A Letter to Myself in My 20s

I found the following email deep in my inbox (it was written last year, before my book was released). I'd read it when she emailed it, but I didn't really know what to say because to be honest, I was in a weird place. I'm feeling so much better now, so I sat down and wrote from my heart. Hope you enjoy. xoCandace

Email: I love you and your blog and have been following you on your various social media outlets. You are absolutely precious and extremely sweet, and at the same time remain 100% real. 
I am 21 years old and I was wondering if it were possible for you to do a blog post on advice you would give yourself in your 20's. I think it would be a really interesting perspective. 
Just an idea! Keep up the amazing work! Cannot wait for the book to be released. 

Lots of love

Me in my early twenties, in Costa Rica

Me in my early twenties, in Costa Rica

Dear 20 year old self, 

Oh, Candace. At twenty years old, you're still a few credits shy of being a sophomore in college. Since you gave it a valiant effort (and failed miserably) at being an au pair in Switzerland straight after high school, you're about a semester behind compared to your graduating high school class. This is your first year living on campus, and you are loving every minute. 

You're soaking up information, loving the path you're on majoring in Spanish. You'll take a French class soon and meet a girl whose name is Caitlyn but she's so other-worldly chic that you'll give her an equally chic nickname that sticks. You'll introduce her to your international group of friends - from Trinidad, Jordan, Peru, Istanbul, Senegal, Pakistan, and Syria. They throw the best parties and since you hate beer and detest flip cup, you're psyched to see that they're more into dinner parties and wine and cheese nights that turn into dance parties with bass heavy music that last all night long. Over the next few years you'll make so many lasting memories with this group. You'll wind up inviting the Peruvian, the Turks and the Syrian home for Thanksgiving that year, and your mother will love each and every one of them and they'll love her food, and that will remain one of your favorite Thanksgiving memories.

You work out too hard, sleep never, and basically live in the library studying. It isn't the healthiest lifestyle but it's in the library cafe one late night before midterms - you're wearing headphones, these fleece sweatpants that you never should've thrown out and a ripped up t-shirt you made yourself - when this ultra-preppy kid will come up to you, hand you a note and walk away. You two could not be more different but you'll end up dating him for most of your college career and despite a tumultuous relationship (you both suck at relationships at this time in your lives, by the way), you won't believe this, but he'll remain a good friend of yours for years and years.

Here's the thing though. Soon, shit's going to hit the fan. Your uncle is going to commit suicide soon, and it is going to trigger a nervous breakdown. You're going to experience spiraling, debilitating anxiety. Your relationship will end, you will isolate yourself from most of your friends, and you will fall into a deep, dark, echoing depression. You will experience endless nights, during which you will stare at the ceiling as fat tears roll down your face uncontrollably. You will mysteriously be placed on some call list, where you'll lie to a nurse from the campus infirmary who will inexplicably ring you up each weekend to ask if you're okay. You will worry your poor, grieving mother sick.

Towards the end of the semester, there will be a brief time where you party way too hard to try to numb to pain. You will know what you're doing is stupid and irresponsible, and yet you will do it anyway, because you are profoundly hurting.

Luckily, you will have two saving graces. One, a great therapist. Two, you will make three friends who will stick very close by you during these days. One of them, Kate, will invite you to move into her on-campus apartment for the summer. She is a music nerd like you and you both will sing opera songs at midnight at the top of your lungs and laugh til you cry, and she will listen with love as you cry for real after that. The other two - Julius and Stevie, from Trinidad and Tabago - are the most gentle and kind souls you'll ever meet, and they'll look out for you that summer like you're their little sister. The four of you commit to making the most out of the summer between trips to the mall, amusement parks and summer classes (you're still trying to catch up after that semester in Switzerland). And a few months later, during the first snow storm of the fall semester, you will witness Julius and Stevie see snow for the very first time and you and Kate will have the honor of taking them sledding. Make sure you look hard at their faces as the snow falls because you'll never forget it. You won't realize it at the time, but their friendships will be what get you through one of the worst times of your life. 

Eventually, you'll all lose touch but at thirty-one, you'll go to Miami and realize Julius lives nearby and you'll call him up. He'll answer the phone like he just talked to you yesterday, even though the last time you spoke was years prior, and you'll spend an entire weekend hanging out, eating nachos, going to the beach, picking up right where you left off, laughing til you cry. That kind of friendship, man. You can't put a price on that.

