My sister turned 18 a few weeks ago. As I couldn’t be there in person, I wanted to write her a nice card. After some reflection, a few heavy gulps and maybe – just maybe – a tiny tear, I produced a pretty decent card plus the following:
“As both you and I adore David Bowie, I want to give you a taste of the future, based on Bowie songs.
When I was 18, my favorite song was Moonage Daydream (on Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars). I didn’t understand it then. I’m not sure I understand it now. But it was upbeat and magical and none of my friends got it, which made me feel special. They had Greenday or Beyoncé but I – I had David Bowie’s wild youth!
Boy, was I confused.
Before I started my last year of High School, I had been a straight-A candidate. That last year I stopped caring. I got interested in other things but most importantly, I got scared. I didn’t feel ready to decide my future. I didn’t know what to study.
Everyone around me had an opinion on the topic. I didn’t.
I tried to convince myself that I could be one of the few people to make money off their passion (in my case: writing). But I wasn’t brave. I didn’t like risks. I listened to adults. I chose the safe way: engineering and later business.
I never felt as lost as the day I graduated from school. Until the day I started university came.
When I was 20, my favorite song was Lady Grinning Soul (on Aladdin Sane). A song about a mysterious woman who blows everyone’s mind. When I was 20 I was in the midst of battling an eating disorder, switching majors in university, moving between places and friends and boys (yes, they were boys then). I was looking for myself. And I guess I hoped that by listening to Lady Grinning Soul at least 5 times a day I would magically turn into that mysterious, thrilling woman.
The fears I had developed during the time at High School had gotten worse. I couldn’t stand myself. I couldn’t stand life. I got very ill. People disappointed me. I disappointed people. It was an endless cycle of destruction. I felt like life was over before it started, but there was one good thing in that: I started taking risks. When you feel like it can’t get any worse, risks become friendly.
Taking risks saved me.
I stepped out of my comfort zone and changed majors. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I took the risk to move in with someone I had known for 2 weeks. That person ended up helping me incredibly much to learn to appreciate myself again.
When I was 20, I became more fierce. I started standing up for myself and my beliefs. I explored values for myself, without caring what others thought. I found new people, I lost a few on the way.
I didn’t become Lady Grinning Soul, but I got closer to becoming myself.
When I was 22, my favorite song was Sound and Vision (on Low). I got bored of my blue-colored room and was aching for the next chapter. I explored Buddhism and being vegan and read too much Bukowski. I wanted a deeper meaning.
Life felt monotone. Uni wasn’t challenging me. I hadn’t met an interesting person in a while and I was desperate for adventure and thrill and taking up my next battle. I had become so much stronger. That’s when I decided to move away. I tested my boundaries by moving a few hundred kilometres away for an internship. That only made me more hungry to move. So I did.
Moving across countries is a huge challenge. In my case, I didn’t speak the language nor did I have much cash. The only thing I had was a vision (sound and vision?). A lot of stuff went wrong. Still, it was the best decision I could have made. Looking back, it feels completely natural.
Some things are meant to be. Just because they’re hard, doesn’t mean they aren’t meant to be.
When I was 24, my favorite song was Wild is the Wind (on Station to Station). Because believe it or not, I’m pretty wild. My thoughts go crazy. My heart is inconsistent. My mind loves the negatives and is blind to the light.
I questioned my life on a daily base. Was I in the right place? Was I using my time in the right way? Was I on the path I wanted to be on? No matter how many nights I spent awake trying to decipher the answers to these questions, I couldn’t find them.
I hit an emotional low (the medical term is depression, I guess). I was desperate to change everything. I moved country again, tried to establish a new network, tried to work out my identity. Who was I, who am I, who could I be?
My mind and my body got sick. Until I somehow pushed through it. I realized, with the help of my best friend, that my thinking wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I took a step back and was finally able to change perspective. That change in perspective probably saved my life.
Some pretty evil shit happened that year, but after I got over that point, it was suddenly bearable.
I think I grew up.
Now I’m 26 and I have more than just one favorite song. Some days it’s Station to Station, other days it’s Time Will Crawl. Because life takes you places, but it does so slowly.
I have achieved many things this last year. I have fulfilled dreams and abandoned others. I worked my ass off. Both butt cheeks, and parts of the thighs.
I feel more manifested as a person than ever. I don’t care too much anymore about how I look or what other people think. I mainly care about what I think. When I was younger, I thought this day would never come. Spoiler alert, it came!
Of course, sometimes it’s still hard. Sometimes I don’t sleep and other times books are my best friends. But the times are rare now and mainly, I see the light.
Most days I like myself. Most days I feel safe. And if I don’t, then Bukowski has some fitting words:
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
and the ****s and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
- Charles Bukowski, Bluebird
If I could tell my 18-year-old self anything, I would tell her to be brave. But if she was too scared, I would say that’s fine too, because life will make you brave.
If I could tell my 18-year-old self anything, I would tell her to explore. And if she didn’t know where to start, I would tell her to wait, because it will come naturally.
If I could tell my 18-year-old self anything, I would tell her to do stuff.
I would tell her to have dreams (big ones!) and to believe in them. I would tell her to believe in them so hard, that other people called her crazy.
I would tell her to find friends and lose friends.
I would tell her to ask others for advice but to not take it.
Most of all, I would tell her to be true to herself. To practice patience. To work hard.
For that is how I became who I am. And I’m proud of who I am now. And you, dear 18-year-old self, you will be too.
We all feel lost sometimes. Life can be hard. Shit happens. People happen. But you will get through it. And with a bit of hard work, you will become a better version of yourself on the way.”