Letter to my teenage self

Hello, darling

I’m writing you this letter because I know how insecure you are, and to let you know that things will sort themselves out just fine. Not in a regular way, but in your own kind of way, and that’s part of what makes your journey awesome.

Who am I? Good question, yet funny answer: I’m your ten years older version. And I will drop here some spoilers about what this timeframe will mean for you.

You will discover what makes you happy

Yes, you will be happy. And, of course, there will be some things that will bring you happiness. You will find them early and respect them. You will build little routines around them that will work as small but effective pills for the dark times that will come.

You will like yourself more

Of course, there will still be days when you’ll feel like you’re a total failure, but, as a difference from today, you’ll be able to see your good parts as well. You will like yourself more than you do now, and, obviously, less than you will like yourself when you’ll be 35. You will also stop belittling your accomplishments and will understand that a bad day is not a bad life. And, unbelievable, you will actually get to like yourself. Sounds pretty much like a fictional character, eh? Just give yourself some time, and watch.

You will talk about the things you try to hide now

For now, you try your best to seem as normal as a teenage girl could. But in less than ten years from now on, not only that you will talk about your disease with people without feeling ashamed. You will even write about it, and you’ll see people coming to you and sharing stories of their children having the same diagnosis as you do. And this will empower you, as well as your community.

You will still have friends from your childhood by your side

And they won’t be the ones you’d think. But they will be there for you when you’ll have good news, bad news, and whenever you’ll need to be slapped with that hard to swallow truth pill. They are not that many as you’d hope, but they will be there, and that’s what makes them living wonders.

You’ll make peace with your body

And this will be a game-changer. You’ll get thinner, you’ll learn about what kind of aesthetic you match best with, and will allow yourself to finally be happy in your own body, not in a future, perfect version of it. You will learn to stop postponing goodness for later, and that will help you a lot. Even so, you still won’t be able to see yourself as a beautiful woman, but you will only get to care less about this aspect.

You’re gonna do things your way

Maybe things won’t make that much sense seen from the exterior, but you will remain faithful to your values and your determination of walking on that one path, instead of the easier ones, will often seem like stubbornness at first. But it will also be the one thing that will bring you other people’s respect- the fact that you will never quit on something just because it’s hard.

You will keep your priorities aligned

This means you will put on hold anything that won’t give you the chance to grow, learn, or be yourself. You will keep learning on various domains, will keep writing, and will become a volunteer.

Volunteering will help you learn about how to be useful to others while not emptying your own cup of well-being. You will learn that you can give to others and receive at the same time, and the moments you’ve made those children smile will remain some of your most precious memories.

But this also means that you will cut people out of your life just because they don’t allow you to grow your way. And you won’t be sorry for doing so.

You will become your own kind of woman

It’s not very clear how will that woman be, for now, but I only can tell you that you’d love her if you’d met her. She’s funny, passionate, smart, relaxed, and smart. But I can tell you that she won’t be the kind of woman your family hopes you’ll become. She won’t care this much about how other people see her. She will have learned, by now, to put herself first. Do you know those lists with personality traits from the drawer? She checks them all and adds some more bullet points.

You will learn to say no

And you’re gonna love it! You will reach that point where you will learn that saying no is not an insult, but a proof of self-respect, and you will act like it. You will start to say no to whatever you feel like it doesn’t suit yourself: people, opportunities, everything that feels off.

You might not always know what you want, but you will always have a clear sight of what you don’t want, and that will do just fine in the long run.

You’ll bring magic up to your life

Not only that you will learn how to work with magic, but you will also learn to trust your inner voice, not other’s opinions about how you should be doing this or that. And every time you will listen to that inner voice, you’ll win. But it will be some hard to learn part of the journey, even for you. You will, as time goes by, discover that you are stronger than you’ve thought you could possibly be. And the thing that you can find happiness in the smallest things is one of the traits that root that power of yours.

These are only a small, small part of what your journey will be like. A teaser, if you want to. Because, by the way, you will be a pro at teasing people, too. Even if now it does not really sound like you, it will. Just be patient.

I think this will be any teenage girl that will trust her personal journey more than other people’s opinions about how her life should be, but today is not only about them, it’s especially about you. Because one of the most important lessons that you’ll be learning during this decade is the fact that a woman will only succeed if she will help other women, too. You will be empowered and inspired in your journey by wonderful, astonishing women, and you will find the power to give the same gift back to the young girls.

