Being a teenager is hard.
I am gratefully no longer a teen, far from it. But I had the joy of sorting through piles of old photo albums and journals at my parents house and couldn’t help but cringe. There is an intensity to adolescence that is only echoed lightly when we arrive at adulthood. The self criticism, comparisons with others, the DRAMA and heartbreak. My god, how did we make it through the pain and turmoil?
I was tasked with the job of clearing out space at ma and pa’s and my sweet husband was helping me with the job (because I am a hoarder and I will keep everything! Even though I haven’t laid eyes on it in more than a decade). Bizarre is a word that almost captures the experience of being in the present moment with someone who loves and accepts me completely and for whom I am supremely comfortable in my love, as we sift through poems full of grief, love lost, darkness. He lifted his head to look at me, eyes full of pain, as he read aloud a poem I had written when I was 15. He wanted to soothe that long gone pain, reach back to the days before now and take it all away.
We can’t go back, as much as we think we might want to try. We cannot give our younger selves a “heads up” that the world doesn’t work the way it appears to. We can’t take back the agonising intensely over that boy, the jealousy of that friend, the worry that every single thing you say, do, don’t say or do directly impacts those around you in strong and important ways. You can’t go back and get yourself to calm down the energy and importance you put on everybody liking you. You can’t take away the sting of rejection and fear of being outcast from the group that provides some shelter from the unknown in the great social pond. But what would life have been like if you could? Who would you be now, if you could?
These seemingly redundant questions have their uses. I garnered an appreciation for how far I have come in my personal growth. I have always felt, and indeed always will feel like I am new. That there is much to learn, and indeed there is, about ourselves, how we operate, what we need, what we aspire to, about the communities in which we live, about the species we belong to and the much more impressive natural world we occupy. But on this small little scale, this focus on the individual, where day in and day out you feel no different from any other day that has gone before, I had the blessing of recognising the ways in which I have grown, those I am consciously working on now and those areas that could still use a little more “work”.
Anxiety. I have significantly calmed the fuck down. I have opted to use the f bomb to emphasise the magnitude of this statement. I have known myself to be quite anxious from time to time and I now use that energy to drive what is important. It is not a constant experience. I am not continuously fretting about what I said or did or what might happen. From time to time, sure about things that matter. But on the whole I am much more relaxed- things will pan out as they do and we will deal with what life presents us.
Responsibility. In my drive to be liked by all I would have gone to the ends of the earth for anyone! It didn’t matter whether they were a dear friend or stranger. More than this I had a tendency to feel personally responsible for any ill fated turn of events that might have negatively impacted my loved ones. As extreme as it sounds it was so bad that I felt like I could have made the difference in the passing of a dear friend I had fallen out of touch with. I no longer feel that I am solely responsible for another persons actions, choices or well being. I have come to realise as I’ve gotten older, that one of the most respectful things you can do for your loved ones is trust that they’ve “got this” when it comes to their own lives. So now, I am much more likely to offer support and reassurance that they’ve “got this” than try to assume responsibility for circumstances beyond my control or influence (thank you Don Miguel Ruis, author of the Mastery of Love and the Four Agreements).
Friendships. I also do not bend over backwards for people that do not reciprocate. I find as I get older I have less energy to invest in relationships that aren’t a two way street. In fact I have grown a little sour when things don’t appear just and fair, and I think that plays out in my adult relationships. As a result though I am fortunate to have reciprocal friendships that bring much joy. Not the kind that wear you down because you are the only one chasing and working to keep in touch, but the comfortable sort where people seek you out and you seek them in turn. Those in which both lives are enriched by shared experience, equal and mutual regard and good will. This might sound a little soft hearted, I’ve been accused of worse, but just remember I’ve been reflecting on my teenage self and her experiences- frankly she was a bit of a door mat.
