I'm 25 years old, and I've only now figured out who I am as a person. The secret? I finally stopped being afraid.
Over the years, I constantly felt this pressure to please other people. I always made sure my reputation was picture-perfect. That meant saying yes to every get-together, replying to every text and agreeing with whatever someone said, just so I could be in everyone's good graces.
That got old fast. It's draining, and in the process, I lost sense of who I was as an individual. I forgot to take care of myself. This unfortunately happens to a lot of us, and for me, even my health suffered.
Between making sure my grades were all As to please Mom and Dad and hanging out with “friends” I genuinely didn't like, I developed an eating disorder well before high school even started.
Anorexia controlled my life and my entire being for so many years. Looking back, I guess it was my defense mechanism against all the challenges and expectations I ran into. I couldn't directly control other people's perception of me, and I couldn't control what questions were on the test I studied so hard for. But, I could control my weight and my body.
My problem spiraled out of control. I fell really hard, really fast. I went from this bubbly, happy-go-lucky young girl to a severely depressed person. All I could think about was the number on the scale and how much it needed to go down. The more it went down and the smaller I got, the prettier I was, right? The more my ribs showed, the more I could loo like a model, right?
My illogical thinking worsened, and I was trapped in a vicious cycle. I almost lost my life.
Those were some of the darkest days of my life, and I'll never forget them. But, I'm not writing this to talk about my struggles with depression and anorexia. I'm writing this because I've learned so much about life through that experience.
More than anything, I know exactly what I want my future daughter to think and feel when she grows up. So, I wrote her a letter:
My sweet daughter,
When you read this letter, you'll be a young girl on the brink of womanhood. You'll be (hopefully) fully potty-trained with a few years of school already under your belt. Let's hope your Dad has good, common sense to pass on because Lord knows, I have zero.
Now is when life truly begins, and there are some things I want you to keep in mind. You are going to be my whole world, and there's absolutely nothing that will change that.
When I was your age, I went through a very difficult period of my life. I hit rock bottom. I'm not writing this letter to delve into the details of that time, or for you to feel sorry for me. I'm writing this letter because there are things I now understand about myself — things I want you to always remember — that I learned after climbing out of that dark time and embracing life for all its worth.
1. You are beautiful.
I promise to always remind you of this because it's the pure and simple truth. I won't beat around the bush: The world is terrifying. There will be these “expectations” you'll feel like you have to fulfill in order to be good enough. You'll believe you have to look a certain way and be a certain weight.
You'll hear that boys prefer when your hair is long, so keep it like that. You should always be cute and sweet with absolutely zero pimples. And if that's not your personality, well, just fake it and cake on the makeup.
The truth is, no one should tell you who to be. Feel what you feel, and do what you want to do. Those commercials on TV, the lingerie models, the magazines and the fad diets you'll be bombarded with left and right aren't reality. More often than not, those things won't promote healthy habits.
That's not where our self-worth comes from. So, promise me that if you feel like eating a hamburger and fries, eat it. I'll be right next to you (with the ketchup because I need lots and lots of ketchup). If you feel like just a salad, we'll make the best salad together and watch our favorite movie.
Honey, if you feel like going out without makeup, go do it and rock it. Regardless of your weight, the number on the inside of jeans or the length of your hair, be confident. Be you. That's beauty.
2. Never be ashamed of your personality.
I'm going to be straight up with you: Your mom is weird. I mean, I'm writing this letter to you while I'm in a freezing cold neurobiology lab where I chop up brains (and like it). I like really stupid, corny jokes. I hate partying and going out drinking because I'd much rather plop on the couch in my sweatpants and watch Netflix.
I love politics and reading up on all the candidates running for Senate and House of Representatives. I hate cheese, eat my sweet potatoes with ketchup and refuse to have Rocky Road ice cream unless there's tons of whipped cream. I listen to podcasts in the car, and I watch "Meet The Press" every Sunday.
I used to hide those things. I wouldn't allow that side of me to come through. But when I finally got the help I so desperately needed, I actually started to enjoy myself. My natural personality emerged. Why did I bury it away for so long?
I didn't have to overthink anything or wonder what other people thought of me. I am what I am. In fact, I learned that while I wear my heart on my sleeve and love people so openly, I have quite the sassy side. When anyone made a comment even slightly out of line, you bet your little butt I was right there to call them out on it. Trust me, I have plenty of stories to tell you.
You'll find that when you just embrace who you are, only good things come from it. Your friendships are genuine and comfortable, and your outlook on life feels refreshed and less intimidating. So promise me you won't conform to the crowd. Promise me you won't “go with the flow” just to gain acceptance.
3. Surround yourself with people who will keep you strong.
Life is going to be full of ups and downs. Boys will break your heart, friends will break your trust and responsibilities will become overwhelming. I promise to be there for you through all of it, and more importantly, I promise you will come out of those struggles stronger than before.
What keeps us strong in this crazy life are the people we associate with. It doesn't have to be a big group of people, either. Find the few that you can trust your entire life with, people who know your strengths, your weaknesses and the things that make you tick.
They have to be the sort of friends who are willing to tell you when you're wrong, or when you're making a downright awful decision. But at the same time, they will also be your biggest supporters and personal cheerleaders. That's honesty. That's real friendship.
It may take a few years to meet those friends, so be careful whom you open up to until you know those people hold you and your best interests before their own. I myself don't have very many. There's only a handful of these people in my life right now. But, I can unquestionably say, “He or she is my best friend. This person really has my back.” Promise me you will be that kind of friend to others. Selflessness is a rare, beautiful quality.
I can't wait to meet you. I'm so excited to see the woman you will become. As your mom, I know I will mess up, say the wrong things and annoy you on numerous occasions. But, I hope you'll always remember these words, and that I wrote them from bottom of my heart.
I love you so much.