I’m writing you this letter because you’ve been on my mind a lot lately. And the thing is, I know you won’t actually read it, you can’t, I can’t actually travel back and give it to you. So there’s no real point in me giving you advice; any advice I do write is, I suppose, more of a reminder for me now – born from the gifts you gave me just by keeping going. Yeah, this letter isn’t really for you. It’s for me now, or us now. To heal a little bit and reflect in a way that doesn’t consume us back to where you are. If that makes any sense?
I want to comfort you. I want to hug you, hold you tight, and whisper ‘I’ve got you’. Which is something to remember when you feel like the worst person ever, because eventually we’re able to look back and show ourselves compassion. I know it hurts. And I know you feel really lonely, I know.
I think I’m writing this to you at about age 13, maybe just turned 14. Right as all the mental health stuff really took off, and before you’d gone through enough of it to have any perspective on it. It was all new and you had no reason to think it wouldn’t last forever. But, hey, spoiler alert – it doesn’t last forever. I won’t lie to you, it does get worse. And then maybe worse again. And again. But there’s this magic process you haven’t come across yet, where even though in some ways it gets worse, it never feels quite as bad as that very first time. Because you’re growing and learning and after you survive it once you always know, deep down inside of you, that you’re going to survive it again. And you’re going to learn all these little skills – and big skills! – that help you get through. You’re going to be ok. Maybe not always, but you are going to be ok.
I would say please don’t drink, but if you’re 13/14 it’s already too late for that. So I’ll say this instead: you know how you always knew, from when you were really little, that you didn’t want to drink? And you were adamant that you never would, and you always thought if you did it wouldn’t end well, but you didn’t know why? Well, that was your gut instinct, and it was a good one. Learn to listen to your gut – it very rarely serves you wrong. So I know you’ve already had a drink, and done some other things, and I know it feels really great right now. I also know I can’t change what happened (or is going to happen, from your perspective). So I’ll say enjoy it while you can. Enjoy it while it’s fun and have those memories that we treasure. The world is a confusing place; it’s a paradox and time is a funny thing – things can be both good and bad. But listen, when it gets too much, know there is hope. Know that this isn’t going to be forever, and you are going to be ok again, I promise. I promise you the madness it’s going to cause is not going to rule your whole life. And I promise you that one day you’ll actually be grateful for it, strange as that may seem.
But that’s a few years away yet anyhow. For now it might be more relevant to say that food isn’t the enemy and that you are allowed to take up space. You are allowed to exist and feel and show that you feel. I know right now a lot of your time is taken up thinking about food, and actually you don’t even think that’s a problem yet. Well, you’ll figure it out. There’s a lot of cycles and waves in this life, and you’re gonna ride every one of them out. And you’re not going to do it alone.
In a few months you’re going to meet this amazing person – she’s a bit crazy. I’d like to say thank you for trusting your gut instinct that first day you met her; the one that says ‘this person gets me’. She does. She’s going to help you. And that’s also going to unleash a whole load of other sh*t in your head because once you open the floodgates of emotion, it’s hard to close them. But you’re not going to be alone. Lean into the people who help you, even when it feels uncomfortable and you’re ashamed to do it, because one day you’re going to be able to show them it was worth it. You are going to meet like-minded, supportive people, and make true deep friendships. Loneliness isn’t going to go away completely, I doubt it ever does, but slowly you’re going to learn to make connections and redefine what that means for you. It’s a process we’re still going through – and we’ve come to appreciate it’s actually kind of a wonderful thing that learning is lifelong. You never stop growing.
I want you to know that I forgive you. I forgive you. All the unforgivable things that make you think there’s no point, the whirlwind of self-destructive hate that spirals out to others – I forgive you for all of it. You are doing the best you can. And one day you’re going to be able to do better. And in 5,10,15 years you’ll be able to do better again! So I not only forgive you, but I thank you for trying so damn hard to keep going when it all seems impossible.
If I could actually give this letter to you, the one thing I would probably most like to say is that you’re autistic. Surprise! You’re going to find out in about two years and it’s going to make a whole lot of sense and it’s going to change your life. It’s going to be a catalyst in helping you to understand yourself and learn to exist in this world. Because you’re not broken, you’re living in a world that wasn’t built for you. So when in a few months the whole world comes crashing in around you and you can’t be the perfect A* student you built your identity around (don’t worry, it’s actually a blessing to get to rebuild your sense of self and be able to do other things), know that you are allowed to express your needs. You are allowed to be tired and burnt out and unable to carry on at that level without support or understanding. You are allowed to take up space – I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again.
Ok, what else would you like to know? We’re still obsessed with Carrie Fisher. You were right, we do have a developing mood disorder. Also anxiety, a lot of it. Oh! You’re going to act! You’re going to see your dreams becoming reality and it’s going to feel even better after all this hurt because you’ll understand how precious it really is. You’re actually quite funny, and it wouldn’t hurt you to trust that you can lean into your comedy every now and then. You write a lot, including a lot of poetry (we like poetry now). You went around Europe on your own for 2 months at 17, just like we’d always dreamed! You run a mental health space, have been on a podcast, won an award. We’re still gay. So yeah, you’re ok. You’re not perfect, no one is, so it’s ok to stop chasing that idea of perfection. And you don’t need to do crazy, harmful things to gain other people’s approval and affection. Laughter is the key to making it through rough times – you have to be able to find life funny. Oh and also – not everyone can hear colour?? We were 15 by the time we realised that!
I love you, always, through all of it. You’ve got this, even when it feels like you don’t. And I’ll be waiting right here for you in a few years,