If I could send a message to 18-year-old me

Do you ever imagine what you’d say to younger-you if you had the chance?

Life is really wonderful and beautiful and full of magic and excitement and love. But life is also weird for each one of us, sometimes a really tough kind of weird. The kind of weird that can make you feel lonely and misunderstood. The kind of weird that makes it hard to go to sleep sometimes, and when you do fall asleep gives you restless sleep and upsetting dreams. The kind of weird that can blindside you on what you thought was a good day and leave you questioning yourself and what you thought you had.

I think we all need help with these weird life-things. But sometimes the different paths you and I have walked, even just the fact that you’re not me, makes it really hard for you to find hope in my words, or me to find hope in yours.

Imagine that you got to talk to your younger self, though. And that your younger self could really listen, because you get them–you were them, are them.

What would you tell your younger self?

If I could talk to 18-year-old me, it might go something like this.

 

Hey buddy,

 

You are free.

You love people. You know people matter and you want to take care of their hearts. This is good. So good. You don’t matter less than other people, though. You need to accept that.

It is okay if some people don’t love you.

You are so much stronger than you think. You can speak up more boldly than you think, you can run harder than you think, and you can be a better friend than you think.

You are strong, but you are not superhuman. Don’t stoically or slavishly disregard your feelings and emotional needs. They’ll only get deeper.

It is okay if you want to dance. But it is also okay if you can’t dance because you’re feeling scared.

Not everything has to have a deeper meaning. You don’t have to always feel profound, always be growing, always be deep. Lots of good life is simple life.

A thing isn’t necessarily going to be better once you understand it. Knowledge isn’t always the answer.

There is SO much you don’t know. That’s okay. Let it stay that way, because it will anyway.

 

Feeling yucky does not necessarily mean you need to fix something. Some things will always, always, always feel yucky.

Sometimes you’ll even feel tremendously guilty for something you really can’t help, can’t fix. And rationally accepting that it is not your fault won’t stop the waves of guilt. You’ll still feel guilty.

When someone has broken your trust so much, or done you so much damage, that you cannot have a healthy relationship with them, it does not have to mean that they are a completely, irredeemably bad person. You have to learn to let someone be unhealthy-for-you without internalizing the lesson that people who make you feel hurt are inherently unsafe. Remember that when someone has hurt you too much, you don’t have to stay there to help the person who has hurt you come back from it. Sometimes a relationship needs to be over. But you have to let humans be just-humans in your mind. Or else humans will always feel too dangerous for you. And that will leave you very much alone.

There’s another reason you have to remember that even people who hurt you are still just humans. You’re going to hurt someone, too, someday. And if you learned to create your boundaries because the people who hurt you were somehow unworthy, or absolutely bad, then when you discover you also can hurt people, you’re going to feel like giving up all those boundaries you ever made. And that would be very bad. So remember from the beginning that people are just people, because if you create all your boundaries to keep out monsters, those boundaries might come crashing down when you realize people really are just people. And some of those boundaries needed to stay up. Not because there were monsters on the other side of them. Just because the real human on the other side of them was no longer healthy for you. Period. So learn early on to set boundaries just because your relationship with that other person is never going to be healthy for you, even while you see they’re just human.

Healing is going to take a long, long time, and it will be like peeling off the layers of an onion. Trust that process.

It is okay to be frustrated by someone else–that doesn’t mean you don’t love them.

Maybe you couldn’t hear that. Honestly, it really, really, really is okay to be mad. To be disappointed. Annoyed. It is okay to tell someone you don’t like something, that you’re unhappy. You need to express those things sometimes. You don’t have to do it in a mean way, but you do need to say how you really feel. If you don’t, things will get worse, not better.

When you screw up, you don’t have to earn back the right to be loved or to love yourself.

If you feel a desperate need for a thing to make you feel better, remember that there’s an underlying reason you don’t feel good, and until you deal with that underlying reason, you won’t really feel better.

If a thing has helped you make it through the tough times, even if you don’t think it’s healthy and don’t want to keep that thing as a part of who you are, try not to feel guilty about it or angry at yourself because of it. Appreciate what it has done for you. It helped you make it this far.

Let yourself not be okay. Having “problems” is okay.

You are not alone. The world is full of people who understand how you feel.

If you need a therapist, that’s not embarrassing, that’s okay. Therapy is good. For everybody.

 

“Nice” isn’t all it takes. Honest matters, too.

Don’t be afraid of bullies. They’re hurting people. Do something about it, even if it makes others uncomfortable.

Learn to say no. It isn’t just a thing-you-could-do. It is a skill, a tough skill, one you need to practice, and one that you desperately need to have. Learn how to say no to invitations. No to requests. No to others’ behavior. No to opportunities. Just say the Yeses you actually want to say.

 

There are lots of safe people in the world. Trust me, you’re going to find some of them and they are going to be amazing.

You will find some people who are safe and don’t want to hurt you or control you even when they are mad at you.

The amazing people in your life are going to have rough days, tough things, moods that don’t match yours. This is okay.

In any given moment, you are not responsible for the happiness of the person next to you.

You need friends. Real friends. More than one.

Even if it’s not normal, connect deeply with people.

 

Please don’t stop being a little weird. Nobody is normal and that’s what gives each person their unique beauty.

Do your own thing. Just because the world isn’t used to it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Elope. Change your name. Walk to work. Have slumber parties even though you’re an adult. Take drives for no reason. Skip college (without apologizing) or get seven degrees. Eat bell peppers whole like you’d eat an apple. Lay in the grass too long. Drive to the airport just to play the piano. If books and fresh air are your happy things, read a book while you’re taking a walk–even after a bartender says “Hey I recognize you, were you walking down the sidewalk reading a book?” Different isn’t bad. You are different, and you only have one life.

