Dear 10-year-old Gemma,

I want to start off this short story by saying no matter how hard you try, I think your life will always feel like it is going against the grain compared to everyone else’s. No matter how much you change your views, looks, friends, and passions, there will always be that part of you that feels as though you are just outside the circle of life, looking in as the observer, and that’s okay. It means that when remembering the time your mum accidentally blurted out, “It’s because you’re differe-” then cut herself off abruptly (making you feel even more alienated than you already do), she was trying to tell you that you are just a unique human, not an alien. You are someone who experiences and does things differently. And although it feels like your brain needs training wheels to function at times, in many other ways, your wacky vibe and unique ways of learning will help you in the years to come. So just wait, young bean, and stop rushing things; they’ll flow to you easier than you think.

Hello, Gemma, the 10-year-old! You’re a young animal-crazy girl with far too many pets, a huge heart, and an absolutely boots-too-big-for-her-feet chaotic artistic streak at this point in your life. Although my image of you right now is someone who is coming to terms with some heavy stuff in life. Your parents are divorcing, you have to let go of your pets, your home, your friends, your school, and you’re learning to live under new pressures. Your parents have changed in so many ways, and I know you’re going through some neglect. I don’t think you really understand what it means for families to separate. And although you’re pretending to be strong for other people’s sake, hiding your feelings when given a chance to speak out isn’t always the best thing to do. You feel lost. And lost for you feels like a jigsaw puzzle that has been put together with all the wrong pieces. Some are missing, and some don’t fit right even when you try your hardest to slot them back into place. I think your nerdy, wildlife-loving, artsy life is turning into a strange, dim-looking cave you’ve never ventured into before. One filled with new faces, new fears of leaving your room, new constraints, and a new journey into re-remembering the activities you truly love.

I think right now you feel very stuck. But I want you to know that there will be countless times you feel stuck in life, and I can’t express this enough, but they will pass. Remember that. They. Will. Pass. Ingrain that into your head because I know your “stuck times” feel like they go on for centuries.  You’re filled with thoughts of wonder for your place in the world, why you feel so lonely/angry so much of the time, and why social media helps you escape to places of beauty where your sadness doesn’t exist. Sadly, you will come to a time when you realise the dreamland of social media is a bittersweet place. But although sperm whales and those free divers do look beautiful, the time you’re spending in this world is hindering the time you could be spending outside of it. The picture-perfect comparisons you’re making right now of others’ lives online are not the answer to your own happiness or successes; however, the love you have for the wildlife you’re looking at will fuel your passions in the years to come. I suggest getting space from the digital world as you’re missing out on what’s right outside! Why not go on a walk, meet up with a friend, or just talk to your family? It’s important to acknowledge that there are boundaries to the online world, and by spending so much time there, you are hindering your own experiences. So, although you’re yearning to be allowed to venture to these dreamy-looking places, remember that the true-life experiences are still around you, not based on a screen.

In some ways, though, social media immensely helped you grow in the future. And no – not from the vegan ‘I hate everybody because they eat animals’ phase that is soon approaching (let’s not talk about it) but from discovering a volunteering opportunity that enables you to see the wildlife you always dream about seeing up close! I don’t want to reveal too much (DOLPHINS AND WHALES!!), but this experience lets you escape from the isolation of your room, and I honestly believe just being around new like-minded people helps to shape who you are today. You become a more authentic version of yourself – one who understands that the natural world isn’t just for glorified pictures but is a place that desperately needs your help to protect. It helps heal your brain from trauma and equally fuels your interest in the conservation world.

Another bad boy of life right now for you is fear and blame. But I want you to know that these mindsets are not the answer to personal growth as they can block your ability to grow.  You are young and feeling the first effects of trauma from family members you once wholeheartedly believed in. It’s a brand-new territory and a confusing one at that, so it’s scary! But your family does not define who you are or your thoughts. In time your rational thinking helps you learn to adjust your understanding of those around you. If you’d like to hear a little secret, you don’t turn into your family; the person you miss the most (your sister) comes back!

You even live with her and get a lot closer. She’ll become your life teacher, and the thoughts you are having now get spoken about; they get both understood and listened to. You work through them and even change them. You recognise friends and family as those who want to help and support you compared to those who don’t. It will be hard, especially when that means painfully having to cut people from your life, but the people that bring you down and put you through trauma are not worth it. Sometimes, traumatic experiences alter your life choices and make you cautious of everyone and everything. But believe me, that does not stop you from pursuing your dreams in the future. They just take a little while longer to bake while the emotional and confused parts of you heal. Here’s a big hint: wildlife and nature help heal these parts of you. And the right people in your life will have a sneaky way of shining through and holding on.

It’s confusing to feel emotions you do not yet understand, like anger and resentment towards people’s actions outside your control. But letting blame take over your actions will only make you feel worse in the long run. So, try not to refuse to go on that walk with your mum angrily. Anything you say yes to will open brand new journeys, so it’s important not to fear that. Isolating yourself to your room with you and your online world can hinder the relationships you desperately want with your family. Remember, they do want to help you.

It’s essential for you to feel like yourself and accept who you are right now. You do a lot of shoving your interests so deep down that no one is allowed ever to see them. Your notes page is jam-packed with dreams and journals of who you are, so don’t be afraid to look and accept them. If you have friends who aren’t being supportive about it, they probably shouldn’t be in your life, to begin with! And changing the way you do things to fit in is never the correct answer because you are so unique. It’s like wearing a mask all the damn time; it gets so hot and sweaty that it’s okay to take it off. As soon as you accept, express, and speak loud about your emotions and goals, you will learn how to use your new ‘life’ skills and drive to get you on track. These new abilities fuel your lost passions which then help you to grow so much.  

Your passions come back slowly. First, they start coming back in college and university, where you remember how you love art and where you connect and open up to new friends who keep you going through your vulnerable times. You eventually find someone who reminds you of your uniqueness and encourages you to pursue your interests in wildlife. Next, you begin to reconnect with some of your family through accepting and expressing your voice. And you learn to keep moving by re-incorporating the balance you need in life from the things that make you tick: wildlife conservation, connecting with people, singing, and artsy fun.

What’s the lesson learned here? Feelings are not fixed; they may be minor blips that sometimes feel like forever but are not ingrained in your choices and mindsets forever. Handling emotions are human, and everybody must deal with them at some stage in their lives. So, use this as a reminder that you are never really on the wrong path, even if you started that way. The ups and downs are necessary, and they will get you to where you need to be. You’ll be glad to hear that most of your decisions have led you to incredible stages of life. Your inner balance will gradually come back soon. So, stay strong, pea.

I just want to highlight a few things to you here. I’m 22 and still pretty young. I’ve had a somewhat sheltered life which may have been made clear to you in this story. This is because of the heavy trauma that I’m still battling today. Understandably, there are worse traumas to go through! But these are things that have stuck with me. At heart, I am a free spirit. Still, throughout life, I feel that this mindset is constantly challenged by living in a highly populated city, struggling with anxiety, and having some significant trauma. By writing this, I hope this helps you understand the struggles of being a little different, sensitive, and troubled at times. Although life makes it so hard to try and allow the real you to shine in a world that has added heavy burdens to your shoulders, sometimes those weights, to cue in the cliche moment, make you stronger in different ways.

Gemma, you will go so far! You will move mountains virtually and emotionally in your life. Although those over-glorified nature experiences you dreamed of never really work out to be the real deal, you’ll experience things far better than that with the people you surround yourself with. I promise. Your outside time will come.


22-year-old Gemma

Written by Gemma @ecologem

Illustrated by Kimberly Hoffman @kimhoffy