Because, if it’s anything that you are certain of, by now, is the fact that it needs a whole community to raise a woman who is unapologetically herself, capable to share and put boundaries as well. But, in the end, it is always worth it.

My favorite word

Life as an introvert has never been easy. And you learn this especially in your teenage years, when the pressure to conform is simply huge.

You notice quickly that your extroverted friends do better in society: they receive more attention, more compliments, they’re invited everywhere and everybody wants to be around them. That’s how everything starts, with thinking that if you’ll be more like them and less like you, you’ll be better.  So you begin to say yes  to everything you notice as being trendy, rushing to blend in.

And, even if it might look like an understandable choice, in the long run it will show you the contrary. It is an exhausting game, pretending to be somebody you’re not, just to fit in. And it is also visible, but I’ve noticed this way later.

Because I used to be one of those yes-teens too. To say yes when it was actually no just to avoid arguments, to do things I wasn’t really fond of and say things I was not believing, just to fit in, to be accepted. To be like the others, the cool kids. Because I’ve always wanted a bit of that attention they were receiving so effortlessly. And I wasn’t so different from them, after all, was I?

Well, truth be told, I was. I’ve always had a different view about life than the popular kids around me. I liked things they couldn’t care less about. I had my inner world, my passions, my beliefs. Somehow, I’ve always been skeptical about sharing them with other people around me.

Then, high school happened. And a lot started to change. I discovered people who were more like me, and the fact that I have options to choose from. I spent more time with them, debating things we cared about till we eventually got tired, and less with  old friends, which made me  feel like I wasn’t good enough to fit in. Eventually, I got to spend time with them only when it was really required, like family gatherings.

But it was only in my university years when I  discovered that I can say no. A small word with magical powers. A word I had always been afraid of.

I’ve been equally afraid of saying no, as I was of being told so. Of being rejected, dismissed as not good enough. Everything till one day, on my way back home, I had a revelation: I can either begin by being picky, or I will end up losing myself for good.

It was a tough thought to handle, especially thinking about the fact that I always hated to hurt people, but I knew it was the right thing to do. Took everything easy: spending more time with myself, making up excuses to avoid going somewhere where I already knew that I  was going to feel uncomfortable, cutting off some long time friendships, as I noticed them becoming meaningless interactions.

The worst part of learning to say no was, though, the guilt. I was feeling guilty for rejecting people or invites almost all the time, and in the beginning the guilt trips were awful, but  there  came a day when I  understood that, as long as I have the resources, I also have the power to choose where I will invest them.

It was, perhaps, the most liberating thing I’ve ever done. Learning to say no when it was no, instead of saying yes. This happened when I got to understand that saying no is not about rejection, it is about boundaries.

About knowing your needs, your passions, and your worth. About giving up on settling with whatever comes in your direction, and start choosing only what brings you joy. That saying no is not about being mean, as it is about self-respect. And the same thing goes for being told no, as well. Not being good enough for someone will not make you a failure. It only means that there are different needs to be met.

Of course, there are still moments when I say yes, but I mean no, but they are not that frequent anymore. Maybe this is the sign that I’ve grown up, but today I’m not afraid of saying or being told no anymore. Today I can easily say that it has become my favorite word, the one  that makes life easier, as I can speak my truths without fears.

Because knowing where to draw the line requires to have spent enough time with yourself, so you know for sure what is and what isn’t meaningful to you. A good exercise for knowing when to say no to something is to ask yourself these three questions before: Is it true? Is it good? Is it useful? If the answer is mostly no, then no is what you should say to those things, too. It is the easiest way of finding out what is and is not for you, to see if it speaks true to you, if it’s something that is useful or brings you joy. If you have more than  one negative answer to these questions, you can refuse without regrets.

I admit, learning never stops, especially when it comes to setting boundaries to others or, even better, to yourself. But learning is part of life, and we should not treat any of them like something limited or a chore.

At the end of the day, somehow, the only talk you need to have is the one about how much of who you are will you sacrifice for the sake of others. And if you feel like you’ve had enough of that already, then learn to unfit.

