A note from Lily:
I was tickled and honored by the way women across the globe opened up to me about what they would say to their twenty year-old selves. While we knew what we would say, it was a lot less certain that our twenty year-old selves would have actually listened!
The advice fell into three rather broad categories: Health, Sexuality and Self-Worth.
Thank you to everyone who shared, anonymously and by name, and all those who continued the conversation with me just for fun! Your tenacity and depth of insight is humbling.
Letters on Health
Dear Katherine, age twenty,
You are stronger than you know: you should really trust yourself more!
Push hard for an ADHD diagnosis.
You do not need to live with the shame of feeling like you aren’t trying hard enough. You are not making the same procrastination mistakes over and over again.
You will be convinced that you have ADHD. You will take online tests, read articles. A psychologist will tell you that you have time management issues. Well no kidding!
Your husband will have a neurologist friend who diagnose you in five minutes, telling you that you have classic textbook symptoms.
Women are underdiagnosed for ADHD and other illnesses and conditions that don’t present the same way as in men and boys. Just keep advocating for yourself.
Katherine, older and wiser
Dear Karen, young and seemingly bipolar,
Go gluten-free! And be strict about it!
You will have bipolar symptoms. For years, your and your family will think that’s just how you are. You will be diagnosed with Celiac disease and it will make a night and day difference.
This diagnosis will happen by accident. You will have a terrible migraine that will last sixteen weeks. Your neurologist will have you try everything! As a last ditch effort he will tell you to go gluten-free, since your dad and both your sisters have Celiac disease. You will begrudgingly try it for one week.
Within one week your joints will feel better and you won’t be bloated all the time and you will have a clear head for the first time ever.
Over the years you will have very few cross-contaminations, but you will have one severe one and will go completely crazy. It will be like you are locked in your own body, unable to stop yourself from hurting everyone around you. It will last for two months. It will be absolute hell for your family and yourself.
As for the migraine? You will find medication that worked, and even find that they go away once you have babies!
Older, wiser Karen
Letters on Sexuality
Dear 20 year-old Bonny,
Your parents will not always be proud of you and the sooner you can let go of the need to think everyone in your life needs to be proud of you every single minute, the happier and freer you will be.
You will be twisted into a pretzel by your overzealous religious upbringing. You will start questioning Purity Culture because no one will have ever told you that girls can know sexual desire. The “boys only want one thing” leitmotif will prove false, when instead of him pressuring you for sex, you are the one who wants it. You will get your first kiss, take your purity ring off and never put it back on.
You will marry a man who makes you aware of so many things and pieces of yourself that you didn’t even know existed. He is kind and good in bed. You lucky girl!
To change your mind does not mean you gave up or you failed.
Dear 20 year-old Misaki,
Don’t ignore your kinks. For years you will think you “just aren’t into sex,” when what you aren’t into is vanilla sex. Once you realize this truth, everything will start to make sense for you.
Your earliest memories are kinky ones. Kinkiness is part of who you are. The sooner you embrace this, the better. It is nothing to be ashamed of, even if you don’t understand it. Allowing yourself to exist in this space will make you believe in God. The sensations your body is capable of cannot be just a random act of evolution. There is a God and he is very very good.
Resist the pressure to get married just because it’s what people do. Take the time to find a partner whose kinks line up with yours. It will take twenty years, but you will find him. You will thank me for it.
A much happier fifty year-old Misaki
Letters on Self-Worth
Dear 20 year-old Rosanna,
Don’t tone yourself down: overdress and enjoy wearing the clothes you like! Toning down to conform to the casual/conservative culture around you will make you feel diminished; you will constantly be second guessing yourself regarding how “appropriately” you are dressing rather than taking cues from how you feel.
Wear the bright colours, wear the dramatic cuts, wear the fancy shoes! Those things bring you joy.
At thirty-six, you will be back at the University, studying psychotherapy and you will realise that you need to be fully yourself, not a watered down version of yourself. Sometimes that means wearing bright pink pumps to class sometimes!
Rosanna at thirty-six who wears bright pink pumps to class
Appreciate yourself more. Much more. You are pretty and talented as an artist. You have no awareness of this and no confidence. Be less critical of yourself.
Your lack of self-confidence will lead you to an unfulfilling, damaging relationship with a boyfriend you are not even really attracted to and who won’t appreciate you. You would do well to expel him from your life…but you won’t. Not for seven years.
You can be grateful, you won’t marry him and you won’t have kids with him…your life would be on a different continent, you would probably be divorced and unhappy.
But you will meet a man who will break you out of that relationship. You will be an artist. Things will work out.
This article is part of a series called “Letters to my Twenty Year-Old Self”:
Part One: Dear Miss Fields
Part Two: Miss Fields Writes Back
Part Three: Listen to Me, Lily
Part Four: Are You Still There, Lily?
Part Five: Darling Poppy
Part Six: Letters from around the world (You are here)