Dear 20 year old me,
It’s me – the I-turn-30-in-a-month version. Just wanted to get in touch and give you a heads up: it’s going to be okay. You just turned 20 – a new decade! How exciting! I honestly can’t remember now if you view it as exciting, or if you’re just too caught up in grief and worry to even think about it. Your early 20’s are a period of transition, no matter who you are, but I know that you’re dealing with a lot more than many of your peers. Our dad just died last October. He was 45. To you, that seems “young” but still kind of old. To me, I now realize how extremely young that is. How tragic. This is the formative event of this upcoming decade, so prepare yourself for some heavy emotional work ahead!
I know you are trying to figure out what you want to study in school, what you want to do with your life. You definitely feel the pressure of your former teachers, your professors, the Honors College, and your high-achieving friends to chose a career path that will lead to nearly guaranteed prosperity, but changing your major to your academic passion was a good choice. Guess what? That passion will continue to lead you in unexpected directions and it will be FUN.
I know you are clinging on to that boyfriend of yours for dear life. You love him in that pure, first love kind of way. You don’t agree with all of his choices and you don’t feel like you really fit into his life or his future…and you’re right. You don’t. You’ll both make it out of your first serious relationship (relatively) emotionally unscathed and better things will come your way. Namely, the love of your life! Prepare to be loved on like you’ve never experienced before.
I know you just started taking Paxil and the pill and you’re eating ice cream at every meal in the dining hall. You’re going to gain some weight. That’s okay. Love yourself (and enjoy the ice cream because when you’re 29 you won’t be able to stomach it much anymore!!!).
I know you’re agonizing over all sorts of big decisions right now: Should you go to medical school? Veterinary school? Graduate school? Do you want to write? Work in a lab? Teach? If you get a PhD and pursue a tenure-track professor position, you probably couldn’t have kids till your 30’s – isn’t that too old? I 100% understand that these concerns are real and valid, and they are HUGE decisions. But also, let me say: relax. It’s never too late to change your mind or try something new. When you turn 30, you’ll be way more comfortable with not really knowing the answer to the “what do I want to be when I grow up?!” question and you’ll still be confused as hell about the baby-question. Focus on what’s important and try to enjoy yourself instead of worrying because there’s always a new decision to be made. That’s all life is.
In ten years, you’ll realize that you haven’t really changed much, even if I have grown a lot. You’ll still listen almost exclusively to John Mayer. You’ll still love that huge mermaid tattoo you just got. You’ll start painting your nails fun colors again instead of French tips (because you’ll break up with that previously mentioned first love who didn’t like it when you painted your nails dark colors…or the mermaid tattoo) . You’ll finally stop eating meat, because yes, you actually can do it. You’ll finally get the Volkswagen Beetle you always wanted and you’ll get to try out the marine biology thing. You’ll surprise yourself over and over again, but you’ll always remember to just be you. Trust yourself.
I searched for a photo of you to enclose in this letter and I ended up looking through perhaps thousands of snapshots from freshman year of college. You are healthy and thin and young and beautiful. But your eyes are so sad. I know you feel like something has been stolen from you by cancer – not only your dad, but your chance to be a bright-eyed kid with newfound freedom. You feel like you’ve had to grow up, at least emotionally, too quickly. You feel like your panic attacks and your grief are taking over your life. Just hang in there. You will adjust to your new normal and you will become so strong. That strength will serve you, and your loved ones, well.
Oh yeah – love on your childhood dog as often as possible – she won’t live forever. Hold on to Jessica and Noelle – they are golden. And maybe try to save just a little money? But also, life is short, so do whatever you want.
You are so capable! ❤️❤️❤️