Dear 15-Year-Old Me

wishes

Dear Me,

Greetings from the future – where cars don’t fly, and food isn’t yet in pill form. However, you have an awesome phone and can buy your own booze so it all balances out.

You are 15. Your life is about school, friends, family and all the little details of your everyday existence. You are coasting along, happy as can be and so confident in who you are and who you want to be.

I wish I had more of your blind confidence, your unwavering belief in your abilities and your clear view of the future. As you grow up, your view of the future gets a bit misty, but rest assured you do accomplish a lot.

Now for some words of wisdom, things that I want you to know to get you through the next 15 years of life.

Trusting in someone is hard, being betrayed is even harder. It will happen; friends, lovers, co-workers. You learn to trust the right people and in your judgment. This pain is temporary, a brief storm in your life that will pass.

Life will hurt you, break you, and scar you, but you will survive. It’s never as bad as it seems.

Don’t ever think you aren’t worth it, aren’t strong enough. You can doubt yourself fifty thousand ways but it doesn’t change the truth, it doesn’t change your strength.

Be yourself, be happy in the little things, be caring, be wild, be anything you want.

All of your dreams won’t come true as you imagined they would. Don’t give up. There is no deadline on dreaming.

Finally, don’t stop writing. Whatever you do. Do. Not. Stop. Writing. It may seem hard or you’ll feel blocked, but down the road, you’ll be sitting here writing this letter. Even when the words fail you in real life, there is help in a notebook or keyboard. Writing will always be a part of who you are, don’t forget that.

Dear me, your life is so simple right now. It may seem complex and stressful, but know that you real life is out there waiting for you. That your uniqueness, your strength and caring heart will grow and bring the right people and the right things into your life. Maybe it’s not your dream life, but I promise you are very happy and one day you’ll know that’s what really matters.

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Tattoos and Pushpins: A Tale of Pain

It always starts with the buzzing sound, getting closer and closer. Then you feel the pressure and then little pain shoots up all around your body. Like little lighting strikes, sometimes soft, sometimes very sharp. This is the price paid for getting tattooed. I’ve been collecting tattoos, memories on my skin, some with happiness and some with a bit of sadness behind it. Even after five, I want more. I like looking down and seeing the words and designs permanently etched on my skin, reflecting on the memory and story behind ink and flesh.

Then, recently, I was getting tattooed, feeling the lightning and buzzing when I felt it; the strange, beautiful feeling of brief, sharp pain and then feeling completely nothing. I’m not a masochist, but this pain was familiar to me. I hadn’t felt anything like this since I was a cutter in high school. Using physical pain to control my stress and anxiety was the only way I could cope with my emotions and unresolved anger.

I can’t exactly remember when it started. My middle school years were full of bullying and suffering, but it was in my high school years, facing my future, that I started to take sharp objects to my skin. In my memories it started virtually overnight; I would feel completely overwhelmed with emotions or I was stressed out about some school work/friend trouble/parents. I would get panicky, and couldn’t stop crying or start to hyperventilate. I would then get a pushpin or even a dull packing knife and glided it across the skin of my wrist or my ankle over and over in the same spot until I could feel that pain; lightning striking. As soon as I felt it, I stopped and could breathe again. I never went deep enough to draw real blood, but I would have tiny white lines of raised skin lining my ankles and hidden in my sleeves. Sometimes I would have to do more than one line to calm down but it always seemed to work.

I would watch them disappear over a few days then do it all over again. The pain meant I was present, that I was real and that my problems weren’t really that bad. I was a good kid, behaved, good grades, but the pressure to be good would drown me. When my music or books wouldn’t help, I would turn to the tiny pushpins I’d steal from my mother’s office. I think one time; I may have even taken one from a bulletin board at school, and snuck off to the bathroom.

Strangely, I think I got the idea from a book my mother had gotten or I had picked up in a garage sale, it was about a girl who had an eating disorder but spiraled out of control and had started banging her wrists against sharp edges to control her emotions. I remember reading it and thinking that is so weird, why would she do that? Then I started creating lines in my skin and I understood.

