Creative | Posted by Melissa Banigan on 01/10/2014

Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self

I was inspired to start Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self, an anthology of advice letters written by fifty women to their teenage selves, because next year, my daughter will be turning thirteen. I want to give my girl, and other young women just like her from around the world, a “guidebook” into adulthood that doesn’t skirt around important issues such as sex, suicide, her body, cutting and depression … a book that also glorifies empowerment, freedom and self-love.

I’m working tirelessly to finish the anthology. Because I can only publish fifty letters in the book, but because over 1000 letters have been submitted from women and teen girls from countries such as Cambodia, Uganda, Peru and India, I’ve also started a website – an online community where women and teens can publish their own stories. The anthology will be completed by the end of April, but I could use a little help. That’s why I put together a campaign to fund the expenses of living and working as I finish the book; I urge people to share news about the project and even submit their own letters. I see this as a huge, global, collaborative effort: the more, the merrier!

To kick things off, I’ll share my own letter to my thirteen-year-old self. I hope you’ll do the same.

 

Dear Thirteen-Year-Old Melissa,

Happy New Year! Right now, you’re writing in your diary, wondering your purpose in life and if you’ll ever feel happy.

Oh, but you feel pretty miserable and insecure, don’t you? You’ve got daddy issues, big time, which started when your parents divorced, but grew in magnitude after you moved with your mom and stepdad out of state. The guilt and sadness sucks, and there’s no one you feel can help share your burden.

Because you’ve been taught that everyone has problems, and, as it’s the eighties, and people like Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie are singing what everyone seem to think are big, important songs about saving the world and feeding starving children in Ethiopia, you think that discussing your daddy issues might be viewed as, well, petty. Therefore, you’ve started making up stories, pure lies, big enough to carry all of your pain (note: if you’re ever tempted to tell friends that you’ve nearly been kidnapped and that your parents are Russian spies, I promise it will backfire after you’re asked to the principal’s office and your mom is asked to verify the story).

Eventually, you will have more than just daddy issues. You will self-medicate, heavily. You’ll learn that addiction runs through the veins of some of your family members; having this secret in common with them will make you feel closer to them. It will be this twisted feeling of “familial bonding” you search for when you later form relationships with alcohol and other drug abusers.

It’s a secret little world you live in, one filled with habits that help get you through the day. Obsessive compulsive, you count things: your steps, minutes, even your heartbeat. You love even numbers. Much later in life, you’ll realize that even your desire to pair potato chips was because you thought anything odd numbered might be lonely.

At thirteen, there are three things you love above all else: writing, reading and storytelling. You read books by Jules Verne because he creates new worlds, and you read Charlotte Bronte because her protagonists, like you, bear secrets. Dreaming of new worlds and keeping your secrets close: these seem to sum up your life. It is this equation that leads you to your passion for writing.

When you were a little kid, adults thought that your poems and stories were “cute.” By high school, those same individuals will tell you to come up with a “realistic” career goal because writing isn’t a “viable” choice.

Whatever you do, don’t listen to them, because they’re dead wrong. Actually, they’re just terrified. See, many adults wish they had made braver career choices. They have regrets. They wonder about the should’ve, could’ve, would’ves. They feel like wimps and wonder why they didn’t have the strength to follow their dreams. They tell you to be “realistic” not to help you out, but to convince themselves that their own lives have worth.

Know this: there is nothing more dangerous than people who tell you that they “know better” than you. They don’t. How could they? They’ve never been you.

The good news is, it’ll get better. Your teen years and your early twenties will be confusing, and you’ll spend much of your time acting the fool, but I guarantee you’ll end up on top. Daddy issues, you’ll realize, manifest themselves because you have so much love in your heart. You’ll find outlets for this love, I promise. One day, you’ll wake to realize that you want to have more in common with the people in your life than your shared addictions. That will be a very good day, as it will lead you to go to an Ivy League college, become an awesome mom, travel the world, and yes, be a writer who constructs entire universes between the pages of books. You’ll even – gasp— be happy. You’ll realize that your mom and stepfather are on your side … that you can make friends who don’t use drugs … that your personal story is worth telling and that the real world you live in doesn’t need to be peppered with lies.

Best of all, you’ll learn that you don’t have to compare your life to anyone else’s life. That your pain, happiness and everything in between are your feelings, and yours alone. Michael Jackson might be singing songs about saving the world, but you, Melissa, are creating one that is embodied by the most important person I know: you.

Melissa from the Future

P.S. If I were a funny British time traveling TV character like Doctor Who, I’d tell you that you’re bigger on the inside. Since I’m not him, but rather, am a 37-year-old single mom living in Brooklyn, I’ll instead tell you that you’re made of stardust. Each of your atoms contains a multitude of histories, some going all the way back to the Big Bang. Time to get cracking on adding a few of your own stories into the mix.

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