Letter to my daughter for her 18th birthday; 18 things I have learned

Dear Rosie,

You are but a couple of months away from turning 18. I’m similarly a couple of months away from turning 40 (the party will be epic). I’m mystified as to where that time has gone, it hasn’t just flown by but has flashed by at the speed of light. I remember taking you out when you were a tiny baby and older ladies admiring you and telling me to ‘enjoy these moments, it all goes by so fast’. They were absolutely right, but one of the great tragedies of life is you never realise that until you are in their position.

I have many fond memories of you as a baby, toddler and little girl. You were bright, friendly, sociable, intelligent and adorable. People always remarked on your cuteness. You could have the most amazing tantrums, too. I used to be impressed by them as often as being angry. You had no hair for some time (baldy like your daddy), then after the age of two it suddenly started growing in exponentially, until by seven you could sit on it. Your hair was beautiful then and it is beautiful now.

Darling, you went through so much before you were even ten years old. First your Dad developed end stage renal failure, and needed dialysis followed by a transplant. You were five. Then when you were seven, I caught flu, and due to my phenomenally weak lungs, developed pneumonia and was put into an induced coma, in which I remained for a month. If almost losing both parents isn’t enough, when you were nine, your Dad and I sadly went our separate ways, and although we tried hard to keep the bitterness away from you, I know you were aware of it. I’m so sorry about all the pain we put you through. Then as you entered into pre-teen and teenaged years, the bullying began. I wish I had known about it earlier than I did. I saw you change from extrovert to introvert, and simply put it down to hormones. I was an idiot. The same thing happened to me in my teens, and I berate myself for not having recognised the familiar signs.

I’m not surprised you were bullied. I am a very small woman, and you have inherited the family tininess. You are always being mistaken for someone two to three years younger than your actual age (PRO TIP: You will LOVE this when you’re older, I promise). The teeny factor added to the fact that you have a quirky, impish and quite off-centre way of looking at the world and dry sense of humour meant that for the mainstream, conformist girls, you were an easy target. I wish I could have saved you from that. I know that everyone must grow up fighting their own battles, but if I could have spared you that and gone through it myself, I would have. Your pain is my pain, darling. To top it all off, we lost my father, your devoted Grandpa, two years ago, and I know you feel the loss keenly.

I have seen you sink into depression and sadness, and I am overwhelmed with guilt. The tendency towards depression can be genetic, you see, and you developed it at a similar age as me. I ache that I can’t stop the blackness for you, but know at least that I empathise completely and am always here even when you feel like you’re the only one in the world. I understand. I get it. You can come and cry and hug me for no reason at all, or you can stay in your room and try to wrestle with your thoughts if you’d prefer, and I will try my hardest to respect that. I will try never to be the mother who tells you to ‘snap out of it’.

Having said all of that, there are some things I want you to know. Things I don’t tell you enough; things that will hopefully help you as you embark upon your adult journey. You have come through so much adversity and you still smile. You are battle-scarred and beautiful. Here are some things which I have sort of learned between your age and mine. I am by no means wise; this is just the result of having been around twenty years longer than you. I haven’t always followed my own advice – a lot of this is gleaned from the consequences of my many mistakes.

Happy 18th birthday darling. I can’t wait to celebrate with you.

