Almost everyone has some kind of scar tissue on their self-esteem from old traumas, ways in which they tried to become what others told them they should be. It happens throughout life, first (often) with our parents, then with peers in adolescence and beyond. That scar tissue is always there as a reminder of how it damaged your view of yourself, how much you liked yourself, how you believed others saw you. And sometimes it blossoms into a new wound because it’s rubbed too much, and then it has to heal and scar over again.
For the most part, I’ve recovered from the worst of my old wounds. The ones I earned when I was in seventh grade were the most painful, the most scarring, and as my daughter, who’s now eleven, edges ever closer to middle school, it seems appropriate for me to be reexamining my scar tissue with the aim of helping her get through what has the potential to be a difficult time in her development. So I’ve decided to write a letter to my twelve-year-old self, to tell her all the things I wish someone had said to me then. I’m not sure any of it would’ve made a dent in my pain, but who knows. It could’ve made all the difference in the world.
Dear Twelve-Year-Old Self,
As you start seventh grade, it’s all very exciting. You’re going to meet new kids, have more independence, a locker!, and new teachers and bells and class periods, and it’s kind of wonderful. At first, it will be wonderful, and you’ll look forward to every day. But things soon will get difficult, and you’ll find yourself alone and confused, and very sad. So I want to tell you some thoughts to remember when that happens.
First off, you are a smart girl with a great sense of humor. Remember all the friends you had in elementary school? Remember the day you did a comedy show for them on the lawn and they all laughed so hard? That was a cool day. You’ll remember it for your whole life. Even when it’s hard to recall the happy memories. Second off, you’re much stronger than you realize now. You’ll get through a lot of challenges over the next few years, and you’ll do most of it all by yourself, and when you get older, you’ll remember how much you shouldered and you’ll understand that the adversity you came through built character.
You know you’re a little different. You say things sometimes that are weird and you like to dress in old clothes that are different from what the other kids are wearing. But that’s okay. You’re an artist. You just don’t know it yet, but you will in a few years, and you’ll find a way to express yourself that eases your pain and brings you joy. Trust me when I say that your uniqueness and creativity will serve you in unimaginably amazing ways when you grow up.
So. You will be targeted soon by some of your peers. I’m so sorry that this is going to happen to you. I want to protect you and shield you from it, but I can’t. You’re going to have to get through it by keeping your chin up and putting one foot in front of the other every day until it gets better. There’s just no other way for me to put it.
Those kids that target you–and they will target you hard–will seem evil to you. You’ll look at them and see nothing but hell, and you’ll wish they would suffer and die so they would leave you alone. But what I want you to know is this. The girl that initiates the attacks on you–Darcy–isn’t picking on you because of who you are or because there’s anything wrong with you. She has her own pain. Her home life is very difficult. You won’t learn about this until you’re an adult. You’ll write her a letter when you’re in your thirties to tell her how much pain she caused you but also to forgive her for bullying you. To your surprise, she’ll write back and tell you her story. She’ll tell you that right now, she’s going through terrible pain. It’s the kind of pain that you are fortunate enough to not understand. Her mother killed herself just a few months ago, and she’s living with an abusive father, and she’s angry and so so sad, and she’s got no outlet for all those feelings. So you will be an easy target as an outlet for her feelings. And when she grows up, she’ll feel horrible for what she did to you and she’ll give you a heartfelt apology.
So what I want you to do is this. First, remember your gifts. Remember that you’re a unique and magnificent person who can handle what’s about to happen to you. Because you know that you are not a bad person and that you don’t deserve to be bullied. When they tell you you’re ugly, you’ll know it’s not true. When they tell you you’re stupid, you’ll know that’s not true either. When they tell you that you’re worthless and a freak, you’ll know that you have worth and that being a “freak” is what will serve you as an artist later in life. The main thing to remember is that it’s not your fault. And most people are good, deep down. Like Darcy. They just sometimes make bad choices that cause more pain than they realize because their own pain is too much to bear. You’ll make that mistake in your life too. So try to be patient and understanding as you go through the healing process. Don’t let it soil your view of other people or yourself.
Lastly, always remind yourself that you’re going to be okay. Because you will, Diana. You are going to be okay.
Your Grownup Self