Stuff

We Asked People What They Regret Most in Life

"I regret the last phone conversation I had with my big sister, the day before she committed suicide."

by Paul Sauer​, Photos by Tor Birk Trads
Sep 12 2016, 2:10pm

This article originally appeared on VICE Denmark.

Everybody has regrets. Not just the kind that hits you a couple of hours after buying a pair of funky moccasins because you felt the sudden urge to spice up your style a little bit—but the real stuff. I'm talking about the regrets you bottle up—those that keep you awake at night, wishing you could go back in time and change things.

"Regret is a modern taboo," psychotherapist and former priest Ilse Sand explained to me. "There's a lot of pressure on being perfect and having everything under control, so it's become hard to admit to ourselves that we've made a bad decision we regret." Which is a shame because when we don't have regrets, we miss out on the chance to make up for our mistakes—or learn not to make them again.

I asked five brave souls to tell me what they regret most in life because talking about it makes everything better.

All photos of the interviewees by Tor Birk Trads

Céleste Nshimiyimana, 25, Student

I regret the last phone conversation I had with my big sister, the day before she committed suicide. I was too self-involved to take her call seriously. She had a tough life, and I didn't make it any easier for her—we fought about everything. She called me one Saturday just before midnight. She asked me to sit down, and she started listing a bunch of positive things about me. She kept saying I should never forget how much she loved me—but I was so occupied with getting ready for the party I was headed to that I didn't think about why she was saying it. I was just basically waiting for her to hang up so I could go.

She had been admitted to a psychiatric ward a few times before, but they always let her go after a while, and I didn't take it too seriously. I was mostly just annoyed that she always made a fuss over everything. I regret not having done more to understand how awful she was feeling; I think about that every day. After the first time my sister was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, I even convinced our mom not to quit her job. She was planning to do so to be able to move in with her daughter and take care of her.

That night, the second I hung up, I forgot all about our conversation. Now I keep replaying it in my mind. I don't know if I would've been able to do anything to save her, but if I could go back, I'd make sure to tell her that I loved her, too. I'd list to her all the things that were great about her. It might have made a difference.

Carina Ladegaard, 36, Digital Relations Manager

I regret starting my own business instead of just enjoying my youth and traveling the world. I got my degree at a private tailoring academy when I was 20, and a year later, one of my former teachers—who owned the school—offered me the chance to buy her out. I come from a family of entrepreneurs—my mom, several of my aunts, and my grandfather have all started their own business—so it was only natural I'd follow the same path.

I wasn't prepared for the responsibility at all. I had gone directly from high school to the academy and hadn't taken the time to do some proper partying or enjoy my freedom. And then, suddenly, I had this whole school I was responsible for. The staff was so much older than I was—I'd chat with them over lunch about how much they spoiled their grandchildren. The pressure really got to me after a while—I had my first stress-induced ulcer at 23. If I didn't take any sleeping pills, I would just lie in bed at night, thinking about work.

I sold the company at 28. I feel I missed out on my youth—I skipped the years you can get away with being a little egotistical and irresponsible, living in the now without thinking about the consequences. For about six years, I did what I thought I should be doing, not what I wanted to do or what made me happy.

Morten Espersen, 27, Shipping Agent

I regret not being a better boyfriend to my ex. We knew each other for about seven years, before we started dating in 2012. It was a big, serious kind of love—I was sure I'd have kids with her and we would grow old together.

My work was always a priority for me, to the extent that I didn't leave any room in my life to really be there for her. She had a mild depression and was struggling with her studies, but when I came home from work, instead of supporting her and helping out at home to take some of the pressure away from her, I felt like I deserved to chill and put my feet up. We'd fight over that—we fought over everything. Then one day, during an argument we were having at her dad's house about me not being home enough, the fight just completely derailed for some reason, and we left each other on the spot.

A couple of days later, I drove over to her place to pick up my stuff. We said a quick goodbye, and that was it. I guess we were both too proud to suggest trying to move past that last fight. I think about her a lot—I've never cared more deeply about any girl in my life. If I had listened to her, we might still be together now.

Fanny Olhats, 27, Journalist

I regret that it's taken me so long to accept my body the way it is. I grew up in California, in an environment where everyone was beautiful and skinny. My dad is a chef, so I grew up surrounded by great food—and I probably always ate a bit more than I needed. I hated my body at times; it was never the body I wanted. I wasn't comfortable in my own skin; I wasn't comfortable with who I was.

That obviously had an impact on my daily life—if I couldn't find the right clothes to cover my body, I'd stay home instead of going out. If I was having a fat day, I'd call in sick. I hated the idea of confronting other people with my body by wearing a swimsuit or a bikini—so I never went to the beach or the pool. In 2012, I broke up with a boyfriend who cheated on me, and I was just wallowing in self-hatred, when I suddenly found a fitness class that was mostly about having fun and treating yourself well. Through that class, I somehow learned to be nicer to myself.

I really regret that I've wasted so many years being obsessed with how much I hated my body. Recently, we had a competition at work—you could send in Instagram pictures, and ten of them would be hung on the kitchen wall. I sent in a nude picture of myself, taken from behind in a bathhouse in Malmö, Sweden. Pictures like that aren't a big deal for most people, but it was a huge victory for me. I cried when I submitted the photo.

Rasmus Veltz Nielsen, 27, Nursery Assistant

I regret not studying abroad when I had the chance. I was selected for a program in Australia along with a former roommate—I studied Danish, and he studied economics. We probably spent about eight or nine months organizing the whole trip and had everything arranged when he suddenly dropped out to study something else. At that point, I just ditched the whole plan because I couldn't be bothered to go through with it by myself.

Now I know that that was a mistake. I've never been good at just spontaneously leaping into new things, but that trip could've taught me a thing or two about standing on my own two legs and making my own decisions without overthinking them.

Sometimes when I'm trying to make a big decision or I'm having a discussion, I suddenly feel there's something unresolved inside me. That there's something I should have done but didn't. That old roommate recently went abroad for six months as part of his new studies. He went alone and just got back. Now I'm considering going to South America to do some volunteer work for about six months—if I can make it work financially.

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