This went on for a while when I was 16-17, I was very careful in hiding my wounds under my pants and sleeves. Once a teacher sort of noticed but I brushed it off as a cat scratch, they were so uniformly lined up on my ankle, what else could it have been? My parents have no clue to this day what went on, and I don’t plan on telling them ever. It was actually the shame of my secret and a friend blackmailing me that made me stop cutting.

I’ve almost completely put it out of my head, the passing of time and being in a different city will do that. But when I was 17, my high school life became a soap opera of over dramatics and craziness. Looking back, it was worthy of a Degrassi script: love gone very wrong, betrayal, lies and fake friends. I lost my partner in crime too that year, I’ve only seen her once since then, and I’m not sorry that the friendship ended so badly.

Strangely though, after that, even with the big emotional fallout, I stopped cutting. I guess part of me realized that if I could handle that insane year, then I could handle anything, my scary not-yet-unknown future and my crazy emotions. Also, another bigger part of me was really scared of my secret being spilt to my family and what the fallout would be. Would I be branded as a crazy person? Go in to therapy, be punished? I haven’t done it since, push pins just hold up things on my walls and the only things on my wrists and ankles are my ink.

It is weird to think of my life back then; I was a completely different girl. I hardly recognize her as part of myself. I’m not ashamed of my past; it made me stronger and able to face things that would impact my life and future. It does take me longer to trust, and I’m still not so great with sharing feelings and emotions, but I’m getting better. I’m not scared of being a crazy person, and I know have the most supportive friends and family to help me. I even got a matching tattoo with my bestie; a girl I wish I had known back then, but am eternally grateful she’s in my life now.

More tattoos are being planned: from birthday/milestones to homages to my favourite things, all of them reflect who I am, or who I am evolving into. Collecting tattoos tells my life story and gives me strength. One of my wrist tattoos reads “In pain there is healing,” which I think sums up my tattoos and my past perfectly. Lightning may only strike once, but my ink will last forever.

Written by Andie Baker.

Gimme Sleep

A teenager's life without sleep

Overall, I’d rate my teen years a solid five out of 10. I felt physically and socially awkward just about always, “hairstyle” was not in my vocabulary, and I didn’t really know how to dress for my body type. I held a middling social status fraught with the ongoing drama, envy and posturing typical of teenage girls. That said, I had a group of friends, got decent grades, was never shoved into a locker and probably had a total of five pimples during my entire adolescence (seriously). By the end of grade 11, I had even landed myself a Real Boyfriend—not a very nice one, but the point stands.

Unless you live in the movies, none of these things – good or bad – will sound out of the ordinary, and they weren’t. In most ways, middle and high school were, for me, just like they were for the majority of the moderately uncool population—mostly uninspiring, sometimes unpleasant, with a few good moments and hearty laughs along the way. But one aspect of these years was definitely not normal, and that was the fact that I was always, always tired.

I don’t mean ‘oh I stayed up so late and I’m tired,’ or ‘wow, that gym class tired me out.’ I’m referring to constant, overwhelming, all-encompassing, and at times debilitating, exhaustion – where sleep is paramount and there’s never enough of it. I’m talking about being truly tired 100 per cent of the time.

In grade 9, I came down with a brief but harsh bout of mono. While I recovered from the initial illness fairly quickly, it took years for my immune system and energy levels to recover, and in some ways they never fully did. To this day, I require more sleep than most functional adults, I get sick often, I am most definitely not a morning person and I doubt anyone would describe me as the life of the party. Still, compared to my high school days, I’m basically the Energizer Bunny.

Grade 12 was the absolute worst. It was a tough year in general due to strained friendships, the aforementioned boyfriend and my parents’ separation, and with stress mounting, the exhaustion that had been increasing for years hit its peak. I couldn’t get out of bed, and if I did, I would usually fall asleep wherever I was—the TTC, school, other people’s houses. During the week, I’d take a two hour nap (after sleeping on the 90-minute commute home) before I even started my homework or practiced the piano. On weekends, I slept until 1, 2, sometimes 3 in the afternoon, and even then I would wake up feeling drowsy and unrested. Being tired consumed me, and it didn’t matter what I was doing, where I was going, or how much sleep I’d had the night before.

