Today’s post is a bit different, but that’s because it’s a special day- my 22nd birthday! When I was little I assumed that by now I’d have a house, a car, and a life partner. I’ve got none of those things. But I have made significant achievements in other areas, and I’m pretty happy with the life I do have. To be honest, 22 feels like a pretty daunting milestone. 16 (yay! I can have sex!) 18 (yay I can legally drink!) and 21 (yay I can legally drink in America!) were all exciting ages to reach, yet virtually devoid of responsibly. Whereas 22 (yay! I’ve got that National Insurance bill to pay!) feels a bit more grown up. Suddenly I’m very aware of my own mortality.
Recently I’ve found myself brooding over my teenage years a lot. Where would I be if I’d done things differently? Would I have the house, car and marriage that 6 year old Gwen was expecting? Probably not. In fact I’m pretty sure most twenty two year olds don’t have all that stuff. But this brooding’s reminded me that I wasn’t a very happy teenager. I had clinical depression for several years and flat out refused to accept my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome (which caused all kinds of problems later down the line). Now that I think about it, I’m relieved to have left that scared and confused teenager behind. My National Insurance bill doesn’t seem half as daunting when compared to all the doubt and self-loathing I experienced at the age of 17.
I almost feel sorry for my teenage self. So, I’ve written an open letter offering her some advice on how to tackle the issues she’s facing. Unless someone manages to invent a time machine sharpish, teenage me will never read this. But perhaps someone with similar issues will. Perhaps they’ll start to think about how they could change things for the better…
Dear Seventeen Year Old Gwen,
You never thought you’d make it this far, but you did. The Zombie Apocalypse didn’t happen. The Doctor never came for you in his Tardis. Lestat chose not to share the dark gift of immortality with you. Gandalf never spirted you away on an adventure from which you did not expect to return. Your back up plan of locking yourself in your bedroom with a bottle of wine and the collected works of Sylvia Plath while you waited for death was never put into action. You’re 22 now. You have a job and a degree. You’ve even filled in your tax return. You still live with Mum and Dad, but you’re doing okay.
I know how hard things are for you right now. Your teenage years are NOT the best years of your life and you’re having real trouble getting through them, but you’re going to make it. Hopefully the following advice will help you along the way:
Tone down the eyeliner and stop wearing all black eighteenth century style frock coats. I know you love the way they look, but it’s really not a compliment when somebody calls you Wednesday Adams. All that staring might seem fine now, but it’s going to do serious damage to your self-esteem later on (also vampires are cool, but trying to convince people you drink blood is just a bit pathetic).
When your parents ask you to do something, don’t moan or argue, just do it. Think of all the difficult things they’ve done for you. You weren’t an easy child to raise, but they still gave you tonnes of love and support and never made you feel like your disability was a burden. You owe them so much. It’s really not unreasonable for you to clean the bathroom once in a while.
Talk to the people at your school. They’re not all Gods and monsters. They’re just people, like you. They get scared and shy like you, although they do a much better job at acting like they don’t. I know they said some cruel things to you when you were younger, but as we’ve already mentioned, you weren’t an easy child to get along with.
When you do talk to people (both in and out of school) start by discussing what you saw on telly last night. I know you’re quirky and you’re proud of it. That’s a good thing. But when you dive straight into conversations about Edgar Allan Poe, Mother Earth and lesbianism it kind of freaks people out. They start to look at you like you’re the latest exhibit in a zoo and that’s a really horrible feeling. Just stick to stuff you think you’ll have in common.
Don’t feel bad about staying in on a Saturday night. It doesn’t mean you’ve somehow failed at being a teenager. Very few people live like the cast of Skins, and the ones that do are generally unhappy or failing school. It’s okay that you don’t actually enjoy night clubs or parties. Later in life you’ll meet other people who don’t enjoy them, and you’ll feel stupid for spending all that time and money on an experience you hated.
Wear T shirts, shorts and bathing suits in the summer. I know you’re terrified of bearing your skin, but there’s no need to be. Your body is beautiful. If you don’t show it off then your vitamin D deficiency will only get worse. People really don’t mind the scars. Besides, Mum was right. Once you get some sun on them they’ll heal much quicker.
Approach whatever cute girl you’re currently writing sonnets about. You’re just as good as her, and she should be flattered that you’ve made her your muse. If she’s not into you there’s no need to mope for months on end, just cut her out of your life and move on. You’re never going to get laid if you just stay in your room writing poems.
Come out to your grandma. The longer you leave this the more difficult it’s going to be. Trust me, you don’t want to get to twenty two and still have to nod along when she talks about you meeting “Mr Right”.
Research Asperger’s Syndrome. I know you don’t want to. I know the thought terrifies you, but you’re really not supposed to live like this, exhausted and alone and completely at odds with the world. If you learn about your disability you can make allowances for it. Right now you’re not getting the support you need and deserve from school or from Social Services. You’ll have to learn to express your needs and accept help when it’s offered.
Take the anti-depressants you were prescribed with last year. I know Mum and Dad don’t like the thought of you on medication, but they’re a medical necessity. You take asthma inhalers, vitamin pills and antibiotics when you’re prescribed with them. This really isn’t any different.
I know you’re going through a tough time right now. I know that for years you’ve felt like there was an invisible pane of glass between you and the rest of the world and you’ll always feel separate, never really connecting with anyone. But one day those glass walls will smash. There will be pain and there will be fear. Then there will be healing, and you will go on to achieve wonderful things. Until that time, please remember that you are more beautiful, more intelligent and more loved than you think you are. Never stop fighting.
Lots of Love,
Twenty Two Year old Gwen
What advice would you give to your younger self? Let me know in the comments section, or think about writing your own open letter.