Conversation With My 18-year-old Self

You’re not comfortable in your own skin and you pretty much know that. A lot of it has to do with your weight and a neurosis that your mom implanted in you back when you were 14. There’s a diary entry from the start of your freshman year of high school where you wrote about getting your body fat measured in high school PE class and despite you being 11% body fat, your mom “still calls [you] fat.” It isn’t ever right to tell anyone that they’re fat. Do yourself a favor and don’t let this carry on the rest of your life. It’s behind in its rent so evict it NOW.

Figure out and focus on what makes you happy for you. Find what makes you feel good and keep doing it every day. You’ll try and fail numerous times to get on a gym schedule with the sole intent of losing weight and it’ll never stick because that isn’t the right reason to do it. That’s just about burning calories and your heart isn’t ever going to be into that. There’s no joy being on a treadmill. Even with the pool you’ll go maybe a few times a week every now and then and I know you already find that boring. You respond well to challenges though and they’re always just to see what you can do. You hate competition and the only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday. Take it one day at a time and stop being so hard on yourself.

You really aren’t focused on your health of any kind and running around a bit like a burnout at the tender age of 18. Learn how to cook already. Trust me, you’ll enjoy it. Ithaca has awesome farmer’s markets so take advantage of it. Take a nutrition class at Cornell or something to learn that a lot of what you are eating is total crap. It’s basically college comfort food that isn’t serving you well. And worse off is that you’re eating way too much of it. Listen how your body responds to what you eat as you may notice that you really don’t feel good afterwards. It’s not your fault though since you don’t know better and popular belief is that the “college diet” is what you’re supposed to be eating. They’re wrong. You didn’t need to eat that much in high school either and again, that was all crap that you were eating and unfortunately lots of it. Try some kale as it’ll practically be your best friend one day. Start your plant-based diet now and ditch the white carbs that really aren’t fueling your body.

You don’t recognize yourself in the mirror and you hate photos of yourself because of that. This is exactly why you need to start taking better care of yourself. Do it for you. It’ll be 90% diet and 10% exercise so start making smarter choices about what you eat and just as importantly, how much of it you eat. You’ll lose almost all the weight you put on in high school and go back to a normal weight just by changing your diet. Take it one meal and one day at a time. You didn’t put on that weight overnight and it’s not going to go off overnight either. It’ll do wonders for your self-esteem though and help you get more comfortable with who you are.

One day you’ll get really into being physically active and it’s not about exercise at all. It’s more about pushing yourself to see what your body can do. You’ll make friends along the way who also share that passion and drive to join you on that journey. You support each other and it’ll become very social, almost to the point where you forget that you’re burning calories also. Cardio will become a big part of it and no, you still don’t like running. You’ll accomplish some incredible feats that’ll teach you just how emotionally and mentally strong you truly are. If you’re not mentally and emotionally there then you won’t be able to physically get through it which is why the gym routine isn’t going to work for you. Change your diet first to lose a lot of the weight and then start exercising as it’ll be a lot easier without the excess baggage. It may be laborious at first but you’ll get more energy eventually. In fact people will become impressed with how much energy you have one day. For you though, it’s just your normal daily routine as it’s part of your lifestyle.

You’ll learn that it’s a privilege to move because you’ll have it all taken away from you. Head’s up…you have hip dysplasia in both hips. Your pelvis is slightly deformed to where there’s not adequate coverage of the femur on either side which is causing undue stress on your hip joints. It won’t cause any problems until just after your 34th birthday when you’ll lose the ability to move your right leg while being in the worst pain you’ve ever felt in your life. Go straight to your cousin Denise as she’ll help you with getting the proper diagnosis sooner. Go to the Center for Sports Medicine at St. Francis anyway for the cortisone shot and pain meds so you can at least sit down without crying. A extremely gifted surgeon at Stanford, Dr. Michael Bellino, will surgically break your pelvis to save your hip joints and stop the arthritis that started forming literally overnight. You’re going to be bedridden and using a walker and wheelchair for 6+ months over 2 years while you get your pelvis fixed. Your Aunt Marge told you that your golden years are when you’re younger and can still move. She knew what she was talking about. So stop complaining about the walk back to Akwe:kon from class / the lab / COE because other people don’t have the option to walk, including you and luckily yours was temporary. Take advantage of the beauty of Upstate New York as you’ll look back fondly on these days.

