A Letter To 16

Dear 16;

I do not write this to embarrass you, or to overshare. That’s the great thing about remaining anonymous on the interwebs. I do not write this as amateur Buddha looking to impart valuable and sage advice. I write this as a parent who loves you and cares, looking to share a few life lessons that I have learned.

I find as I have gotten older, while I still can recall minute details of being a teenager, we tend to start whitewashing a lot of the bad we experienced in those years. Yes, I remember the truly bad times, but a lot of the pressure and anxieties of being a teen have been bumped from my personal hard drive.

I cannot imagine the stress and anxiety that you feel on a daily basis. Not only do you have your future to plan for and scholastic achievement to uphold, there is also the need to fit in and conform. There has always been an element of non-conformity and a dancing to the beat of your own drummer aspect to your personality, but the pressure to conform and fit in is always there – even for the most rebellious among us. So, not only do you have the future and marks to worry about, you have the drama of friendship and those who aren’t friends to contend with. Add the stress and pressure of fitting in in the era of social media, and I don’t know how you do it, I would have collapsed like a house of cards in a hurricane.

This is what I have to say.

I have learned a few things about you over the years. Like me, you are a prolific over thinker. I can often hear that little hamster that runs around the squeaky hamster wheel in your brain from across the house. I can tell when you are nervous or feeling anxiety by the way you pull at the sleeves of your shirts and sweaters. I can tell when you are tired by how big your eyes are. You are one of the most intelligent, driven, and hard working people I have ever known. I also know that these very same qualities that lead you to success, can also be a driver of anxiety and stress. I have learned the hard way in life that you cannot always think your way out of problems, sometimes you need to get out of your head a little and to let go, or to talk to someone. However, I know that as an over thinker it is far easier said than done.

You have always had a curiosity and love of life that has fascinated me. Some of the best days that I have experienced have been spent with you, seeing the world through your eyes. Never lose that. Never let life take that away from you. You have that spark. Surround yourself with those who will help you turn that spark into a blazing fire.

Anyone who tells you to “just smile” should be punched in the throat. It is okay to feel bad, there is no weakness in depression or anxiety. Sickness is not weakness. Also. sometimes the world will beat you down, it is okay to be angry or to withdraw and lick your wounds. Back to the overthinking thing – do not stay in your head for too long, or get lost in there. Never be afraid to talk about your feelings.

Never be afraid to fail.

You once told me that “boys are stupid, throw rocks at them.” Never forget that, we are stupid. I know. I was once one of them. Keep throwing rocks at them – especially the sexist and misogynistic ones.

One last thing. The biggest problems that I have ever experienced in life, especially when it came to anxiety and depression, were made worse because of my inability to communicate my feelings. I chose to not share my problems with those I love, and it was the worst decision that I ever made. Whether it was pride, or the need to appear strong, I don’t know. I just wish that I had trusted those around me more. I am not telling you this for any specific reason. We have always been open and honest in our communication, and that is the foundation of the relationship we have. Just remember that you are never alone. Ever. I am here 24/7, and always will be.

In a moment of difficulty my father once told me this story – and I want you to remember it in times of trouble,

“A person is walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep they can’t get out. 
A doctor passes by and the person shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. 
Then a priest comes along and the person shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey friend, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. and the person says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.'”

I will always climb in that hole with you if you tell me you are down there. So will your Mom. We have both been in that very same hole. Do not be ashamed of being in a hole, be proud for telling someone you are down there and for having the self-awareness to realize where you are.

I will always have your back regardless of what happens in life. You will never be alone. Never forget that.

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