anxiety, depression, letter, life, mental illness, personal, school, study, suicide, university, work, writer, writing
Dear 15-year-old me,
I know all you can think about right now is the major science project that’s due soon. You’ve always been an exceptional student—every report card confirms your status as a ‘high achiever’ of scores, firsts, and awards—and you intend to keep things that way. Maintaining a perfect academic record means everything to you, and it doesn’t help that you’re every teacher’s pet. Later, you’ll realise that every mark and praise you worked long and hard to receive was a means to fill the gaping hole where a secure sense of self-worth should be, and isn’t (unless you came first again and again!).
You won’t believe me if I told you, but you’re worth so much more than a score on a sheet of paper. You’re intelligent and imaginative, and it is these traits that will enrich your life, not a string of A+s. I understand that the obsessive need to perfect everything and impress everyone, including yourself, can’t be turned on and off like a tap. But I also know that extreme perfectionism will lead to a state of anxiety so all-consuming that the perfectionist, trapped within that mentality, will become so hopelessly depressed that they feel the only way out is to exit this life altogether. And that is what you tried to do, when cutting no longer sufficed to distract you from the anxiety that threatened to swallow you whole.
What you did will change everything. The first few weeks will be a blur of therapy sessions and calls from friends who knew, but things will start to look up once you return to school. Over the next few months, a kind school counsellor will help you see the light (remember to thank her properly!), family members will continue to support you, and friends—real troopers who never complained about the five-hour phone calls they used to get after school when you were at your worst—will always have your back.
In a couple of years you’ll head to university, where your mind will be blown by courses you’re wildly passionate about. You’ll even score an exclusive opportunity to go on the most amazing exchange program in Japan! After completing this eye-opening degree in arts, you’ll rediscover your love of writing and drawing which, alongside good music, books, and television (I know you’re crazy about a certain vampire right now but trust me, sassy teen werewolves are so much better), function as a healthy coping mechanism when the going gets tough. And guess what? Right now you’re working at a cool place where you have a rep for being funny and quirky, and your marks have nothing to do with it.
Your future self
The Brain in the Jar said:
I can write a similar letter to my 15-year-old self too. Things have drastically improved for me, too. All that happened is that I’m more ready for suicide than ever. It doesn’t scare me like it used to.
Life has its ups and downs, and sometimes it’s not enough.
Betty Zhang said:
I must confess that it depends on the day, or even time of day. There are good days, hours, minutes, seconds, and then there are the bad ones. But somehow — even though I am nowhere near a healthy, happy mental space (not as close as my uplifting conclusion leads people to believe) — it all balances out. I’m not going to lie – the thought’s been at the back of my mind for the past decade and sometimes, when things are bad, it is loud enough to drive me to the decision point, but I simply don’t think I am capable of giving up all that gives value and happiness to my life. I hope you’ll find anchors too, ones that feel like a taste of sweet, fresh air otherwise denied by the bell jar under which you (and I) sit.