Having your periacetabular osteotomy will be one of the best things that will happen to you. The new lease on life will guide you to you accomplishing feats beyond your wildest imagination. Next time you’re home, go to Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghiradelli Square (I know, trust me on this one though). You’ll see between them a nondescript white building with red trim that you’ve never noticed before even though it’s been there since the 1930s. That’ll be like your second home one day and the people there will become part of your family. It’s an amazing experience there and you’ll only possibly regret that it didn’t enter your life sooner. However, you’ll cross paths with the people there at the right time in the right place.

Your mom is going to always be who she is and she doesn’t know any better. You really do take after your dad more and he will teach you that he never doubted that she loves you and Stephanie and she just never learns how to show it. You’ll grow pretty close to your dad and even when you’re almost 40 he will be there for you. How awesome is that? One caveat though is that he will badly hurt you one day and he’ll regret it. You already know your parents’ marriage has been over for about a good 5 years now. He’s sticking around to make sure you girls get through school and that’s something you’ll never be able to repay him for. He doesn’t have many regrets in his life and not telling you before he moved out of the house is one of them. Understand that he gave up 10 years of his own happiness for you and your sister. He’s human and he made a mistake. Don’t be so hard on him for it. There’s a lot of love between you two. He got you that far and finally made the first move for himself in decades. He’ll continue being there for you the rest of his life in every way that he can without asking for anything in return.

Stop thinking that everything will be fixed tomorrow. You’ll always end up playing “catch up” if you do that. You’ll never feel like an adult until you stop playing that mental game. Tomorrow’s never guaranteed and you don’t want to live in the past. This is the hardest lesson that you’re going to learn. Live one day at a time.

This goes for your time with people also. Never put off for tomorrow what you can do today. You regret not talking to your grandma on the phone what turned out to be two days before she died. You’ll have others die before you and you’ll regret that you didn’t spend more time with them. Make the most of what you’ve got today. Be present.

You’ll have a great attitude for all of your failed relationships as seeing them as “learning opportunities” instead of “failures.” Each one will help teach you what’s important and not important in life which you’ll find surprising. Stay away from this guy Mike that you’ll meet shortly after graduation though. He’ll just waste 2 years of your life otherwise. Don’t sell yourself short though in them as otherwise people, even friends, will walk all over you. You’ve already learned that despite Robin saying that she wanted to keep in touch with you after high school graduation, she couldn’t bother to return a phone call or email since then. She never will either and you don’t need false promises and friends like that. Hold onto and learn how to vocalize your standards to yourself and others. Not everyone is going to appreciate your heart. Focus on those who appreciate you since they are your people. There’s no sense in giving it to those who don’t care. If you’re not getting at least as much effort back then walk away from those people are they’re poison to your spirit. Many others are worth your time and energy who will help enrich your life and pick you up when you get knocked down. You’ll do the same for them too without any questions asked.

Drop the expectations on yourself and other people. People get too wrapped into expectations of how others, including themselves, are going to behave. Accept them for who they are and this goes for yourself. You can’t change who you are deep down. People get angry at others because the other person’s behaviour didn’t match up to expectations. The sooner you realize this, the better. It’s good to have goals for yourself and make them realistic. You’re a planner so make a plan for goals that suit you best that ensure you’re taking care of yourself and then run with it. Everything needs to be broken down into smaller manageable chunks as then it’s all easy.

The biggest secret that you don’t know is that you’re an incredible person. You’ve got a big heart that you’ll throw into your career, activities, and relationships. Your career will take you on a weird path but it’ll all make sense in the end as you’ll end up exactly where you are supposed to be. You give a lot of yourself to others, including those who don’t deserve it. You can’t change who you are though. Some people are going to try and take advantage of that though. Figure out what your standards are for your relationships with others and then stick to them. Yes I repeated that to get it through your thick skull. Do your heart a favor on that one! It’ll never feel like work because you’ll figure out what is worth your effort and what is not.

A lot of things aren’t going to make sense and you’ll always spend too much time overthinking just about everything. You’ll end up exactly where you’re supposed to be. It just may not look like how you expect but it’ll eventually feel right. You’ll know it when it is right for you as you’ll finally start feeling settled and at peace. Everything will fall into place.

Housemate Alex and myself on our housemate Holly’s bed in Akwe:kon (Native American Residential Program House) at Cornell University in Spring 1996.

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1 Response to Conversation With My 18-year-old Self

  1. markbittner says:


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