Dear thirteen year-old Rita,
I think the proper way to start this letter is to present myself, so please stay with me: I am you, only four years older. I know it must be confusing reading something sent from the future — and believe me when I say it was hard mailing this to the past — but there is something I need to tell you about.
By now you’ve figured out that there is something wrong with you. What you describe to your thirteen year-old self as a dark and heavy cloud looming over your head has a name, but you know this already. Like the true daughter of the internet that you are, you’ve Googled it before and came up with “mental disorder” and “depression”. While these words mean little to you besides their dictionary’s definitions, trust that in due time you will learn more about what they mean, what they stand for and how to deal with them. You’ll just have to wait three more years to get a little older and to be able to understand them while throwing your preconceived ideas out the window — and yes, I do realize how grown-up-y I sound when I say these things. But because I know how panicked, alone and misunderstood you feel as you see yourself surrounded in terms that hold little meaning beyond their dictionary’s entries, I am going to tell you somethings about what the future has in store for you.
Right now you’re experiencing your first ever low. You’re feeling dragged down a deep and dark hole where you’ll stay buried for two months. During those sixty days you’ll find that your body has gone soft and what you once liked to do now feels like a chore to your exhausted mind. Even getting out of bed every morning feels like lifting a ton of bricks while standing on the tips of your toes, am I right? Even though it seems like you won’t be able to dig yourself out of that place, and because you’re too scared to tell anyone about it, I know that you will do it. I wish someone had told me this when I was going through what you’re feeling but even the most mundane things can be your wood, nails and hammer. Force yourself to get out of bed and take a shower, heat up a bowl of rice with beans and eat it, take out that pink and white notebook from your bookshelf and that blue ink pen from your desk and write as much as you can. Although this doesn’t sound like much I promise that if you keep at it, you’ll begin to see the clear blue sky up above.
Next year, when you’re fourteen and you go to your grandparents’ house in the countryside,
you will witness what mental illness can do to someone. Your wrinkly great-grandmother will no longer recognize you nor will she remember her own name. I know that you are young but please try not to be angry at her, it’s not anyone’s fault but biology’s, that gene runs in the family and there’s nothing we can do about it as of now, not even in early 2017. Go to the nursing home where she lives and be gentle, try to reconnect with her, read her a story, listen to her telling the same childhood tale over and over and over again. Although statistics and biology will tell you that the chance of you getting Alzheimer’s is higher than the average, don’t think about it too much. One lesson I learnt from her illness is that worrying too much about the future without experiencing the present while we can is a big mistake — especially when you’re lucky enough to be out of that sadness pit.
Between the ages of fifteen and sixteen you will learn more about other mental disorders and how to address people who, like you, suffer from them. You will see your best friend having a panic attack and be calm enough to help her, accompany her through her battle with her anxiety and self-harm and finally learn not to use mental illnesses and mental disorders as adjectives.
It will only be when you turn seventeen, however, that you’ll truly learn how to employ your own coping mechanisms, that you practice self-care as a time consuming — and sometimes tough — commitment. You’ll discover the joys of a warm cup of tea in your hands, of total silence while you stare into that white ceiling and think about nothing else besides how to breathe in and out, learn that you don’t have to justify your ways of staying sane to other people and rediscover that writing really does heal your wounds.
This is where I am today and I feel so much better than what I did when I was you, scared and confused. I hope that you feel more assured now and certain that those lonesome dark pits will one day turn into lush green fields kissed by the sun. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to roll carelessly around in them, but I’ve caught glimpses of them and know that they exist. We just need to persist.
With a heart full of love,
Seventeen year-old Rita.