I have been around some young people over the past weeks and am excited by their passion and troubled by their despair (in the same person (or maybe all persons)).
I don’t seem to have any meaningful advice for them to celebrate their enthusiasm or lift them from their anguish. Ther swings, which I suffered because of a mental illness, are wide and deep. I don’t know what to say because when I was bouncing from manic to depressive, nothing helped and almost everything hurt. If someone significant in my life reached out, I rejected them and their words because they couldn’t understand what I was going through.
I started wondering, what advice the today I would give to the fifteen-year-old? What should I tell/remind the seventy-five-year-old version? Does distance give me any perspective?
Dear 15 year-old Me,
I do remember what you are going through. The pain and sorrow that couldn’t be labelled but was tempered by pulling the blankets up over your ears and screaming in silence. The weight on your chest didn’t leave but it hurt a little less when the sights and sounds of the world were walled away. I remember the shrieking tension that rose up as a reversal of emotions waded slowly through the muck. The extraordinarily bright light, the squishiness of your palette at the touch of your tongue, the nauseating speed of everything swirling around me without seeming to make progress were welcomed because it meant that in minutes, hours or days I would be at the top of my game; unstoppable, invincible, joyous and delicious. It all passed and I survived even when I didn’t want to. The best advice is just that -” This too shall pass”. It sounds meaningless and trite but so would the medical explanation that took another 25 years to uncover. Knowing that the anxiety didn’t have a foundation and that whether some girl liked me or hated me isn’t the end of the world isn’t helpful or at 15 even believable. I could offer that when it passes, you will once again be stronger and eventually you will have the courage to share the depths and the heights with someone who cares and she will ‘insist’ that you seek professional help. After a few years of evading, avoiding and resisting you will relent and in your case that is the beginning of a more joyful and productive life. This too shall pass.
Me, nearing retirement
Dear 75 year-old Me,
Looking at you from 13 years in the past, I see a vibrant, loving, caring man. Someone who is still healthy. Someone who is joyously still married and sharing a meaningful life with your beloved of more than 50 years. The perspective from this vantage point is that all of that is possible and if you aren’t living hale and hearty and happy, it is my fault. I didn’t set you up by continuing to build on the good blessings of today.
I know you have a great relationship with your grandchildren because I strived to keep the relationships meaningful and unique. You are aging well, with little stress and still living an adventure because that is how I engineered the years between 60 and 75. Even if an illness has arisen, I took the steps to mitgate it and I battled the demon to a draw so you can live in an abundance of love, laughter and learning.My advice to you as I turn 75 is “accept your responsibilities for today – to love well, laugh loud, leap and learn, and accept your responsibility to set up the 90 year-old us for a remarkable encore with great grandchildren and wisdom and wonder and love”
With hope and confidence,