Looking at her made my breathing go shallow. Her whole demeanour shouted restraint, self-criticism, anxiety and yet she thought she was hiding it so well underneath that forced smile, that nonchalant masculine attitude and that layer of just a little bit too much body fat.
She thought nobody noticed how she was beating herself up in her head, how she was desperately looking for approval from her parents, her boyfriend, her siblings; from everybody. She thought nobody noticed the sadness she felt, how she desired to disappear and didn’t even recognise the dull, negative insecure person she’d become over the past years.
That person was me.
I was looking at an old recording from my graduation ceremony when I got my Bachelor of Arts: Teaching English in Secondary Education. It was 2007, I was 22, I was on antidepressants and suffering from anxiety disorder.
It made me sad to look at her now, as my eleven year older self. I knew the battle she was fighting, the worries she was constantly going over in her head, the insecurities she had, the anxiety she had to deal with, the overall unhappiness she carried with her wherever she went.
She was dead, without even knowing it.
I know it sounds a bit extreme, but looking back that was the state I was in. I had limited myself in so many ways that I felt I couldn’t be myself. I even breathed shallowly so I wouldn’t take up too much space. I spoke unclearly and under my breath, I acted like a boyish girl and questioned everything I did.
I trudged on nevertheless. After graduating with credit from Teacher Training College I went on to get my Master’s degree in English Language and Culture Studies at University.
I hated it. But I wanted to become a teacher trainer myself – or at least I thought – and so I had to go this route.
Now, I’d like to pause the video for a moment. I’d like to imagine my future self to be standing in the hallway and to call my 22-year-old self to come outside.
This is what I’d tell her.
First, I’d hold her for as long as she’d let me. I know that the only thing that young woman wanted, was to be held, to be soothed, to be confirmed in her being ok just the way she was. I’d hold her tightly and allow for her tears to come, I’d squeeze her even tighter and make her feel that she is so loved, I’d keep on holding her even if her body was shaking of the tears; I’d be there no matter what.
Then I’d softly tell her in her ear that she is ok, that she is beautiful just the way she is and that she is a worthy human being who deserves to be happy, just like everybody else. I’d tell her how proud I am of her, for what she’s achieved, for the battle she’s been fighting and for who she is: a wonderful young woman who is just a little lost on her way to finding herself and creating her life.
I’d tell her that she’s ok, and that whatever she decides to do, she’ll be fine. There is no right, wrong or perfect; there’s just different options and she gets to choose what feels right to her. She can take her time, she can make the wrong decision and she gets a second chance, always.
I’d tell her to take it easy on herself, to allow herself to breathe and see how far she’d already come. I’d tell her to tune in with herself and make her own happiness and well-being her priority. I’d tell her she’s allowed to feel good, always. I’d tell her that self-love is the answer to everything and that when she discovers that, she’ll be able to listen to herself and dare to put her own happiness first.
That she’ll dare to follow her dream of moving to Italy, to teach English to Italians and that because she’ll feel so good, she’ll cure herself from the anxiety disorder and get off the antidepressants. She’ll get the courage to move on to even bigger and bolder dreams like becoming a writer, travelling around Italy, having her own blog, setting up several groups and other business ventures and eventually deciding to become a life coach helping other women find the courage to go for their happiness as well.
I think she’ll look at me incredulously. I think it would be too much to take in. I think it would be better to just leave her where she is and let her find her own way; just like I have done. So that one day she’ll be able to sit in her dream home in the Tuscan countryside and write herself this message. Yes, I think that would be better.
If you are in a similar situation I used to be in years ago: feeling unhappy, anxious and stuck in a life that doesn’t feel like yours, please reach out and we’ll set up a free call to see how I can help you find your way as well!
Lots of love and courage,