At school, if I could drag myself out of bed to go, I fell asleep during class, at lunchtime, during orchestra practice, with my violin slowly sliding off my shoulder, and even once during an exam as I struggled, painfully, to stay awake. And it was painful—everyone knows the excruciating feeling of trying to force your eyes open when they’re begging to close. Now imagine that all day, every day.

For most teenagers, there is nothing worse than not fitting in, or having a characteristic or quirk that makes you feel different from everyone else. So while I wasn’t popping zits or failing classes, I worried that my constant exhaustion made me appear weird, lazy and isolated, and to me this was devastating, but also seemed out of my control. As much as I wanted to be hanging out with my buddies or joining clubs and teams, a lot of the time that desire was trumped by a need to find a spot to curl up for my next nap.

***

In June of that year, my doctor referred me to a sleep clinic. I stayed for 24 hours and was hooked up to wires so that my sleep patterns could be monitored. As if the very idea of this didn’t add to my feelings of social isolation enough, this little slumber party took place the day after my prom, which was supposedly the most magical time of a 17-year-old’s life (in the movies). So in other words, my classmates were recovering from the night before, kicking off the summer together, and I was lying on a hard bed in a soulless clinic feeling like a complete freak. But, there was a glimmer of hope: perhaps these sleep analysts could find out what was wrong with me and fix it. I was off to Western that fall and eager for a fresh start, but I knew I couldn’t get that while feeling and acting like a zombie all the time.

The results indicated that I had an abnormal level of tiredness for someone of my age and size, but it wasn’t a thyroid issue or anemia or (thankfully) something more serious. The doctors thought I might have a mild level of narcolepsy, but there wasn’t much that could be done aside from focus on proper nutrition and exercise. These felt like cop-out solutions, and ones I couldn’t achieve anyway. I’m a lifelong picky eater and years of feeling too tired to do anything had made working out seem impossible. I had been hoping for some kind of pill or medication to make everything all better, but the best case scenario for me seemed to be to try to follow this advice, ride out the summer and hope that the wide world of university that awaited me would help to turn things around.

I’m pleased to report that this story has a happy ending. That summer, I had a job that kept me active and engaged, and at Western, I had the flexibility to choose my class schedule and was able to do so in a way that helped me maximize my energy. I never packed any one day full of classes, and tried to avoid taking too many early morning or late evening lectures. I lived near campus, so the days of long commutes were over, and of course like many of my fellow students, I discovered coffee…lots and lots and lots of coffee.

University helped pave the way for me to be able to function in the business world, and I haven’t looked back. I’ve spent nearly six years working in public relations—known for being a demanding and fast-paced industry, and work I couldn’t have pictured myself doing a decade ago. On a regular day, I won’t be up with the sun, but if I need to come in early or work late I can, and I’ll be ok. I get drowsy, yes, but head doesn’t thud against my desk, and I can even go out after work with my friends, have a few drinks, and not be a complete mess the next day. I even found my fitness passion in karate, which keeps me energized and motivated and gives me the confidence I lacked back then. Best of all, even though I still feel tired a lot, I also feel like myself, and I’m proud that my life isn’t ruled by sleep or lack thereof.

Bottom line? I’d say that overall, the awkward and isolated teenager has grown up and woken up…and is now off to Starbucks.

No More Notches in His Bedpost

white-bed

­I told myself I wouldn’t go back to see him. But it took me less than 18 hours from landing to end up back in his bed. I can blame it on being part of our whole routine. I can blame it on habit. Or I can be honest with myself and blame it on the comfort of being with someone who still liked me despite knowing me when I was 17.

