Turning 21 was single-handedly the most anxiety-inducing moment of my life. The invisible weight that’s associated with that age threatened to crush me into small, molecular pieces (though later you later find out that it’s literally not that big of a deal). The memory of waiting for that day, though, is almost two years old at this point, and everything leading up to it was horrendously painful. Difficult, too, because a few weeks prior, I tried to overdose and was in a scary, legitimate crisis and I felt like there was no purpose in living. And I was aging out of my therapy’s system, which made me anxious because I thought I would lose all of the progress I made while I was still in therapy. 

Now, a month after turning 22, I can say that this will be your best year ever (and your Chinese zodiac will tell you that too). So here it goes, 20-year-old self, and listen carefully to the woman you didn’t know you could be:

You’re not defined by your mental illness

Whenever you were asked to define yourself, being mentally ill was almost always somewhere on that list. Everything you did, you made a point to say that it was because you were too anxious or too depressed. “Can’t bother today, I’m too depressed. I did alright for someone with anxiety.”  

You are not a mentally ill person, you are simply a person with a mental illness. Start putting yourself first, and find things that truly define you. That also means trying harder to see yourself in a better light. Yes, try harder, because despite all of your setbacks and difficulties in trying to catch up with life, you eventually push yourself out from under the dark, gray clouds and learn to really look at yourself differently. 

“Didn’t I do alright? I think I can do this again if I really push myself to.”  

It gets better

It’s cliché, but it’s kind of true. It isn’t a click-worthy moment where you go “aha!” but it’s a worthwhile journey where the faint rainbows become more distinct. Also, Beyonce released her full #Beychella set on Netflix and you’re, like, this much closer to actually committing to blue hair. It definitely gets better.  

Be kind to yourself 

You’re kind-hearted to everyone but yourself, and you need to admit that and stop using this as a crutch to continue sabotaging your chances of being happy. This kind of toxic positivity only harms you, so you need to learn how to transform that kind of toxicity into something more considerate to yourself. The people you love deserve kindness, and they want you to experience that, too. 

Be kind and be forgiving to yourself. You are doing your best, even when you don’t think you are, so treat yourself like you are.

It continues to hurt 

“Recovery” doesn’t mean that all the pain from your depression and anxiety will suddenly disappear. You’ll continue to fall, struggle and cry, and that’s alright. “Recovery,” for you, will eventually mean that you can only recover from the pain that stems from your mental illnesses. You’ll grow to accept that and try your best to work around that pain, so great job, love (and no, you never hopped onto that “pain is beautiful” crap if you’re wondering).

You’re strong, resilient and incredibly capable of chasing after everything you want, and sometimes you may forget that. Sometimes, you may underestimate yourself, and that’s okay, but you never really forget how tough you are. You’ll get through the raging seas, though, and I will always be proud of you for doing that. Continue being brave and facing the unknown.

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