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A letter to my older self from an ‘average’ teenager

30 Dec 2019

Illustration by Jess Nash

In August 2019, we published our first book: I Will Not Be Erased: Our stories about growing up as people of colour. A life-affirming, moving and joyous collection of 14 essays, gal-dem’s talented writers used raw material from their teenage years to give advice to their younger selves and those growing up today.

We also launched a competition to find the next generation of young writers and encourage them to write essays to their future selves. Today, we’re publishing the three winning essays in full. In this letter, Qashrina writes on anxiety and their fear of failure.


Dear older self,

I’m feeling pretty useless at this point. Everything I stood for seems to have suddenly shifted, a strange unfamiliar world now casting its shadow upon me: stagnant, lifeless, and almost dead. My anxiety seems to consume me as I lose friends and interest in everything and anything I once did with intense excitement, a spark, a shimmer shining in my eyes.

Dad said, “You’re not yourself anymore, you’ve changed”. I was left speechless, unsure of what to say. I seemed eager to quickly disagree but no words left my mouth. Silent internalisation filled my head. I knew what he meant but I was still confused.

Average: simple word, endless connotations. The adjective once consumed every aspect of our lives, we were obsessed. Do you remember? Working hard then not amounting to anything but “average”. We received “average” GCSE grades, we got an “average” placement with The Voice UK then an “average” role within the college show. All my dreams seemed to have shattered without acknowledgement. I’ve tried to remain positive but the act only lasts for so long before demons catch up, you can only run so far. This competition is sort of like a last resort to save myself from what feels like the end of me, the one I knew.

Hobbies decrease. Sleep increases. I’m slowly slipping away, building up to this word which constantly reminds me I’m not good enough, I am the middle which everyone forgets about and I’m beginning to feel the repercussions of neglect. I am not important, I am not special so what am I?

I’m hopelessly lost, trying to find an exit that is impossible to find. Maybe I’m drowning in my expectations but maybe I’m onto something, maybe I am meant to dedicate my life to a simple office job until I die, artist, musician, and computer scientist – dreams that have gone to waste. Young but destined for failure. 

Future self, do you still love to sing, to make music? Or was years of lovelorn daydreaming a way to pass time? Future self, do you believe in fate now? An optimist ready to follow God’s plan. Are you sure God exists now? Or do you still follow a religion you are unsure about? Putting labels on yourself so people ask you fewer questions. Future self, tell me, have I found myself again or have I been doomed to disaster?

Maybe you’ll look back at this letter and laugh, thinking I am silly, dramatic or maybe you’re crying afraid to reply to the many questions you may still find hard to answer. Either way, please let me know, I want to know, I need to know. Dear future self, tell me that it has gotten better.

– Sincerely, Qashrina