So it’s now two weeks until my big birthday and I’m still in a reflective mood. A couple of days ago, while looking for something else, I came across a bag of photos – you know, actual real, printed photos. There were some from my school days and some from my first holiday with The Hubby, as well as a couple from just after a much darker time in my life.
It got me thinking; now that I’m approaching 40, and so much has changed in my life, what would I say to my 20-year old self? So, I decided to write myself a letter…
Wow. What a life! It probably seems unbelievable to you at the moment, as a 20-year-old woman, that in two decades’ time you will be a married mother of two, stepmother of one – but not married to the man you think you will. No, he will be long-gone by then, and you will have found someone who is his exact opposite.
You’re going through a tough time at the moment, I know. You feel hopeless and helpless. You’re stuck in a situation that makes you desperately unhappy and you have nowhere to turn. I wish I could tell you to run – run now, and don’t look back. You will, but it will take you another 18 months to build up the courage to do it. I know you can’t right now, but please talk to someone – your friends, your parents. They will be upset, and hurt, but they will be there for you and will help you to be strong again – to live again.
I know you’re unhappy about the way you look, and that there is nothing you can do about it at the moment. The time will come. You will change. You will always have a battle with your weight, but at least you will be in control of changing it if you want to. But Kel, we need to chat about hair. I think that I would say to you ‘don’t chop it all off!’ When it comes to your hair, you chop it and grow it again and again – it’d be easier just to not cut it in the first place! Oh, and try to stick to one colour for a while?!
You enjoy your job working with children, but I know you yearn to try something new. You will! You will go off to do something totally different for a few years. You will meet lots of fantastic people, including your future husband, and you will have your eyes opened. You will have the chance to travel – that’s all I will say – I don’t want to ruin the surprise! You will gain knowledge and experience in different areas and your confidence will soar. For a while.
But, here’s a little warning: it’s not all plain sailing. You will have something of a rough ride with your mental health and you will need to draw strength from others. I’d love to say that you will make a full recovery, but that wouldn’t be fair; I think you will always have the black dog chasing you, sometimes nipping at your heels, sometimes jumping all over you with its big, dirty paws. But you will learn to spot the signs and to deal with it more often than not. You will have a reason to: your beautiful children.
Yes, dear Kel, you will have two children of your own – a boy first, and then a girl a few years later. You will swear blind that, after the first, you will never have any more. But the broodiness overcomes you and along comes your daughter. Another little warning here: it won’t be easy. You will come to realise that something isn’t quite right and you will eventually discover that she is autistic. And that’s a whole new world for you to discover! You will make new friends and find out so much more about yourself than you thought you knew. There will be tears, frustration, big decisions and you and The Hubby will find your relationship tested almost to the limit. But, you will work through it, because all the laughter and happy times and amazing things will outweigh all the negatives.
And, with a change in family circumstances, you find yourself falling back into child care. You will find you’ve missed it; it’s very different now though, and there’s lots to learn, but you will be successful and will build up your confidence again. I know the one thing you wished you could have done was gone to university after leaving school, just like all of your friends. The situation you’re in means that it didn’t happen, but don’t give up. You will study again, and it will be hard, but you’ll get to that graduation!
And now I am writing to you as I sit at home, not working. That’s right; I don’t work at the moment. You will find that family life with a child with special needs and work commitments don’t really mix very well, so after a lot of thought and discussion with loved ones, you will decide to take an indefinite break to put your family first. It’s not easy. You will feel a little lost at times, a little identity-less. But you will be happier, which is what your family needs. It’s what you need. And you will have time to spend on the other things you love, such as writing and photography.
And now you are about to turn 40, and you’ll wonder where the last 20 years have gone! Part of you still feels 20 in your mind; you missed out on so much back then, it’s almost as if you can’t move on. But, physically, you have. Your face and body are showing the signs of wear and tear. I wish I could tell you, my 20-year old self, to take better care of it. You are, once again, overweight and you have daily aches and pains. Finding the energy to keep up with the kids can be hard. I wish I’d known at 20 what I know now.
And that’s why I’m writing to you, 20-year-old Kel. You can’t change the course of your life; I believe everything happens for a reason (you’ll want a tattoo of that for years, but never will quite decide where to have it!) and that you should have no regrets; everything is an experience to learn from. But it would be nice to know about some little tweaks that could be made here and there, wouldn’t it? You’ll have some really shit times and some absolutely brilliant times. That’s what makes a life worth living. (You’ll question that, in your darkest times, by the way. It is worth it, I promise.) I wish I could tell you to get out now, but waiting until you’re strong enough will mean that all of the above will happen. And, ultimately, you will be happy.
So, dear Kel, from me, at almost 40, to my young and troubled self I will say, hang in there. You got this.