Author: Courtney Smith, Pima Community College
Author’s Note: I last minute changed my mind on what exactly I wanted to do for this project. I do get vulnerable with my emotions and somewhat my personal life in this, but I want to state my intentions and my reasonings behind this version of the project. Writing to your younger self from your “higher self” can be incredibly healing. I think that once you come to terms with your emotional struggles and work on overcoming them, addressing where they stemmed from can help with the healing process. I know myself better than anyone so I felt that writing to younger Courtney would help me address and bring awareness to mental health issues in the most personal sense. I also think it’s important to show that we all have our struggles in life. They are all valid because they’re personal to us. Validating what you’ve been through, even if others have had it worse, is an important part of healing. Understanding that mental illnesses brought about by our experiences are common and we’re all human is important too. It’s easy to feel alone with your emotions and what you’ve been through but ultimately, you’re not and we’re all just trying to make it through, the best we can. I found this letter to be comforting to write because who gets me better than me? Who understands my struggles and what I’ve been through better than I do? This assisted with validating my trauma and if you do feel alone with your trauma, I highly recommend writing a letter to your younger self if you’re able to relate to any feelings in this one. It resurfaced some emotions for me, and I spent a little time crying but I’m not ashamed to admit this as I think it’s important to mention. It’s okay to be vulnerable, especially with yourself.
Dear Younger Courtney,
First of all, life is hard, and it will continue to be hard for a while. Your childhood innocence will do its job when it comes to keeping you under a false impression of the way things currently are in your life, especially when it comes to Mom. Eventually it will fade away and you’ll be stuck with the harsh reality of just how bad your childhood really was and how easily manipulated you were as a child. I wish I could write you and let you know that things drastically change for the better and people change in the way you think they should and are capable of but that’s not the case and I’m sorry. I know that a lot of this won’t make sense to you given the fact that your mind is focused on helping you push through rather than process at this point in your life, but it doesn’t make the following any less valuable.
Although you’ll have a somewhat easy childhood from your own naïve perspective, the harsh reality of it will hit you when you’re an adult and fully able to see your younger self and the circumstances as if you’re no longer the same person and therefore not attached to that version of you. The woman you call your mother will take advantage of your trust, your giving heart and will betray you for her own selfish reasons once you’re older. There’s no explanation I can provide for this, sometimes things are just the way they are. At the end of the day, you tried your best when it came to that relationship, and you held on for as long as possible. As an adult you’ll realize your worth and things that you just won’t put up with. This is unfamiliar territory for you, and it comes with a lot of doubt, but some things just aren’t tolerable and are truly out of your control. People have to want to help themselves, sometimes you wanting better for them isn’t enough.
This betrayal will lead you to realizing what’s been going on for years and just how bad your childhood was, especially compared to kids you currently surround yourself with and people you will surround yourself with as an adult. I know it may not seem like it now, but your childhood is very different from others. These years will stick with you for the rest of your life, and you’ll have to work through the emotions that have been suppressed from them and it’s going to be difficult. Facing the reality that things weren’t as they seemed and were actually far worse than what you remember is painful and I’m sorry, but I promise you that it will all make you the best version of yourself and an incredibly empathetic and understanding person when it comes to others.
Your childhood is not perfect. Your mother is not who you think she is, no matter how badly you want her to be and no matter how badly you feel you deserve for her to be. I know this won’t make sense to you considering people have only seemed to speak ill of her and the version of herself she shows you doesn’t line up with what others say. This is unfortunately just something you’ll have to experience first-hand to truly get it and when you do, it will flip your world upside down. Ultimately, things aren’t as they seem and they never were. Your adult self will look back on younger you and wonder how you could’ve been so foolish as to not realize what has been happening but it’s important to remember that you don’t have the cognitive abilities to understand the gravity of it all. You did your best with what you knew and that’s okay.
You’ll be 17 when you’ll book your first therapy session because you’ll suffer from your first real heartbreak (you’ll feel incredibly silly for this being the reason you start therapy, by the way). This heartbreak will feel almost too painful to handle and it’s through therapy you’ll realize that its only so painful because it’s a combination of all the feelings and trauma you’ve been unintentionally burying. There are stigmas with therapy, it can be expensive, it is weird telling a stranger about your life and the strong feelings which you’ve experienced, I know but its all for your benefit and seeing it through is the best decision you can make for your adult self (p.s. finding the right therapist is everything and once you do, sticking with them is most important).
You’ll experience depression, some anxiety, and intense depersonalization from your trauma and what you’ll discover about your mother but it’s okay. Through this, you’ll realize you are not alone and we’re all human at the end of the day. Mental illnesses are a part of the human experience, and you are ALWAYS validated in how you feel. I know you’ve grown up with people treating the severity of mental illnesses as a competition but it’s important that you realize that’s not at all the case. It’s different for everyone and this competition mindset amongst your peers stems from not feeling validated in their own emotions and struggling to cope with their own reality but you can’t blame them. These mental illnesses will have you experiencing such intense feelings that you’ll feel that no one else could possibly relate to you or understand in the slightest but I promise that in one way or another, this is not the case. When it comes to depersonalization, you are not crazy. Your brain is protecting you from things that are too difficult to handle as an adult and it’s important to not be afraid of this. Like I said, you didn’t have the cognitive abilities to process all the trauma from your childhood as it was happening. Now that you’re an adult, you can deal with it and there’s a lot to understand so you’re stressed and overwhelmed – your brain is just trying to help you.
Coming to terms with the fact that you’ve experienced trauma isn’t fun or easy for anyone but doing this is crucial when it comes to healing, and you’ll be proud you did. Treat the depersonalization as an indicator that you still have things to work through, instead of allowing it to be a sign that you’re damaged and beyond emotional repair. You are a work in progress and that’s okay. No one is perfect in this life.
Yes, given your childhood it will be difficult to relate to others and their own childhoods. As you mature, your childhood will become a distant memory and your brain will push a lot of it out so it will be difficult for you to remember a lot of things, you’ll mostly remember the hardships. I know this letter has seemed to be mostly negative but here’s this: through these hardships, your trauma, not allowing your mother to be in your life anymore, dealing with the reality of your childhood, you will find the most important thing anyone can find: yourself. It’s unfortunate that you’re doing it under such circumstances as an adult but you’re practicing emotional skills that will prepare you for a much more beautiful future that you will create for yourself. As an adult, you are way more grateful than you were as a child because you’ll have the perspective that even the little things are worth being grateful for. You are strong. You are capable. You will be a great mother to your future children. You are not your trauma. You are not the false relationship you had with your mother. You are your own person and the journey of discovering that is one you wouldn’t give up for anything. I love you. Hang in there. It gets better, I promise.