Today is International Women’s Day. A day for acknowledging and celebrating all the achievements and special gifts of women as well as raising awareness for the many injustices women still face all over the world. It is a day to think about how we can better help the women in our life, no matter what our gender is, so they can achieve their full potential. This requires love, support and respect.
One action people make on this day is to write a letter to their younger self, usually at around age 16, to think about the kind of advice they wish they had been given at that age. This can be helpful for us because we acknowledge the pain we went through, but it can also help us to be a good role model and mentor for the young women in our lives. Last night I had my first counselling session for a few years and I was asked to give an overview of my formative years, so the feelings are pretty fresh in my mind.
Here is my letter:
I know things seem pretty scary and confusing right now, but they will get better. The symptoms of your M.E. are really scary at times and they seem so unpredictable, but you will learn how to manage them. The condition will also mould you in positive ways that you can’t imagine. You will become more patient, organised, empathetic and insightful because of it. You will also make great friends through the bond of mutual understanding about M.E. You will learn to love your body and understand that it is trying to protect you, not undermine you.
I know you feel frustrated about being ill and you just want to be normal and do what everyone else is doing, but you need to learn to rest. It is ok to say no when you’re not well enough to do something, your true friends will stick by you and you will still be friends with most of them 10 years later. Don’t worry so much about what they think of you, they love you exactly as you are.
It was awful when that boy beat you up and made you feel scared and disgusting, but he was wrong. He was lashing out because he didn’t have a nice life. Don’t let him get to you. Years later you will see him working in a discount store whilst you have a professional job and are working towards a degree. He has no power over you unless you let him.
Same thing goes for the other boys too; the ones who hurt and scared you, the ones that betray you. They have no power over you unless you let them. If you want to say no or they hurt you, you kick and scream and fight until they stop and keep talking about it. Tell people. Get the nasty thoughts out of your head instead of letting them build up because they will make you feel awful. Believe the person who says “that was an awful thing that happened to you and that must have been really hard for you. They were wrong to do that to you”.
Don’t compare yourself to other girls; we are all perfect in our individuality. You are beautiful in your own way and the things you think are ugly about yourself will turn to be the things people like the most. Like your chubby cheeks, pale skin and toothy smile. But you are so much more than your appearance, spend more time studying and being kind to yourself and less time picking and pinching yourself in the mirror. You don’t need to punish yourself with self harm, starvation or overexertion – you have done nothing wrong. The things people do and say to you are reflections of them, not of you.
I know that you feel adrift and alone. I know you are desperately searching and hoping for someone to come and save you, but only you can save yourself. You will learn to be your own source of stability and comfort in time. We are all alone, and that is ok, you will have moments of beautiful connection that will make life seem worth living. Because it is. You will ride a bike again and climb to the top of the hills again. You will see beautiful artworks in Italy and stunning scenery in Germany. You will feel the beat of live music pulse through you and you will feel alive.
It will feel like an uphill battle at times, it will feel like you are constantly going back to square one, but you’re not. You never go back to the beginning because you have learned a bit more every time. Your hard work and determination will pay off in the end. You will get opportunities and people will like and respect you, even admire you. Don’t give up, keep trying and don’t be afraid of making a mistake because something beautiful always grows out of them. It’s ok to not know who you are or where you’re going in life, keep experimenting and have fun with it! Life really isn’t so serious so lighten up! Turn fear into curiosity and keep exploring.
Keep up the yoga – it really helps. Also lay off the dairy, bread and eggs –really not doing you any good. Oh, and the Mars Bars.
Most of all listen to your body and assert your needs. You are worthy of taking up space. You deserve to have your voice heard even if what you have to say will rock the status quo. Be angry, be sad but most of all be happy whenever you feel the urge.
Why not having a go at writing a letter to your 16 year old self?
Or you could let all your friends know all the reasons you love them
…and then you could write down all the reasons you love yourself.
If nothing else, please support the women in your life. Pick them up and walk together rather than compete with them.