Dear sixteen year old Felicia,
I hope all is well.
Just kidding, I know it isn’t!
One thing you’ll learn as you grow is that the world isn’t always going to ask how you’re doing. It’s easier for the world to make a statement than it is to ask a question. That’s okay, as long as you keep doing you.
I know things haven’t been easy lately, so I thought I’d do a bit of time travelling and try and help you out. We’re good at this stuff, remember? We are “question” people who like to make statements. That is why we write. That is why our minds get into trouble. That is one thing you’ll continually dig a hole for, but never be able to bury – so stop trying. Keep asking questions. Keep making statements.
I know you haven’t been to class in months. I mean, you slept on your desk during English, anyway. Your math teacher used to lay your test on your head, because she knew she wouldn’t be able to wake you. It’s not like you’re missing much, though, considering you never pay attention. You can either be asleep on a desk or asleep in your bed, am I right? I know you’re trying, though, and I know it isn’t your fault. You aren’t the one who is choosing to stay home, the school and your mother worked together to come up with a plan that would help you learn in the way you needed to be taught. It looks like you’re skipping school, but in reality, your medication makes it difficult for you to wake up and the concept of a classroom gives you tunnel vision. You won’t go to university, but don’t hate yourself for that – it won’t stop you from receiving a formal letter from the vice principal commending your will to survive and honouring you for still managing to graduate despite your difference from your peers. It won’t stop your mother from overcoming her own demons, building a healthy home and dedicating an award in your honour each year to one member of the graduating class who overcame adversity and thrived. You will have a job. You will buy a condo. You will continue to hyperventilate for no reason, doodle on your desk during lessons and leave clubs with a pounding headache, but you aren’t broken – you’re brilliant. The people who truly love you will see and embrace the fact that you are simply brilliant in a different way.
I know you broke apart a shower razor and have it hidden under your bed, and I know you’re addicted to cutting your arms. It hurts when they laugh at you for sitting alone, doesn’t it? I know you get lonely sitting by yourself on a rock with your chicken wrap at lunch. I know you’re eating a chicken wrap instead of a chicken burger (your favourite) because you think you’re fat. I know you have an eating disorder, and I know that your eating disorder isn’t just about your body image. It gives you control. You’ve never known control, have you? I know you were abused. I know you’ve seen and experienced thirty years of life in just sixteen, and I know you didn’t ask for any of that. Maybe if they knew, they wouldn’t say the things they do? Good for you for asking the question, but here’s the statement : it’s easier for people to scoff at what they don’t understand than it is to try and make sense of it.
Let me remind you of something – you may not always function properly at parties, but you try and go, anyway. This makes you brave. You may be barely passing math, but in music, when your instrument was off for repairs – the teacher handed you something you’d never played before because he knew you would be able to figure it out on your own. By the time you’re twenty three, you’ll have played a little bit of everything at some point in your life: guitar, oboe, ukulele, clarinet, mandolin, violin, keyboard and banjo. You won’t be able to do mental math, but you’ll be able to figure out music by ear. Let me reiterate: you’re not broken, you’re brilliant.
Allow your best friend to keep writing “believe” on your arm, and then do it. Do not struggle as she pins you against the wall every day, outside of second period math, and scribbles that word on your forearm beside a heart. She loves you, I promise, even if you don’t feel like anyone does. She is tough and resilient, and she will love you through a lot of difficult times – even when you send her a text (more than once) that scares the life completely out of her. Even when she is afraid of losing you, she won’t let go – she will love harder. You won’t realize it at the time, and you will be angry with her now and again, but when you’re older – you’ll be so, so thankful for the battles you’ve fought together and won. Remember this: your battles were not hers, but she marched into the war zone with you. She did not leave without scars, either. You will fight like sisters, but she will forever be the first person to square up with anyone who threatens you. She will teach you to throw a football and you will fail miserably at it. She will push you out of your comfort zone, talking you down as you ride the rollercoaster you’ve always wanted to ride and squeezing your clammy hand when the mental health unit needs to take your blood. She will teach you to stand up for yourself, and for a while – you’ll fail miserably at that, too. But you will get help. You will not carry out your suicide plan on March 11th. You will be an outpatient at an eating disorder clinic and a frequent visitor of the psychiatric ward – but you’ll be okay. It’ll be a work in progress, but you will not give up. We aren’t like that, remember?