I arrived at his door. He answered it looking just as tall and gangly and skater-boyish as he did when he was 19. I guess I still found those same things hot. He showed me around his house. This must have been the fifth or sixth house of his I visited. Then, as always, we ended up in his bedroom. I congratulated him on the fact that he finally had a real bed, and not just a mattress on the floor as he used to have. Because of this, and him, I probably didn’t have sex on a real bed until I was in my twenties.

I sat down on his new bed and he started to kiss me.

This had been going on for six years.

Over the years I have come to know many different relationships with boys. There have been boyfriends, one-night stands, and fuck buddies – but my relationship with this boy never fit into any category. We were friends who would hang out, run errands together, go for walks, but most of all, sleep with each other regularly.

From the beginning I was attracted to him. But never enough to want to be in a relationship with him. When I was still a teenager, I might have fantasized a time or two about our sleepovers and hang-outs to be something more official and consistent. But as more time passed, and the more times we continued sleeping together, more and more I knew I never wanted to date him. So I began pushing him away and started being more persistent about getting me over. Not that it ever took that much effort on his part.

He never knew that he took my virginity. I never bothered to tell him. That first time, like most first times, was awkward. But we were both drunk. And I wanted to do it. Most of my friends’ v-card stories involve a boyfriend, or a tragic night with a crush or stranger who never called them again. But no person has ever been able to offer me insight on how to navigate this particular type of relationship.

Because to them, it was strange. It was strange to me too.

Ours was my longest relationship. I have never been monogamous with any other guy for longer than a month. I always thought it was because I am emotionally retarded. Now I’m thinking is because I have always had the comfort of having him in the background that I have never had to make myself vulnerable to another guy.

Other than having sex, everything else we did was kind of relationship-y, or at the very least friend-y. We would confide to each other personal struggles– whether it was our weird family situations, jobs, living, or other stuff. We would go hang out together – in non- sexual ways. I would go find him at the skate park when he lost his phone and he would attempt to trek to my house in the freezing cold when I wasn`t answering mine.

And in our five+ years, I cannot say that he was ever dishonest with me. Other than an occasion or two when he told me to come over and I did – but he forgot to be home. It ended up being these types of slip-ups – the ones that showed he had no respect for me – that made me eventually end it. But it still felt like 80% of the time he treated me exceptionally. And for a friends-with-benefits situation, I feel like that was adequate.

My friends would often ask me why he and I never dated. And to be honest, I could never come up with a good answer. Maybe it was because I was always either focused on my studies, or work, or other boys that I actually wanted to date. And it wasn’t because I wasn’t attracted to him. After all we did have great chemistry and nasty – fun sex. But despite of the deep conversations and sexual chemistry – there was never anything more. I always let that fantasy go, because I knew that he would have to get his life together. And year after year, he didn’t change.

Finally after over six years, I think I have let him go. After all there is only so much a girl can go through. When I didn’t hear from him in over a month I decided I was over it. Literally five minutes later I received a text message from him with the inevitable invitation. Then I received another call from him. This time, I decided to give in. I missed him, or sex with him, even though it had only been a month since I last saw him. But as I began walking to his house with no sign of him texting me back I grew furious. Since he had done this to me a couple times before, I couldn’t trust him. But unlike those times I no longer had the patience or forgiveness for it. I finally decided I am worth more.

As always, he managed to appear in the precise moment I chose to end it – as though he could sense when I was at my weakest. But for the first time, I stuck with my decision to end things. So I told him it was over. Actually, I think I said, “You know what? I am done. Don’t call me ever again,” but in a slightly more drunken drama queen kind of way.

For about ten minutes he called and texted about a dozen times. Thankfully for my dignity I was already on the subway home, or else I might have answered one of his desperate pleas.

The next morning I woke up with those giggles and nervous laughs you get when you did something stupid the night before. But instead of feeling shame or regret, I just felt freedom with a side of uncertainty.

I finally accepted that I had grown out of our relationship. That I had changed too much. That I wanted something more. Him – the only thing that had changed was his new bedframe.

Written by May Hailer.