A Letter To My Younger Self

Words by Zayan Ismail 
Art by Berciano Hernandez

To my dearest Zayan,

As I write this to you on this cold winter’s morning, I am reminded of a post someone shared on Facebook today that I naturally had to share myself. Let me also share it with you, it reads, “yesterday was heavy, put it down”. Sometimes constantly looking back does not foster change and self-growth, it rather drags you further away from your own potential.  

They say age is nothing but a number, but with it comes responsibility and wisdom. While you are in primary school, I would urge you to not listen to what the teachers are saying regarding how talkative you are. For they don’t know that you would one day speak at assemblies, engage in debates and speak your truth in tutorials at university. A child should not be told to keep quiet. Your younger years are for you to converse and engage in the exchange of ideas. As it would ultimately come to be, you indeed would listen and perhaps that is why I am such an introvert or as I say to myself, introspective.

The body is your vessel to express yourself. I am now aware of Erving Goffman and his seminal theory of dramaturgy—the presentation of self. The identity you have right now is not stable or homogenous. Like everything around you, it is also subject to change. Thus, as you present yourself throughout secondary school and beyond, know that this is as a result of the people around you. You’re quiet, awkward and always in a negative headspace. It is not your fault. You present yourself in this way as a coping mechanism. 

The mere reason that you are yourself—flamboyant, non-conforming, politically conscious, culturally competent, inclusive, understanding and respectful—makes some people angry and repulsed. You must never give in to what anybody has to say. Hang in there, you will soon meet people who are more accepting of who you truly are. 

The year you turn 17, there will be monumental changes in your life. Changes that will reshape the core foundations of your being. Changes that will both enforce and disrupt relationships. You will fall in love and pick yourself up again. Experience heartbreak as a result of embracing your authenticity, and your own loved ones dismissing you for it. Finally, you will realise that love is not uniform and static. It is truly what you make of it. Most of all, it is important to love yourself. People will come and go, like dawn to dusk; but in the end, all you need is the company of yourself. 

From here on out, life becomes a little less simple. Everything’s more complex, tense and polarised. Intimacy is something you will soon come across and you will quickly realise it is overrated. Like most things in life, it is fleeting. The only advice I have for you is to look after yourself and be safe. Unfortunately, things will become so overwhelming that you will have your very first panic attack. The world seems to be falling apart. Everything is going awry. Know that this is only a temporary occurrence. Approach things with positivity and finally, breathe.

As I look back at you I feel proud. You have graduated and are finally getting the opportunity to attend a university that you’ve always wanted to go to. That is a remarkable feat. Through all the stress and different episodes of losing friends, becoming conscious of your own emotions and being mindful of your thinking, I must say you are doing amazing. Being in university right now, I have never felt so out of place and insecure in my entire life. I feel like it is a constant that I will have to battle with for the rest of it. 

Know that people will hurt you and say the most revolting things. You will soon find out it is best to let it go. Know that the karmic universe will take care of everything. You must not harbour negative emotions. Firstly, you don’t need all that pessimism to mount as a detriment to what you’re already going through. Secondly, it will give you wrinkles!

Speaking of which, if there is any advice I absolutely need to give you, it’s to start taking care of your face! Skincare is of utmost importance. My skin is still suffering from the trauma you’ve inflicted. Nonetheless, when you finally get the hang of it (which you will very soon) your skin will be gleaming and people will notice. Oh happy days!

Think of that TLC song ‘waterfalls’, don’t go chasing it. Don’t rush, go with the flow. Don’t change anything. You’re meant for this life, and in the end, it’ll all work out. All sweet, no bitter.

Yours truly,


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