Dear Teenage Meg
Photo: Meg Pirie / Illustration: Erin McPhee
Dear Teenage Meg;
Lately, you’ve been on my mind a lot.
You are lucky. You were able to make a few really good friends at the start of high school. Your family loves and supports you. These are people who became your foundations, your dance posse, and your funniest confidantes. But then you hit a rough patch and the world began to unfurl. It was like being alone in a cave; you’d reach out to touch the walls enclosing you, just to make sure there was something there, something solid and real, only to retreat a little further. You didn’t tell your friends you felt this way. You didn’t tell anybody you felt this way. You resented the solitude but continued to build this enclosing, silently and secretly, all while trying to figure how you could fix this and make this darkness disappear. Did you need to be nicer? Better? Study more? Try harder? One thing was certain: this was all your fault. At your core, so you thought, there was something rotten and unlovable.
This, Teenage Meg, brings me to my next point: Don’t do it! Stop it! Enough!
I’m saying that with love, but honestly, this will be one of the biggest revelations in your life. You can’t fix everything, including yourself—you can be good, and accomplished, and do everything right, but people are people. And people are flawed (including you), which is what makes us interesting. A never-ending treadmill on the road to perfection and goodness doesn’t lead you to any particular destination except disappointment. Life is not a linear path that you can organize with spreadsheets, and control with an intense regimen of self-discipline and obsessive routines. Accomplishments and momentary admiration from others are no substitute for the moment you give yourself permission to actually feel, even when these feelings are messy and stray from ‘the plan.’ You learned this, slowly but surely.
The cave you found yourself in? That wasn’t your fault and it wasn’t yours to fix. It was yours to experience. And in its own way, it has been one of your life’s greatest gifts and wisest teachers.
After you continued on along your path and the bleak grey dissolved to colour, it still took years to reconnect with the people you shut out. Know what you know now? Everything you felt was okay. Everything you felt was real. Your feelings are not a source of shame. You didn’t need to fix it or punish yourself with isolation. You can forgive yourself; this is essential for any life worth living. You are deserving of love and capable of loving with your entire being. The people in your life who are your foundation would have loved you, no matter what. They love you no matter what now.
You might encounter more caves in the future, but I’m glad Adult Meg (most of the time) understands Dumbledore’s greatest axiom: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.”
So just let go a little bit. Accept yourself. Give yourself a break and you will inevitably be easier on the people you love. Please keep listening to Alanis Morrisette, Erykah Badu and TLC. Seek connections with people, and places, and animals. These are all really good things. These are the lights that will see you through the darkest of times.
I’ll love you forever.
PS: I really wish you had read this poem. It’s called “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver. I think it might have been helpful, so I’ll share it now and hope it resonates with folks reading this now.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.