world. And honestly, it hurt like hell. It meant reliving painful memories and forcing myself into a vulnerable position, even if it was just with myself. But it was only when I was at my lowest that I began to realize that for the first time, I was really healing. I began forgiving myself for things I never realized I blamed myself for and taking a good, hard look at the toxic habits I’d unwittingly adopted in the process. Sometimes you must re-break broken bones to allow them to heal properly; sometimes you must regress to progress.

A Proper Skincare Routine Isn’t Just “Treating Yo’Self”

Maybe this is just common sense, but it was a luxury I didn’t necessarily have in my early twenties. I was too broke to really consider putting money toward products that weren’t absolutely necessary for my survival, and so face masks were strictly reserved for girls’ nights in, complete with a cheap bottle of wine and a rom com. This year, I decided to make the jump and finally invest in quality skincare products, thanks to the recommendation of a coworker. Hello moisturizer, toner, and face serum!

Honestly, it made a bigger difference than I imagined — my skin is clearer, brighter, and healthier than ever, and now I feel like I’m pampering myself every single day. But it’s not just about feeling better — it’s about loving and taking care of your body. You deserve to treat yourself with care and keep your body as healthy as possible. It’s a form of self-love we should take more seriously.

Sometimes “Closure” Just Means Accepting You May Never Truly Get Closure

I used to be obsessed with closure. I felt this insane need to figure out how to close each chapter of my life, and it usually involved either confronting the people involved or, more often than not, compulsively fantasizing about confronting them. I’d attempt to put myself in the other person’s shoes just to understand why something ended, then get frustrated when that didn’t work out, either.

In the end, it was actually pretty counterproductive. Instead of moving on with my life, I spent all my free time wallowing in the past. And most of the time, instead of stumbling upon some new insight, I’d end up seeing exactly what I wanted to see. You know what takes a lot less time and emotional energy? Realizing that something — or someone — no longer serves a purpose in your life and walking away from it. Life isn’t meant to be wrapped up with a neat little bow, so don’t bother.

You Deserve Cheerleaders In Your Life — But That Doesn’t Mean Enablers

I firmly believe that your friends should be your cheerleaders. They’re the ones who show up. They’re the ones who get excited for you. They should want you to be happy, they should want you to be successful, and they should encourage you to do the things that get you to that point in your life.

But remember that cheerleaders and enablers are two separate things. Your friends shouldn’t be supporting your toxic behaviors or encouraging your unhealthy habits. They shouldn’t sit by as you self-destruct. Understanding the difference between someone who wants the best for you and someone who wants you to have anything and everything you want can be one of the most healthy things you can do for yourself.

Success Is Rarely As Glamorous As You’d Expect It To Be

I always imagined that realizing my lifelong dreams would change my life — and me — completely. I thought it would be the turning point in my life, my wake up call. You see it all the time in the movies. But after completing one of my lifelong goals this year, I teared up a little, poured myself a celebratory glass of wine, and then continued my life as if nothing had happened at all.

Sometimes success is subtle. Sometimes it doesn’t change anything about your life at all. You’re probably not going to wake up feeling like a new person, because chances are, you aren’t a new person. But that doesn’t make your successes any less important, and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be proud of yourself for your accomplishments. Remember that every little step matters.

You Can Choose To Change Your Life At Any Moment

Even if you can’t change your job right now, and even if you can’t change where you live, you can change what you do in your free time. You can change the people you surround yourself with. You can change the way you make decisions. You can change your tolerance for toxic behaviors. You can change your habits, your diet, your routine. You can change how you see and respond to the world. You just have to try. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Callie is a writer, editor, and publisher at Thought Catalog. Her debut book, ‘The Words We Left Behind,’ is available for pre-order before its January 9, 2024 release.

Keep up with Callie on Instagram, Twitter and calliebyrnes.com

More From Thought Catalog