Well into my thirties and looking back at my younger years, I sometimes wish I had the guidance of someone who had been through it all. Although I’m still learning and going through many crazy life lessons, I feel like I’m at that age where I finally have a good sense of who I am. I try not to regret anything I’ve done in my life since there is a lesson behind every hardship and struggle, but looking back, there are many moments I’ve spent being sad, uncertain, and depressed. This is the advice I wish I could say to my younger self.
1. That numb and empty feeling that you’ve had since you were a kid…is NOT normal. Feeling sad and blue is not your normal state of being. I wish you would have gotten help earlier in life. When you were 10, 15, 21…because when you get older and look back, you’ll see so many moments that could have been amazing but instead, all you’ll remember is the sadness you felt.
2. Stop allowing society to influence the way you view yourself. You will spend so many years of your life trying to be skinny, taking so many dangerous dietary supplements, jeopardizing your physical health, having eating disorders, and letting the way you feel about your outward appearance, affect all of your self-esteem. You are beautiful. And when people tell you that, believe them. Believe them.
3. Embrace your culture. Embrace your heritage. Embrace being brown. Society will tell you that you’re not beautiful because you don’t have blonde hair or blue eyes…because you are not white. Believe me, one day, years from now, you will learn about the struggles that your dad went through to get to America, you’ll be told stories of racism and oppression and see the poverty that people in your home country endure because of colonialism, and you will eventually look into the eyes of people that look like you…and feel beautiful and proud.
4. Throw those magazines away. Don’t let the people you see in those stupid pages convince you that you’re not good enough. I promise you, one day, years from now…you will see people like you in those same magazines, in the movies you watch, and in the music you listen to. Your culture will finally be represented and you will never feel more empowered in your life. What I see today…is just the beginning.
5. Listen to your own moral compass. You will sit through hours at church, camps, and youth outings throughout your childhood and adolescence. You will be told that being gay is a sin, that women should not have reproductive rights, that the sexual harassment you deal with is because of the clothes you wear. You will be told that other religions are wrong and should always be seen as “the other.” Don’t believe any of it. Don’t let the fear of going to hell make you a bigot.
You’re a smart girl with such a strong moral compass, and trust me, there will be a moment where you will be sitting through a sermon and think to yourself… “this is so fucked up.” And it is. And you’ll walk away and never look back. And that is 100% okay.
6. Recognize what toxic love is. You will have your heart broken several times in your life but there will be one particular boy…who will shatter it. Those intense feelings that “feel different” and the immense earth shattering pain you feel when he leaves you…is not because of love. It is a fear of being alone. The pain is a result of the little self-worth and self-love you have for yourself. You will believe that your happiness depends on this one person, and when you’re treated poorly, you will think you deserve it. You will beg him to stay and spend so much time and effort trying to prove your worth. Let him go. I promise, you will rise from this and you will learn that love doesn’t have to be painful for it to be real.
7. The depression you feel isn’t caused by one thing or one moment. It is just a part of who you are and deep down…you know that. You will blame the severity of it on certain people and events in your life…but it has always been there. It’s chemical, it’s genetic, and it’s hereditary. Those terrible moments have maybe enhanced it, but it has always been there.
Accept that and accept that it will probably never go away completely. Once you do, you’ll figure out a way to manage it. Whether it’s the pills you take, the therapist you talk to, or the changes you make in your life…you will be able to manage it. And when that dark cloud comes…even if it’s severe and crippling…you will know that it’s just a moment. It’s not the be all, end all. It’s a moment that will pass… and believe me when I say this, it WILL pass.
8. The embarrassment and defeat you feel after you take that handful of pills is temporary. As much as you regret it (whether it’s wishing you hadn’t or wishing you had taken more), I promise you, you will learn from it. It will make you stronger. And years from now you will look back on that day, those feelings of wanting to die, the facility you were forced to stay at…all of it…and you’ll think to yourself…. “I got through it. I survived. I’m still breathing. I’m still living. And I’m okay.”
9. You will love again. I know it feels impossible after all of the trauma…but you will. Those butterflies you think are gone forever will come back for someone else. You’ll meet new people, you’ll try new things, and trust me…you will fall in love again.
10. Write. Submit. Publish. You’ll regret sharing so much of yourself…and you’ll think, “I only published those pieces because I was in the moment.” You’ll feel embarrassed and regretful and beg your editor to take them down…but believe me… those letters will come. Those messages, those conversations, those hugs… And that’s when you’ll realize that your words and your experiences hold so much power. Your words have encouraged people to get help, they’ve given comfort to those who need it, and they’ve inspired so many. Keep writing!
11. Embrace your age. Every year that passes, every birthday that comes, makes you sad. You are still young! Embrace your energy, your youth, your drive! Decades from now, that will all be gone and all you will remember when you look back…is that you spent your whole life “feeling old” and allowing that to stop you from doing certain things. Not everyone has the privilege of growing old. Embrace it.
12. Don’t let your compassion for others weigh you down. If the news and the state of the world become overwhelming, it’s okay to unplug. If you know you can’t help someone, don’t feel bad when you have to say no. Set healthy boundaries. Your mental health will thank you for it later.
13. For the love of God, keep drumming! Do not get rid of your drum set, fuck the neighbors and their noise complaints, and stop making excuses. As much as you think you’re just a music fan…you will eventually realize it is way more than that. It’s not just a passion, but your world. It is your therapy, your joy, your inspiration. You’re the happiest when you write about it, when you’re around it at shows, and when you create it. Keep playing.
14. You will learn what your calling is when you least expect it. Growing up, you will have a lot of moments where your depression will become debilitating. But in one particular year, you will experience a massive breakdown that will almost take your life. Everything will feel strange and the things you once loved, will no longer bring you joy. Although it may feel scary, I promise that those pieces of yourself that you lost will eventually come back. You will realize that the things that helped you get through it, are the passions in life you must pursue… which is writing, music, and advocacy.
15. Buy those plane tickets, those music festival passes, and book that trip. The amount you spend on makeup, takeout food, and the latest gadgets will amount to more than what any of those experiences will cost. Experiences outweigh tangible things. Spend your money on moments. That is all that will matter to you in the end.
16. Get over your imposter syndrome. Any successes you have…you earned. Any happiness you feel…you deserve. The good things that are happening to you, are not because you tricked others into thinking you’re something that you’re not. You are good at what you do and you work extremely hard. All of the positive vibes coming your way is a result of being the amazing person you truly are.
17. Stop being self-destructive. Stop making things difficult or ruining relationships and moments that could be great. As Stephen Chbosky says in the Perks of Being a Wallflower, “We accept the love we think we deserve…”And believe me, you deserve better than what you’re settling for. Stop pushing away people that could be good for you. Stop thinking that you’re not worthy. You’re a genuinely good person. And good people deserve to be with good people.
18. Don’t regret wearing your heart on your sleeve. Don’t feel embarrassed over your grand gestures of love, or saying “I love you,” first. You will not regret this in the future. What you will regret, is making those feelings unknown. It is always better to regret something you said than something you didn’t.
19. Don’t open up those credit cards! Sure, you’re a broke college student, but don’t let “free food just for applying” entice you. The free pizza you get is not worth the mounds of debt you will accumulate. And no, you will not have the will power to “not use the card” when it comes in the mail.
20. And lastly, if you love someone, say it. Often times when you’re young, you think that you will have many deep relationships and connect with a million different people as you get older. The truth is, there will only be a handful. Cherish the people you love now and maintain the close friendships you have. It is a rare thing when two souls align. And when they do, don’t take it for granted.