Dear Daniel (Age 15),
Spoiler alert: when you turn 20, people still call you “Dan.” Don’t get your hopes up.
Happy birthday to (me/you)! I hope there’s snow on the ground; I can’t remember if there was on your day. I know how much we like snow at Christmastime. How are the cats? Make sure you give Hermione and Whiskers a lot of love because they’re not around anymore. I’m pretty sad that they didn’t know me that well even when they died, so you should really get on that. How is Katie? Stressed, I would imagine. Junior year was pretty difficult, and she’s got French, which is highly difficult, as I’ve learned; AP Language, which requires much mental and spiritual endurance; and APUSH, which features an ungodly amount of reading. Be nice to her. She’s starting to think about colleges, and that’s a pretty scary thing to undergo. How is Mom (or Armon, as you will soon learn to call her)? Much of the same as Katie, probably. She works so hard to support you, which I know you recognize, but I don’t think you really internalize it that much. I acknowledge that things aren’t the best between you two right now, but try to make an effort to show her more consistent respect. Out of all the people you know, she deserves it the most.
Let’s see; what else? Oh, nowadays, people say the word “fam,” which urbandictionary.com defines as “a word use to describe your peoples. ones that you can trust dearly. someone you consider family.” Start saying it now, and you’ll be a total trendsetter.
BUY A PAIR OF WHITE VANS. AND WAIT. DON’T ASK QUESTIONS.
Also, buy some shorts that aren’t cargo shorts, which aren’t bad, but it’s good to have some variety. Lose the vendetta against jeans. They’re just too versatile to bear that kind of prejudice. Get some casual, non-athletic shoes. They can be quite comfortable. Try almond milk. It’s delicious.
In all sincerity, though, I know that you’re worried about a lot of things. While I know that telling you to not worry about something is utterly useless, and while comprehend your frustrations toward those who offer it to you as a panacea, I will say that there is a potential mode of life in which you don’t have to feel the effects of this dread as intensely as you do now. Let’s get the whole time paradox issue out of the way right now; I know that, as soon as you started reading, you probably thought about that as you have since the first new Star Trek movie. I’m going to make suggestions and tell you valuable information, but it’s not going to spell the end of the universe. So, yes, I can tell you that now, as I’m turning 20, I don’t feel the way you do. True, I still have many things vying for my attention, and I am still very busy, but I’m not eaten up like you are. Be happy! Even if you don’t take any of my advice, which is your decision, not mine, in five years, that weight will be gone from your shoulders, and your tears will subside.
I remember the grief experienced at how different you are from the rest of the guys in the high school. It’s certainly hard to act against the current, but there are people who appreciate it, even if you can’t see them right now. Don’t start swearing. Don’t start getting into relationships that end with a poisonous bang. (Although, I would think, “Well, that’s not going to happen because no girl in her right mind would ever find me attractive,” if I were you, so that’s not really a concern. But it’s another unfavorable portion of the current.) Don’t engage in gossip. In fact, start slapping it down when you can. I know you don’t feel part of the PT community yet, but you will still be able to help people with this simple strategy. You will come to know how viciously the entitlement and superficiality of high school culture can crucify the victims of bullying and other injustices, and it will make you think that you didn’t do the right thing by staying out of it, so get into it. Start talking to the people who treat you and other people kindly and decently. I know that you still have a long way to go in terms of self-awareness, and don’t get me wrong, I do, as well, but you can’t see yet that these are, in fact, the kind of people whom you want as friends. There are probably more of them in that school than I could ever find.
Yes, I know how much your physical appearance wears on you and makes you view your own body with impatience and betrayal when it causes you so much mental difficulty given the bullying, but there’s a reason for it, and it’s actually kind of cool. At your most recent pediatrician appointment, the attending took note that your growth had flat-lined and recommended to Mom that you see an endocrinologist. You don’t fully understand yet, but this is the variety of physician who specializes in the hormone system of the body. And you shouldn’t freak out about what I’m about to tell you, but you will have your answer. So, in January, you’re going to go to Children’s Hospital and get hooked up to an IV for three hours (I know, it sucks) and have differing amounts of glucose and insulin injected directly into your bloodstream. At the end, they’re going to put you into insulin shock, which is awesome; really try to absorb the sensory details of that experience.
