Chicago

To my former [18-year-old] self

This post has been a long time coming.

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Its hard to believe that five years separate me from the person in these pictures. I guess it isn’t so crazy, though, when I think of everything that has happened since then.

I’ve graduated college, traveled abroad, shared an apartment with my boyfriend (of almost four years!!), and started graduate school. I’ve also lost countless loved ones, been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and ADHD, and dealt with losing close friends. Nevertheless, when I look at these photographs I can’t help but wish that I could have known everything I know now and feel bad that I can’t do anything to fix it.

There are many things I’d want to say, but here are some of the big ones:

  1. You are not flawed and you are not insane. That constant blanket of the ‘blues’ that covers every moment of your day-to-day? That’s depression. No, that feeling is not normal, but it can be treated. Talk to your parents, they love you and will understand. You won’t need to battle with your emotions alone anymore. That tingly warm feeling you get all over sometimes, where your skin starts to feel numb and prickly all at the same time and your chest feels heavy and crowded? That’s anxiety. Yes, you have that, too. Sucks. I know. Look into relaxation techniques. Lay off the caffeine. Again, talk to your parents. Life shouldn’t be so painfully stressful, you’re only 18. You’re probably thinking everything is okay because you’re on the Honor Roll and take AP classes, right? Wrong. Your ‘study’ habits won’t fly in college. Things are going to get harder and there are going to be myriad distractions on campus. Oh, that’s right… Your inattentiveness, untidiness, and short temper? That’s ADHD. All of it. Yep. I know. I’m sorry you were so good at hiding those symptoms after being disciplined for talking in class all those times in kindergarten. There’s not really time to learn how to change these habits and behaviors now…but there’s a way to fix this, too. Above all, these are your body and brain’s way of warning you that something is wrong. However, they are not indications of lower worth, ability, or mental stability. You are okay. You are going to be okay. Please talk to someone.
  2. You’re beautiful. No, catcalls and the number of people who grind with you at dances are not indications of your self-worth nor your attractiveness. Also, those things will get really old once you realize that you’re not ugly. People suck and you just have one of those faces that draws in street harassment. I’m sorry. Back to you … People are fucking mean in high school. Whether they’re jealous, battling their own demons, or cold-hearted. Don’t listen to them – or at least listen more closely to those who are lifting you up. Confidence is NOT a bad thing. I know you’ve been told throughout your life that confident women and girls are bitches, bossy, or stuck-up — that’s all part of gender socialization. You’ll learn about that soon. Smash the patriarchy, too, if you can… But above all, don’t listen to B. (the one who called you E.T. – every day) on the bus. What a lame insult honestly – at least use a movie people our age watch. Also, do NOT use Formspring. Oh wait, that happened in high school. Sorry I’m too late. Either way, if it matters, you’re beautiful.
  3. Stop chasing boys who do not love you. You can’t make them love you. Also, stop investing more time and energy into potential relationships when you’re not receiving any in return (more on this later). You’re going to meet this amazing guy very soon. When? Well, if I told you then everything might change. But I will say that he loves and respects you more than you have ever loved and respected yourself and he will help you in so many ways. He’s a really good person and your whole family approves. I guess my best advice is – you haven’t seen the last of M., but give him a second-chance (NOT in that way) and you won’t be disappointed. Also, you probably want to be a little more reckless your freshman year. P., N., and M. do NOT like you back and it is a total waste of time. Also D., stay away from D. Be patient — he is worth the wait.
  4. Manage your savings better. Experiences are more important than things. You don’t need to spend so much money and someday you’ll understand this, but for now, make sure you have about three thousand saved up for spring of your sophomore year. You’re going to blow your whole savings – but it’ll be amazing and a once in a lifetime opportunity. Also, you’ll probably have to learn some Italian.
  5. Keep in contact with your loved ones and never hesitate to express your love for them. This is one of my biggest regrets. Shit happens in life – unexpectedly and inconveniently – and you’re going to have half a dozen brushes with death by the time you write this blog post. Don’t worry, “he” and your parents are fine. But still. Be mindful of your impact on others as much as you are of theirs on you. Forgive quickly, forget sometimes (if necessary). Things are going to get really hard for you and you’re not going to know how to handle it. The last time a loved one died, you shirked the real writing assignment and turned in an essay (with a construction paper backing) on your dead cat. You still aced it, but that’s exactly what I mean. You could be in a grocery store and see an owl cookie jar and start sobbing – prepare yourself. (This didn’t happen…but almost)
  6. WORK OUT. Endorphins, energy, and (more) eating are the three benefits that are probably the most relevant to you. Sure its cool to have an amazing metabolism and eat whatever you want, but guess what? That’s going to change – FAST. Also, Chili’s basically serves junk food. Junk food is not real food. Eat sparingly. Pay attention – I’m serious. But yeah, if you’re bored please go run a lap around the block or something.
  7. Friendship breakups suck, but you have to move on. They did. This brings us back to the investment part I talked about earlier. You’re an extremely loyal and loving friend — which is to be celebrated. But you know what happens to those people? They get dumped. Unexpectedly. Harshly. Unfairly. And there is absolutely nothing to do to avoid this. It’s going to happen. Two to three times if I remember properly. Yes, even that friend you defended freshman year – she’s going to dump you, too. For someone you introduced her to. Sucks, don’t it? Don’t be like them – but move on like them. They don’t care anymore, I know you’re sentimental, but fuck them. Also, stop sub-tweeting. Its not cool. Break (and recycle) a glass bottle for catharsis. Or write a blog post I guess. They’re probably going to read it – but they moved on, so who cares, remember?
  8. BEING SMART IS COOL. Fucking patriarchy strikes again. Stop pretending you don’t understand things or letting someone else answer questions in class. You’re intelligent as hell. Brag. Yes, I am telling you to brag more. Us adults call it networking. Although I’m not sure how the 34 on the ACT is going to be helpful. Sorry. I’m still proud of you, though. That’s not the last standardized test you’re going to see either. (Oops. I think I said too much.) Also, your major is totally going to change. Roll with it.
  9. Boys Like Girls is going to break up or morph or I don’t even know…sorry. Not much to say about this one. Just thought you should know.
  10. You still haven’t been on Big Brother. That pipe dream isn’t really cohesive with your current living situation. Maybe they’ll do a Big Brother reboot when you’re like 40 and then you can try out? Julie’s still beautiful, too. Ugh.
  11. You’re going to get burnt out. A lot. This is okay. You care about things. Possibly too much. What isn’t okay is that you don’t learn from it. Breathe, assess, exercise self-care (this does NOT mean alcohol or food), take a time out even. Life is going to keep happening – but this is a necessary step. Learn from your mistakes and your failures. Even success can be stressful. You are too smart and too kind to live life in a constant state of war. It doesn’t have to be about to-do lists, deadlines, and ‘being productive’. Who gives a damn if you are productive on a sunny Sunday in July OTHER THAN YOU? No one. So please, take a break sometimes. Life is not measured in how much labor you suck out of every second of every day. Slow down.

All in all, I am a much better person today because of what I have been through. I’m still learning and I don’t see that ever changing. I’m unhappy with how I have handled a lot of things in life, but I’m going to try to fix them moving forward. This is why it is important to sit down and think about what you would tell your former self sometimes. Its insane to think that I truly knew NOTHING in 2012 – and I’ll bet my future self in 2022 thinks the same of me now.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self?

 

 

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Danielle