“Remember, we are our own griefs, my dear, we are our own happiness and we are our own remedies.” – Huseyn Raza
To my 17-year-old self,
We are about one week out from our 27th birthday. Ten years from where you are now. And my love, what a decade it has been.
I know that you are in the midst of going into your senior year of high school, and becoming Dance Team captain, and starting as a camp counselor, and applying to college. And I know that on paper, that sounds like a lot of fun and kind of like a dream come true. And I know that you are putting on smiles and sparkles for the world to see, winning awards for your academics and extracurriculars, all the while continuing to be a good friend and an even better daughter. But I also know that inside you are struggling. And at night you cry. And you don’t find beauty in your appearance, whether it’s your frizzy hair or cystic acne causing that day’s dismay. And you have more imposter syndrome than any teenager should have to cope with. And you don’t have clarity around your mental health. And you think you are less worthy than other girls because you don’t get asked to the Homecoming dances or Prom. And on some days you feel like no one wants to be your friend. And you are in constant physical pain because the doctors haven’t been able to help your spinal injury yet. And I know that you so badly want high school to be over and for college to begin because you think a change of scenery will make everything better.
I know all of these things. But I also know what comes next for you. And I want you to know too. Because it gets better, my love. It gets so much better.
At 17, you will be accepted into one of your top school choices. And it’s a beautiful day when that happens. And although YOU won’t believe you deserve the celebration that ensues, you do deserve it. Because you spent the last 12 years of your life over-achieving and joining clubs and rising in sports teams so you could one day take part in higher education.
At 18, your best friend from high school will set you up with your freshman year roommate who will become your very best friend, your confidante, your biggest cheerleader, and your roommate for the next seven years. She will be there with you through the biggest milestones (and setbacks) of the next 10 years. She will then be the catalyst that creates the rest of your college experience, introducing you to a group of amazing girls whom you can call home.
At 19, while you are enjoying the adventures of being a college student, you will also be diagnosed with severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This diagnosis brings you clarity and light and answers to some of the mysteries of the past few years, but it also brings you hard work, sleepless nights, tears, and struggle. But you come out a stronger, healthier human. Mental health becomes your passion, and you will embrace it fully.
At 20, you will move into a house off-campus, which will become the pinnacle of your college experience. You will throw parties and attempt to cook and share a shower with seven girls. But then you will be rushed into emergency spinal surgery. I know you are sighing with relief at this. And yes, your back pain subsides. It’s not perfect and you will have to continue to work hard to maintain normalcy, but you can walk and dance and sometimes you can even run.
At 21, post-college, you will backpack Europe with three of your best friends, where you will drink red wine and kiss European boys and sprint to catch trains and laugh harder than you ever have before. You will find joy in the little things, and you won’t sleep much, but it will be worth it. You will still talk of these adventures six years later, knowing that they will continue to be reminisced upon for a lifetime.
At 22, you will go to graduate school. You will meet lifelong friends who feel like home and learn that you are a compassionate leader who can thrive in the world of business. You will start your career and be reminded that women belong in the workforce, always. Your manager at work will take you under her wing and she will become something of a big sister to you. Cherish her always.
At 23, you will move to Chicago with your two best friends, your soul mates. And you will spend the next two years learning how to stand up for yourself in your professional life and how to advocate for yourself in your personal life. And those two best friends will be there for you in this with each step, each stumble, and every leap of faith. They are the Monica and Phoebe to your Rachel.
At 24, one of your best friends in Chicago will throw you a surprise birthday party. And it will become one of the best nights of your life. And it is on this day that you will finally feel at home in Chicago. You will know that you are on the right path, the right wavelength of life.
At 25 and 26, a pandemic will ensue across the globe, and this will give you the free time in your schedule to understand how to take care of your mind, body, and soul. It will be a hard year for a lot of people, yourself included. Death will ensue and sickness will be widespread. And health will become your priority. Your longevity will become top of mind. You will learn that wellness is holistic, and you will be an advocate for that in your communities. You will live at home for a span of time during this, and you will cherish your family more than you ever have before. They will always be your best friends, now and forever.
Through all of this, you will survive, and soon you will thrive. And you will fall in love. And then you will get your heart broken. And then again. And again once more until you realize that the only love story that matters right now is the one you have with yourself. You will experience the highest of highs where you sparkle and shine, and you will experience rock bottom, crying into your dad’s arms while he holds you tightly on your living room floor. But here is the amazing thing about you, my love—you always know how to get back up. You ALWAYS get back up. Whether the mountain you are climbing is physical or mental, you don’t give up. You keep going. You are resourceful. You will learn how to hold your head up high. You will understand what it means to be YOU. You will start to value your opinions over the opinion of others. You will keep friendships alive that mean something to you, and you will say goodbye to others. There will be pain, but there is also so much light and a whole lot of love.
I know that you are looking in the mirror and you don’t like what you see. I know that some days you want to run and hide. I know that bullies are mean. But I also know that one day when you look in the mirror, you will see beauty. And I also know that eventually, you won’t run from you, but you will embrace your sparkle. And I also know that bullies are people who are just as hurt and scared as you are. And one day you will look back and want to give yourself the biggest hug. Because now you know that you deserve love. You deserve kindness. And you deserve warmth. But most importantly, you will learn that you deserve all of these things not only from others, but from yourself.
Be patient, enjoy every moment of the next 10 years, and keep smiling. Because one day the smile you have to fake right now will be nothing but genuine and real. I love you.