Dear 15 year old me,
One other letter I was asked to write in 2013 was to a judge in a court of law. It was a letter expressing my grief, guilt and sorrow for an offence that I never believed I would commit. The letter ended with me asking the judge for mercy.
This letter to you is going to start with a plea; never believe that you have to ‘earn’ love. As a little girl you naturally were a ‘giver’, looking for ways to make a difference to others. One example of this was when you were about 8 years old and you sold your toys to raise money for the Freedom From Hunger Campaign. Singing also made you smile as you held a microphone at aged 3 and sang ‘Close Your Eyes’ by the Beatles. These are just a couple of examples of the ‘real you’, having a strong sense of justice, creativity and little things that bring you joy.
From about the age of 13, things started to change slightly in the way you processed things around you. If I could say anything to you it would be don’t be afraid to speak up. Your opinion and feelings are valuable. You are valuable. Bit by bit your sense of self will be crushed as you will start to think that you are only valuable and loved if you do things to please others. These thoughts will start at home, as you think that your parents do not listen to you and so you will start doing more and more chores around the house in order for them to love you.
This will be the start of a pattern of behaviour that is built on fear and guilt of not being good enough and a fear of what others think of you, always trying to please others but slowly crushing who you really are. STOP HERE! Do not believe that you are not loved as you are! These feelings will turn into a twisted web of thoughts, and your need to please becomes so warped that you will develop an eating disorder, anorexia nervosa. At age 19 you will weigh a mere 39kg and you lose your menstrual cycle for 5 years.
In an attempt to be heard and feel valued, you create a bigger ‘prison’ for yourself. The walls of fear and guilt thicken and grow higher as you now believe that if you stop this cycle of excessive exercise and starvation, which you believe is your sense of worth, you will lose your parents attention; attention which you mistake to be love. The battle in your mind to break free from this self –made prison is enormous.
Three years later, you do recover physically, meet someone, fall in love, marry and have 3 amazing children; a girl and two boys. You find your sense of purpose in becoming a teacher who has a real empathy for helping her students. You start to feel like yourself again and love being a mum and a teacher, making a difference to others.
13 years into your marriage and you again are affected emotionally by things that are said to you. Again, you do not speak up about how you feel for fear of his reaction and not being loved. The more silent you become, the more you start to believe that you are not good enough just as you are and the things you love doing are wrong. You will feel guilty when you sing, when you laugh, when your class does well in an exam, when you have a coffee with your best friend. DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN! YOU ARE ALLOWED TO ENJOY THESE THINGS! The cycle will begin again, and you start doing more around the house to gain approval. Where you once did things at work to make a difference to others, you now start doing more to make a difference to what you think of yourself and to gain other’s approval. Your sense of worth falls to new lows as your ‘busy ness’ reaches new highs. You have lost sight of who you are and why. The one big lesson I could tell you from this is if words are spoken to you that do not line up with what you know of yourself do not pay attention! You pay too much attention to what others say. Listen to your small inner voice and be proud of you.
Despite the smile you try to put on your face, inside you are crumbling and will be diagnosed with severe clinical depression. Your marriage falls apart. You are rock bottom emotionally and are grasping to anything that makes you feel worthy. And that even comes as a poor decision, which is a criminal offence by law. You will not see at the time why this happened. All you will know is that it made you feel like someone valued you. Guilt and fear rise to new heights as you try to comprehend what you have done. Over the next 4 years, you keep this hidden and will come close to taking your life.
When you are 50 you are arrested for this crime. You now have to finally face this but your gripping fear is what people will think of you. In an attempt to please others, to feel a sense of worth, you lost sight of who YOU were. The ironic thing is that you now will totally despise yourself. The headline in the paper adds to this self-hate. The girl who tried to be perfect turned into a woman who fell and it was in this fall that great strength came.
In amongst this you caught a glimpse of ‘real you’. With the help of your psychologist you began to see where she went and how ‘crushed you’ dominated most of your life. The first sign that ‘real you’ was emerging was to tell the truth, firstly to your barrister, your brothers and sister, then your children, friends and finally your mum and dad. This took courage. You have that courage. Your first question to them after your honesty will be “Do you still love me?” In your downfall you find what you have tried for so long to earn. Your parents love you, your kids love you and your friends love you unconditionally.
However, you pay the price and will go to prison for a year, are labeled a criminal with an offence label that makes you cringe, and lose many rights. This is like a death sentence to you. For all your personal efforts to be free and be yourself, you end up behind bars and for 4 months of that sentence you will be locked up for 23 hours a day, 18 hours of these in your cell.
Before these thoughts that you are having now rob you of so much of who you really are, rob you of your teenage years and eventually rob you of your freedom don’t be ashamed to talk about them. Get them out in the open and do not fear other people’s reactions. There is no shame in talking to a counselor or a psychologist either. Just don’t let those thoughts go around and around in your mind. They will become weeds that take root.
Don’t allow that to happen. You have so much in you that will make you smile; so much that will bring joy to others. These things will blossom like beautiful flowers with an amazing fragrance if you love who you are as you are. You do not need to please anyone. You are loved. Now go and put your favourite ‘happy song’ on and sing at the top of you lungs.