If this note had been left on my pillow when I was 19, I would have been offended. Advice from any corner, even my future 65 year-old self, would be an insinuation that I wasn’t running my own life well. And even if it was true that almost nothing was right, my time spent in fluttered reactions to events considered catastrophic, I would have turned away from whatever the note said, although I probably would have put it in the back of the Bible my mother gave me or with the packet of letters I kept in The Prophet, both on the shelf above my dorm room desk.
The note, if I wrote it and if I read it, would say this:
You will experience and endure many shit storms in your life. Sometimes the storms’ velocity and terror will make you drop to the floor in tears or careen like a mad wrong-way driver through all the streets of your friendships. You will believe that your pain and flailing are justified and eternal and that you will never again be a normal person doing normal things. You won’t ever be happy again.
But looking back at you in your dorm room, the old bedspread from home bunched at the bottom of your bed, the ashtray full of Winstons, Joan Baez keening about Lady Jane who herself is dying, I know that this isn’t your end. You will not die in your misery. You will live on. And because you will live on, I have three bits of advice for you.
Trust sparingly. Not everyone can be trusted with the disarray of your life. Only reveal your true self and your true pain to people who will later allow you to be well. Resist the urge to gather new Band-Aids from people who haven’t proven themselves to you. These are the people who will always define you as you were in your worst times.
Eat oatmeal. Do the things that make you feel like a healthy, purposeful person. The urge to drink, smoke, sleep with strangers will be overwhelming because you want diversion and you want to feel extreme. You are entitled to over-reaction, drunkenness, irresponsibility. It is your due because of your unhappiness. You will think this but it will make you ill. What will make you well are the things that are fundamental, the things your mother would do for you if she was there in your dorm room. She would tell you to eat a good dinner, get a good night’s sleep, tomorrow go play outside. Do those things and you will begin to recover.
Start something big. You are bigger than the miserable puddle you find yourself in. You can either stay in the puddle, splashing and crying, in which case the puddle becomes the sole focus of your life, your conversation and your planning, so you never have any interaction that doesn’t involve the status of the puddle, or you can rise up out of the puddle and aspire to be somebody amazing and great. But it’s not enough to look out the window and dream about something big. You must embark.
There are defining moments in life. You want them to be uplifting ones, not ones covered with the ash of a hundred cigarettes, scratched out diary entries, and apologies to people who never should have been hurt in the first place. How you handle yourself in your time of dire struggle defines you and affects the people around you. That’s my advice to you, my young self. Be mindful of the choices you have. Keep hold of your own power and decide what happens next.