People always say you should be someone your past self would be proud of I see the dark eyes of the girl I used to be and wonder what she would think of me I have to smile because she would not be proud the person I am and aspire to fully embody will never be someone the teenage me admires her fearful heart is too tight to hold space for this form She would think that I'm weak and foolish for giving up on all the things she always thought we needed to be happy and being happy anyway She would cringe and moan about my smiling open heart pouring over her although she would still approve of my all black attire She would have never wanted this simple contentment I've found the surrender that saved me is her failure another indomitable spirit crushed by time And I hope this trend continues that who I am today would not even be able to grasp my future self in her magnificent, frightening expansion I want to look back in ten years and know that I have let go of the illusions I am still chasing after in my ignorance in favor of something real and inconceivable Then again maybe it was never our teenage selves we were trying to impress those moody, jaded, muddled versions of us that were impossible to deal with Each year I am peeling back layers reconnecting with the blissful, grateful innocence of the small child that had been slowly covered up full of love and curiosity and wonder Now she would be proud of me I can feel the look of awe upon her face as she looks up at me across the span of time eyes lit up by a joyous smile I think growing up is not linear phases of gathering knowledge and growth are paired with the careful work of returning to the pure, effervescent essence we've always had
Dear Teenage Me,
Who you are right now matters. I know you’re unhappy a lot, but I promise you one day you’ll look back on this time with tenderness and nostalgia. It might feel like your life is going to be like this forever, but it’s not, so try to appreciate it for what it is right now. The world may seem confusing and cruel, but that doesn’t mean that you are broken or not made for it. You’re just young. Be gentle with yourself once in a while. You have plenty of time to figure things out.
As you search for meaning and an identity, you are going to fall into some dark places. But you will learn invaluable things there. You’ll gain some great clothing, music tastes, and memories along the way, and that pain that led you there will grow lighter with time. You’ve been so incredibly fortunate in this life. You’ve found some truly amazing friends that will carry you through the hard moments you’ll face.
Even though you have begun to identify with the darkest parts of yourself, it’s going to be okay. Right now it feels right to hold onto this self-defeating attitude. There is a pleasure in your sense of isolation and depression. You’ve found your place for now, even if it’s not a very positive one. It’s still your place and it’s okay to cherish it.
One day, right when you feel your lowest, like you’ve lost all hope of changing direction, you are going to learn something that changes everything. You are going to learn that your perspective and mindset are not set in stone now that you’re a young adult. You’ll be given the greatest gift, the knowledge that you can still change, that you can still decide to be whoever you want. And despite all the pain you’ve been through, despite how scary it is to let go of the identity you’ve clung to for so long, you are going to set off into those uncharted waters.
You are going to be given so many more life-changing chances. More than you could imagine or hope to deserve. The universe will guide you towards yoga, meditation, self-care, and healing. You’ll find a new identity, a new community, a new resilience and passion within yourself. You are going to have to be brave, and you will be. One day you’ll even be brave enough to fight for those who are vulnerable. You’ll find new purpose in fighting for the animals, the children, and all the other voiceless innocents that are suffering in silence. You’re going to find out who you really are, who you can still strive to be. And even though it may seem impossible right now, you are going to love her. You will love yourself one day, and it will be the greatest gift you’ve ever received. After all your hopeless searching, you’ll discover that your own compassion, understanding, and acceptance is what will safe you.
With that new heart, filled with loving kindness, the kind that only comes from filling your own cup, you will find forgiveness and love for others as well. You will repair your relationship with your mother, that you once so carelessly tried to throw away. You will hold within you a deep well of gratitude for the fact that she would not let you, that she stayed with you through it all.
You are going to be so happy and proud of yourself someday, not despite what you are going through right now, but because of it. One day you will be grateful for all the pain and tough lessons you’re still learning. This suffering will have given you the chance to be strong. And even though you don’t love yourself right now, even though you’re filled with self-hatred, I still love you. I am rooting for you. I know you’re going to be amazing. You already are.