Judgement. I have always been worse with self judgement than judgement of others, but I have been naive at times and said things I wish I had not said. I can’t say why. Why do any of us do something we wouldn’t normally or wish we hadn’t? Perceived social pressure, poor communications skills, terrible conflict management skills, poor judgement, an over inflated sense of self importance, or over inflated sense of others importance… Two things, I am incredibly grateful for, are now true: I give other people more slack, we should all lay off one another and live and let live- you do not know what it is like to exist in this world for another human being so leave them alone and don’t force your perspective onto them, keep your shoehorn for those shoes you bought but shouldn’t have even though you love them, they just didn’t have your size. The second thing is that I cut myself more slack. I am still very self reflective, I will always want to do better and be better… for myself, so that I can feel good about who I am as a human being in this crack pot overly manufactured world I share. I can also take myself to town over the little shit, but I do it less. It has less of a sting and I am more and more coming from a place of que sera sera because let’s face it, no one is perfect, not the Prime Minister, not the CEO of that fortune 500 company, not my awesome boss or my parents and certainly not little old me. I am acutely aware that I am not the only critter that has influence over anything, in fact I can only take care of my own little part and the rest is up to, well everyone else.
Love. I was the worst with crushes. They would ruin me. I would become weak kneed and fall to pieces around a cute boy I fancied. Except that I only fancied two people in high school and those crushes stayed with me for a looooong time, they also got in my way for a long time. I don’t really know what to say here except that letting go as an “adult” was a long process because of the depth and intensity of those loves. The reality for me was that I was a late bloomer, completely unprepared for love until later than most, and later than it found me. I think that’s okay. There are so many pressures to pair up and be experienced in all manner of intimacies that I question the actual intimacy of those experiences. When you find someone you connect with, for the short or long term you know it. You don’t need to manufacture that it just sweeps you along. So don’t seek it out, relax and enjoy your journey, enjoy your connections but don’t force it.
Heartbreak. I had my heart broken (actually through my doing because I was just too young) at 15. It wasn’t properly broken again for another 15 years. There were certainly heartaches, confusion, breakups and life re-examining in that time, but not a heart shattering mess that leaves you bereft. Heartbreak sucks. It is hard and dirty and you say and do things that you regret only because they become the bridge you burnt to the motherfucking ground. Shit, as kind hearted as I am, when my heart was last broken I didn’t recognise myself, I was hurt and confused and angry and I expressed it in the worst possible way- in text messages to the person who did the breaking… I did however enjoy a “rediscovery of self” adventure when the dust settled 🙂 Heartbreak, after its drawn out suffering is done with, is a reset button. It is a great opportunity to look at yourself in your life and figure out what you want to be doing, where you want to be, and (if you want to) the kind of person you actually want to share this life with. It was post the last apocalyptic heartbreak that I took real stock of what I wanted and the steps I took following that lead me to my now husband, the man that feels like he was custom made to share this adventure called life with me.
What would I tell that 15 year old me if I could, or any 15 year old for that matter? You are amazing. Relax because everything is going to be just fine. Don’t worry about everyone else, they are okay and they will continue to be okay. You are not the cause of everything that is good, or bad, life happens and it is beyond your control. I want you to stop worrying about how you look, you are beautiful and you are you which is more important than I can let you know, the world needs you to be you just as you are, trust me on that. Go camping, you will love it and the world makes more sense when you are immersed in nature. Focus on your studies, they are important, you will use what you learn and the intense social focus that you have right now won’t last as long as the foundation of knowledge and the opportunities you will pursue after high school. Forget about romantic love right now, you don’t need it, just enjoy being a kid and let that come when you’re in university or have your first job, really it’s just annoying and a big distraction from living a full life. There will be trials, mistakes, accidents and pain but you’ll be okay. The world is a very big and amazing place, there is a lot to learn, explore and discover and I just know you’re going to love it. And for that 15 year old Bel- study marine biology, it isn’t all sorting through bird poop like uncle Steve said, it is so much more and you will love it.
Don’t laugh at a youth for his affectations; he is only trying on one face after another to find a face of his own. ~Logan Pearsall Smith, “Age and Death,” Afterthoughts, 1931