In the fall of 1992, I got into my car and drove away from my family home. I was 20 years old and on the cusp of a brand new life. My smile was wide as the thrill of possibility stoked flames inside my stomach.
As the familiar sights of central Wisconsin gradually faded behind me, I watched expectantly for the mountains of Tennessee to break the horizon. My future was waiting for me there.
I was young, optimistic, and fearless.
And I knew nothing about life.
What follows is the letter I wish I could send to that young man.
It’s been more than two years since you graduated high school, and I know you’re itching to find your purpose and place in the world. Things right now may feel confining and stagnant, but there are a few things that you should know before you leave.
Moving won’t make you a different person
I know that you spend your nights awake staring at the ceiling while imagining a more exciting life. You believe that if you drive far enough then you can forget the world you know now. You’re sure that you can have a fresh start as a man without any baggage.
Even if you take nothing else with you, you cannot leave yourself behind. You will always be you no matter where you live, and that’s not a bad thing.
Learn to embrace what and who you are. Accept your good and bad qualities.
Those things you hate about yourself? Yeah, they will always be there, but it won’t be long until you understand how they have helped shape you. Time will reveal that you are you for a reason.
Family is important
Your relationship with your mom and dad isn’t great right now. You imagine that you can walk away from your family and never have to think of them again.
While you can try to leave them all behind, they will always be part of you. Just like soldiers who fight together in a war, your family members are the only ones who will ever fully understand the events of your childhood. The time will come when you’ll need that validation.
Things were said and done that hurt you, but that pain is temporary. Much of it will be forgotten before five years pass.
Love your family, and forgive them now. It seems like you have forever to come back to these relationships, but some of them will be gone before you know it.
You are not fatally flawed
Those nightmares you’re having, the ones that make you afraid to sleep, soon they’ll go away. Running away isn’t the solution that silences them.
What you don’t know right now is that you have a mental illness — bipolar disorder to be exact. That illness is why you perceive the world differently than most of your friends.
It’s not going to be easy, but you’ll learn to live a full life with bipolar. At times, you’ll think you can’t go on for another second, but those times will be shorter than you think.
Your sun will always rise again, so you must never give in to the darkness.
You know less than you think you do
Here’s the truth, my friend. You will never know more than you do right now.
In your mind, you’re sure you’ve got it all figured out. The answers to all life’s problems are clear before you.
By this time next year, you’ll have discovered how wrong some of those answers are. Then, each passing year will reveal even more of what you do not know.
In 20 years, you’ll wake up one morning and finally realize that you know nothing.
That’s when real wisdom will start.
Your dream has always been to be a best-selling author living quietly in a cabin in the mountains. You’ll get your mountains, but you’ll be tempted to abandon your writing. Time and again, it will feel like writing is useless.
Whatever you do, never stop writing. Write in your journal every day. Take the time to sit still and put that novel that’s dancing in your head down on paper.
Don’t worry about not knowing where it’s headed, because the story will show you the way. Don’t fret as to whether it’s any good or if anyone will ever read it. That’s not what matters.
The truth is, it will be terrible. Write it anyway. It’s the block that’s standing between you and everything else you will write, and much of that writing will be very good.
Let go of the past
There are memories right now that you’re afraid to face. The terrible things you imagine really did happen, but they won’t continue to control you.
The only way to put the coming hell behind you is to go through it. Throw fear aside and face each monster head-on. It will be excruciating, and you will cry — a lot — but you’ll also heal.
Not only will you conquer the demons, but it won’t be long before they have no hold over you. You’ll then be ready to be a guide to others as they learn how to heal from their pain.
Right now, you have eternity before you. Everything seems possible and attainable.
The real dangers of this world are unimaginable. I wish I could save you from them all, but some things can’t be changed.
Let yourself love, and make sure you actually say the words. Don’t hide from your feelings or keep them a secret. People may know you care, but they long to hear it. Don’t keep them waiting.
Your heart will melt into another, and that love will transform you into your best self. Nothing will ever feel better.
Unfortunately, that connection will be devastatingly short. Pursue it anyway.
Immerse yourself in every moment. Stop and engage all your senses — see, hear, smell, feel, and taste all that you can. Fully experience every second.
Those memories will be your greatest treasures.
You will make it
The life you’ve always imagined is not going to happen. That’s okay. It was only a dream, and not all dreams should come true.
Instead, there will be wonderful adventures and awe-inspiring scenic views. One sunset alone will forever change you.
Enjoy each step on the road. Where you’re going doesn’t matter. The times you’ll cherish will be the ones that happen along the way.
My dear young man, you have an extraordinary experience ahead of you. It will be a wild roller coaster ride at times, but you will grow with each twist and turn. Better yet, you will learn to love, the true meaning of family, and that there’s a great big world that’s nothing like what you’ve known so far.
Remember to love intensely, try new things, keep your mind open, and always look forward.
You got this.
Previously published on Medium
This story originally appeared on Medium