 

It is okay to do great things.

Don’t put off what you want to do until everyone is okay with it.

Don’t wait for permission to be epic, to do big things, to chase your dreams.

Ask for things.

It is okay to do “unimportant” things.

You don’t have to do the best thing. It is okay to let yourself really love and want something, no matter how insignificant you feel like it is.

 

Remember to look closely at the things around you, just to see them.

Remember that you will never live a “yesterday” or a “tomorrow.”

It is okay to be happy.

It is okay to be sad.

It is okay to be tired.

When you can’t know that all these things are okay, just breathe.

Sometimes you just need to be alone.

Sometimes you just need to call a friend, and honestly, they probably really want to be there for you.

Again, it is okay to have “problems.”

You don’t need to hide.

You have to let people love you. When someone gives you their love, let it happen. When someone praises you, let yourself smile really, really big. Feel it soak in. Unconditional love from someone who loves you won’t get through to you if you can’t unconditionally accept it. Only letting someone fill your tank when you’re filling their tank back isn’t safer. It will just make you feel a little more alone and unworthy.

 

Please, please let yourself get a good night’s sleep.

Music helps. You’ll get busy and distracted, so don’t forget about music.

Laugh so much.

Set aside times to think about life.

Take time to be quiet. Like, a lot.

Give more hugs and get more hugs.

 

P.S. You’re 18. It’s okay if it takes you all your life to learn all these things. Lots of them might not make any sense right now. Lots of things I’m learning still aren’t making sense to me. You’ll always have a little bit of confused-kid in you. So if you don’t know what to think, that’s okay! You don’t need to “get it right.” I promise.
brown sketchers, faded blue jeans, brown t-shirt

 

What does your letter look like?

Try writing it. I bet you find it therapeutic. I bet you find that it brings you feelings of compassion, feelings of peace with who you’ve been and where you’ve come. And I bet the stuff you needed to hear then, you still need to hear on some of the weird days now.

And you and I and all these other weird humans with weird life-things are a lot more alike than we tend to think. So I bet your letter helps me, too. I’d really love to read it.

We’re all in this together.

Dare to connect

There are lots and lots of people in the world.

And all of them want friends.

Everybody wants the really good kind of friends–the kind that support. The kind you can be real around. The kind that smile and hug and laugh. The kind you can call when you need.

You’re not the only one who feels this deep need to make a friend, to connect.

You’re very much not alone. You just might not know that you’re not alone.

The people really are out there. They all, like you, know what it’s like to be a person. So deep down they, also, are ready for connection.

So make that awkward move. Dare to connect.

You never, ever, ever know what might happen.

 

Maya Angelou - friend may be waiting behind a stranger's face

You’d be surprised how many of us are broken.

Hey friend,

I’m asking you to take a closer look.

The world asks us all to put our best foot forward. To be fun, to be chill, to be cool, to be strong, dependable, easy to get along with.

Work demands our game face. We’re competing constantly. At all times on display, being assessed, critiqued, counted on. Competing every day for the chance to bring home groceries again next week. Even when we’re really good at competing, we always know we’re one misstep from it all being taken away. So we tread carefully. We hide our struggle.

Our friends and families may be a little more understanding. But when we show our weakness, sometimes their pity and patience only last so long. Some of us just can’t be bothered with another’s feelings, but I think far more often, it’s just that we’re fighting our own battles, too. And sticking around to watch his battle might make hers a lot harder. So when we overshare, over-need, our lifelines start to distance themselves, and we quickly learn to hide our struggle at home, too.

Hiding. Always hiding. Doing fine. It’s all good.

But please, look closer. We’re deep creatures. With deep happiness, but also with deep sadness. Deep fear. Deep pain.

And the constant fear that our deep feelings will get us kicked out of each other’s good graces means that our fear and pain and sadness and anxiety and depression and trauma and stress and anger and panic and burnout and insecurity and heartbreak get deeper and deeper and deeper. Because it’s dangerous not to hide.

So when you see a smile, look closer.

When you see success, look closer.

When you see beauty, look closer.

When you see laughter, look closer.

Sometimes you’ll find the smile is real. Sometimes you’ll find that underneath the smile, there’s a dam about to break. Sometimes you’ll find that the smile and the struggle are both very real together.

And sometimes, the person you were most sure has it all together, turns out to be barely holding on. I feel like I see this again and again and again.

So please, practice looking closer.

There are happy people. There are healthy people. There are people without mental illness, trauma. People who aren’t as fragile as others. People whose smiles are a lot deeper than their frowns. I think.

But what I know is that if you’re willing to look closer, you’ll be surprised how many of us are broken.

The longer I live, the more I see this vision of an earth crawling with a bunch of anxious creatures who just desperately need someone to give them a hug.

Brokenness isn’t all there is. There’s beauty and happiness, adventure and connection, accomplishment and excitement. There’s so much good in this world. It’s the stuff that we talk about all the time! That thing went well! Way to go at this! Look where I did a thing! We don’t often hide the good stuff.

So please, when you see the good stuff, don’t forget that underneath may be someone who really needs you to ask if they’re a little broken, too. Someone who might need a hug, a smile, a shoulder, a chat.

What about you? What are you hiding?

We’re all in this together, friends. Let’s be brave: Hide less. Hug more.

And every chance you get, take a closer look.

 

P.S. And if you can truly hear this yet, please know that your brokenness is okay. You are exactly you, and that is a good thing. So maybe “broken” is the wrong word…

 

Kahlil Gibran - out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls