Remove the dog from your face. That's my first piece of advice to you.
Recently, I saw a very moving blog in the form of an open letter to the writer's sixteen-year-old self. It might seem a bit self-indulgent, but I thought it was a lovely idea and so today, I would like to write a letter to my sixteen-year-old self. My challenge to anyone reading this? Write one to your sixteen-year-old self. Let's start something of a fad. ;-)
You won't believe it, but by the time you come to write this letter, you will be twice the age you are right now. You'll be 32 (I thought I'd save you the maths... We both know it's not your strong point) and life will have changed a lot.
I suppose I should get the bad news out of the way, first. Take a deep breath:
You're not going to marry Lee Brennan from 911. I know. I'm sorry. But you WILL meet him many years from now and he'll hold your hand and you'll make a sort of squeaky noise that might have been appropriate back when you still *were* sixteen, but is less so coming from a fully grown, adult woman...
See?! That really is you and him!
I should also tell you that you're not going to randomly find Richey Edwards from the Manic Street Preachers busking in Wadebridge. Or Truro. Or literally anywhere in Cornwall, or in fact, the WORLD. So save yourself the effort and stop looking.
Okay, the really seriously bad news is coming, so brace yourself: At 32, you're not married and you don't have kids. You also can't afford to rent anywhere by yourself, so you're living at home with your mum and dad, saving up a deposit on a house, bit by bit. I know how much this news is going to hurt you, so I want you to remember the crushing feeling you have right now, so that you don't torture yourself in the years to come. It's not your fault that you're single - you're not unlovable, you've just been unlucky. It's not your fault that you don't have kids, so please don't blame that on yourself, either. And believe me, by the time you're 32, you'll have worked in childcare for 14 years and you'll have seen how hard it is to bring up children as part of a couple, let alone by yourself - don't wish for something that you're not in the right place to have, however hard it might be and however desperately you want it.
Being single doesn't mean you've failed. Being single doesn't mean you're hideous, or not a good person. You have other forms of love in your life and they are wonderful. Tell yourself often that it's better to be single than with someone wrong for you and that love might come along when you least expect it. Tell yourself that as often as you can, because then, by the age of 32, you might believe it and it'll hurt you a lot less than it does me.
Don't compare yourself to other people, especially those very close to you. You're not a genius. You're not making loads of money in a glamorous career. You're not married with kids (sorry to bring that up again), but you have worth. You have a role to play in the world. You are important and you are loved. The best person you can ever be in this life is yourself.
Oh, I know, you hate being you. Your nose is too big. Your hair is too curly. Your teeth aren't perfect and you're only five feet tall. But stop looking at the outside, because you're going to reach an age where you realise how superficial that is, anyway. Look inside! Your face might not be beautiful, but your soul is. You're kind and friendly, creative and thoughtful. So you've got an ugly nose... Who cares? You have some gorgeous personality traits. At the end of the day, it's those that matter the most. It's your nature, not your looks that will win you the best group of friends you'll ever have (you'll have to wait a while though; they don't come along until your twenties, but they're worth the wait!). Oh and on the subject of looks? You're going to get pretty good at make up and you'll discover chemical straightening at a local hairdressing salon. Combine that with an eye for a pretty dress and you're set. You'll never be a model, but you'll scrub up okay. Just remember that your heart is the most important fashion accessory you'll ever have. Show it - be yourself.
And seriously - chemical straightening...
Now, I've bigged you up a bit, but you know, I'm older and wiser (supposedly) than you are, so I'm going to give you it straight, too: That gorgeous personality of yours has a few... Kinks. I know you're proud of being "a little bit Greek Cypriot" and that's great. But that fiery Mediterranean temper of yours? Tone it down just a tad... You don't always have to have the last word and you *can* walk away from people who are obviously just trying to wind you up. You're going to spend a huge portion of your adulthood, trying to make up for the fact that you never stood up to the bastards who bullied you at school. But standing up to people doesn't have to mean you lose the plot. You may have an excellent line in swear-y insults, but, you know... Save them for when you really need them. As a side note, be nicer to your dad; the two of you butt heads sometimes and that's never going to change, but he loves you and you know you'd be lost without him.
Try to stay a sensitive person, but don't be oversensitive. Sometimes you make jokes and that's fine, right? So just remember that sometimes other people do, too and you don't have to take them personally. By the time you're my age, you'll be the one making the jokes about yourself, believe it or not! Just remember to stay on the right side of putting yourself down. By all means, take the piss out of yourself, but remember that you're only inviting criticism if you do nothing but highlight your perceived flaws.
