The person I was at sixteen feels like a stranger to me. When I see photos of her, I don’t really recognise her anymore. Not only did she have a dreadful fringe and way too much eyeliner, but she was so unhappy and pretending to be someone she wasn’t.
I’m not that far away from her, only in my mid-twenties, and so I feel like I remember the experience so acutely. There is so much I want to tell her, so much advice I wish I could give to my teenage self.
It is one of the biggest cliches.
“Things get better.”
“Time heals everything.”
But it’s a cliche for a reason, because it is so true. During my teenage years, my mental health was the worst it has ever been and I was suffering in silence. It truly felt like things would never get better. And to be honest, they’re not perfect now, I still have bad days, but it is so much better than it was.
I want to grab young Fleurine by the shoulders and tell her to hold on a little longer. I want her to start opening up to people so things can get better. She was living in a hell she didn’t know how to escape, and with enough time and therapy, things did get better.
When you’re a teenager, it feels like everything is the end of the world. You look at things and don’t know how to ever fix them. But when you get a little older and see yourself survive all of these moments, you realise that there is always hope, even when there is little else.
Hold on, young Fleurine, because life will get better if you let it.
I was desperate to be liked. I wanted to be cool and popular more than anything else. Instead of savouring the good friends I had and seeing all the things I had going for me, I was always chasing more. I wanted to be the best at everything. I wanted those outdated ideals of popularity, that aren’t even about the number of friends you have but rather what everyone else thinks of you.
I still struggle with this now at twenty-five. I still try to make everyone happy. But I’m aware of it and making better choices. I finally understand that not everyone will like me. It simply isn’t possible, because everyone has different tastes, and everyone wants something different from a friend. Some people want someone who is always down for a party and a total laugh. Others want someone they can be serious with. You might want a friend who is independent and you don’t have to talk to much. Or you could prefer someone you check in with regularly.
We all want something different, so how could you tick all the boxes? We all want something different, so how can you be a dozen people at once?
You can never please everyone because some people want things in direct juxtaposition to one another. So why bother changing yourself to make them happy?
Not everyone will like you, and what matters more, is whether you like who you are. I don’t like the person I was back then. I don’t like what I stood for, or rather everything I didn’t stand for. I don’t like that I was never true to myself. I want to like me more than I want others to.
When you’re young, you look for your worth in others. You seek your worth through being popular and liked. You seek your worth through excelling academically or trying to be the best in something. You seek your worth through being considered attractive and being wanted. I did a lot of things with people to try and create my worth, as I felt so worthless. I regret looking for my worth in all of these external sources when I was the only person who could actually create my worth.
I’d love to go back and tell my younger self to stop trying to prove myself over and over, and to instead enjoy who she is. To recognise how valuable just being herself is.
I belong in that awkward period between Millennials and Gen Z, and so I grew up with Facebook. And every so often, an old photo or status will come up, and I am forced to physically cringe at the things my younger self deemed important enough to share with the internet. I live in constant fear that I’ll be cancelled for something stupid I once posted. I’m terrified of someone finding all of the useless stuff I used to share.
I still use social media, but at least now it’s in a slightly less embarrassing manner. I’m more aware of what people actually want to see and what I want to share. I no longer look at my number of friends and followers as an indication of success.
I wish I could go back and slap the keyboard out of her hands before she could finish typing ‘ROFL’.
When you’re young, it feels like you’re the only person to have experienced the things you’re going through. No one has ever felt as misunderstood as you do. No one has experienced a breakup quite like yours. Teenagers are egocentric and so in their perception, the world literally revolves around them.
You grow up a bit and realise everyone has their own struggles. And you start to talk to people and recognise that you experienced a lot of the same stuff. Other people had the same arguments with their parents, other people rebelled in the same ways, and other people felt all of these feelings.
Cynically you could look at it as that you’re not as special as you thought you were. But reversely, it’s also a reminder that you’re not alone. Everything you’re feeling and experiencing is normal. Other people survived the same things you’re going through.
I wish I had opened up to people more so that I’d realise other people felt this way. I wish I had shared my insecurities to recognise that other people have them too. I wish I had known how normal a lot of these things are, so I wouldn’t feel so scared.
You can’t wait to grow up until you finally do. During adolescence, everything is about seeming adult. You look at adults and think they have it all figured out, that once you’re that age, everything will be alright.
I’m twenty-five now, which is older than some of the people I assumed to be an adult, and I do not have my shit together in the slightest. I am not an adult. I don’t know how to do taxes, when to stop drinking and I still get scared when making doctor appointments.
You have so much time to be an adult, decades even, and yet only a few years to be young. I am jealous of the naivety and innocence of youth. I really wish I had appreciated it more. I wish I had enjoyed being free before life threw all of these responsibilities at me.
And yet, I’m acutely aware that people did tell me all of these things, over and over. I chose not to listen, just like kids will one day not listen to me when I tell them the same things. When you’re young, you’re sick of hearing these cliches and you refuse to listen to them.
You have to make these mistakes to learn from them. You have to take a lot of wrong turns to recognise them as exactly that. Because then you can get things right when you’re older. So there isn’t much I could say to teenage self, all I could do is give her a hug and remind her that hangovers get even worse as you grow up.
What would you tell your teenage self?
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
Would you like to receive my top monthly articles right to your inbox?
For any comments/questions/enquiries, please get in touch at:
I'd love to hear from you!