A letter to my 21 year old self

This post first appeared in the book Postcards from Tomorrow, curated and edited by Kim Chandler McDonald, available for purchase now!

I’ve spent the last two days asking myself how to start this letter.

I’ve been asking myself what I want to say to you, that you don’t already know, deep down. You’re 21. You already know that you’re trans, and you know that you’re a woman, and you know that you’re living the wrong life. You know that you’re not okay, you know that you’re hurt, and you know who it was that hurt you. You know you’re on the path to being an alcoholic, and you know you need to stop drinking.

You don’t know yet how cruel you are going to be. Both to yourself, actively and painfully, and to the people around you, through your indifference. You don’t know how much you’ll hurt them, and how much you are going to be hurt, and how ashamed you will be of your choices. You don’t know how low you are going to fall as you struggle to survive and make your way in the world, while running away from yourself. Running away from everything you know you want to be. Running away from the tempest.

Those are the terrible things. The shadows and dark shapes that are going to stand across your path and challenge you. They’re coming, and I wish I could tell you that it’s going to be any easier, but lying won’t make it so. I’m so sorry for that. I’m sorry you’re going to have so many bad days. I’m sorry you’re going to wish you were no longer here. I’m sorry for the nights you’ll spend white knuckling it through, lying on your floor, empty and aching and wanting peace.

But there are other things I can tell you. Better things. Wonderful things. You are going to be okay. More than okay, you are going to be happy. You are going to wake up smiling every single day. You are going to come through the valley and climb a new mountain, and you are going to live. One day, you’re going to put the bottle down for good, and you won’t look back, and it will change everything. One day, you’re going to take a deep, terrifying, shaking breath and tell the world about the woman you know you are, and honey so many people are going to embrace you.

You’re going to reach into yourself and find the courage to tell people that you’re sorry, and to make amends, and to become the person that you always had the potential to be. A good person. A kind person. A person who is not so caught in their pain that they’re too hurt to look after others. You’re going to change lives with your words, and be there for people who are entirely lost and isolated.

And you will have love in your life. So much love, you won’t know what to do with it, and you’ll hardly be able to comprehend it. So much love, that you’ll realise and begin to believe that you are worthy of it.

I’m writing this to you, from 10 years into your future. Yes, we make it to 30, and then we make it to 31. Life is wonderful, and breathtaking, and we get to be so damn proud. We are lucky. We are fortunate. We are happy.

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Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian contemporary writer, designer and creative director. She is the founder of branding and advertising firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.

Her writing has appeared in The SF Chronicle, Wired, The AFR, The Observer, ABC, Junkee, SBS, Crikey and over 40+ publications. Her regular work can be found on Pizza Party, a blog about creativity, culture and technology. Joan is the creator Transgenderinclusion.com, an open-source workplace inclusion hack, and the author of the book #DIY, a manifesto for indie creativity.

Chaotic good. Award winning creative director & writer, ft. in Wired, The AFR, SF Chronicle, Junkee. founder tinyspells.xyz / thisisstudioself.com ✨ She/Her.

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