Alicia is a mindyourmind volunteer and public speaker. Because the whole cat whisper thing didn't work out. She loves to write, speak and just finished her undergrad at uwaterloo.
I finished my undergrad this week. Wow… that sentence seems so strange after five years of work and stress. I feel like I know even less about the world and all its wonders than when I first walked on to the university campus.
My 18 year old self thought she knew it all. She was wrapped up in petty problems and missed out on great friendships and adventures. In all honestly, I don’t think she had a clue what would become of her and how different it would be.
So, I decided to write her a (long) letter to try and make sense of how much we have changed.
Dear First Year Me,
This is your finished university future self. No… You are not crazy, but I wanted to share some advice with you that will really help you get through this year. Your life is going to turn out very different than you currently plan it too.
And it’s going to be super awesome.
First, and foremost, please stop doing strange things to your hair! Those blonde highlights will take forever to come out, and you will need to dye it a semi-professional colour when you start co-op. You are beautiful the way you are, and people will notice you. Whether your hair is neon purple or not…
Which brings me to my next point. When you walked into the PAC that first day and they handed you your student number that would define you for the next five years, you felt discouraged. As classes started and you realized that what set you apart in high school was so common in university, you felt worthless. You are going to feel lost in a sea of amazing people that you believe you will never live up to. Believe in yourself, try at school instead of hiding in your room scared of the work because there is so much to do. Stop going out and doing stuff you don’t like because you feel the need to make everyone like you so you can feel special again. You are strong with your unique feelings and ideas, people will love you for who you are if you give them the chance. You don’t need to play to your low self-image and do things just months before you swore you would never do. Learning that lesson is hard, and you lose a lot of “friends” along the way. But you will learn that not only can you do school, you can excel in it. And not only can you make friends who love you for who you are, you will speak in front of TV cameras and on stages telling the world that secret that you hold so close to your chest. You know that fear of crowds you have? Yea.. you might want to start working on that now…
You don’t know it yet, but your mother has cancer. She is going to become physically weak and talk about giving up. Remember that she is the woman you got all your strength from, and while she might be overly dramatic at times, she needs you. Be there for her instead of running away because you don’t know how to make it better. In the end, she will survive but she won’t ever be quite the same. She is stronger, but more aware of death and spending time with family. Be patient with her, answer her calls, because while she will call you 5+ times a day, they mean so much to her. The whole ordeal will prove to you that your family is strong, that your little sister can run a house and that your dad can actually learn to cook with more than just a BBQ. Make sure you call her to take her medicine to keep the cancer away, or she will take a year to finish a 6-month prescription because she “hates drugs.”
On a similar note, make time to take care of yourself. It’s so easy to power through days with bad food and no sleep but it makes you miserable. If something is feeling weird please go to the doctor. Even now, I am still scared that the doctor will judge my bad lifestyle choices, but in the end it helps dispel your paranoia that something worse is wrong. Treat your body well and remember that eventually the crap you do to it catches up. You will lose feeling in a part of your body and give yourself a sleeping a disorder if you don’t listen to this. Trust me. Doctors can be wonderful people if you give them a chance.
You will also need a therapist during university. Things will happen; people will leave your life and hurt you. But dealing with that through a therapist will save you a lot of time and tears. You will realize that your depression is something that gets so much worse if you pretend its not there. Fighting it is a constant battle that requires moderating and support, but you can do it. Your scars will fade and you will create new ones, but they will become the battle scars of a young warrior who will soon become a champion against this thing they call depression.
As a result of depression, and as mentioned earlier, you will make friends with whoever will have you because you don’t want to be alone. You will stumble on some awesome and not so awesome people this way. Don’t let the not-so-awesome stay in your life. Don’t comprise your beliefs and hopes to stay in their good books. Be friendly, but you don’t need these people. Trust me, many like-minded people are coming your way. You will learn to enjoy being alone and the peace it can bring. You won’t always have dark thoughts the moment you are alone, I promise it doesn’t always stay that way. Also, you are going to waste too much time on boys. I would tell you not to do this, but you will learn a lot of lessons this way, so do it anyways. But remember that your friends are more important and care more about you than the latest person who gave you the eye.
On the flip side, you are going to meet some amazing people. You are going to meet a professor who will go to bat for you, a charity founder who will change your life forever, and many amazing and wonderful people that constantly renew your faith in the world. You are going to be empowered and accomplish things you think you can’t. Be excited to meet these people and respect them. Also, answer their emails quickly as they are busy and you are just watching the latest episode of House.
Most importantly, (and as much as you don’t want to admit it) you don’t know everything. You know a little about a couple things. You are going to go through first year thinking you know everything and have a very rude awakening. By acting like you know more than you do, you are going to miss the chance to learn from some amazing people. Ask questions regardless of how many people decide to call you Thumbelina because of it. Seek out interesting projects and ideas. You will soon learn you don’t actually want to work with kids with learning disorders. You are going to become more comfortable with who you are and start talking about your experience with mental health. You are going to learn that working with people like you isn’t depressing but rewarding and you will decide to pursue working with suicidal kids. You are going to use the business side of your degree as well, so pay attention in class. Facebook is *not* that interesting. You will be excited and scared about the changes to your plans but they will make you happy.
In the end, university will be the time of your life. It is the first time you will be honest and open with yourself. You will try a lot of what doesn’t work to find out what does. You will gain weight, change your appearance and feel more beautiful and confident than ever before. You will still be awkward and quirky but you will be okay with it. You will make/keep friends that will last a lifetime and experiences that most kids only dream about. Be excited, and happy. You will work for the first time in your life, screw up first year only to finish with the highest marks you got in your student career, and come out a better happier person.
These years are your first taste of independence, but don’t worry, you wont screw it up. You will just learn from it. So don’t be so scared, go out and meet people, do your homework and be excited for the journey that lies ahead.
Trust me, you are about to have a lot of fun.
P.S. Don’t smack talk anyone who cheers for Spain in soccer, trust me on this one.
P.P.S. A speech communication teacher is going to tell you that you don’t have a future in public speaking. Don’t listen to her, she has no idea what she is talking about.
Aliçia at 18 during her first year of university - circa 2007