Dear child. A letter to my younger self

Dear child,

How old are you? Perhaps six or seven. That was a happy enough time. That girl who bullies you, despite your efforts to be kind to her, she will leave your life soon, and you will cross paths with her once more, many years from now. You’ll shake her off again without trouble, like water off waxed glass. Don’t worry yourself with her.

Your precious collection of toy horses is still safely in a box in your parents’ house. They are waiting for your own children to come and play one day.

Dear child, now you are ten. you know already that you are a little different from everybody else. They seem to have all the friends, all the latest crazes, better clothes, those shoes that light up when you run. As you go through school, you will feel like you are not the popular kid, but the friends that you do have will truly appreciate you for who you are. Anybody who laughs at you or doesn’t seem to be interested in you is no loss to your life.

Dear child, here you are at twelve, keep reading. You learn so much from your reading about things that will never be taught in school. You’ll be drawn to study literature, and it will ruin your appetite for reading for pleasure. Don’t be alarmed. It will come back and you will love every word even more. You will thank your English teachers and your French teachers for fostering your natural abilities to look deeper than just the storyline. It will help you to read not just books, but people, and it will help you to discover a whole new talent in yourself.

Child, you’re sixteen now, you are going to be braver than you realise to show up at school wearing clothes that are not like everybody else’s. To colour your hair red instead of blonde. To choose eyeliner over lip gloss. You are going to be lonely and insecure, but you know who you are already. Those few true friends will still be with you. They are still with you today.

Child, you are close to being an adult, but you feel so young. Child, you are intelligent and capable of so much more than you know. You will teach yourself to love subjects that you hated at school, when you come to know more about what you are made for. You are a wonderful teacher in your own right. You will be successful through nothing more than your own dedication and commitment. Don’t listen to those who say you will fail or that you have not done enough. Academic work will not always be easy, but life is not always measured in grades.

Dear child, of all ages, that empty exhausted feeling that you have when you wake up sometimes is not a thing you are imagining. It is real. It will get worse. You will battle depression for many years before you know what it is. You are doing well, even on the days when you feel like you have foundered. Those days are some of your strongest. Even from the darkest moments, you will be there for other people who need your love and care, and you will still give it to them. This black dog, this beast, it will sneak into your life when you least expect it. You may never see it coming, until, like a great whale breaking the surface of the ocean, it swallows you up and drags you down and down and down, while you struggle and kick in the dark and wonder if you are truly drowning. Sometimes it will carry you through the deep for weeks at a time. Sometimes just for a day. You, whale-rider, you can weather through it, and that first breath of air each time will be another victory.

Child, your heart will be filled with breathless, wondrous love. Your heart will be broken. You’ll wonder if you’ll die. You’ll learn how cruel and vicious you can be when you are so deeply hurt, how you lash out with words that will taste bitter on your tongue. You will see only one way out of this spiralling ache, and you will walk away from a home, from friends, from work that you love, from a whole city you thought you’d stay in forever, from a life that somehow defines you and you will cry in your car as you drive away. Cry on, child. There’s so much courage in what you do. You don’t know what joys await you yet.

Child, you’ll be unkind to others as you learn how to be selfish. It will feel sad and disappointing when you realise you have been so ruthless, but you will also learn that you must sometimes fight to free yourself from the hold of those who will hold you back. To be selfish is not always comfortable, but it can be essential.

Dear child, you will believe you are making good choices as you try to fit yourself into the life you’ve seen others enjoy on television. You’re not made for the big city, but you know that. You’ll think that you might find good company there, but you will be lonelier than ever. You’ll spend days trying not to let your tears slip out on the tube, pausing at the office doors and wanting to turn around and leave, but climbing those soulless stairs anyway. You’ll believe your life is wasting away.

Don’t worry, darling thing, these endless empty days are part of what will make you brave. You’ll know the limits of your endurance, and you’ll fight to be free of what ties you down. You’ll finally find a way to stand up and say “I am a human being, not a human resource, and I will not go on like this.” You will spend every penny that you have saved from this toil, and give yourself the greatest gift you could imagine.

Child, you’ll see a new life come rushing to you with its arms open to embrace you. You’ll stand in the shallow waters at the edge of a lake and feel your very spirit laughing as you realise you have finally become free. You will wonder if you have lost your mind.

No, child. You’re just finding it.

And then, beautiful child, you’ll meet him, and there it will be: love. The love will be unglamorous; not like Hollywood or Cosmo, but dusty and hardworking. It will be accepting and forgiving, it will test you and improve you. It will hurt you. It will heal you.

Don’t be hard on yourself. You could never have seen that it would go this way. You will feel as if you don’t even know who you are any longer, as you pack up your life and ship it across the world. You’ll be afraid. That’s ok. You’ll do it anyway.

Know that you’ll still pick up your words and lace them together just for the pleasure of it. You’ll crave an old typewriter, so you can feel closer to the work, so your errors can become permanent. You think you will learn from the craft this way. Try it some time.

So, child, know this. Everything will be ok, if you can just keep moving forwards. And when you’re feeling down, you know what film you need to watch to perk yourself right up? Doom. It works every time.

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