Dear ten-year-old Caitlin,
When I look at your school picture, I see your smile before anything else. But I remember how often you didn’t want to smile, too. Your crooked teeth, your clothes, your glasses, your height, your introversion, your maturity, your willingness to wear a woolly hat when it’s cold, your cleverness (yes, you are clever, though I’m sure you will never believe me!) You have been bullied for these and more, and it won’t stop yet. I’m sorry. Somehow you don’t quite fit, and I wish I could swoop back in time to save you.
But if I did, you would miss so much. There is so much good to come, even though it won’t be easy.
There’s a part of you that they will never be able to break – two dreams, really. Though being a teacher like the ones you admire right now seems a much further-off possibility than becoming a bestselling author. So you keep writing, expressing yourself better on paper than you could ever manage out loud. You are propelled by Mrs B’s words of encouragement in Year 4 – when you were sad about being teased again, she reminded you of your worth. She told you that she hoped to see a novel with our name on the cover, one day, and you glowed. I still hold that memory with kid gloves. What you don’t know yet is that in twelve years’ times, you will be a teacher too, hoping that you might manage to have half of that impact. But for now, keep writing. When you are older, people will tell you that what you wrote moved them. Eventually, you will astound yourself with the sheer word count that you are capable of.
You can remember a few words of French, because you love Mrs H’s lessons. You love the sound of the words and the rhythm of this new, beautiful language. Keep trying with words here and there because it will pay off tenfold, before you know it. One day, it will mysteriously fall into place and your language skill will be considered quite impressive by those around you. So when you get to high school and the words won’t come out at all, try not to feel as though every door is closing on you. One day, you will go to France and stay with a family who don’t speak English. And you will finally be able to spread your wings. Words will flow from you faster than you ever dreamed they would, helping you to hold your own around the dinner table and (mostly) keep up in a French classroom.
Unfortunately, that feeling of ‘words drying up’ is going to become a familiar one. It’s called Anxiety and it’s just a chemical imbalance, but it will feel like the whole world is coming to get you while you feel yourself collapsing inwards. I can’t step back in time to stop it latching onto you, or fly in super-hero style to rescue you from it. There will be dark days – it would be remiss of me to write to you and dishonestly omit them. But remember Dumbledore, while you still hold him in high esteem (that won’t last forever!) Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.
You will laugh more than you ever thought possible. You will have adventures. You will meet teachers who open your mind and inspire you. You will also meet teachers who do this while also being the primary cause of the side-splitting laughter. Some of these teachers will become your greatest support in hard times and will become your friends when you grow up. That’s probably an odd thought for you now, but I assure you that it is fantastic.
And finally (sort of) – grief. Things will happen that feel like your whole world is ending. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Force yourself to find the words. When you burst into tears in the sixth form common room out of the blue, it will cause a whole lot less of a headache if you just let it happen instead of holding it in!
It seems strange to tell you that good things will come out of grief, especially when you will be panicking too for some of that grieving time. But please trust me, the day that you stand in front of a full hall of people to read a French poem in memory of a wonderful teacher, that will become one of the proudest moments of your life. You will float back to your seat feeling not quite on this planet, knowing that you have done a special woman proud.
This will be when your self-belief is rock-bottom. Don’t worry: you will pull French out of the bag again in the summer too, somehow, despite an abysmal speaking exam.
Things will get harder before they get easier. But you are strong – it has taken me to almost twenty-two to accept this (and it’s definitely not a permanent belief!) You will get quieter, but one day you will find your voice and it will be glorious.
When you have your own class it will be a never-ending rollercoaster. There will be more highs than lows, and you will find inexplicable joy in the smallest things.
There is a whole world out there. From my lofty position in your future, my advice is this: take a deep breath, put your positive pants on, step out of your comfort zone, and enjoy it.