“What do you wish you could tell your 13-year-old self?”
This is a common parlor-game sort of question, leading to warm and fuzzy discussions about how difficult adolescence is and how we wouldn’t want to be teenagers again. Pink has even turned it into a song, “Conversations With My Thirteen Year Old Self.”
But in a twist on that, I am finding that my 13-year-old self has some things to tell me.
I kept a diary from the age of 12 until I was 35, which is more years ago than I care to admit. I wrote at least a few sentences every night, missing only a day or two here and there, until my 30s, when I tapered off and eventually stopped.
But every five to 10 years, usually when I’m in some sort of crisis or transition, I pull those diaries out and reread them. Yes, they are just as cringe-inducing as you might imagine, although I try to hold compassion for myself. Growing up is hard to do, and the joys and sorrows, the angst, missteps, and faux pas of my past teach me a lot about who I am today.
Delving into the past is, of course, a mainstay of psychotherapy. The diaries are the story straight from the source, an unflinching portrait of my formative years. They reveal something new with every read, including patterns of behavior that started in adolescence, and, in some annoying cases, continue to this day.
The diaries give me perspective. Some days were so terrible, I wouldn’t bother explaining what happened. Of course I would remember! Of course I don’t. Probably for the best. I need to remember this when I’m in a tizzy about something. Don’t document it and eventually it will fade away. Poof.
With the diaries I can compare memories with what actually happened at the time. I was closer to this person than I remembered. Wow, that one was bad news all around. Oh for Pete’s sake, can’t you see he’s just not that into you? If hindsight’s 20-20, these diaries are like correctional lenses.
I’m presently halfway through the diaries. The teen years were a mostly fun romp, although the pages fairly steam with adolescent angst. In these, I learned that the story I’ve always told about not being popular with boys in school was not true. Plenty of boys liked me, they just didn’t happen to be the right boys. The boy I wanted was always someone else.
Reading about the hijinks of my early to mid-20s is a lot less fun. One likes to believe that once one is past the teen years, one is less of a knucklehead but, alas, one does not find this to be true. Here is where I want to throw myself in front of myself. For god’s sake, no! Do not make that phone call/pick this fight/climb into that bed! My 20s are more retroactively embarrassing.
No regrets — I was doing what was necessary to become me, but I sure hope no one was looking. And I owe a lot of people an apology. I’m sorry. All of you. Really.
I’m halfway through 1984 and braced for the lifestorm that’s just ahead — a few years that shook everything up and tested me. (Good things happened, too: I met the man who would become my husband.) I face those years with some trepidation, but obviously I survived, and the diaries might show me how. What does my 30-year-old-self have to teach me?