Letter To Self
Now that I’ve been in lockdown with my family for the past two months, I’ve come to the realisation that I never want to be a teenager again. Spending each night in my bedroom from adolescence, I often lie awake, thinking: ‘If I could go back in time and talk to my fifteen-year-old self, what would I say to her?’ Our teenage years are often ones of rebellion and confusion. We don’t know who to talk to about our problems, how to address them or handle the overwhelming cocktail of emotions coursing through our bodies. If I could say anything to that scared, lost and weird girl, I’d say this:
To my fifteen-year-old self,
Seriously, I mean it. Take a deep breath in and breathe out slowly; take ten counts if you need. And no, don’t give me the excuse that you have asthma so breathing exercises aren’t going to do anything for your anxiety. The counsellor might have been talking shit when she mentioned the paper bag, but taking time to slow that fast-beating heart will do you a world of good. I can imagine you’re nervous to find what’s become of us – did you think we’d make it this far? But look at you! You’re so small! I’m afraid you’re not going to grow that much over the next few years, even though you think there’s a chance you might reach six-foot-tall just because of that one great-uncle who broke the tiny height chain. I’m sorry to say that you don’t just look small, you seem small. You’re all nervous, shy, introverted, shunning a world that you don’t want to be a part of. Hiding in the shadows will only work for so long – I know that, to you, edging out into the light will be like looking in a mirror that’s determined to unveil all the cracks you’ve tried to fill.
I’ll admit it, before I left for uni I tried to duct tape you inside a box and leave you at home. On the surface, it may have been because you were a little bit odd, struggling to deal with puberty as all teenagers do. Besides, I didn’t know anybody in my year at Cambridge. This was our chance for a clean slate, starting afresh. But deep down, I hid you because I wanted to protect you. Everyone knows that children are vulnerable, they must be taught, educated on how to navigate their way through life. On the other hand, I think teenagers are far more susceptible to damage. You have that world map, an atlas meant to guide you, but sometimes you don’t like it and when it leads you down the wrong path, you don’t know how to cope. So, I concealed you, scared that past scars would turn into big, gaping wounds if I so much as let you out.
Consequently, I spent a whole term not knowing who I was. I swallowed anxiety down my throat each time it bubbled up, convinced I’d receive the same response we had from high school; chewed up and spat out by a system that refused to understand mental health. I’d let you out of the box whenever I came home.
I’m looking at our bedroom walls now and boy, do they look different. You’ll probably be shocked – there’s no more posters of adolescent rock bands, or of men wearing edgy black make-up. And no, mum did not cave and let you paint your walls black. The only sign of our shared past is the multitude of holes in the wallpaper, beige blots on your blue horizon. In a way they’re almost like scars. And like scars they can be filled, or covered, but I’ve chosen not to do that.
I’m not going to sugar-coat how living at home has been for the past ten weeks. It’s re-opened those old wounds that university somewhat healed, but for good reason. I realise now that I’m still the same fifteen-year old girl who was too scared to go to school because she couldn’t go an hour without having a panic attack, let alone ride the packed school bus.
However, I’m still the same girl who loved to sing, dance and spend the night smashing through a book. When I eventually return to Cambridge, I’m not keeping you in the box. You’ve helped me realise that it’s okay to be vulnerable. I said you looked small: you’re the strongest girl I know.
We’ll be alright, you and me. You thought you were alone, but you’ve got me to hold your hand now. We’re going to get on that crowded bus and we’re going to be just fine.
Your nineteen (soon to be twenty!) year old self.