  1. Nothing, but nothing, is as bad as it first seems when you are overwhelmed. Sometimes to solve a problem you just need to walk away, sleep on it and give it time. The solution will be apparent when you relax.
  2. Don’t take anything personally; everyone, me included, is always in the middle of their own story and you don’t know what chapter they are at. Sometimes it will make people lash out at you – give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it is their problem, and not you.
  3. Having said that, always be wary of upsetting people, especially your friends. It’s so easy to be self-absorbed when you’re in the grip of depression, and it can result in you snapping at them, not seeing their problems, or behaving selfishly when they need your support. I know sometimes you will not recognise what you’re doing until afterwards, but if you can make amends at that point, do so.
  4. Always be willing to be the first to say sorry. Contrary to modern advice for the ‘strong’ person (never explain, never apologise, it’s a sign of weakness), this is the trait of someone who is strong, knows who they are and is aware of how they interact with those around them.
  5. BUT don’t apologise for yourself when you don’t need to. I do this all the time. Low self-esteem can led you to that place where you constantly apologise for just being you. There is a difference between being open-minded and intelligent enough to compromise and feeling that your presence is a burden.
  6. Don’t ‘chase’ your dreams. This is stupid advice, usually given to the masses by the 2% who have successfully achieved their goals. It ignores the fact that sometimes chasing your dreams and ignoring all else can leave you bitter and broken if things don’t work out. Have a backup plan. Study. Work. Save. Indulge in your loves and hobbies with all the passion you can, and sometimes your dreams will emerge from that passion.
  7. But DO have a vision board. At the beginning of each year, take an A3 or bigger piece of cardstock and fill it with all the things you see happening for yourself over the next 12 months. Put inspiring quotes and images on it, anything meaningful to you. Put it somewhere you can see it, or just put it away somewhere and take it out to look at every now and again. Doesn’t matter which. The process is what’s important, because you’re teaching your subconscious to work on your vision whilst you consciously go about your day.
  8. Budget, budget, budget. I should have taught you about this from day one, and I am so sorry I didn’t do my duty there. Please, please heed this advice now. The world is a cruel place. The financial, capitalist system stinks, but it is the one we are a part of. If you don’t have a basic amount of money on which to survive, you will always be stressed, always playing catch up, and always feel you are dancing on thin ice. Even if you are gainfully employed, you are only two pay cheques away from ruin if you haven’t budgeted and saved. Don’t rely on always having work, or on some imagined future lottery win. It increasingly seems you are headed towards the creative professions, like me, and having seen my own struggle, you must be aware that this involves more than its fair share of poverty. Go to YouTube and look up Dave Ramsey’s envelope budget system. Start doing it. It works. I want you to be able to go out with your friends and have a wonderful time, and to go on holidays and travel the world, and to live in a wonderful place of your own. None of these things will be possible if you don’t start saving now. Start early, start now. The future always creeps up on you when you think you have ages to go.
  9. Learn how to clean up after yourself. It’s a habit you’ll be thankful of when you live alone. It just makes your day that little bit easier, especially when you’re really down. Your environment can have an impact on your mood, so it’s best to keep it as clear as you can. If the thought of that is ever overwhelming, just set a timer for ten minutes, and do what you can until it rings. That is better than nothing at all, and you know you have achieved something.
  10. Love will find you when you are busy being you. Don’t expect it, don’t pine for it, don’t look for it. Do the things that make you happy anyway, and if someone doesn’t come along for the ride, you’ll still be fulfilled. However, I’m certain someone will find you just as amazing as I do, and will be eager to join you. When they do, never change yourself to match them or what you think they would like you to ideally be. If they don’t accept you for you, you will never be comfortable with them.
  11. Don’t try to change them either. People generally don’t change much, and not often on a permanent basis. If you’re trying to change someone then you’re with the wrong person.
  12. Never feel alone. Okay, I know this one is easier said than done. But know this – I love you, your father loves you, your grandparents love you. You are our world. When we are no longer here, I want you to always remember you were loved. Love others accordingly.
  13. Travel before you get too old. This is one of the biggest regrets of my life. I wanted to travel the world, to live in Paris and Italy for a while, to spend six months in New York. I did none of those things. Whilst I still like to dream of doing them now, the reality is that it is much harder the older you get. Travel gives you a broader outlook on life and teaches you self-sufficiency. Do it young. (SEE NO.8 – this is what will make it possible).
  14. Learn self defence. You are a tiny girl. This is wonderful as it makes you uniquely you, but it also leaves you vulnerable. Taking some self defence classes will serve you in good stead should the unthinkable ever happen. Everyone should have some basic self defence knowledge; it could save your life one day.
  15. Every time you feel like procrastinating, DON’T. I know sometimes this will be impossible but try to remember my advice and resist the urge as much as you can. I am a chronic procrastinator and I have wasted about twenty years of my life by putting things off. Every time you tell yourself ‘I’ll do it later’, you are setting yourself up for failure. Later becomes tomorrow, becomes next week, next month and next year, until it gets completely abandoned. Keep looking at your vision board and make sure you are doing something to further it along every single day. Don’t put things off in the hope that later you will be less tired, or more motivated. You will never be more motivated than you are right now.
  16. Always try to have a pet. They teach you responsibility as they are completely dependant on you for food, health and hygiene. In response, they will love you unconditionally and can be the best comfort when you are really down. They also give you a reason to get out of bed even when you feel you can’t; it’s amazing how much more you can push yourself when something else is relying on you.
  17. When you feel like you absolutely can’t get out of bed, see people or be human, this is exactly when you most need to. If it is at all possible (and again I know sometimes it won’t be), this is the moment when you need to shower, get dressed, eat something, and generally look after yourself. Never, ever be afraid to tell someone how you are feeling and/or to ask for help. It’s not weakness to reach out and it can save you from the self isolation which tends to accompany despair.
  18. Have a blast. You’re gonna be 18! You will never again be as young or beautiful as you are now. Don’t compare yourself to other people, as that is the quickest way to get miserable. By the same token, recognise that when other people around you get complimented or recognised, it does not detract from your own skills or beauty. There is room for everyone. Support them, and they will support you too. You are not better than anybody else, but nor are you less than them. Stay humble but be self-assured. It’s the best combination for keeping friends.

 

Now go out and have a wonderful life. I look forward to watching you bloom. xxxxx

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