20 Things I wish I knew when I was 20

From beauty tips to relationship lessons, here's some insights that are worth sharing with you all...

1. Do not fall in love with someone's potential and do not try to change them

I was so guilty of this, and tbf, I was given this nugget of advise at the time, but did I listen? Nah! It's only now that I realise how much I did this and how damaging it was to my relationships. Imagine making someone feel that they weren't good enough for you? I feel awful for ever implying this to anyone. Of course we all need some self-improvement at times, but that's why it's called self-improvement, it was never my job to point that out to my partners and cause any feelings of insecurity to them which I believe I may have done.

Reflecting and learning from this has made me eager to help my current relationship to thrive. I actively seek out ways to enable it to stay at the fun, loving and healthy standard that it is at today. I seek out different self-help articles, influencers, psychologists, podcasts and books on how I can ensure my relationship thrives. This obviously was not on my mind when I was 20 and perhaps I would have never ended up where I am today had I not encountered these experiences in past relationships. Nevertheless, I wish I had been more mindful of my partners' feelings at the time.


You are a pasty Irish lass! Stay the hell away from sunbeds and sunbathing, who are you trying to fool? My Aunt who lives in Australia for almost 30 years always says, "There's no such thing as a healthy tan", and she's right! Even a bronzed up 'sun kissed' look is created from some sort of sun damage.

So many of my medications over the years have made me photosensitive too, meaning I am more susceptible to sun damage. I truly wish I had at least worn Factor 50 on my face to avoid the pigmentation issues I suffer from now. We live and learn I guess!

3. Your girlfriends are more important than you ever realised, please try harder to have your own separate life to your romantic relationship. Incorporate more girl time!

This is something I am thankfully no longer guilty of. I love my gal pals and through my recent battles of Cervical Cancer and the fertility issues it has left me with, I have learned just how bloody amazing us women are! I have experienced first hand how we cradle one another with support and unconditional love. My girlfriends are my own personal cheerleaders, reminding me of how strong and brave I can be in the times that I feel at my weakest. I can honestly say that I would not be the person I am today without some of them.

However, this is not something I have always been aware of. While I was in long term relationships during my late teens and mid 20s I definitely didn't get the balance right. I often leaned more on my boyfriends for emotional support which in turn damaged those relationships. I wish I hadn't pushed my friends aside. Sadly, I think I just forgot how much they loved me.

4. Go for counselling, you have been through much more trauma than most of your friends. It will effect you later in life if you avoid it now

I believe that every person should go for counselling at some stage in their lives. Most people have been through some sort of suffering or struggle that they need extra insight and support with. Counselling has changed my life and I highly recommend it to everyone.

5. Stop trying so hard. Be yourself, you are enough

I was very insecure and anxious growing up. This sometimes made me try to be something I'm not to impress guys or my friends. Thinking back on this reminds me just how far I've come.

6. Protect yourself, you can't control what others do

This is something I've learned in relation to some of the relationships I have, perhaps expecting people to behave a certain way and being disappointed and hurt when they didn't. This is not self-serving. It's important to accept the things you don't have control over.

It's also something I've had to accept in relation to this global pandemic we are enduring. Being left with no option but to cocoon at age 28 because of the lack of personal responsibility of others is the new reality I am faced with. I have to constantly remind myself to focus on what I can do to protect myself and stay sane during this time, while accepting that I cannot control the actions and inactions of others. It's a constant struggle.

7. Drink less alcohol.

There is definitely an addictive trait in my family, particularly in relation to alcohol. I felt subjected and weakened to this for a very long time in my late teens to mid twenties. Despite alcohol being so bad for my health and the negative interaction it can have with some of my medications, I felt pressured at times to drink, as though I was being 'dry' if I didn't. I think this attitude is quite prevalent in Irish families.

This then led me down a road of drinking heavily with my peers. I would push myself to meet my friends after a 16 hour day of shift work, trying to play 'catch up', having a drink in the shower and while I got ready to meet them. I'd stay out until the early hours and go to every after party before getting up again for the 6.30am bus to work again. This probably isn't out of character for a lot of young Irish people, but I wasn't the same as my peers, I had a life threatening lung disease! What was I thinking?? I guess it was a combination of an addictive trait and self-medicating to disguise some of the trauma I had not dealt with.