As a result of this test, one day, Mom is going to come home and tell you that you have been diagnosed with pediatric growth hormone deficiency. There. … Process… Okay. Yes, you have the answer, and it’s unfortunate that you are afflicted with it – the incidence is something in the order of one in 5,000 children – but your interest in this illness will spark an even greater interest in endocrinology. At first, you’re going to see Dr. Popovic, but she’s not really going to listen to what you’re saying about your adjustment and your views about the therapy. Eventually, you’ll get to see the amazing Dr. Oscar Escobar, whom you will come to know and appreciate very quickly, but you could probably expedite this process. On February 29, 2012, a woman named Cindy is going to come to the house to assist you in your first self-administration of the recombinant growth hormone. (Yes, you heard that correctly: your future medication is made from plasmid-mediated recombination in E. coli, exactly what you’ve learned about in biology!) It’s a subcutaneous injection. Don’t freak out. I know you don’t like needles, and I know what happened at your first blood draw at Quest Diagnostics, but you won’t be dealing with any collapsed veins. You just inject it right into your skin. Start rotating between your thigh, stomach, and butt early; it took me almost a year to start circulating, and my thighs got pretty bruised up. Additionally, it’s a nightly injection, ideally taken around the same time each night. You’re going to treat this religiously, but you have more wiggle room than you think. Also, I know I freaked out about keeping it at exactly the right temperature, but I later learned that it can actually stay stable for up to three or four days at room temperature prior to opening; please, don’t dip into your limited supply of peace of mind for that. You’re going to start an injection log in the stout, red, three-subject spiral notebook that you planned on using for personal wellness. (In a way, it’s still going to be used for personal wellness, if you think about it.) That same notebook is on my desk right now. I’m looking at it as I type this sentence. Today, December 26, 2016, is Day 1,763, week 252. So, yes, I’ve injected myself with occasionally increasing volumes of somatropin every night for four years, nine months, and 28 days as of today. It’s been quite a long time, and I’m looking forward to being done, but I wouldn’t stop until they tell me that I need to stop because I know that not everyone who has our disease has access to treatment. To discontinue the therapy would be unfair to them. Not everyone agrees with me in this, which is fine, but I think that you will come to think as I do. I’m not sure of the reason, but I just do.
But you’re probably wondering about the most important information of all: do you start growing again? Yes! It will take a while for your body to acclimate to the higher levels of growth hormone, so the growth won’t be immediate. In fact, as you will learn, it’s rather piecewise, unlike the normal curve, but it will happen. Today, I’m five-seven. (I KNOW! AWESOME!) But even as I tell you this, I implore you to step back and consider the bigger picture. Right now, in this moment, your stature has no influence on the person you choose to be, and I know that you want to choose he who lives for good. I am no different in that endeavor at nine inches taller.
I know how stressed you are about your Eagle Scout Project. After all of that work on the required merit badges and accumulation of service hours, you’re poised and apt, but you still feel this anxiety surrounding the idea that it simply cannot be done. Let me tell you a secret. I was so surprised by how much help I had when doing the project, from the initial paperwork to the preparations for the Eagle Board of Review. You are motivated and ambitious. The fact that you want to become an Eagle Scout is the most important factor of all, and you already have that. You will keep on-schedule with the raw material deliveries, communicate appropriately with the maintenance supervisor at St. Louise, effectively lead the other Scouts and adults in completing the work, and write top-notch summaries of the days’ events. On November 18, 2012, your BOR will take place, you will be promoted to Eagle Rank alongside Ben Settimio, Connor Martin, and Joe Starr, and it will be a memory for the ages. In early May of 2013, your Eagle COH will occur, and you will want to cry during your address to the people who have gathered to celebrate with you. Let yourself feel that gratitude. Let yourself be overwhelmed. Let yourself cry. I repeat, let yourself cry, because later on, you’ll catch word of a ridiculous standard for men prohibiting tears, and you will want to actively combat it by encouraging free emotional expression. Furthermore, you will write your Common Application essay on this experience when you start applying to colleges, and this essay, together with your other credentials, will get you into all eight schools to which you apply. Have faith that your life as an emotive being will lead you in the right direction and toward the kinds of people right for you.
