Happy 20th birthday to my good, beautiful self

Happy 20th birthday to my good, beautiful self

Dear Sobia,
Happy 20 years since your birth and sigh! If Sylvia Plath had been alive, she would have turned 88 today.
First off, let me start by saying that it’s okay to feel like you aren’t doing as well as you are supposed to. You couldn’t be a doctor for baba and not even an artist for Amu yet. You couldn’t buy those expensive parkas that you’ve been wanting since long. You couldn’t visit Pampore or any other place that you’ve wanted, you couldn’t do something extraordinary. So, if you need to take a second to breathe, to cry, to put your head down, stare out a window or go for a walk, do that. Cry out loud, then laugh hard and find a good post for your Instagram. Thank God for everything that you are fortuned with, take a look at all the beautiful things around you, and be stress-free for just a moment. In fact, for more than a moment. Think how beautiful you are and think how beautifully you’re out of that terrible mental disease that had been killing you for the past four years. And think how beautiful that illness has made you. Think and then thank God for everything.
You’ve changed. You entered this year on uncertain feet, without any direction, and you leave this year with more scars and more purposes. You’ve been humbled. You’ve opened your heart and had it crushed. You opened your heart and laid it bare. You’ve seen vulnerability and betrayal, grief and broken spirits. You’ve cried in a doctor’s office and alone on your bedroom floor. You’ve sat in a therapist’s office and heard her say this will probably last your whole life.
You’ve lost much, but you’ve also gained. You learned to ask questions. You learned to be honest. You learned to tell someone you need help. You learned the importance of being present and the importance of listening. You learned about yourself—that who you are is OK. That all of the emotions and questions and fears, all of the stories and passions and dreams—all of these are yours to own. They are not simply symptoms of an illness. You are more than any illness. It does not own you. Talking too much doesn’t make you ill, crying too much doesn’t either. Your desire to get married soon doesn’t make you an unbalanced adult and your desire to visit Pampore doesn’t make you stupid. In fact, all these things from never shutting your mouth to craving for a visit to Pampore, they make you even more beautiful.
You’ve learned not to blame yourself for the things that aren’t you. The obsessive double-triple-quadruple checks, the irrational thought patterns, the tears that come and go without reason. The hollow days. The tired days. The shaky, sweaty days. The incessant moments of panic rising up out of nowhere, tripping you when you aren’t looking. You’ve learned that the rants and the downhill tumbles aren’t what define you. People who’ve left don’t define you, either. How you respond to their absence doesn’t define you. Hope defines you. Love defines you. You define you.
Brace yourself: your twenties are going to be hard. You think right now the future looks like a mix of exotic travel and thrilling jobs at various newspapers and magazines. But half of those magazines will have folded by the time you are twenty-five. Instead, there will be lots of pitching of stories and following up and chasing down freelance checks, and sitting at your desk drumming your fingers, wrestling with things like mortality, the societal expectations of adulthood and your own duelling senses of entitlement, inferiority and fear. And woah, it’s in your twenties that you’ll get married.
You’ll do good. You’ll do reportage for many newspapers. Maybe some day “The New York Times”. You’ll make Amu and Baba and everyone so, so proud. You’ll learn to cook good food and you’ll visit all the places you’ve ever wanted to. You’ll click pictures with all the people you admire, and you’ll buy that Red Parka soon. You’ll earn enough, enough to buy yourself a car. And you’ll earn enough, enough to face your Lord in the world hereafter.
You deserve the world and even a little more. You are smart. You are beautiful. You are enough. You are everything. You are all.
Do you know how Sylvia Plath died? She had clinical depression and she put her head in an oven and turned on the gas —
But, listen, don’t ever try to kill yourself. Let yourself die when it’s time to. You’re getting closer to your end, so be more beautiful and more and more of Sylvia Plath. May you be as beautiful as her.
(I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of the heart: I am, I am, I am.)
Yours,
Sobia

—The writer is a student and is working for an Indian mental health organisation, Paperplanes. sobiakhatoon65@gmail.com

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