In less than 12 hours, I will start a new decade of my life. When I turned 20, I didn’t really think about what this meant. Going from 19 to 20 wasn’t really a change; certainly I wasn’t thinking about entering a new chapter in my life, as the transition from teens to early adulthood was essentially the same. There has been no greater challenge in my life than my 20’s, and, when I think about it, that’s pretty remarkable. I’ve gone through more than I ever thought possible, and while I had the love and support of those around me, I did a lot on my own.
It sounds like a cliche, but if I could go back 10 years ago and give my 20-year old self some advice, it would go like this.
First of all, you absolutely must accept that you have anxiety. In fact, you have Chronic Panic Disorder. You will always have Chronic Panic Disorder, and will continue to shape who you are. It doesn’t get easier; fears of flying, eating, driving, throwing up, open spaces, intimacy, and running into your father will cycle throughout the years. But, how amazing you are to be able to handle this. And you can handle this. Let it become a part of you. Think of your anxiety like a big fluffy cloud that you can hug and comfort, because when you can embrace it, you will feel so much better.
Second, your body is incredibly strong and capable of anything. Exercise is pretty dope; maybe do it more than you have in your teens. You’ll start to notice little things as you age, like the ever-present tiny wrinkle above your eyebrows or the way your ankles crick when you stand up. Your body is built to withstand a war; give it the tools it needs to be your shield.
Also, you’re gonna get some super sweet tattoos and a nose piercing. Get excited.
You are going to go through SO many jobs. Oh, the jobs you will have. Some will be great, some will be boring, and some will make you want to pull your hair out. But, they’re just jobs. Shitty jobs don’t define you. By the time you reach 30, I promise you: you will be on the right path to an incredible career and have some of the greatest coworkers/friends you could ever want.
Treat your friends with immense kindness and love. There are those who will return the favor and those who will hurt you, but you will never regret being kind and good.
Anger is excess baggage. It ages you. And believe me, when you reach 30, you’ll start worrying a little more about age. So drop the hatred and upset (as much as you can. It’s totally okay to yell at shitty drivers and bad politicians and stuff.)
There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more painful and alien than loving someone who doesn’t love you in return. But, you must always love yourself through this time. It’s not your fault.
Your family won’t be there forever. As you age, so do they. Take all the time you possibly can to be with your mom, your grandparents, your extended family. You will remember the moments of side-splitting laughter more than any bad day you have, I promise.
You will gain a ton of weight around the age of 23, and, considering you weigh like 120 pounds right now, you’ll gain a killer ass and rock star thighs.
No one will be able to fix things for you when you’re depressed, and you will experience some serious depression. You can’t expect anybody to tell you that you’re depressed, and you can’t rely on anyone to make it go away. You have to be the one to take the first step, and you will have a shitload of hard work ahead of you.
Therapy is invaluable, but you already know that. Just be prepared.
Your appendix is totally going to need to be removed. You’ll know it when the day comes, trust me. Don’t be scared though, the hospital is not so bad. You get pancakes and can watch Zoolander in your underwear.
Yoga and meditation will become a huge part of your life and give you nothing but strength. Learn to love breathing.
You’ll get a cat. I know, you’re allergic as fuck, but oh man, you’re gonna get the best cat in the world.
I would not tell myself about getting married or becoming a music photographer. I was with my partner when I was 20, but at the time, we were practically kids. I don’t think either of us could have predicted that we’d be together when we reached 30, and I wouldn’t trade any of that uncertainty or nervous excitement for anything.
Becoming a music photographer has been the single greatest accomplishment of my 20’s. Going to grad school is a close second, but I’ve always been good at academics. I didn’t doubt my ability to get a Masters degree, and I didn’t doubt my ability to be a good teacher. But, when I doubted the education system itself and left the profession, I took a corporate job and learned that I am not cut out living out my days in a cubicle at a Fortune 500 company. Flash forward to 2018, and I am a (fairly) successful music photographer (and I’m a professional product photographer during the day! HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?) I have never felt better about myself than when I’m with my photography friends in a cramped pit, taking shots of some of the greatest artists in the world.
I would also not tell myself about Grammy’s death. Her illness brought undoubtedly some of the worst moments of my life (and my mother’s and grandfather’s), and I think that each of us handled it the best we knew how. I have no regrets about the time I spent with Grammy, because I saw her every single chance I could. She is still the strongest person I have ever met, and I could write a book on the impact she had on my life. Besides, she’s still floating around the universe somewhere, and I like to think she checks up on me once in a while.
My 20s are over. The nostalgia is rushing over me, but I am also glad to leave it behind. Starting a new decade feels like Spring cleaning: I have purged myself of all the clutter and bullshit I don’t need anymore, and I’m left with a calm, soft space that I’m really proud of.
Let’s do this, 30. I’m more than ready.
Me on my 20th birthday:
Me a week before 30: