The idea for this post came from Kelli, who got the idea from the song “Letter to Me.” The song talks about what Brad Paisley would say if he had the opportunity to write a letter to a younger version of himself, explaining to him what is ahead of him in life and advising him on how to handle it. After reading Kelli’s letter to her 18-year-old self, I was compelled to write a letter to my younger self. Here it goes:
Dear 18-year-old Katie,
Congratulations. You are an adult now. I know it’s hard to think about becoming an adult when you are sitting in the mental ward of a hospital, surrounded by other depressed teenagers. You will tell your counselors and your parents that you are ready to go home today, or you risk being transferred to an adult ward since it is your 18th birthday. You will tell them you are ready to go home despite the fact that you don’t know if you will swallow more pills when you get there. As if this isn’t hard enough, when your parents come to pick you up, they will tell you that your favorite aunt passed away this morning. She was alone in her apartment, much like how you are feeling at this very moment and will continue to feel for the next two months. Your father will refuse to speak to you. He doesn’t understand your depression or the pain your feeling. Your mother will cry a lot, not understanding why you wanted to take your own life. But only you know the truth: You did it so that maybe they would listen. Be patient; your father will never listen and it will take a long time for your mother to understand the ache in your heart.
You will go off to college in two months and you will begin dating the love of your life. You already know him. You have known him for two years and he has been there for you through everything. He will continue to be there for you, despite the fact that your father doesn’t approve of him. He will be the one who holds you and comforts you during your lowest, loneliest points of your first year of college.
You will catch your father cheating on your mother with another woman. It will be hard to stomach, but you will tell her what you know. And she will tell you that she already knows. You will watch your family be torn apart by divorce and infidelity. You will watch your brother break down and cry when he learns that his father isn’t so perfect after all. You will finally be able to talk to your mother openly about the years of emotional abuse from your father: The years of never feeling good enough and the years of wanting to die rather than face his disappointment and anger in everything that you do. This bond with your mother will only grow stronger as you get older. You will struggle with anger toward your father for many years, and you will even still try to please him. It will take some time, but you must know you can overcome his control.
You will marry the man who was there for you from the beginning. You will be so happy and innocent on your wedding day, unaware of what is to come. You will think that this is the beginning of building a happy life together and you will both agree that you want to add to your new family right away. You will begin trying to make a baby and you think it will be easy. You will pick out names for your potential child and discuss nursery colors. You will walk through the baby section at Target every time, picking out new outfits for your unborn child. You will feel confident that a baby will come soon and your dream of becoming a mother will be fulfilled.
It will be devastating when the doctor tells you that you are infertile. You sit there, alone once again, and cry. You will scream. It will physically hurt you to hear those words. You will go through the next ten months or so angry at the world. You will hate everyone with children and everyone who is pregnant. You will tell people about your diagnosis and then resent them when they no longer speak to you. But you will be better off without the people who are not truly there for you. You will become stronger in the process. You will not share a child, but you and your husband will grow stronger together because of your struggles. It will not be easy, but you will get through it. It will take time, and you will be a better person because of it. You will still get angry sometimes. You will still wish you could give anything for a child: a limb, an organ, all of your possessions, your entire life. You will meet wonderful women who share this same wish.
And when you do have a baby, whenever that time comes, you will feel so overwhelmed with joy. You will be so grateful for having gone through what you did and it will make you a better mother. There may be days when your child is screaming, sick, or throwing temper tantrums. You will retreat into the bathroom and cry into your glass of wine with frustration and exhaustion. But then, you will pick yourself back up and continue on. Because you know that the worst possible day with your child beats any day without him or her.
So now you know. The road ahead is not easy. There will be filled with plenty of joy and excitement, heartache and pain. Know that you will survive it all. You will come out a better person, a better friend, and a better wife. Someday, you will be a better mother. You will pick up the pieces and push the past aside. It might not seem like it right now, but life will move on. You will keep breathing.