What’s your resting heart rate these days? I think it’s somewhere in the mid-forties – great job on your continued efforts! But I know that your routines have caused you great stress for some time. They are so tightly intertwined with your view on life necessities that they govern your meals, your schedule, and your ability to spend on socialization – in this case, minimal. It’s awesome that you can do 3 x 20 x bodyweight for your pull-up varieties and hold really long planks (you peak at 30:00 before you leave for college!), and your body is certainly very healthy and physically fit, but not in every way. Your commitment to your exercise regimen restricts your sleep and creates undue stress in your life. It’s supposed to help you manage anxiety, not generate it. Please, try to develop a greater balance with it in your life, a more sustainable but less all-consuming approach. You don’t have to do 40 miles on the elliptical every week to keep in good shape. You don’t have to hit every single calisthenic exercise each week to maintain your strength. If my memory serves me correctly, you’re sitting somewhere around 97 pounds right now. Just as a heads-up, I’m about 183 pounds right now and only do minimal calisthenic work. I’ve lost a steady cardio routine, and my longest planks don’t even reach 90 seconds. While I’m currently in the process of trying to develop a greater relationship with the pursuit of fitness and find an appropriately limited spot for it in my life, I still try to act for good and with integrity, and this is what matters. I don’t look like you do; I don’t have an eight-pack, and you can’t see many veins on my body, but I think I’m in a better place as a human in totality, and you will soon understand why.
Ah, school. The pinnacle of my past anxiety. The unwitting internalization of the idea that academic performance is linked to moral fiber still runs in your background programming. Trust me, it’s there, and you’ve felt it but struggled to put it into words. A’s are the implication of the function of your existence; if this criterion is not met, the function is invalidated, and everything collapses. But hey, I admire the fervor with which you throw yourself at your studies and the joy with which you encounter new material. Thankfully, I’ve been able to keep those things around in my approach to academics. Science is still amazing, and although you haven’t yet entered Mrs. Kendrick’s chemistry class yet, I can tell you that a wonderfully interesting, inspiring, and infinitely complex world awaits as the future vessel of will to learn. You will fall in love with physics, as well, but these relationships are very different. I still have trouble categorizing and describing them. Anyway, the overarching issue here is your inner turmoil with regard to your performance. I know that Mom keeps telling you to trust in your past successes because that is the best readily available evidence for predicting future outcomes. But you don’t listen, you can’t listen to anything that you believe will lead you to laze or complacency. You should try to consider what she’s saying though, because, to give you an idea, I took an organic chemistry class this past semester and performed well, actually confident in myself. I know, right? Confidence is something that you’ve never really allowed yourself to feel, but I must assure you that it is not only well-deserved but essential. Just as you must own your mistakes and lapses in responsibility to continue growing, so too must you own your strengths and successes in order to apply them to future endeavors and situations.
I know how you feel about this balance because it’s what you and still I tell everyone who comments: I am fortunate to have above-average intelligence, but this is not what earns me my grades and distinctions. I succeed because I try really, really hard, because I work my butt off to make concrete the material that I comprehend naturally and to pound out that which takes me much longer to understand. You will not lose that, as it is too closely aligned with who you are as a person. And though you feel this great magnitude of stress, which could be remediable if you begin to consider life otherwise, this assiduousness will serve you well. You will not earn a single B throughout high school. You will take nine AP exams (yes, nine!) and will receive a score of 5 on each one of them. On May 11, 2015, you will walk out of the library after finishing the Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism exam and will break down in tears at the enormity of your efforts for the day, as both the biology and Physics C: Mechanics exams will have preceded this. All of this in one day…yes, it was such a challenge, mental and physical, but you still achieved the best possible outcome. You will have these experiences because of who you are, because of your vision for your own future, and because of you undying passion in the quest to understand the beautiful physical universe that surrounds you. These, my friend, will not change. This is one those few but convenient times when you actually know what you want. That, alone, is the keystone to your path. All of the second-guessing and sleepless nights and tripling of heart rate upon signing into PowerSchool pushes effort and energy into the cosmos; it can return nothing. You must begin to acknowledge that, among all things, your scholastic drive merits content and even calm resolve to repeatedly take on the challenge of higher learning.