Em, please never give up on your dreams. You haven't at the age of 32, but it hasn't been an easy road. You've had three - I know, THREE! - children's books published, which is a realisation of your biggest dream (or at least the biggest dream that didn't involve Lee from 911), but you're not a famous writer. Yet. You have to have a day job. You have to keep trying. And you have to promise me that you'll never stop trying. Because I know that in the sixteen years between where you are now and where I am at 32 (sitting on the same bed, admittedly), you'll throw away perfectly good stories, because you don't believe in yourself enough. You don't think you have any writing talent. But you do. And who knows what might happen if you're just brave enough to risk a few more rejection letters? You could change your own future! I could be writing this from a mansion, in between responding to mountains of fan mail... I could give you the plot line of a multi-million-selling book called Fifty Shades of Grey, but despite the fact that you'd do a much better job than the author of that eventually will, you should always have higher standards than a book that glorifies abuse.
Speaking of which...
In China, Cherry Blossom can symbolise a strong woman. This is my way of telling you that you are one.
On December 31st 2009, you're going to meet a man. You're going to be swept off your feet, because he's gorgeous and witty and charming and intelligent and for some reason you won't be able to figure out, he's interested in you. You should really run away as fast as you can from this man, because he's going to abuse you emotionally, psychologically and sexually for the next 20 months if you don't. If you don't run from him - and I won't blame you if you don't, because I know how manipulative and persuasive he is - it will change your life, forever. It will hurt you more than almost anything else ever has up to that point. You will be broken, Em. You will be completely floored.
But you will build yourself back up. You will become stronger than you ever knew you could be. You will dedicate yourself to raising awareness of abuse, in order to prevent others from going through the same thing. You will make amazing friends with people who've been through similar things. You will experience anger on such a deep level, it will make you scared. But you will experience a profound love of the woman you become as a result of surviving. And no matter what anyone says, you will have survived. Don't listen to anyone who ever questions your experience, or says it's not abuse if he doesn't hit you, or that you must not have really loved him to be able to call him an abuser and walk away from him: You will love that man so deeply it feels like a physical pain. But he will not love you. So please, when you meet him, if you can - RUN. But if you can't, don't blame yourself and please just listen to your friends and your family when they express their concerns. They're right.
And they haven't changed a bit, really, have they?!
Life isn't always going to be easy. You'll have your heart broken more than once. You'll cry and you'll shout and you'll wonder if things will ever get better. But here's the thing, Emma: They always do. And when things do get you down, remember you have a wonderful family to fall back on. You will only realise in your twenties just how much your parents have always done for you (and continue to do). You'll be floored by the depth of their love for you - and yours for them - and you'll want to prove yourself to them and do whatever you can to ensure they know what they mean to you. Once you're away from the selfishness of youth, you'll really understand the meaning of the term "unconditional love." Never take them for granted.
Your little sister is going to grow up to be infinitely cooler than you, but that's okay. You're a nerd, but one day, you'll wear that title like a badge of honour... ;-)
There are so many things I want to tell you, but I don't want to spoil it all for you. Some things you have to find out for yourself. That said, here's a little list of things you might want to avoid doing:
- Don't let your mum go on a waltzer. EVER. She will throw up and you will still blame yourself years and years later, with a ridiculous level of guilt.
- When other people have problems and need you to be selfless, BE selfless. Don't make your own problems more important. They aren't.
- Hug Cal really tightly as often as you can and don't snap at him too much when he's being silly. That dog won't be around forever and it will break your heart when he's gone.
- Don't be taken for a mug. If you're doing all you can to maintain a friendship and getting a fair-weather friend in return, cut ties.
- Stop falling in love/lust so easily. Seriously. And then write a letter to me and tell me how you did it.
- Don't think you can drink a bottle and a half of wine to yourself. You are and always will be a lightweight. You will throw up.
Most importantly of all, just stop putting yourself down and stressing out about not being good enough. Whilst you're busy doing that, you're letting life pass you by.
Life isn't perfect, but its imperfections can be what makes it interesting, challenging and even beautiful. Take the time to leave your problems to one side and just look around you, from time to time. Stare into the starry night sky. Run along a beach.
Dance, even when nobody else is on the dance floor. Dance, even if you don't know the moves. Dance, even if you you're feeling sad, because with the right songs and the right company, you'll soon be smiling again.
Laugh, love, live.