Dear 4 year old me,

Yes, you are going to have a little sister and you are going to be the middle child. And even though you will begrudgingly fill that role to the fullest extent, just remember that you wouldn’t be you without it.

Dear 5 year old me, stop stealing toys from kindergarten. I know you love being the center of attention, but…come on. Next it begs the question of the chicken and the egg…were you innately made to be this way (I mean, maybe, look at the way dad talks when he hangs out with his friends…he LOVES talking about things he knows), or did you become this way because of the “middle child syndrome”? The world may never know…and it’s fine, but…stop it!

Dear 6 year old me, Mom cut your hair so short that when you were walking down the hall a 5th grader made fun of you for it. And you cried and were angry and that was your first, but not your last, experience with people who put you down because of the way you looked. Don’t worry, you’ll stop caring about that…eventually, even if it’s 15+ years later. Better late than never, kid!

Dear 7 year old me, it’s ok to feel jealous of your sisters. One is just entering middle school and becoming a perfect child, essentially. And the other is a tiny little thing that cries a lot (but probably not as much as you, lol) and eats everything she can get her hands on, so yeah…they might need some help.

Dear 8 year old me, don’t try to run away from home again! It’s just silly. I mean, what are you gonna do, ride your razor scooter across the country?

Dear 9 year old me, I know you don’t like wearing dresses to church…but one day you’ll love dressing up again! Suck it up/chin up, buttercup!

Dear 10 year old me, dear god, you are truly terrible at soccer, but I love the dedication. Keep trying, you’ll get marginally better but you’ll at least have fun.

Dear 11 year old me, you stopped being best friends with someone you’d been friends with for multiple years (which was a first) over something very dumb, and you probably shouldn’t have done that. But hey, things happen. Although it horrifyingly set the tone for the rest of your adolescent friendships because you couldn’t keep a friend for the love of…everything.

Dear 12 year old me, I know you’re so so scared of diving off the block for summer swim team…and I know you will continue to suck at it throughout high school, but that’s ok. You never liked swimming that much anyway. Just…be less scared of things, please!!

Dear 13 year old me, hey look! You had a boyfriend for a little bit. Which to this day, is still surprising because you were attempting to be the ultimate tomboy because you were tired of not being as smart as your Asian peers. So you just thought you’d try your hand at being good at that. And you got teased and rejected. Remember when you asked what logo the moose was for (Abercrombie. I think?), and someone asked, “shouldn’t you know that? You’re her sister”…mentioning my very fashionable and cool older sister.

Dear 14 year old me, holy shit! You put on like, 10 pounds during the 2 weeks of your first preseason with the water polo team. You worked your ass off and listened to the coaches and had such a great season, you even got to play varsity at States for a little (I think? Maybe?). Even though you weren’t as fast as your sister, you worked to get better. And that’s how you’ve always been and always will be. And that’s cool!

Dear 15 year old me, this is the year someone on the team told you that you were doing well, and if you just kept listening to the coaches and working hard, you could just keep getting better. You craved that knowledge of knowing you were getting better and you LOVED it. You liked being torn down just to build yourself back up. But it was much easier with physical growth because mentally…it was too hard to admit you had issues that needed probing.

Dear 16 year old me, hey. This is the year you hurt your back, and this is the year that jump started your 5-year foray into figuring out yourself mentally and physically. Damn, that sucked, but you came out so strong on the other side. Even though you pissed people off, and even though you felt judged, isolated and confused, you made it. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but it was worth it. Ish.

Dear 17 year old me, this is when you discovered that you wanted to become a physical therapist. Perhaps because you saw one for 2 different injuries and she touched your life somehow, even if it was for a moment, you knew you wanted to help people. Mom told you that this was almost perfect because she knows you are so caring and kind.

Dear 18 year old me, you went off to college! You grew up! You spent the first semester being what you thought you were supposed to be…and then, even though you made so many mistakes second semester, you learned, you grew, and you started to actually like yourself more. Even though your GPA tanked this semester and you spent the rest of college trying to make it up…it was sort of, maybe, indirectly worth it.

Dear 19 year old me, you started dating people who just…were not good ideas. Hey, that’s how we all learn right? You encountered guys who leered at you just for the sheer fact that you were Asian, and you encountered those who didn’t care about anything, much less you. You will learn, for sure, and it will take awhile, but just know that you did the best you could have with everything and everyone you ran into. Ok, you could have done better. But how could you know what you didn’t know?

Dear 20 year old me, you got into your program! You were one of 24 in a program where around 60 people applied. It was the most horrifying process, but you did it, and quite honestly, you forgot about how tough it was as soon as it was over because along came 18 credit semesters, tons of hours during the week, and trying to “fit in”. And it was hard. But this was the year you did a rotation at a high school and a softball team and it was painful to realize just how terrible you were at making friends with other girls. Was it jealousy? Probably. Was it fear of being rejected? Most definitely. Hey — you’ll actually get good at this. Don’t worry so much.

Dear 21 year old me, you entered a relationship where for 8 months you endured confusion and hurt and manipulation. But you did accept going to therapy and that was your first encounter with the anxiety that permeated your life for so long without realizing. You broke down when you realized that you had spent so long fighting your parents and being angry when all you really needed was…help and you were just fighting yourself this whole time.

Dear 22 year old me, you didn’t get into any grad schools. You let it destroy you just for a little, but you dusted yourself off and found an internship. You won’t know this until later, but this is the proudest you have ever been of yourself still. You learned to love yourself, to spend time with yourself, and you soaked up every minute of an internship you dreamed about with some of the best mentors you could have even wished for.

Dear 23 year old me…you almost didn’t make it into grad school a second time. Fun, right? You cried almost everyday, you spent everyday torturing yourself with what you were going to do, because what if you failed again? Good news, you didn’t — and you ended up in a place where somehow, it was the exact place you needed to be. Your semester with football was equally excellent and difficult in so many ways, but you began planning your research project so early on that you could do what you wanted…and it was so much fun.

Dear…me. You are now 24 and are facing massive decisions in life. Where do you go now? Do you take the plunge and leave a place that feels like home? Where the mountains stand so strong, where the sun shines so brightly…you never thought you would feel at home in Utah of all places, but it’s been perfectly imperfect. You are grateful that you had a team that accepted you the way you are, that you have friends and coworkers who truly see you, and that you are going to therapy and taking care of yourself as best you can. You are taking charge of your fitness and your health and you are feeling and looking stronger.

You realize that you may have terrible days, and you will have good days, but you realize that life moves on, and that you may have to, too. And like the mountains that stand strong in all seasons (even though northern Utah seems to aggressively skip fall), you too, will stand strong no matter what happens. You’ll stick to your values as you always have, but sometimes you will let yourself have wiggle room too. You’ll be okay.

And like you always say…people can tell you that you’ll be ok, but you won’t feel that way until you tell yourself.

So,

You’ll be okay.

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Jen Xu

Jen Xu

Athletic trainer, coffee lover, looking for a hobby I don’t have time for. I write about fitness, mental health, being Asian-American, and personal growth.