I only just turned 20, and only just started a blog, and suddenly I think I’m qualified to write a letter to my teenage self. More specifically, my secondary school self (the teenager I was in polytechnic is a whole other story for a whole other letter).
But I’ve spent the last 4 years digesting my life as an insecure teenager in secondary school. I think I’m finally ready to say a few words to her now.
Dear secondary school Celeste,
Let’s start this on a light note.
Right now, you probably have a song from the Mamma Mia soundtrack stuck in your head. Probably “Mamma Mia”, but it could be “The Winner Takes It All”. You might be coping with your financial anxiety with “Money, Money, Money”, and you might be crying to “Slipping Through My Fingers”.
The movie musical is great, but take your time with it. After you graduate, it’ll go on to be your favourite movie of all time… until it’s replaced by Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again. Also, you’ll get to watch the musical twice in person, and you’ll know all the lyrics like the back of your hand. You have plenty of time to savour every bit of the musical after your O’Levels, so don’t rush it.
In class, your seatmate repeatedly calls you stupid for not understanding the things taught in class, especially maths. She’s genuinely puzzled when she asks how someone can listen to a teacher and not understand anything at all. You’ll switch seats so you can be in more supportive company. But you’ll still internalise what she says, and you’ll wonder how you can be such a knucklehead while in the “best class”.
But maths is so hard, isn’t it? Your school’s forced you to take both elementary and additional mathematics, but you can’t grasp either. You’re falling FAR behind in class, barely beginning to grasp one concept before the next one is thrown at you. Everyone seems to get it, so if you don’t, you must be among the stupid ones.
Or maybe you just needed to spend more time on the subject. You’ll start meticulously doing past-year math questions nearly every day. And you’ll still fail the school’s (ridiculously difficult) prelim papers. But when your O’Level results are released, you’ll sit in front of your form teachers in tears, because next to “Additional Mathematics” is a very attractive A2 grade. (Also a B3 for e-maths, but we don’t talk about that.)
A few months later, your juniors will complain that math is hard and they’re not sure if they can pull up their grade. Your math teacher will tell them “If Celeste can go from an E8 to an A2, so can you!”.
This becomes one of your favourite stories to tell.
Also — a few years later, your ex-seatmate will apologise for what she said. But you’ve forgiven her a long time ago, haven’t you? And while you never expected an apology, you find yourself rather comforted by one.
On the topic of studies, I recall you frantically refreshing the EAE acceptance results website, hoping you’d make it into your dream course in polytechnic. You didn’t. And the cut-off score for that course was ridiculously high, so there was no way you’d make it in through your normal JAE results.
During the next few months of O’Level mugging, you constantly worry about your future. Sometimes, when stuck on an exam question, you just… stop and imagine which polytechnic course you’ll end up in and how unhappy you’ll be there.
Spoiler alert: You’ll do well enough for your O’Levels and make it into your dream course after all. It’s every bit as good as you’d imagined. Three years later, you’ll be one of four students to graduate with a Diploma with Merit. And I know you aren’t even thinking about what happens after polytechnic at this point, but for the record, you made it into your dream major at your dream university too.
You aren’t fat.
You do have some weight on your arms and belly, but look around and you’ll realise everyone does as well. There’s no need to cut down on your calorie intake, especially when you already have a small appetite and hardly eat above your minimum caloric requirements.
I know you prefer to wear loose-fit tops with no patterns (ESPECIALLY not horizontal stripes “because they widen your torso”). You do like shorts, because they show off your decently-lengthed legs, but you’ve never tried skirts. For your school’s graduation/prom night, you even refuse to wear anything that’s too short, too tight, or has no sleeves.
If I told you that you gained about 3kg between your time in secondary school and polytechnic, you’d probably freak out and start skipping lunch again. But what if I told you that sleeveless tops are your wardrobe staples now? You’ve even experimented with cropped tops and miniskirts.
I can tell you what exactly caused this shift in confidence. You went from being surrounded by skinny girls who somehow looked good in their high-waisted, all-grey secondary school uniform, to being surrounded by girls of all shapes and sizes who wore whatever they wanted and still looked good as hell.
So there you have it. Please don’t track your calories.
I think teenagers get a rather bad rep. They’re seen as either young and dumb, or mature for their age. I know you want to be viewed as wise beyond your years, and in some ways you are. But there are also many, many things you don’t know yet.
You never believed it when people said teenagers were stupid and emotional, and you wondered if you would think differently when you got older. I’m 20 now, and I can say I’ve never thought you were stupid or emotional. Sure, you had your dramatic moments (still do, actually), but that’s because you were experiencing so many different things for the first time. How could you possibly know how to react to your classmate calling you ugly in the group chat, or to your father and grandfather getting hospitalised in the same month?
Being a teenager was so, so hard. I want to say it was like drowning, but that’s too cliche and you weren’t really drowning. It was more like that time at the swimming pool when you overestimated yourself and thought you could do two entire laps, only to feel like giving up once you were at the 1.7m mark. But you couldn’t stop, because that water height was already way above your own, and everyone was watching. So you pushed through in the end, and you’re still proud about that to this day. Maybe not the best analogy, but you get what I’m saying here: it was difficult, but you took it in stride (more or less), and you’re much better for it now.
So, yes, teenage you could be a dolt at times. A lot of the time. But I know now that you were just doing your best, and sometimes that’s all you can do.
I know some people say they wouldn’t want to tell their past selves anything, because then they wouldn’t end up where they are now. (Christina Perri said it best when she sang “I believe if I knew where I was going, I’d lose my way.) I beg to differ.
I believe you just need some guidance, for someone to remind you that it’ll all be okay. (Also, someone should remind you to practise better posture. Seriously, sit with your feet on the floor.) That’s what this letter is here for.
Above all, I want to tell you you’re doing good already. You’re working hard every day. You’re just trying to be happy, and to make your family happy. Sometimes, “doing good” is all anyone can do. So keep your chin up and maybe listen to some happier songs. (Your “Top Songs 2016” playlist on Spotify is full of heartbreaking songs, and I still can’t figure out why.)
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