Letters to young conservationists

Letter to 14-year-old Praneetha

To 14–year-old Praneetha,

I see you opening up. You’re going from an utterly introverted child to making friends everywhere you go. You are trying to fit in, learning how to live your school life to the best, and being inclusive. But, there’s also something else you should know. I know you value honesty and transparency over everything else, so I want to give you a little note on that. Not everybody is your friend. Not every person you pass by is going to care about you. Not every person in a friend’s group will value you the way you value them. Spreading love and kindness is a beautiful thing, but you also have to protect your inner circle and your heart. 

I now know how it started – the lack of boundaries affecting your mental and emotional health. You wanted to be included with people, have friends, and not remain in the shadows anymore. So, when someone you knew treated you wrong or brushed you aside, you looked past it. You ignored the fact that you were becoming a people pleaser. The boy you thought was your best friend took advantage of your innocent feelings for him; along with kissing you, he blackmailed you into being with him by threatening to tell your mom what had happened. Mom doesn’t know about it; you did tell people you thought were close and cared about you because you didn’t want to make the same mistake of not speaking up. The acknowledgement and rectification of mistakes at this age take strength and awareness. Those you did reach out to accused you of letting him in when you were alone and not having control of your body. You think that maybe the way you explained it to them made it seem like it was your fault; I know you were trying to not point fingers at him and trying to understand if you were at fault. You were not. Being kind and understanding is not wrong. When someone oversteps boundaries with you, it’s not your fault. However, you also need to understand your shortcomings as a human being. It is okay to make mistakes and not entirely understand how to put your thoughts into words; it might be hard for others to grab onto, but it is nothing to be embarrassed about. It is also not the right thing to expect others to react the way you would. Have some leeway for others to make mistakes around you because it’s okay. 

Changing schools just when you found a group you felt like you belonged to wasn’t easy. Going from an open-minded educational environment to a thoroughly conservative, judgemental atmosphere did take a toll on you because no matter how hard you tried, there was an unspoken hostility and error in judgement towards you. I know you sat alone for most of the first year in your new school and heard comments about you. It wasn’t easy to keep showing up to class every day while the other cliques tried to sabotage the few relationships you did manage to build. It got better in the second year – what you thought was a good group of friends, a first relationship that you thought would last forever and finally feeling like you’re understood and loved. But, of course, you would only learn later that their betrayals and judgements would lead you to have walls around yourself for a long time. You will feel alone, lost, cut off, and you’re going to think you made unforgivable mistakes. Isolating yourself and constantly overthinking it seems like the only option left, but that has never helped anybody. 

Amid all of this, the one constant in your life has been your love for animals. The first horse you fed and medicated when he came ambling onto your street, an abandoned Spitz suffering from canine distemper, a juvenile parakeet hit by a cricket ball and a pup with rickets: they have all had a second chance to feel better and felt love when you came across them. Nothing in life has ever affected your rescue work, passion for animals or the environment around you, or love for your goal. You envision a kinder world, and you consistently move ahead with it. Do you remember when your Hindi lecturer said, “Every essay you write speaks to conserve and protect those around you and the planet; never lose that”? I echo her words to you. 

You will experience the most harrowing heartbreaks and awful betrayals in the coming months and years. You will go down the rabbit hole and not know how to come out of it. But an older, wiser version of you from today is telling you to be there for yourself. You are not just doing fine; you are doing great! There will be many firsts; first love, first heartbreak, first political agenda in friendships. You’re going to feel like this was the only true love you will ever find in life; the waiting for them to understand, fighting for them when they don’t want to be fought for, will make you feel like it might make a difference. But for once, choose you. Choose your self-respect, your worth. When you bring so much to someone’s table, you should also have people willing to do the same for you. It’s not selfish; loving yourself is paramount. You have to keep making an effort every day to get up and find a way to move forward. One day, as that happens, it won’t hurt as bad, and you grow through your trauma.

All of them will feel like the worst feeling in the world, but it’s essential to go through them as you already are, knowing that it’s okay to feel anything you’re feeling and not running away from the hurt or all the other emotions. That is how you learn, heal and grow. Every injury has been a blessing towards you becoming the woman you were meant to be. If I could somehow show you what I’m doing today and the kind of people I have around me, you would be so proud of your journey!

Let them mock your career choice. You have taken leaps and bounds; you have had faith and worked hard. Let them try to body shame you. I will tell you today – you are not fat. You are not unattractive. Those who loved you, loved you truly. There are better ones yet to come, I promise. I see you going on that diet. I see you trying to explain your love for animals. I see you trying to justify your intentions to those who don’t want to listen. It is okay. Your concern and efforts make you the most real individual walking among them. They are what make you stand out. 

Towards the end of this phase, you will find real friends. Those friends will last through death, heartbreaks, and late-night studies. You will also lose these relationships you thought would forever last. You will learn from them, too; life throws situations at you that you won’t always know how to handle. You win some, and you lose some. This is also when you learn how to take a stand for yourself with toxic family members; their blame games, dominance and just the habit of being judgemental. Something that you won’t take anymore, and I am so proud of you for opening up and blossoming into the woman who won’t accept anything less than basic human decency and does her best to do right by others. You are learning how to hold your ground irrespective of the situation and people involved; it takes nerve. Don’t set it all aside just because someone says they care about you or love you. Actions and vibes are always much louder than words. Attention does not equal love. Spending time does not promise understanding. People constantly change; not everyone is always willing to stand by you if they don’t see a profit for themselves. Unless you understand how to filter out the good ones from the not-so-good ones and keep giving multiple chances, disappointment and hurt are inevitable.

You’ll understand that everything that has happened has somehow been a small piece in a big puzzle, and they all are eventually going to fit together. The mind needs substantial, pertinent thoughts to function healthily; repeated negative and blameful thinking processes inherently take a turn for the worse, and it catches up soon. You are built strong and soft. You are built a warrior and a protector. All the bad things are a phase, little lessons to shape you into who you will become. Believe in that. Believe in yourself! Because you, my dear, have the courage and confidence to own everything you do and build a better life. A better world. Understand this, though – your relationships are a part of your life, not your entire life. You don’t have to exhaust yourself for them. That is a mistake that will take years to grow out of, so try not to make it. Rest, it’s all going to play out.

This shall pass.


25-year-old Praneetha

Written by Praneetha @the_biophilic_world

Illustrated by Kimberly Hoffman @kimhoffy

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