Things you can do at sixteen, but should try earlier

L’s best friend is 16 this week. I guess it is the first big birthday, the one which has some legal or cultural significance. L is great for birthdays, she thinks so clearly and thoughtfully about what would be the best present. I picked her up in town yesterday and she showed me some things she was planning. A Happy Box, full of things to distract H from her self loathing, self harming behaviours. L will stick pictures on it, fill it with sour sweets, cards with messages, distractions and other ways of dealing with the feelings in H’s head. It is so adorable of L. And so desperately sad too. A milestone birthday, with a gift to stop the urges to cut and to hate.

So, I thought this morning, that I would make H a Bill of Rights for Sixteen Year Olds. A list of things you can and must do. Here is my first attempt.

1. You Can be the change you want to see in the world. Do you want your friends to see how amazing they are? Do you want them to accept how they look and who they are? Yes? Then start with you. Be the person you want them to be. Smile back in the mirror. Get bored with the endless obsessed Instagrammed world of looks. Say these words out loud. Mirror, mirror, I am lovely, thanks for asking. I like me, as much as I like my friends. Hey, I love me, just like I love my friends. Once you do that others will follow, I promise.

2. You can decide who to love and how to show your love. Under the law stuff, 16 is the age at which you can see yes to sex. Boy/Girl sex, obviously, because that’s all the law really understands. But remember this – it will ALWAYS be your decision who to love. And the biggest decision of all, the one you really have to get your head around right now, is to allow yourself to be loved. You deserve it and until you recognise that, being in love will always be tricky. Being in love without believing you deserve love is like sunbathing in an overcoat. Take the risk of being loved, and accept you may end up being burnt. If you do, you will heal and you will learn that love happens again and again. And again. To those who allow love in.

3. If 16 is the age at which you get to say Yes, to certain types of sex, remember this. You will have the right to say No every single day of your life if that’s how you feel, too. Sex without consent is to love-making what strangling is to a hug. Your body, your choice. For always and always and always.

4. 16 is the age at which you can marry a boy, if your parents agree. One day, everyone will be able to marry the one they love at an age on which we all agree. One day, who you choose to love and how you choose to love them, will be the most interesting thing to you and your friends and family, and of no interest at all to the government. Think about that.

5. Never let a moment go by without choosing to embrace it. You see this moment here? Oh, wait, it’s gone. This one here – no, wait, that went too. That’s how life works, this moment, this hour, this day are all once in a lifetime opportunities, which disappear for ever. They are friends, waiting to vanish from our lives forever. Will we hug them and squeeze out every last bit of happiness. Or will we not even notice as they sadly depart. Smile in these moments. Sleep in them, if you are tired. Put your shoulders back, stick your chest out and do the bum boogie, shaking your ass and singing. Close your eyes and feel the sun. Look out at the rain – you can go out and dance in it, or sit inside and eat buttered toast. Text a friend and say Boo!. Live each and every one of them. Even if living them means spending hours on websites comparing colours of nail varnish. Just do it and love doing it. Life should never be like being trapped in an endless classroom of Doom, waiting for it to be over.

6. You can make mistakes and screw things up. Actually, you probably should. Sometimes it’s not your fault. Sometimes it is. All you can do is say “I fucked up.”. If you hurt someone, say Sorry. And mean it. Don’t make excuses where they don’t exist. A life without mistakes is a life half lived. Learn from them. Make them again. Learn some more. Most messes can be cleared up. Except, if a really drunk friend suggests driving really fast somewhere? Don’t do that. NEVER do that, d’you hear?

7. You can be you and you can realise this is the best person you could ever be. If you try be someone else, because you think it might make you cooler, it won’t work, trust me. Everyone will notice and wonder where the real you went. The thing is, they love you, not the other person you are trying to be. Don’t be an imitation of someone else. Be the original, be the authentic, classic, one off original masterpiece that is you.

8. One day, you may have a daughter or son. You will ache for how hard life seems for them and want them to be happy. You will know that life is tough and at this age seems impossible. Will you be able to tell them they can find happiness and contentment right here, right now? Would you be able to tell them how you did it?

I hope so. Happy Birthday. The world is waiting.

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2 responses to “Things you can do at sixteen, but should try earlier

  1. This is fantastic! I’ve just come back from some training for the summer work I’ll be doing with 16-18 yr olds on the NCS programme (have you heard of it for your brilliant teens?) and these things would be brilliant to share in some way, shape or form, during the three weeks I’ll be working with them.
    Hope you’ve had a good weekend.
    As always, you’re a superhero!!
    hugs xxx

  2. I have been following your blog for some time now and have really come to care for you and your daughter. You should be so, so proud of what a wonderful mother you have been through all of this – and I’m sure it goes much further than what we read from your posts. I’m 21, a university student and also in recovery from anorexia. It made me so sad to read about L’s friend turning 16 and being so unhappy, and knowing that L herself is also a long way from happy still. I know only too well how difficult recovery can be and how often it can seem like two steps forward and one step back, and I’m sure L has been told this by many, many people – but please please tell her from me (for whatever the opinion of a stranger on the internet is worth) to keep pushing to get better now rather than letting it drag on and on throughout the rest of her teenage years and into her twenties. Tell her she can still have the best years of her life at college and university without those experiences being tainted by her eating disorder. I’ve already lost two thirds of my time at university under the fog of anorexia and I’m only now starting to realise what a waste that is and that it’s time I will never get back. Tell her to declare war and that there’s only one good time to do it, and that is now.
    I wish you both all the best x

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