This topic is the most vital of all, so listen carefully. I know that you cry yourself to sleep, how the feeling of tears dripping over the bridge of your nose when you lie on your side has become familiar. I know that you go onto Twitter and uncomprehendingly behold pictures of your peers having fun and enjoying the benefits of friendship. I know that you stifle your own laughter and panic every single time an exchange between you and anyone outside of our family transpires. Are you weird? Are you even likable? Will you ever find someone your own age with whom you can deeply connect? Yes, you are weird, but remember that you believe in standards that keep you this way, and that is worth fighting for. Yes, you are likable, and it’s difficult for you to see it due to your barriers, but people express their appreciation in simply unexpected ways. Regarding the third question, the short answer is unfortunately not. This is not to say, though, that you won’t meet and come to know a group of really good people who reach out to you and try to share in your life, but your reservations will hold. This, together with certain incompatibilities of thought that you cannot accommodate, will close you off from full connection. In this way, you will fall short as their proto-friend, and I still regret my actions during this period, but I had not yet learned the lessons necessary for me to see an alternate path. They’ll speckle your days with smiles and make you feel like a part of the class. They’ll include you in their groups to prom and think of you when you least expect it, even when you don’t think of yourself. And when you graduate, you will miss them, and you won’t know that another painful feeling is that of regret that things could not have gone differently.
Loneliness is an extremely difficult mentality to endure, and its long-term effects I think you know quite well. You think, Will I ever be able to laugh and not regret it? Will I ever look into their eyes and see true joy at my presence? As difficult as it might be to understand right now, it won’t soon improve if you don’t heed my assertions. Friends are just as important as sleep, exercise, and grades. They do add so much to life that you cannot possibly comprehend. But if you ignore my advice like I did, things will have to get much worse before you can see what I mean.
At the culmination of your college application process, you will narrow it down to the University of Dayton and the University of Rochester. Then, in March, you will receive a phone call from someone at the U of R to tell you that, as a result of your interview weekend in late February, you have been accepted into the REMS program. There, now that is something. For all of that burgeoning interest in medicine from your current state onward, it comes to great and satisfying fruition, and the ambiguity of the potential for admission to medical school will be drastically reduced. You will desire to keep it out of the sphere of public knowledge. We both understand that it isn’t right for someone to judge us on our accolades. Even in that time of progression and impending change, you are valued for your character, and those who only see grades or Rochester or REMS don’t really see all of you. You will start up work at the Chipotle on the corner of 19 and McMurray on June 1, 2015 and continue there over the summer. The work will be challenging at first, but your capabilities will expand, and the managers will gradually perceive you as an increasingly valuable asset to the team. However, working won’t quite quite the best due to your timidity and inability to engage effectively with new people of your own age group. You’ll get the feeling that many of your teammates don’t like you and have trouble working cooperatively with them. You’ll worry if you’re doing sufficiently good job and become stressed out at the sight of a long line. Soon, your last day of work will arrive, and you will sullenly shop with your mother to purchase all of the college necessities. She will ask you if you are okay, and you will give a fake response will ignoring her in truth. Katie and Keith will accompany you in the Outback on the day that you do say goodbye to the “new new” house and travel to Rochester to move into Hoeing 417. You’ll tearfully say goodbye to the fam (catching on yet?) and meet your wonderful roommate, Jeff Boyles, and your superb RAs, Nick and Tess. Orientation will pass in a flash, and into classes you will proceed. Wow, this is so hard, you will think, this is like high school with a multiplier. The compulsion to control your academics, your diet, your exercise habits, and your minimalistic social life will quickly sand down any semblance of happiness or hope, and you will begin to have panic attacks. Your dreams will involve various scenes of death and iniquity, yet you will cling to them each time you wake up as if to prefer their reality to your own. Is this a bottomless pit?
Thankfully, for our sake, it wasn’t. On September 18, 2015, while nearing the end of your third CHM 173 lab lecture, you will experience arguably the most important single feeling in your life. You will excuse yourself to the restroom from the workshop detailing the requirements for the first lab report. And you will collapse onto the floor as a supernova collapses to a black hole or neutron star. All of those questions that you ignored, all of those feelings that you repressed, all of the many hours you spent locked in the shell of social anxiety, wondering if you could ever have really good friendship, and the weight of all of those tears will come crashing down upon your frame. In that moment, you will, for the first time, acknowledge the possibility that you could lead a different, happier life. You will finally connect the dots in the observation that your collegiate peers were succeeding academically and supporting vibrant social lives. You will finally ask the question, Why can’t that be me? But with this comes the realization that the sort of work that lies ahead of you cannot be accomplished in the stress-laden environment of college, that the existing damage must be healed and reversed before you can achieve your fullest potential at the U of R.
