Dear Young Dumb Self,
When you were 12, food and exercise were abstract concepts. You ate what you were given and you exercised by saving your imaginary gang of friends from imaginary danger. If anyone had told you at the time that you would one day fret over the circumference of your thighs relative to those of a ballerina, you would have shifted your eyes to the middle-distance in perplexity, wondering when your future self got so lame.
Let’s reset. Let’s go back.
Stay with me for a second. Remember Halloween, 1996? It was the last time you would ever truly go out trick-or-treating, though you didn't realize it. If you did, you might not have made that particular costume.
You thought it would be avant-garde, though you didn’t really know the word “avant-garde” at the time. You only knew the word “cool,” and it was eminently clear that you weren’t that, so you decided to be its opposite. You glued grandparent-strength nutritional fiber flakes and two scoops of sugar-dusted raisins to the outside of a large cardboard box, cut holes for your head and arms and legs, and wove through the streets of Dundalk as a box of Raisin Bran.
Turns out, it was one of the best, most enjoyable Halloweens you ever had.
A Halloween party in Montreal nearly ten years later. You were dressed as something tragically forgettable—a sexy whatever-the-fuck. You’d only been in the city for two months and you were up to your eyeballs in worry. You worried about the rate at which you were making new friends (slow), the credibility you were earning among those new friends (plunging), and your ability to walk into a crowded party and convince everyone—especially yourself—that you belonged there (unreliable at best). And you worried about how you looked.
All of your favourite people were at that Halloween party, but you didn’t know it yet. You made frequent trips to the bathroom that night (remember that bathroom? The worn porcelain basin, the abstract art—a pink square inside a black one—hanging opposite the toilet) to check on your dumb costume, tug at your skirt and dab at your lipstick and frown at the thing your hair always did back then before you cut it all off. Nothing was going on in that bathroom except worry. Everything was happening out there, in the party.
All that time you could have been immersed in a room of lovely, kind, warm, costumed people. You could have been present. You could have been the way you were the year of the cereal box: embracing your un-coolness so head-on that you circled right around to cool again. That’s what everyone else was doing at that party. Women who would become your closest girlfriends were there. A man who is now one of your favourite people was there, dressed as a zombified prom date. All those friendships could have started that night, giving you a few bonus months of joy, if only you had let yourself out of the bathroom and into your own life.
When you lie around worrying about how much pizza you just ate, you’re going back there: the Bathroom of Worry, the place of swirling self-doubt and irritating abstract paintings sold in bulk. It’s no fun in there. Step out. Join the party.
That’s not to say that worry is all bad, all the time. Not so. Worry is what gets you onto the treadmill at the Y. Worry is what prompts you to stock the fridge with more than just cheese and beer. Worry is useful. But it should come with a surgeon general’s warning: every minute you’re worrying about one thing, you’re missing out on something else.
In 1995, you didn’t care how your legs looked poking out below the cardboard, or what people thought of you as you thrust your treat bag towards them, trusting in their generosity. If you had seen a documentary about ballerinas back then, you would have immediately donned your thickest socks and performed a slippery, sideways pirouette across the kitchen tile. Not once would you have worried about how you looked while doing it.
Young Self, I see you lying there on your bed, feeling like your stomach will burst if your heart doesn’t. You’re an errant ballerina who has twirled right out of self-assured adulthood and into the territory of fretful obsession. I swear it’s possible for you to twirl your way back again. All you need to do is dial down the worry.
Just about everything, even the shape of your body after scarfing a pizza, is going to be okay. I promise.
Old Wise Self