Your Future Self
One of the things working with children has taught me, is just how important it is to make time for play. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Play is an essential part of leading a happy and fulfilling life. It seems like once we reach a certain age we think we are “too old” to be “wasting time” on such frivolous affairs. We can often even be mocked or looked down upon by those in our peer group or older generations for not “growing up” or “learning to act our age.” For some reason, as a society, it seems like we find unpleasant, but necessary tasks to be more worthy of our time than tasks that actually bring us enjoyment or pleasure. The irony is, when we are doing mundane “adult” things, it is ultimately to preserve and ensure our future happiness. So if happiness is the goal no matter what we’re doing, why always put it off in some distant future if we are capable of having simple pleasures right now as well?
I think one of the reasons a lot of adults tend to enjoy spending time with children even if they are not their own, is because they remind us how delightful it can be to play and pretend. Even just watching them do so can have a calming, pleasant effect on us. We are sometimes able to live vicariously through these children. As a child, I loved to play with little figurines and have pretend adventures and scenarios with them. Some days I would fill up the sink and they would have a “pool” day. Or we would go outside and they would go hiking or camping in the weeds. I’d collect small flowers and berries for them. These were some of the happiest times in my life. Back then, time didn’t matter. It hardly seemed to exist. I didn’t ask myself why I was doing the things I did. It didn’t matter. I was happy. Wasn’t that reason enough? Things seemed so much simpler back then.
I distinctly remember one day begging my mother to play with me. She did her best, but was mostly just watching me. I asked her why she wasn’t doing anything. She told me that she couldn’t remember what she was supposed to do. She had actually forgotten how to play. I vividly remember the confusion and disbelief I felt at the time. How can you not know how to play? It made no sense, but I felt sorry for her. It seemed impossible that I could ever forget something like that. Yet here I am over a decade later with no idea how I occupied so much time with my make believe. It breaks my heart each time I sit down with the kids I work with at a doll house and struggle to come up with anything to do. I want to weep for that inner child that has become all but lost to me.
I’ve learned that play is something that takes practice. Thankfully I am surrounded by children every day that can help me with that practice. Just the other day a little 5-year-old boy and I played robbers together. He had us talk in deep, gravely voices as we planned our heist. Then we ran around the waiting room, laughing maniacally as we clutched our fake money. It was a great time. Even though it’s hard to have such boundless, imaginary play as an adult, I have still been trying to implement more creativity and structured play into my days. Playing for me now mostly includes casual video gaming and art.
Even though I acknowledge that this play is worthwhile, it is still hard for me to justify the time I spend on it (even though it isn’t much.) I am constantly giving myself chores to do before I feel alright allowing myself time to just enjoy and have fun. Unfortunately, by the time I reach the evening hours I’ve set aside for it, I am too exhausted, stressed, and listless to really even enjoy my playtime. Another problem I run into is getting too serious about whatever it is I’m doing. When I began drawing (and even writing) everyday, my only goal was to schedule time for myself to explore my creativity and just have fun. But now that these things have become a habit, I have been feeling a lot of pressure surrounding these activities. It has started to feel more like work than play.
With so many gamers now available to watch online, even my casual video games have started to feel like a burden rather than a joy. I can’t help watching others play and then comparing my progress in the game to theirs. I feel rushed, inadequate, unhappy with where I am. Even though I know it’s utterly ridiculous, I can’t seem to help feeling this way. Often times this feeling is so strong that I give up on the game all together. I hope that by continuing to challenge these feelings I will be able to overcome them little by little. I hope I will be able to transform this playtime into something similar to meditation. Rather than focus on how my art compares to other’s or how far behind I may be in a virtual world, I will keep working to focus on my breath, on the pleasure I feel in the moment.
Living in a society so focused on production and outcomes, it can be hard to find the value in simple experiences. What once were things I looked forward to have started to become things I feel anxious about. I feel pressured to make each drawing better than the last. I criticize myself for not being creative enough or improving fast enough or consistently enough. I feel like what I write is just rambling nonsense no one cares about. That my art isn’t worth showing anyone. But even if those things were true, it wouldn’t matter! I must keep repeating to myself that the point isn’t the final product, it’s the pleasure of the process. What I create or work on doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t even have to be good. As long as I’ve enjoyed the time I spent working on it, that is all that matters.