This is rock bottom.
Yes, there will be tears, choked breaths, and many phone calls to set the process for departure in motion. You will pack your things, say goodbye to your hall mates, and travel home with your mother, who will selflessly arrange to come to pick you up on the day after you called her to share your decision. On the way home, you will sit with knots in your stomach, wondering if every meter that the car covers in its trajectory back to Pittsburgh is a grave mistake, if life has anything for you anymore. The first weeks are a difficult period of adjustment. You will try to resume your workout routines, but these will fall away due to your depressive symptoms. You will pick back up with work at Chipotle and struggle in the introduction to prep work. You will feel more alone than ever, guilty even in this solitude, as all those whom you could call closest will then be at college, but not you. Did you take the easy way out? Did you make an insightful or selfish and cowardly decision? No, you will not have answers to these questions, and it will scare you. You will no longer play sports and be completely uninvolved in any sort of academic work: your two facets of identity, the athlete and scholar, will be smashed, vaporized, dissolved, right before your eyes. The worst part is that you chose this, and how could you ever forgive yourself for such a setback? Smiles and laughter will disappear entirely, arguments with Mom will abound, and the gray backdrop that loomed before will seem to have swallowed you whole.
But it was not the end.
You will start seeing Stephanie, your counselor, and will make an instant connection that provides for a constructive, comfortable environment for content and process. She will listen as you share your story as you have before with the others in the past. The first few sessions don’t become of much because she needs to assemble the full picture, and with your tangential tendencies, it takes some time. However, she soon begins to make connections that the others did not and offer advice that really targets your core issues. One on which I still rely and of which I think often is to “consider the alternative.” Your perspectives on the world, though choices for some people, had become so rooted in your image of yourself and your “proper” way of living, so much like the phenomenon of gravity, that you barely recognize them as part of your lens. In time, you see yourself increasingly from her point of view and lose touch with the artificial maxims that kept you from considering these alternatives, locked in a rigid, unyielding mind frame. You are intelligent and apt enough to handle the academic challenges of college. You are a good person, and it wasn’t just for lip service or out of pity that people reached out to you in the past. Friendship is more important than personal success and physical fitness and contributes such a sizable portion of life’s joys and maturation-inducing experiences. I do have what it takes to go forth and tackle coursework while developing relationships. Even today, when I have my bad days and can’t seem to shake a destructive or unproductive thought, I remind myself to consider the alternative because there’s no reason why I can’t or shouldn’t do so. In this way, over the coming year, you will become increasingly eager to meet with Stephanie and to share myriad thoughts, learning how someone trained to analyze your thoughts reacts in an objective manner as you relay them, because she will help you to better understand yourself and to process your memories more rationally. This, in turn, will enable you to more completely expunge lessons and opportunities for growth from even the most seemingly insignificant events.
Chipotle work will become more second-nature, and the management will evolve a hearty appreciation for your work ethic and leadership within the store. You will get increasing numbers of hours, during which you will further refine your skills and have the chance to meet and commune with many new individuals, some of whom are still amazing friends to me today. After an extensive battery of phone calls and emails, you will secure your plans to return to the U of R after one year of deferral, confirm that two prospective classes at Pitt, PSY 0010 and STAT 1000, check out for equivalency, and get the advisors on your same page regarding your plans for the gap year. You will begin to venture out more on the friendship front, actually seeking out opportunities to spend time with some really lovely people. Thanks to an LA Fitness membership, you will get to work out at a real gym, and although your periods of total commitment are spotty, you will still become much stronger as a result. You will take much gratification from the ability to see a different side of your home city as you attend your classes at Pitt. You will begin to laugh without restraint, to smile because you feel like it, and actively pursue conversations with others, even those as simple as an exchange of pleasantries at the cash register. The sun that you couldn’t see in your dream is getting very close breaking day.