The good news is, while this time in your twenties is awful, there is a silver lining. The beauty in the pain is that you'll emerge on the other side more compassionate, more gentle, more loving, and more vulnerable. This last bit is key. In the future, you'll be able to help others by just being vulnerable and being yourself. Vulnerability, you see, is what connects people.

You'll realize that, when you're a high school Spanish teacher after you graduate college, and you make your students roar with laughter when you tell them the story of how, at sixteen, you went to Costa Rica for a semester abroad. You'll tell them how you moved in with this family and since you didn't speak a lick of Spanish, you didn't understand that you weren't supposed to put the toilet paper in the toilet after you went. So you continued to throw the stupid toilet paper in, which made the damn toilet overflow during the unfortunate week when you had traveller's diarrhea. Oh, and the whole host family knew you had diarrhea because they were subjected to hearing every stupid bathroom sound you made, thanks to a missing cinder block in the wall. You tell your students how you hobbled back to your room past your host family, who, unfortunately for them, were eating dinner at the time. All you could muster as you clutched your stomach and pointed to the overflowing bathroom was,  "Problema." It was shortly thereafter that the fifteen year old host sister was tasked with coming into your room with the trash can and a roll of toilet paper to demonstrate where the toilet paper goes like you were a complete moron. You still laugh about that to this day, and your high school kids loved that story. And you won't give a shit (see what I did there?!) telling it, because everyone has shitty embarrassing stories (sometimes literally). And these stories of vulnerability connect us. And you'll remember feeling mostly miserable in high school, so as a teacher, you try to connect with your kids so they all feel like they have an ally in you. 

One of those kids will write you a note of appreciation years later and tell you that your stories of studying abroad inspired him to study abroad in Japan. And his travels to Japan will inspire him to follow his dreams and open Mizu, creating the most gorgeous small accessories and menswear pieces. 

So that's the good news. The bad news is that a few years later, things are going to get much, much worse for you. You're going to get Lyme disease that will go undiagnosed for months. By the time it is diagnosed, you will hardly be able to walk, and it will begin to infect your brain. You'll begin treatment, which will lead you down a very lonely, difficult health journey, for which you are marginally prepared, as you've already gone down a very lonely and different road of depression and anxiety in college. (See? These things happen for a reason.) 

You will once again experience profound depression, and the road back to normal will be much longer than the depression you experienced in college, but I promise, you will get through it with the help of your family and your husband. That's right, you'll get married in your mid-twenties. And it will be a good run with a great guy, but eventually it will end. And that will be tough. But you'll both be okay.

In a few years, you'll write a book about your experience (and yoga) called Namaslay, that will make Amazon's Best Selling New Release List in Wellness.  You'll start a little blog. You'll be hesitant about it, because it means putting yourself out there, but if you've learned one thing in your twenties, it's that vulnerability is king, so you forge ahead. People will make fun of you at first for your little blog, but you know it's just because they're insecure, and your heart is in the right place, so you'll keep at it. It'll somehow turn into a viable business. And at thirty-three, when you have to seek the help of an actual tax guy because it's all a little over your head, he'll say, "Oh you blog?" and sort of roll his eyes. But then he'll take a look at your Profit and Loss statement and sit up much straighter, glance at you and look back at the papers. He'll clear his throat and tell you no less than five times in your one hour meeting that he is seriously impressed. "I can't believe you've done this. These numbers, wow. This really speaks to your business strategy and business savvy. Do you understand what I'm saying?" He'll look at you earnestly, and look back at the papers. "I mean the difference between last year and this year is incredible. It's just incredible. I am seriously impressed. Do you realize what you've done?" and you'll nod and say, "Yes." 

You'll be killing it. And not just with your business; but with your life. Your Siberian Husky will live with you in a little dream apartment with high ceilings and gorgeous natural light. You'll have weekly brunches with your old friend Caitlyn from college. You'll see your mom and dad often, and your little brother, who lives a few states away, at the holidays. And you'll meet a guy who makes your heart sing. 

33 year old me

33 year old me

You might not believe it, but in a few years, Candace, you're going to be waking up every single day with joy in your heart, and deep, profound gratitude for the lessons you've been taught thus far. You'll be genuinely, purely happy. Not that smile-slapped-on-your-face happy. But that light-from-within type of happy. Sun on your face type of happy. Authentically, truly happy. 

And believe me, that is a gift.

Keep on, sweet girl.

xo, 33-year-old Candace