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Dear 18 year old me,

I know where you are right now and this is why I am writing to you. You need to read this. I know you do.  I don’t have any of the big answers that you are looking for but looking back now I wish someone was around to guide me and talk to me openly. So today, when the world is ‘celebrating’ Youth Day, I want to write to you because I have some advice for you. I know you are struggling with different things right now. I also know that telling you “It’ll all be fine. Things could be a lot worse…” is the LAST thing you need to hear. So let me tell you what you really want to hear. You want to know about sex and love and relationships. Maybe not in that order - but am I right? So here goes...

 

Dear younger me,

Oh how much I love you. I am so proud of you. You are strong and driven and so much more amazing than you think you are. I know you are waiting to experience that first feeling of butterflies-in-your-tummy from being in a relationship but somehow, despite having a boyfriend, you aren’t feeling anything at all. But let me tell you, as you enter your twenties, you will do something that seems shocking. You will end this relationship because it doesn't make you happy. It will take you some time to make this decision, but when you are ready, you will finally decide to leave. I know right now you think that’s crazy, but you will be that person who chooses happiness and self-love over a toxic relationship. You are worth it and nobody deserves to be in a relationship that makes you feel stifled and controlled. Remember you always have a choice and voice. If it doesn't feel right, say NO. Own yourself.


I wish we were taught these things in school. Not just about self-worth but about bodily choices,
consent, sexuality and basically our rights! I know school is frustrating right now and you have so many
burning questions and yet no one who is willing to answer them. Amma is too shy to even say the word sex but please, please….take some time to read up on some age-appropriate information and speak to
someone you really trust. Not just anyone but someone you are comfortable with.

You also know deep down that you got into that relationship just to mask what you have always been feeling. A sense of being different. You tried so many times to cover your identity - your true self. Let me tell you, now that I'm older I feel liberated. Amma still has a long way to go to accept us for who we really are but trust me when I say things are slowly turning around for us in 2021. My point is, right now you may feel like you can never truly come out and no one will accept you but let me tell you that things are good for us in the future. Don’t get me wrong, it won’t all be rainbows and sunshine but you will have a group of true friends that accept you and even though Amma doesn’t fully understand yet she still loves you the same. More importantly, you will truly love yourself for who you are. Continue to focus on your education because that is something no one can take away from you and it will help you stand up for yourself when things get tough. So hang in there and in the meantime confide in someone you trust. This will prepare you to come out when you are truly ready. Do not ever feel like this is a ‘burden’ that you need to keep to yourself. Society may struggle with your identity but that’s on them, not you. This is your journey so embrace it. Just like all the others before us, we will continue to fight for more acceptance, inclusion and respect.

I also know that deep in your heart right now you're struggling with guilt. School can be cruel and I know you felt like you had to protect yourself to get through. That’s why you didn’t reach out to Kamani even though you knew in your heart that it was wrong to exclude her just because of her disability. She was made to feel low and incapable through no fault of her own and the teachers didn’t know how to make it any better for her either. I never realized how hard it was for her just to fit in. Everyone kept treating her like she was a waste of space and that resources should not be wasted on her as she will never be able to fully contribute to society.

But let me tell you, she is doing amazing now. She’s a disability rights activist working with civil society, schools and the UNFPA to ensure other young people like her don’t have to face the same discrimination she experienced. I know you’re not proud of not being there for her right now but in the future, you will reach out, make amends and support her in her inspiring work. Always remember that it’s never too late to do the right thing.

Lastly, believe in yourself and don’t let anyone weigh you down. And never stop believing that you can make a difference…..you can change this world.

Love
Your future self


*This letter penned on International Youth Day 2021 is inspired by conversations with young people in Sri Lanka who have contributed to UNFPA’s ICPD Programme of Action.