But herein lies the most tantalizing and encouraging detail of all. You will have real friends, and you will be a real friend. Yes, at last, you will come into your own in the social world. There are people out there who appreciate you for who you are and how you move about in life. Yes, you were right to suspect as much; you were right to believe in your own potential for joyful connection. To give you some idea, here’s a list of some of the friends you’ll make. You’ll befriend Becca, Dylan, Ethan, Lizanne, Mariah, Caleb, Anthony, Hope, Shana, Nick, Zach, TJ, Luke, the nice guy with the sunglasses, Sandra, Johanna, and Galiana. Then, at college, you’ll meet (or just meet again, in some cases) and love Ian, Andrew, Kavya, Carly, Shreya, Talia, Shania, Shalini, Denes, Logan, Aniruddh, Nick, Neha, Malu, Dr. Weix, Dr. Goldfarb, Dr. Dinnocenzo, Marco, Victor, Sam, Ruba, John, John, Terrikia, Julian, Bianca, Callie, Ian, Diamond, Ana, Rita, Rachel, Hailey, Thea, Andrew, Hansini, Ashley, Becca, Alex, Josh, Liam, Leslie, Emma, and many more. I mean, YEAH! Isn’t it beautiful, this long list? I know you don’t think it could ever happen, but you will have these friends. This sea of amazing, compassionate, supportive, talented, intelligent, and generous faces is the water on which you will sail, and you can be that for them, too. Some people might find this to be too melodramatic, but it doesn’t matter for us because I know what this means to you. They will accept, value, and appreciate you for your uniqueness, your preoccupation with the sciences and strange vocabulary, and your conversation and perspectives. All of that stuff that kept you chained back is actually what draws you together with this community. You will realize that this is the grippingly emotional substance of life, that which people see in sunsets, skies, faces of lovers and relatives, and the aesthetic of nature. This is the part of every human life that would most readily be set to a soundtrack, as its story can be one of hundreds of orders of magnitudes of many. Right now, I’m really dreading leaving the collegiate group for even a little less than a month because of how much I’ve connected with them. I feel drawn in my heart, a bitter-sweetness that moves me to tears but that gives me the greatest contentment that I have ever felt. I don’t deserve any of them, but as you will learn, that’s not how friendship works. You won’t form any effective relationships on the basis of merit or repayment. The baggage that you carry has no relevance. Just as two atoms come together and form their stable bond, so, too, will you simply come into proximity with gracious, upright people, put aside differences, and live alongside one another in the knowledge that we are always stronger together. You will learn together, laugh together, struggle together, walk together, talk together, eat together, and most importantly, you will grow together.
You and I both know how much trouble we have with getting around to the point, but I’ll make it easy for you this time. What’s the point of all of this? There are certain aspects of life that any given human is not meant to control. I don’t say this with a hat tip to the supernatural, merely with the understanding that a preoccupation with the immutabilities of life, love, relationships, and the future shackles someone to a life of fear, anxiety, and self-doubt. While kindness, compassion, and respect are possible even with these burdens, their relief truly opens up a whole new world, a new reservoir into which to pour the substance of lessons and the great elation of friendships. It often takes rock bottom to open someone’s eyes to this idea, and you are no exception. But you must have faith. You must always keep walking, no matter how gray-shifted the picture, because you can attain a higher ground, regardless of the starting point. You will never stop growing, and continual development of friendships will teach you in a few years more than you could solitarily learn in an entire lifetime. In the coming years, you’re going to receive invitations to take a break from scholastic pursuits and have some fun with people, whether old fellows or new acquaintances. Go, and enjoy. You’re going to receive offers to talk about what’s troubling you so much from peers, family, and instructors. Accept these offers, and unpack to lessen the burden. You’re going to want to ask someone to your senior prom. Ask her. You’re going to want to express an affection to a very special friend at college. Do so, and rejoice. There is good in this world, and the amount that you see is the amount for which you search. The road may be difficult, but we are in this together with all of them. You are not alone.
Sincerely, Daniel (Age 20)
P.S. Delete your Twitter account.
If there’s such thing as Vine stock, buy some right now, but sell it well before 2016.
Bow ties are the classiest.
Find yourself a friend to comment on your frequent sporting of your new white Vans.
Find a second friend to film the exchange between you and the first friend.
Stop taking too many shirts with you when you travel.
Get a consult with a dermatologist. It’s only going downhill from here on out.
Write more often. It helps with everything.
Virtually none of your atoms are in my body right now.