Sunday, 20 January 2019

Dear 13-year-old Ellie-May

Dear 13-year-old Ellie-May,

I am writing to you from 2019, 10 years exactly from where you stand now. I am writing to give you love and encouragement for the decade ahead of you: to reassure you that things will get better. A lot has been happening over recent years and it’s not all been a field of daisies. You started your period aged 9…way before all your friends. Your OCD reached a peak and you started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). You’ve cried every Sunday evening, dreading the school week to come. You feel overwhelmed by teachers expectations, and you scream at mum and dad every time you get maths homework because they don’t do it the way your teacher taught you to. You’re an undiagnosed perfectionist and you have no idea how much unnecessary pressure you are putting on yourself every day. You have crushes on boys you went to school with when you were 5 because the last 5 years have been spent surrounded by just girls…all day…every day. Until recently, you would insist on attending events at the school all the boys went to, just so you could see them…so you could go bright pink when you saw the one you liked and then cry when you left later because you were so embarrassed. At school, you’re part of the nerdy crowd: the outcasts, far from the popular crew. You like it that way although you can’t help feeling a teeny bit jealous of how those girls with the skinny jeans and the make-up learned how to be that way. You also ‘hate’ them for learning how to be that way…

Trying so hard to be cool...
In September, you will start a new school. You’ll invite some girls over in the summer to say goodbye, sad to be leaving your little gaggle, terrified of what a school with boys will bring. That very first day as a new girl, you’ll find yourself applying a lick of mascara and rolling up your skirt a little. You’ll find yourself wondering who you should be…is being you ok? I’ll let you into a little secret Ellie-May. Being you is absolutely fine. The friends that dorky little you make that first week at LP are some of the people you will remain friends with for a long, long time to come. In fact, spoiler alert: 3 of them are 3 of your best friends today and 2 are getting married later this year – and yes, you’re invited to the wedding. I won’t reveal more than that. 

Olden, Golden Friends
I will, however, let you into another little secret: That first term at LP? You’ll meet your first boyfriend. You’ll start going out that December, dance together at the Christmas dinner and last a considerable time…for your age. It won’t last forever. Although you think at the time that it will. But another secret, little me? There are other lovely people to come. Other friends and boyfriends. It will feel like the end of the world for a while but I promise with all my heart that it is not. It’s your first heartbreak. You’ll pack the memories you had together into a box and give them to dad to put in the garage. You’ll be certain that you will never love anyone again. You’ll move on…in time.

I mean...what a couple!
You’re probably wondering now about the big A. The terror that has controlled your life for as long as you can remember. Anxiety. You’re wondering if, by the time 2019 rolls around, your brain has decided it’s tortured you enough and has put anxiety to bed. I need to be honest with you: it has not. Anxiety is still here, keeping you company day-to-day. It’s continuing to make you feel frustrated and tired but (yes there’s a but) here’s the thing: you’re learning how to keep its taunting at bay. I say ‘learning’ not ‘learned’ because this isn’t something you’ve done. It’s not something finished never to have to contemplate again. It’s continuous. Over the next 10 years, you’ll have CBT several times over. In 2018 alone, you’ll see 2 separate people for therapy. It’s not over and I don’t believe it ever will be, but every day you push through it and you get to tomorrow and know what you need to do to keep the monsters at bay.

One thing that 23-year-old you has learned for sure keeps the monsters quieter? Stopping studying. You say it already at the age of 13 and you still say it now: You. Don’t. Like. Studying. School puts you in a tizz and drains the energy from every part of you. When you start at LP, you’ll talk to a friend and very strongly insist you will not be going to university. You will not do more education than is legally necessary. She’ll laugh and say that you’re being ridiculous. The teachers in your life will continuously compliment you on your hard work and good grades. But...

Know that grades are not what make you.

Believe me that at the age of 23, I haven’t been asked about GCSE or A-Level results in a long time.

A degree is not what makes you.

Understand that, with the right support, you can (sometimes) enjoy learning.

You got this!...Not a BA...
But you worked damn hard for it!
Feel confident to speak up about your anxiety – to explain that the good grades and hard work do not come without a price: they come out of fear and anxiety. Out of crying in your bedroom every evening because so much feels like it needs to be done and it feels like it needs to be done now. Perfectly. At 23 years old, you’ve only recently learned that it’s ok to tell people what anxiety does to you and the pain you put yourself through to be who they see on the outside.

At 23 years old, you’ve finally given yourself permission to treat yourself, others and the pressure you put on yourself, differently. A year ago, you made a list. Read it. Take it all in:

  • ·         Believe that I am capable
  • ·         Lessen my demands and expectations – just enough is enough
  • ·         Don’t worry if other people expect more
  • ·         Normalise anxiety – some level of anxiety is normal
  • ·         Limit the time I spend studying
  • ·         It doesn’t matter if I miss something – if something isn’t perfect, it’s ok
  • ·         Challenge my beliefs because I don’t need to know everything
  • ·         Relax and enjoy life and doing the things I love
  • ·         Don’t worry about helping everyone else – I can just help a few
  • ·         Even if I fail, or get a bad grade, it doesn’t matter

Your physical health? You want to know about that too? It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster to be honest but you get through it every time. Your migraines lessen and your tummy takes over the drama. You’ll do one of your physical geography GCSE exams sitting in a room with a bowl next to the desk. The next week, you’ll get an A* in a physics module despite missing the exam because you’re in a hospital bed hooked up to morphine. At times, your body will feel like it’s been hit by a car on a winding country road not far from home…and you’ll feel frustrated that it’s all happening to you…

I once started a collection of these to eventually make a paper chain with...
But as time goes on, you’ll meet lots of people and get to know their lives. You’ll see their smiles on the outside and learn the stories that lie inside. You’ll learn that the world throws a lot of crap at people and that it’s not just you. You’ll find people who understand: people beyond the boundaries of the home counties and private-school walls. All these people you meet? They’ll teach you that it’s ok to be different. It’s ok not to be like everyone else you grew up around.
Mad singing pals...teaching me to love myself one song at a time
I say “all these people” but don’t panic. You haven’t suddenly become a ‘popular kid’ with thousands of friends. You’ve stuck to your small huddles and learned to appreciate that a few dorky pals is all that you need. These pals have helped you realise that you’re wonderful as you are and that you can be yourself without feeling ashamed. You will love these friends more than anything and they will love you back. You will be forever ‘emotionally needy’ and proud to be so. The friends who can deal with your openness and frequent crying outbursts are the ones that will stick around. The others…? Well, don’t worry about them. 

You don’t need to follow any sort of prescribed life path. At the age of 13, you are pretty confident in how you feel about the world. You know what you like and don’t like, what you love and what causes you pain. Others around you will try and tell you what those things are but you’ll stand strong and trust yourself.

Be crazy...Be you!
You’ll push your way to 23, struggling against the crowds flowing in the opposite direction. You’ll sing your heart out as you push forward.

You’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other and…10 years from now…you’ll arrive where I sit. A Sunday evening sitting on a sofa in London, with my boyfriend by my side, waiting for the working week to begin: a week I get to spend nannying tiny humans.

I’m doing what I love and Just. Being. Me.