An Open Letter to the 11-Year-Old Me
Yes, you are shy. And awkward, and hesitant to open your mouth for more than a minute. Partly because you’re unsure of what you may say, but largely because you’re afraid of what might be thrown into it—jaws yawning, gums pink and vulnerable, teeth that can shatter in an instant. Yes, your tiny figure and tinier voice make it difficult for you to find people you can confide in. You recoil when someone teases you, comets at your confidence, merely because you don’t know how to respond. A harsh, careless tone used by your classmate is enough to push everything else out of your mind. They form a group, their own solar system—and you’re the rogue planet, without the ‘rogueness’, trying to find a gap that will accommodate you and make you feel at home.
You’re reluctant to tell anyone about your loneliness, as if it won’t exist if it doesn’t escape your lips. So you don your mask and “tackle” the day, believing that you’re winning—when the arrows are just piercing your skin and making it more difficult for you to feel.
So to the 11-year-old me, I say: talk. Talk to your mother, tell her about the girls who malign you behind your back. You’ll tell her not to do anything about it, but at least it’ll be a load off your chest. Talk to your father, he’ll help you see some humor in the situation. Complain to your 8-year-old sister, but also thank her for being the North Star in your life.
To the 11-year-old me, I say: although you don’t believe it, this time will eventually end. Even though the lunch hours you spend in solitude seem endless, trust me, they’ll reach their conclusion before you know it. Even though the projects you worked on without a partner never seem to get over, hey, at least you’re learning self-sufficiency.
And although the time you spend at school trying to hold back your tears grows more painful with each minute, don’t be afraid to let them fall. You always comfort your peers when they cry, right? And what do they even cry about? – a test in which they did poorly in, a teacher who used a sharp tone with them. So why can’t you let your peers comfort you when you’re in tears? – because you’re terrified that you’ll be left partner-less again, or that you’ll be picked last in P.E. for the hundredth time, or that you’ll have to drift across the sports field during lunch break because you don’t know where to sit.
There’s nothing wrong with showing your vulnerability. You won’t believe me, but Dr. Brené Brown attests to that in one of her TED Talks.
It’s okay to tell someone your fears, or to show them that you’re not a robot. Maybe a face of emotion will even help people relate to you… something that never seems to happen. It’s okay to tell a teacher that you’re unhappy working alone, and that you’d like to work with someone else—even if it means that one team will have three people, instead of two. Vulnerability isn’t a vice, even though you can’t seem to believe otherwise. Sure, expressing your weaknesses will make you less perfect—but trust me, nothing in this world is perfect. The world is extremely messed up, and trying to attain perfection is, to quote Jodi Picoult (in her book My Sister’s Keeper), “like coloring the sky in with a crayon”. Futile, a never-ending battle that will leave you exhausted and disillusioned.
Oh, and by the way—you are good enough. And don’t ever forget it.
So, to the 11-year-old me, I say: wield your emotions, don’t suppress them. If you’re upset, don’t swallow your feelings so that they churn in your stomach, a galaxy of force-fed silence. If meteors come your way, don’t inhale them and try (and fail) to ignore the clusters of pain brewing inside. It’s great that you like to read, but don’t keep using books as some sort of tunnel to a universe that is friendlier and more empathetic. Or to a universe that will perhaps help you put your unhappiness into perspective. And if you can relate to the emotions and weaknesses of the characters you’ve befriended, why can’t you relate to your own?
What I’m telling you right now is what I’m trying to imbibe at this moment. But, well, at least I’m practicing what I’m preaching. I just want to save you from years of confusion and isolation, both at school and at home. I get that you’re reluctant to take anyone’s advice when it comes to feelings—but at least take mine. You don’t have to feel so numb all the time.
Don’t hide your vulnerability. Embrace it.