Dear past me…
Not too long ago I wrote about something I thought was an interesting idea. We can’t go back in time, but we can go forward. So while you can’t talk to your past self, you can send your future self all the letters and notes you want. It’s not as dramatic as going back with the knowledge you possess, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. I’ve written a few letters to myself now including via blog (here). I’m not sentimental, but I figured if I was going to send a message forward, I might as well let past me know how things are going. While writing letters to your past self is more common, I didn’t think about doing it until I read some of the public letters that people wrote to their future selves then responded to those letters. So yeah, here goes nothing.
Dear past me,
This feels pretty pointless, not going to lie. We were never that person to do this kind of thing, but here we are. Or here I am, whatever. What’s frustrating is that you’ll never read this, but you are a huge fucking idiot. You big, dumb, stump of a human. You had no one to raise you and teach you how to be polite, so you over corrected. I wish I could say it worked out in your favor, but you let so many people treat you like garbage and you smiled through it all because you didn’t know any better. You wore that smile like a giant fucking shield and people noticed, none of them were good. Being your own parent was a horrible choice, but you didn’t get a say in the matter. Then you made a choice for yourself, to go into the Marines.
Looking back on it, I’m not even sure why you would do that. We were scared of everything, why do that? Probably for the structure, the sense of family, and for direction. You would know better than I would honestly. But what I know is that all of that you abruptly lost. I wish I could tell you things would work out in your favor or that they would get easier as time went on, but I can’t. Things get worse unfortunately. You’ll think you’ve found purpose. You’ll set out on a whole new dream only to realize you’re falling. Then when you can’t hurt anymore, when your body feels like it is ripping itself apart from the inside out and you never thought anyone could live in that much pain, you’ll finally think you hit bottom.
Then that bottom will fall out and you’ll just keep falling for a long time. You’ll learn some very important lessons during this infinite, but brief time. You’ll learn the hard way that things can always get worse, You’ll learn that no amount of suffering in this world is enough to keep things from getting worse. Most importantly, you’ll learn that the system in place to help you does not care. That is a hard learned lesson and I really wish I had a time machine, if only to pass that along to you.
One day you’ll find peace in the center of that storm. After a week of not sleeping and surviving on applesauce directly from the jar for who knows how long because you can’t bring yourself to eat anything else, you’ll finally feel calm. That will be the most dangerous place for you to be, but you don’t know it at the time. You won’t understand the danger even as you clean the apartment. You won’t notice it breathing down your neck as you clean yourself. And you won’t hear it whisper in your ears as you calmly lay in the bathtub and equally calmly swallow your entire prescription of ambien. You’ll only know that you’re too tired to fight it anymore.
I wish I could tell you it didn’t feel good, but that would be a lie. I can’t tell you that afterwards, after you’ve had just a taste of that, that you won’t want to go back to it. In pop culture touching death is agony and suffering. But when you did it, it was nothing like that. It was calm and comforting. A hug like you never had before and you’ll spend the rest of your life fighting the urge to go back to it. And fight it we will past self, trust me on that.
But I’m happy to say, or maybe sorry to inform you, that you live. Bummer I know. So it goes.
And you’ll think things can’t get worse, but then you’ll lose your apartment, you’ll get in trouble for being homeless. You’ll nearly get kicked out of school, and you’ll basically learn that things can always get worse the hard way. You’ll be crushed to dust by the weight of the world and eventually you’ll have to start digging yourself out, but I’ve finally got good news, because you do.
You find a place to live, it’s not much, but it’s a start. You’ll move a half dozen times after that, but you don’t own much so it’s not a huge issue. You’ll learn that no matter how much you’re suffering no one can see it. Even if you think it’s stained your skin, no one will know unless you tell them. It turns out explaining why you didn’t do so well is an effective way to get another chance. You’ll avoid getting kicked out of your program because the person in charge was kind enough to give you a shot, just one, but I’m happy to tell you you don’t fuck it up.
It’s a slow and it’s not easy, but you get your degree, it takes you over twice as long as the average person, but you do it. Then you get your Masters. I wish it only got easier, but your PhD is going to be tough. I’m still working on it, but hopefully future me will call me an idiot, I’m sure I’ll deserve it, but that he made it. We’ll both have to wait and see about that one. Things are surprisingly good these days, not great, but at least you’re not drowning like you once were. The stability helps, having a home is probably the thing that helps you the most. Living out of your car sucks and it stays with you, that fear of going back there, but so far so good. I plan to keep it that way, but future me will have to let us know what happened with that one.
So that’s the general rundown and the only reasons I’m doing this is because, (1) you should know it gets worse, but also better, even if it doesn’t feel like that for a very long time and (2) you’ll do things you never even dreamed about doing.
Tomorrow my big dumb friend is the start of your journey to DARPA Forward, where they noticed you. You, of all people. Yeah, I wish I could say you get smarter, but a lot of this is dumb luck, sure there was effort involved, but let’s not go down that road right now. Instead if I could tell you anything it’s that you need to take it one day at a time. Sometimes that’s all we can do and when that gets too overwhelming, just take it one meal at a time. It doesn’t make it easier, but it makes it feel less overwhelming and that’s a special type of magic, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Apparently I had a lot to say, even if you’ll never get the chance to read this. But I’ve got you now, and we’re doing mostly okay.
Be kind to yourself,
Really proud of you! Don’t give up and remember to take care of yourself. Have a good day ahead!
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November 14, 2022 at 2:19 am
Thank you! I appreciate the advice.
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November 14, 2022 at 9:47 pm
This may be a letter that Past You will never read, but I feel like it counts as a potentially helpful message for anyone who is now, or will be, in a similar position as Past You. If they’re out there, hopefully they find it. So maybe it’s not pointless after all.
Reading this made me feel the urge to give my regrets to Past You for not even being there. I know that’s not exactly my fault … first I didn’t know you existed, and then for a while I didn’t know we could connect or that I could be helpful. But it still feels like in some sense, I ought to have been there and I wasn’t. Maybe I wasn’t ready … some of my understanding and gentleness have come in with age, and it occurs to me to wonder whether I’d even want Past You to meet Past Me. But still. Sorry I’m laaaaaate.
Maybe I’m apologizing on behalf of the universe in general. You shouldn’t have been left to fall and then to dig yourself out with a minimum of help, but you were and you did. You survived more than anybody should have to survive.
I’m glad you can look back on all this and tell yourself that things have gotten better and you’re mostly okay now. That feels like an upgrade even versus last year.
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November 15, 2022 at 12:59 am
So it feels a little late since it’s been a few days, but thank you and it’s okay! You came around when you needed to, no sense in beating yourself up over it. Plus, I survived so it’s not too bad.
I’m glad I can look back on it too, future knowledge is always better than present knowledge, but at the time you never know how things will turn out. I’m happy it turned out for the better and yes, that is an upgrade even from last year. (it helps I’ve had no… I think, no surgeries this year, feels weird saying that!) Recovery always puts me in a “everything sucks and will never get better” mood, haha.
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November 19, 2022 at 12:27 pm