As this decade draws to a close, I decided to write an open letter to my past self. From 2009 to 2019, many things have changed. This is what I want to tell my 18 year old self. FYI, I highly recommend this exercise. Even if you don’t share it with anyone but yourself, it’ll feel cathartic and freeing.
Yes, you. Younger self. How you doing? Actually I know how you’re doing and you’re a bit of a mess. Great news, you will become an even BIGGER mess before you figure your shit out, so get ready for that. In the wise words of Jim Halpert, “Oh, young Jim. There’s so much I need to warn you about, and yet…tragically, I cannot.” (Your name isn’t Jim, but you get it. We only speak in Office quotes anyway.) See, you’re gonna go through some crap. Like, a lot of crap. And it’s gonna suck and you’re going to literally want to die, but here’s the thing: Everything that happens to you, every tear you shed, every piece of your broken heart, every metaphorical hole you fall in is going to make you into this fantastically interesting and strong human being.
I know you have issues with seeing the bigger picture. You get really into your own head. Catastrophic thinking is one of your biggest downfalls, which is why you tend to freak out the second anything goes wrong. But I promise you, all the bad things that happen, all the intense emotions and crazy nights, they will pass. You are still here. You have some scars now, both physical and emotional, but you are truly one of the strongest people I know now. That is something to be proud of. That is something that could not have happened if you didn’t walk through hell barefoot. (You should have taken shoes at least, but you know, you don’t listen cus you’re pretty bullheaded.)
Here are some things I wish you knew 10 years ago:
- You have a (couple) mental illnesses. Yay! This does NOT give you the right to treat the people who love you like shit. So stop fucking doing that. But you should read up about your mental health issues and work at them in a healthy way instead of burying them down under temporary glitzy distractions.
- It’s not cute or funny when you drink too much. It’s pathetic, gross, and it makes you look desperate for attention. In fact, drinking to the point of throwing up or blacking out (which you did thousands — yes, thousands — of times in ten years) will put you in dangerous situations. You will get hurt. You will be assaulted. You will regret many things.
- You are SMART. Stop letting other people tell you you’re a ditz, or allowing them to only see your silly side and decide that you have no other substance.
- Write more! Why did it take you almost 10 years to realize that your dream since you were a kid was to be a writer? You’ve always loved doing it, you’ve always been good at creating worlds and making your words sound pretty on paper. Yeah, you’re a little dyslexic, but don’t let that stop you. Write, bitch, get that practice in!
- For the love of God, BEING THE “COOL GIRL” WILL DO YOU NO FAVORS AND HURTS YOU MORE THAN IT HELPS YOU!! I know you like the feeling of being the only chick in the room. I know you like being “admired” by the opposite sex, but 85% of the time they don’t genuinely like you. They just want to fuck you and then pretend like nothing happened (until they get drunk again). You don’t need to pimp yourself out for friendship. You don’t do that with the girls you are into, so don’t do that with the guys either.
- Going off of that, RESPECT YOURSELF, dammit. You let a lot of people walk over you just because you love them. You act like you’re letting them get away with it because deep down, you’re a romantic (even though you pretend not to be), but in reality you just don’t respect yourself yet. And you should.
- You are going to lose your fucking mind over how much you love rock climbing. Seriously. You love it so much in 10 years that it replaces drinking. DRINKING. The only regret I have is that I wish you had started climbing a long time ago. Maybe you’d be crushing V8s and 5.14s by now! (You still have scrawny noodle arms now though so maybe not.)
- Finally, you make so many mistakes, you spend so many years hating yourself, and you are so unhappy for so much time. But I want you to know that the person you are today is unrecognizable from who you were at age 18. You have bloomed into this iron-cast flower that was forged in fire, and I am so, so proud of you for never giving up. Even when you wanted to.
And here are some things I hope you continue to work on in the next 10 years:
- You don’t have to be perfect. You have this obsession with being the best at whatever you do, and then when you fail to reach the unrealistic standards you set for yourself, you get angry and your self-esteem falls into the gutter. It’s okay to just be OKAY at stuff. There will always be someone better at something than you. And even they will only be The Best for a fleeting moment before someone else comes along and takes the title.
- Things aren’t black and white. You don’t have to spiral every time something goes wrong. Because things WILL go wrong, and things will be okay eventually. Work on calibrating your emotions so that you’re at least mindful of when you’re overreacting to things that don’t need to be overreacted to.
- Continue to work on your sobriety. I think the pink cloud is finally fading and you’re coming to terms with that comedown now. Don’t let that dissuade you. You know how good this decision was for you, and you can see the changes already. Keep it up.
- Do what you need to do to get published. I know how badly you want this. I know you won’t stop writing books until you churn out that magical one that hooks a publisher somehow. I realize it’s a longshot, and the industry is tough, but you are lucky enough to have figured out what your dream in life is. So don’t fucking give up, even though you think about it.
- Remember that when life happens, it happens fast, and you will come out the other side windswept, but still standing. You are not immune to depression, or illnesses, or tragedies. Bad things will happen, but remember that your tower was built with bricks of obstacles and you will be stronger for it.
- Appreciate what you have. Be grateful for the things, people, and animals in your life who make it better every day without you even realizing. Be so kind to not only yourself, but to the living things in your trajectory. I know you naturally lean towards negativity and skepticism, but reach harder for optimism. You are a prettier person, inside and out, when you do.
Well, you, those are the words I wanted to share with you. This decade is drawing to a close in a few weeks. I think you’ve learned a lot, but to be honest I think you’ve learned more within the past year and a half than you did in all the others combined. And you learned all that stuff because you took a chance, did something kind of crazy, got your life wrecked and turned upside-down, and came out on the other side with a new outlook and a changed lifestyle. So, don’t be sad or worried about the hectic bullshit you’re going to go through in the next 10 years. Because there will also be sunsets, amazing concerts, animal kisses, belly-aching laughs, and lake swims.
You got this.