How’s your other best friend? I know – not good, either. Sorry for asking, because I already know the answer, but I wasn’t sure how to open up this paragraph. She’s very much like you – she has many struggles, too. She is your soul mate. She will sit in the hospital with you until three in the morning when your mother no longer feels like she can keep you safe from your self-destructive coping mechanisms. She will show up at your house and hold you as you sob on your bedroom floor. She will talk you down over the phone as you scream in a dark, cold, empty parking lot three hours from home, begging her to make everything stop for ten minutes – as if that is something that is within her control. Enjoy every moment you spend with her and every memory you make. Enjoy the feeling of your fleeting breath as she makes you laugh so hard you can’t catch it and enjoy the feeling of relief that washes over you when she tells you she’s okay after a mental health episode. Two teenage girls holding hands in a locked hospital room may seem like a terrible mental image to you right now, but when you’re older, you’ll treasure it. Let me tell you why. I know you hate reading, but this next part is important, I promise.
There isn’t an easy way to say this, but she is going to die when you’re twenty-three. It will be the absolute worst day of your entire life, and I say that with confidence. You will fight your demons together for thirteen years, and then you will have to fight them alone. It isn’t fair, I know – but it’s the truth. You’ll want to give up the fight and be with her. You will feel a pain that you didn’t believe existed before. You will fall to your knees in your office as your phone hits the floor. People will bring you water and ice, asking you to breathe and remain conscious. I don’t remember if you will, but I know you will physically survive after throwing up everything you eat into a plastic bag for seven days straight. I promise that you won’t end up jumping from the same spot that you planned on jumping from seven years prior. Let me reiterate: it will be a work in progress, but you will not give up. Let me rephrase: she was not broken, she was brilliant. Don’t you dare let anyone tell you she was broken because her demons killed her before she could kill them. She was brave, just like you. Her funeral will be sad, but you will give a speech, and she will proudly watch from Heaven and send you all her love. You’ll wear one of your hair bows to the service – you still collect those; can you believe it?
Keep making art. Keep speaking out. Keep loving your beautiful, strong mother with everything in you and continue to follow her example. Don’t stop drawing your feelings. Don’t you dare stop writing. Continue being yourself. Nobody is perfect, but imperfect people are capable of having good hearts and creating change. Waves will push ocean debris to the shore, eventually – right now you are the debris, but one day you will become the wave. There is a plan for every person on this Earth. Everything you’ve experienced, even the things I couldn’t name in this letter, are part of a grand design. Someday you will understand why you experienced the things you did, and someday you will be able to come to terms with those things. Don’t rush that. I wish I could tell you that you’ll finish your book someday, too, but you and I both know that you have the attention span of a goldfish and probably won’t. Don’t stop trying, though. Dating might be a bit of a nightmare, I won’t lie – but one day you’ll have such a witty comeback for the boy from fifth period who called you fat that it’ll make him question his nerve. You’ll never tame your wild hair, but you’ll learn to love it’s defiant behaviour. Someday, freckles are going to be in, and so are curves – wild, I know. Even when they are, it won’t matter to you. You’ll stand firm behind the belief that trends are ridiculous and everyone’s beauty deserves to be celebrated. Most of all – I want you to learn to allow people to love you. I want you to stop pushing people away and begin letting them in. Do not be afraid to love. Learning to trust is, again, a work in progress – but don’t you ever, ever be afraid to love.
I wonder if you read all that. If you did, I’m both very proud of you and pleasantly surprised. If you didn’t, that’s fine. I guess you’ll have to experience all the things I warned you about without my guidance, turn twenty-three, and then write yourself a letter over and over again until you do. I know there’s a movie with a plot like that, but you still don’t watch movies, so I couldn’t tell you. Maybe I just won’t send this – let’s save us both the trouble.
Love today, tomorrow and always,
PS: Going to seven eleven in your underwear as a dare to win a taquito is a terrible idea. Do not do that.
Did you enjoy Felicia’s letter to her 16 year old self?!
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