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Let’s Talk 5: Five-Year Email

In 2012, I came across this website:

It lets you write a message. To yourself. In the future. You write whatever you want, and then you pick a date on which you want it sent, and then away it goes. I don’t know how you can possibly have any guarantee that it’ll actually happen, if that domain or computers or even you will still exist in however long you choose.

So in 2012 when I came across this website, I wrote to myself and set it to deliver in five years. I was 24 at the time. Those years (2011-2012) were the two in my life that I was absolutely dealing with the most sadness – the death of a very important family member, a breakup with a girlfriend of 4 and a half years, moving out of my parent’s home to a gross neighborhood in Toronto to go to school and most of my close friends from undergraduate/high school years leaving town. I had real financial trouble, my school program didn’t at all turn out to be what I hoped it would be, and when I did try to interview for a new job, it usually bombed. Those two years were when I felt the most sad, the most alone, and the most like I had no direction, no real passion, and like I was positively stuck.

Now I know parts of what I just said do come across as red flags for depression, but as I’ve said before, I don’t think I’ve ever been depressed. This was definitely the closest I’d ever been, but even then, this didn’t feel like that. People have described depression to me as a numbness: having no ability to feel any actual happiness, or no ability to strongly feel anything at all. I definitely felt happy, sometimes. When I got to visit old friends or go back and see family or lie around with my dog again for a while. Those times I was definitely happy. I just remember being very sad all the rest of the time.

Maybe I was skirting depression at the time and even now I still have no ability to actually recognize it. I don’t really even know anymore. Either way, I was definitely able to pull myself out of it, with lots of help from some very loving, caring people. But that was the state I had been in when I wrote that letter – pretty much at my lowest point.

The interesting thing about writing to yourself is, it’s yourself. You can say anything at all. You can remove any filter. I can’t imagine showing that letter to anyone else, and that feels like kind of the point. It’s diary-level intimacy that I had never really gotten into practicing, but at the time I found it very therapeutic. I might try picking it up again.

Reading that letter at my current age was super powerful. Some parts joyful, some downright hilarious, and others very, very sad. I spent time reflecting predictions on where I thought I would be in those five years, what I hoped to accomplish, what I hoped my life was like.

I told myself I hoped I was happy now, because I was not. I told myself I hoped I could let go of the sadness and grief that was plaguing my life. I told myself I hoped I could figure out how to love someone again, because I was still laden with too much baggage to even try.

I speculated on what my job might be, where I might be living, and what I might currently enjoy doing with my time. I set goals. I talked in detail about what my day to day life was like, in case I forgot later (which I knew was likely, because hey, it’s me). It reminded me of the awful and varied struggles that my father, my mother and my sister had been having.

I told myself I hoped that the almost-30 thing wasn’t getting me down, and that I’ve totally got all sorts of life left to live and I can do it however I want. I told myself I hoped my job was something fulfilling and that I was successful enough to be happy. I told myself that I hoped I would never again turn into what I was back then.

I told myself a lot of things.

Mostly they were heartbreaking. But I welled up at the thought of how if I could have known even remotely what I would have accomplished in those five years, it would have brought me a lot of comfort. I’ve got a job I love, a lady in my life I love, health, family, incredible friends. I’ve done amazing work on my own personal projects and gotten to go on some truly ridiculous adventures. I crushed every goal I had come up for myself back then, and even crushed goals that I didn’t even fathom yet.

I’m going to write another letter next week on my birthday. I’ll send it either 5 or 10 years into the future – probably 5, just to be on the safe side. I still wish I could have sent it 5 years back instead. But, you never know when times will get real dark again, and right now, during the most exciting and happy time of my life, I think sending that positivity through to mid-30s Adam can only do good things.

I recommend the practice. If you’re like me, you’ll completely forget you wrote it, and that’s when it hits the hardest.

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