Dear 16-year-old Isobel,
I hope you are well and reading this letter somewhere outside in the sunshine with a freshly brewed hot cup of peppermint tea and maybe even a cheeky scotch finger, your favourite! I am writing to you from the future as you might have already suspected. A bit freaky hey!
I’m sure you would prefer a conversation in real life, and I’m sure you have lots and lots of questions as always, however, pen and paper format is the best I can do for now. I know you will be grateful for any form of reassurance from the future currently, as I understand that this particular point in time is exceptionally exhausting, whilst simultaneously full of possibility and bubbling excitement. You are nearing the end of your secondary education, which is pretty big life stuff. I won’t lie, the next couple of years will be a challenge, but you will approach them with such enthusiasm, creativity, determination, and humility, that the struggle will all be worth it, and you will gain a newfound and heightened sense of confidence. In addition, these next couple of years will be far more emotionally and mentally draining than university, so try not to sweat the small stuff. School is just one chapter of your book, and there are many, many, many more to come. You will be successful and you will feel proud. There is no need to worry too much.
You are a bit of a sponge. You absorb a lot of energy. Energy from others, places, sounds, visuals, smells, flavours, textures, and of course, your inner voice, be it critical or encouraging. You just feel some things fairly acutely. There is nothing wrong with you. You are simply sensitive—particularly receptive to both positive and negative experiences. This might explain to you why you can feel particularly overwhelmed or captivated by things that others may find boring or insignificant! Sound familiar? Sometimes your sensitivity can be a beautiful thing. It can act like a sort of language that helps you to interpret and appreciate the complexities of this diverse and ever-changing world, whilst creating a safe space to question, understand, and cherish it. Other times, it can be emotionally and mentally draining, zapping up your energy and sending your mind into spirals that froth on your talent for overanalysing information. A note to self. Sometimes these thoughts really do only deserve one minute of your think time, opposed to an hour, or perish the thought, several hours! Being particularly sensitive is not a weakness. It doesn’t mean you are less than or incapable of success. Success is a subjective notion, and sensitivity is paramount to understanding yourself, others, and the living world. It enables the possibility of meaningful connection and communication. You are allowed to feel things, you are made to feel things. So please, let yourself feel them. Be they pleasant or unpleasant. And if someone asks you ‘Are you okay?’, you are allowed to say ‘Um, no, not really’. You cannot be helped if you refuse to be vulnerable when it matters. There are times when you must be brave, let down your guard, and allow others to show you their love when you are fragile. Being vulnerable when it matters demonstrates courage not weakness. So, harness the power of sensitivity for the better. Use it to broaden your mind, to practice compassion with yourself and others, and to better inform how you choose to interact with loved ones, acquaintances, strangers, and the natural environment.
You possess a fervour for creativity, which you express through visual art, fashion, writing, and meditating on beauty and awe wherever you go. You are especially attracted to wide open spaces like the desert, large bodies of water, and perpetual shorelines. These spaces provide you with the clarity, calm and the focus you desire when you are anxious, catastrophising, and in need of a big hug from nature. Nature is a balm. Something of the lemon myrtle, lavender blossom, eucalyptus, and woody scented variety. It’s effect on you is all-encompassing. It is intentionally soothing and genuinely nourishing. The natural world is a place you don’t currently fathom chemically or biologically speaking, but you often feel the energy of its pull as it beckons you to daydream and play in its presence. Running and hiking typically bring you closer to familiar and foreign natural spaces. Unsurprisingly, running and hiking foster precious time. Time spent detoxing from the modern world and sinking into nature’s world. It’s a time to daydream. To reflect. To slow down. To be quiet. To let go. To just be. You experience some kind of mutual understanding with the natural world. This all goes on without necessarily uttering a word, it is an unspoken understanding. It is a place you feel safe. A place you can be without the noise that proliferates and hums both inside and outside of your mind. A place that stimulates sensory curiosities and puts a spring in your step. A place that shines a light on your inner child and often helps you to achieve a kind of weightlessness when you feel heavy. A place that restores hope, faith, and joy. Your strong biophilic tendencies will be a mainstay throughout the course of your life. These connections will continue to guide you, enlighten you, and console you. Continue to nurse this precious relationship. Water it. Feed it. Hold it. You cannot live without it. I mean this. Absolutely.
You are a persistent and dedicated worker, who is ridiculously hard on herself and always striving for perfection. Despite the slightly unbalanced nature of your determination, you do perform well as a consequence, and this makes you feel good. However, an obsession with perfection will never make something perfect, because much like success, this too is a subjective notion. So, I want you to know that you are enough. Everything you do and don’t do, it is enough. I know that your anxiety sells you a different story, but please listen. You. Are. Enough. You don’t currently see this because you are too busy hammering yourself, asking for permission, and people-pleasing. You imagine ‘enough’ to be this version of you who lives in the distant future. I will be ‘enough’ when I’ve beat my running time. I will be ‘enough’ when I have a tertiary degree. I will be ‘enough’ when I move out of home. I will be ‘enough’ when I know what I want. You will never learn to acknowledge that you are enough, or to develop a healthy relationship with self-love and respect, until you understand that ‘being enough’ can and should exist in the present. The very fact that you give everything your all is enough. This idea of ‘being enough’ is clouding your self-concept. It is stirring up an impatience with your present self and compelling you to race through moments that should be embraced and savoured. STOP. I beg you. Please stop racing. In the words of Ferris Bueller, ‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it’. So please, listen to Ferris. And me. You are enough.
I love you 16-year-old Isobel.
Illustrated by Kimberly Hoffman @kimhoffy