Dear 18 year old Mubash,
I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately.
I remember you as so eager. Eager to please, eager to fit in, eager to succeed – whatever that meant. You travelled halfway across the world to start a new phase of life, the college years, the America years, the first time on your own years. But you didn’t seem to realize that this was something people considered difficult, a period of adjustment requiring a lot of love, support, and care.
Before you left, you promised your then boyfriend that you wouldn’t change, because he was so scared. Hah. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh at you, but how could you imagine change wouldn’t be part of an experience where more or less everything you knew had changed? You thought you changing would make things difficult for all those who were used to the you that you were, so you naively held on. You just wanted everyone to be happy. In the first week in your new room, when your very white roommate’s mom’s very white friend (yes, think about how far that connection was) demanded to know why you were there – in America, in Berkeley, in the room that was also half yours – you were more than happy to politely explain your educational aspirations. You didn’t want to be offended by the strangely suspicious look in her eyes, or the fact that she didn’t have a hint of smile when she asked you this. You just wanted them to be comfortable. Did you not realize they were the ones in your space?
Later, when that same roommate didn’t feel comfortable with you speaking in your mother-tongue to your mother on the phone, you obliged. Of course you didn’t want her to feel like you might be talking about her, that made total sense. And that’s how it went on – you bending to everyone’s will until that one day you snapped, in the middle of a seminar that was mandatory to attend to pass that class. You ran out of there, struggling to breathe. Thankfully, the instructor followed you out and somehow you ended up sitting on a bench sharing your story with her. She told you that in ten years you’ll look back at this and think how insignificant all of it was, and then she let you leave. She even made sure you passed the course. I’m always thankful for her, but I wonder if she was right in saying that with time, none of it will matter? We’ve now passed seven of those ten years she talked about, and yes, that particular pain has long faded, but I’m still here, reflecting on that moment and taking notes.
18 isn’t much less than 25 as far as numbers go but for growth? It’s eons of time. I think of you and I just want to hug you. I want to tell you that you are going to learn so much and become so much more confident and never shrink yourself to make others comfortable. I want to tell you that you’d be in awe of your older self if you met her, you might even be a bit intimidated by her. But it’s okay. You’ll be okay.
Dear 21 year old Mubash,
Wow, 21 looks good on you. You’re in your last semester of Berkeley, you’re exploring and experimenting more than you ever thought you would, and you now know that change is an inevitable part of life. You let yourself be you a little more loudly. It’s looking good.
But then graduation is suddenly right there and you haven’t been able to find a job. You think you know exactly what you want to do in life and you don’t look for alternatives, you keep chasing that one goal. And the whole time, you tell no one how hard it is. After all, you’ve been doing so well, you don’t want to ruin that image. You are more scared everyday and you have no idea where your life is going but you smile and pretend it’s all okay.
You find yourself moving back home. Okay, it doesn’t have to look like that wasn’t in your plan. You’ll keep trying for that same goal, just from a different location. Unexpectedly, somewhere in the middle of all that, you meet someone and you find yourself falling in love. You take the leap because it’s never felt so good before. It’s your first time in a real, healthy relationship, you’re finally opening up to someone about your fears, and it’s the only thing that keeps you going as you find yourself spiraling into dark places too often. You find a new goal and this time you’re sure it’ll work out, but it doesn’t. That’s the first time you have a full blown panic attack. You have no idea what’s happening, despite being a well-read educated person, aware of mental health issues. In the following months you find yourself in various doctors’ offices, each of them trying to diagnose you with a different physical illness. No one seems to wonder what’s up in your mind. Finally it dawns on you.
Mubash, you were the only one to get up and say that you needed to see a therapist. For mental health. You realized your mind was sick and needed help before anyone else did (although I do sometimes wonder why it took you so long to see it), and you were brave enough to ask for it. Again, I want to hug you, because I know how hard that was for you. I’m still so proud of you for that.
And so you found yourself on your therapist’s couch, and you’ve been working at it ever since. I want to let you know that there will be so many ups and downs in that journey to get better. But I also wish I could let you know that the next few years will hold experiences of such immense joy, alongside those dark moments. You wouldn’t change them if you could. Okay, you might change some things. But mostly, you’ll be grateful for the people you met along the way.
At 25, I write these letters to myself, while wondering what I’d want to say to myself a few years on. It’s a scary time again, but then, I’m not sure it ever really stopped being scary. I just got better at handling it. Reminiscing on the past made me realize I’ve made it through some really hard shit, but at the same time it feels like nothing has been quite as hard as it is right now, I’ve never been faced with choices with bigger and more permanent possible consequences before. Or do I just feel that way now? In ten years, will it all feel like nothing but a memory to take notes from?
I guess we’ll find out when we get there.
p.s. photo is of me on a boat a few months ago, looking out at the instance, probably not reflecting on anything.
Discovered a prompt on snippets i.e. bits of memories which is ultimately what my letters are made of, so linking to that!