Written by Step Above Stigma's Budget Director, Maddie Carew
This is a letter to my 16-year-old self, a person who was unbelievably lost trying to cope with her mental illness. It was one of the darkest and most terrifying times of my life and I spent a lot of time resenting the girl I used to be. I’ve realized that while my past experiences will always be a part of me, they don’t define me. So here I am, telling my younger self all the things I couldn’t say at 16.
Dear 16-year-old Maddie,
It’s been a while since we talked. It’s the middle of November and I’m lying in bed, unable to sleep because I can’t stop thinking about you. I have spent countless hours trying to get you out of my head, mostly because the thought of you makes me angry. It makes me angry that you treated yourself so poorly and that you thought you didn’t matter. I’m angry because being you is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, you dug us into a dark hole and left a mess for the future Maddie’s to clean up. But I’m not writing you this letter to vent my frustrations, I’m writing because I have something to say, and I think you are the person who needs to hear it the most.
I know you. You are a smart, witty, and caring person. You’re strong, resilient, and independent. These are all qualities that shine through for the world to see. But I also know the part of you that nobody else sees. The dark and twisted interior that you hide behind the mask you wear to face the world. I know that, more often than not, you feel worthless, defeated, and alone. You think that there is something wrong with you because you’re depressed and anxious all the time. Being you is physically and emotionally draining because you wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and don’t recognize the person staring back at you. I know that you feel like a shadow of a human being and that you hate yourself for what you’re going through. And, I’m also well aware that all the things I just stated are things you know too. But there are so many things that you don’t know yet, and that’s okay because I’m here to tell you what I wish someone had told me when I was you.
So here it goes, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. You harbor so much guilt and shame, believing that you are actively choosing to feel the way you feel and think the thoughts you do. But the reality of it is that you are sick, and that is not something to be ashamed of. It’s hard, when you’re in the middle of what feels like a never-ending spiral into nothingness, to open your eyes and see that you are not alone. To see that people won’t think less of you because you’re struggling with mental illness. The way you feel is, and always will be, valid. You are allowed to feel numb, and scared, and sad, and angry. But what I can no longer let you do is shoulder the blame. The journey from where you are at 16, to where I am now at 21 was anything but easy and I won’t lie and say that it’s all smooth sailing from here on out. There are still days where I can’t get out of bed, where I cry myself to sleep, or where I see no end to all of the pain I feel. But I would do it all again in a heartbeat, and I will continue on this journey, because it means I have learned to say the words you never would have said to yourself - you are important and worthy of a happy life.
Most importantly, I want to say the three words you deserve and need to hear. I love you. You are a part of me, and I am who I am today because of you, not in spite of you. Life is hard and bumpy and imperfect, but I promise that you, and all the Maddie’s of the past, present, and future, are worth the ride.
All my love,
Read our blog posts about personal experiences and stories with regards to mental health. Posts written by our team or those passionate about mental health.