I am glad to say that this is no longer the case. Cervical Cancer, a pandemic and finally having a loving healthy relationship with a man who also doesn't drink for health reasons, has flipped my relationship with alcohol for the better. This in turn has truly helped me to discover the real Aoife and her potential.

8. It's okay to let a relationship go if you've outgrown the other person or if you feel bad after being in their company. Relationships need to be give and take, if it's not serving you, let it go

Battling Cancer made me feel so hollow and empty. My energy resources were completely drained and so, I was very receptive to the energy of those around me. This has made me become in tune with how different people make me feel. I am so much more aware of people's energy now and how it effects me. This has aided me in establishing who I want to surround myself with and share my own precious energy with too.

9. Stop trying to be the second parent, that's not your role and it's damaging

This is a role I fell into at different periods of my life and it was extremely stressful and exhausting. Sometimes as the eldest we feel quite protective of our younger siblings. I definitely feel this way about mine, there's nothing that I wouldn't do for my half brothers or my sisters and to think of them hurt or in pain truly aches my heart.

The separation of our parents left the house solely occupied by us four girls. I recall the feeling of not having that extra support of another parent in the home. This was undoubtedly hard for my Mam, but it caused a lot of anxieties for me too. I felt like I was responsible for my sisters on a level that I didn't cope very well with.

We had some tough old times over the years but it has made us the women that we are today!

10. Not all men just want sex

This was just a given to me for a period. In fact I actually believed that it was the only thing that men wanted, which at one point was quite damaging. It resulted in me lowering my standards and in turn, reducing my self-respect and the respect of others.

I have learned that you show people how to treat you. Therefore it is crucial that you have healthy, respectful, positive beliefs about yourself and what you deserve from others.

11. You are much too hard on yourself, you're doing your best in this current situation

This is something that I have been guilty of over and over and over again. I think it's because I have always felt that I am trying to catch up with my peers and I put pressure on myself to do so. Having Cystic Fibrosis and then Cervical Cancer has certainly put a spanner in the works in relation to some of my life plans at times. I don't want to miss out, ever.

I don't want my illnesses to hold me back from living the life I want or accomplishing some of my goals. I want to be remembered for the right reasons, leaving behind a legacy. I want to accomplish all of my dreams for those who are too unwell to do so themselves, it feels as though it's my duty. These things are so important to me and have become my whole essence for living. I still have to remind myself at times that I can only do so much.

12. You are promised one thing in life, that there will be suffering. But it's your mindset on this suffering that will truly effect the outcome on all of life's challenges

I wish I had known that each challenge was just a new opportunity to learn and grow from, to enable me in becoming my best self and reaching my full potential. This has been one of the most valuable lessons that I have learned. It removes the fear and panic associated with new challenges. It takes a lot of work but is so worthwhile in trying to obtain.

13. Don't be afraid. Fear is paralysing you from living and from reaching your full potential. You are just as fantastic as the rest of your peers. You are not less

At times, I was afraid to be my true self and stand up for myself. I had a chip on my shoulder which fed my insecurities. It made me believe that I was less than my peers and sometimes even that I didn't deserve them as friends. I completely isolated myself because of this for a year or so. My insecurities were an easy target for some of the more dominant personalities in my group of friends which led to them picking on me and isolating me from the rest of the group, which I allowed.

I wish I knew then just how wonderful I am and could see now all of the wisdom and love I have to share with my friends today. I also would never put up with this sort of treatment from anyone now because I am confident in my self-worth.

Most of my anxieties stemmed from some form of fear. I was afraid of everything. Terrified of change, afraid to stand on my own two feet, always doubting myself and never really gaining much independence. Fear paralysed me from living for so many years.

14. You need to try complimentary therapies and you need to try them yesterday!

Complimentary therapies have changed my life completely. They have strengthened my mindset and aided my chronic pains so much that I honestly can't remember the last time that I was in pain.

I wish that my medical teams encouraged me to try them sooner and I wish everyone with a chronic illness would do the same.

They have helped me so much that I am now undergoing a Diploma in Reflexology.

I also love CBD oil as it is the main culprit in diminishing my chronic pains. My favourite CBD oil is an Irish brand by the name of Greenheart. I have even been so lucky to now work with them and have my very own discount code for anyone wishing to try their life altering products. My code is AOIFEPR20 which will give you 20% off your entire order!