To unlearn all the toxic patterns which you’ve picked up along your way and which have taught you that the only way to be appreciated is to never say no. Actually, it seems like it’s the opposite: you’ll be really appreciated if you dare to stand up for yourself, knowing who you are. And that usually begins with declining everything you don’t feel it serves you in any way.

Saying no more often will only help your growth, your mental wellbeing, and will better  filter the people around you, so, in the end, why wouldn’t you give it a try? Because, if you will keep saying yes to everyone and everything, you might, one day, discover that you were only saying no to yourself all this time.

Life after trauma

Traumatic experiences are not a taboo topic anymore. We’ve started to read more about them, talk about them, and to notice that they’re not as rare as we have initially thought they are. Actually, it seems like everyone has had at least one traumatic event during its lifetime, even if we talk about ordinary people or celebs who seem to have it all. But firstly, what is a traumatic experience?

According to APA, trauma is an emotional response to a terrible life event, such as an accident, rape, natural disasters, as well as physical and emotional forms of abuse. And, if we take into conssideration forms of abuse such as bullying, sexual harassment, the number of people affected by traumatic life events is nothing to be neglected.

This is also one of the main reasons why the public conversation about trauma and living with a traumatic history is rising and spreading sparkles on the Internet, as well as in the offline. Because is something relatable, a piece of shared history, a collective narrative that allows us to say that’s my story, as well!

But there’s also a dark side to this seemingly all-glitter-and-support narrative. We do talk about our triggers, about the depression, anxiety, panic attacks and mental health issues we encounter as parts of the post traumatic life. We exchange tips and tricks about how to manage the episodes in order to obtain a minimum level of damage. But we don’t talk that much about the recovery process, and this is one of the parts of the conversation regarding mental health that, in my opinion, goes wrong. It happens, even so, for some really understandable reasons.

Firstly, the recovery after a traumatic life experience is a really intimate topic. More intimate than the story of the trauma itself, because if the traumatic event is a fact, something that could have happened to literally anyone else, the recovery is not. The recovery is a personal decision, to take back your own life, while freeing yourself from the depression, anxiety and other issues that put your progress and well-being on hold, but it’s also how you deal with your traumatic history. A journey, a decision, and a way of reacting at something that has obviously changed you.

But that’s not the only reason. It happens often that mental health problems are treated with a suspicious attitude, involving social stigma. Those are not really problems, they say. Or the already famous there’re other people in the world who have it so much worse, that you’d better stop complaining.

And why would someone talk about a thing that he or she knows that’s gonna be belittled for? Not to feel more inadequate than it already feels like.

Yet, recovery talks remain one of the most unexplored parts of the mental health discussions. Talking about it, however, would bring on the table some real emotional support, created by sharing not only stories about facts that happened, but also strategies of coping with what’s left behind, tips on rebuilding yourself, or about how to recognize and avoid another experience with traumatic potential.

It can be, if you ask me, a really powerful tool, serving both the person who chooses to share the journey to recovery with the others, and the people who are interested in finding out more, as it has the power not only to inform the people about what this process really takes, but also to inspire, empower and create.

By sharing the recovery journey after a traumatic event, it means not only that it loses its power, as you begin to heal, but also that your bad experience helps other people. It helps by letting them know that, yes, there is life after the trauma. It empowers them, as they reach a deeper understanding of their life experiences and understand the fact that they are not the things that happened to them. It creates a real diversity, as allowing people to show themselves without the stigma, even if they feel like they’re at a low point in their life, that they are not good enough or simply unworthy.

It was only after having my share of traumatic life events, that all of this got at me, and I’ve understood that it is something worthy, needed to be talked about openly. That it could help others who happen to live the same things, and face the same feelings. That now is my time to give back, after receiving the support, advice and courage to move on.

And by writing about my own mental health, about everything my recovery taught me, I hope that I will help the ones who read the articles find their ways to well-being, and towards discovering new parts of themselves. Because, at the end of the day, the biggest, scariest, yet most beautiful goal of this whole talking about mental health is finding out about ourselves. About what brings us joy, about what makes us angry, sad, about what makes us overreact or become apathetic. About our bright and dark parts. About what make us to really be who we are, because the answer of this question is never what happened to me. We are far more than just the things that happened to us at certain points in our lives, but this is a truth that only together we can truly, completely understand, and this articles series wishes to help with that, as much as it is possible.