15. You have some tough journeys ahead of you but do not worry, for you are resilient

Having Cystic Fibrosis always made me worry about the future. It's been hard to visualise a future and goals that are attainable knowing all of the social constructs that are in the way for people with disabilities, -(yes, Cystic Fibrosis is classified as a disability as it is a chronic life threatening lung disease).

It has been exhausting trying to gain independence and a life of my own. I've seen both of my younger sisters graduate from college before me and one of them buying her first car and first home. Even now at 28 I am so far from obtaining these things.

I thought that overcoming these obstacles and achieving those milestones was as hard as it was going to get for me. Little did I know, those things would be far from my mind once I was diagnosed with Cervical Cancer at 27 years old.

I guess there's no point in worrying about hypothetical situations because generally, everything turns out okay in the end, and if it's not okay then it's not the end.

I wish I knew of the strength I that I have and all I would survive. My resilience always gets me through.

16. Ask and you shall receive - Obviously, this is a lesson learned from 'The Secret'

If you don't know by now, I'm obsessed with Rhonda Byrne's book 'The Secret'. It covers so many amazing lessons about the Universe and how we can have anything we wish for if we just ask the Universe for it.

I recommend purchasing the audible version so you can listen to it as often as you need. Netflix also have the movie version which is well worth a watch too. Keep an eye out for my upcoming blog post 'My Favourite Feel Good things to Watch.

17. Get a personal trainer

I will cover the topic of exercising with a chronic illness in a more detailed post again but in short, here's why this one is important to me.

I sucked at all sports and hated PE class in school. I was never able to keep up with the rest of my classmates. My lungs would burn and I'd feel faint in almost every single class. So it's safe to say that I hated all forms of exercise and didn't do any for years despite it being so crucial for my health.

Until I met my trainer Gary Moorehouse from Unit 3 in Naas. Gary became more of a life coach for me than just a Personal Trainer, and Unit 3 was my second home. I learned so much about fitness and about myself from training with Gary.

Since my return from living in Australia, I train with Ally from The Allyway in Naas. We do a mix of 1:1 Pilates and functional training and I absolutely love it. Personal training is one of the best things I've ever done for my physical health, mental health, and overall wellbeing.

18. Think twice about anti anxiety/anti depressants

It has to be said that I definitely regret not taking anti depressants at a younger age when I really needed extra support. The subject of such medical interventions is still somewhat controversial and undoubtedly holds a great deal of stigma too in this country. This is why I intend on discussing this topic in greater detail at a later date.

19. Stop doubting yourself

Again, this stemmed from my fears and anxieties. I was so insecure. Sometimes I reflect on how much Cystic Fibrosis has stunted my social skills. I missed a lot of school over the years and spent summers lying on the couch instead of joining my friends and sisters out playing on the green.

I spent a lot of time in hospitals with adults (around doctors and other medical staff). I was better with adults and actually preferred being with them sometimes too. This often resulted in me being a 'teacher's pet', which my classmates didn't particularly approve of. The cycle of being picked on or excluded and my insecurities growing just continued on.

In reflection I can see how these things were carried through to adulthood as I doubted all of my life decisions. I had to run every decision through with either my Mam or my best friend Katelyn, and I felt like I could not go ahead with something without them approving of it too. I just had no confidence in myself, dreading change and petrified of taking the necessary steps to independence.

20. Listen to your younger self

This is a wee funny one that I never gave much thought to before, until one day it dawned on me. It turns out that I knew myself all along! At 28 I see myself returning to the hobbies of my younger self and even attempting to monetise from some of them.

Having Cancer inevitably puts your life on hold. It presses pause on everything and you find yourself with so much spare time. It can drive you crazy if you don't figure out how to fill it. I found myself reconnecting with my inner child, relearning so many things about myself that I probably never would have unless something pulled me from my busy lifestyle of shift work and partying.

For example, I loved English in school, I was brilliant at it. I mostly loved interpreting poetry and creative writing. I often did so well that teachers photocopied my work as examples for my classmates to learn from. Unfortunately, thanks to our Irish Leaving Cert grading system, I devastatingly got a D in my LC and put my love for English aside.

Now 10 years later I am finally returning to my love of writing by creating this Blog for you all, not to mention the articles I have written for IMAGE and Irish Tatler, as well as many newspapers too - see my 'Media' page for more of my work.

It may have took a lot less then 10 years had I listened to myself years ago, but I'm here now and I'm here to stay!

Feel free to let me know if you found any of these points relatable. I hope they've helped in some way :)

Aoife P R

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