Magazine Upfront Dear 16 year old me By Kristian Johns | @guy_interruptd I’ve written this letter about a hundred times in my head over the years. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to visit my younger self, to tell you what life is going to be like. The first thing I thought when I began writing it was: ‘what’s the point?’ I know you. I’ve been you, and so I know better than anyone that you won’t fucking listen, but hey, this is my letter and I’m older than you, so respect your elders and at least give it some consideration. Where to begin? Well, you live in London now. You always thought of yourself – perhaps rather arrogantly – as a big fish in a small pond. You proclaimed you were a ‘city boy’ at heart, even though you had barely visited one more than a couple of times. But you launched head first into the bright lights and the big city, and now, ironically, you want nothing more than a quiet life. I know you’ll find that idea laughable, but as I write this as a 35-year-old man, I can safely say that given everything that’s happened since I was you, all the highest highs, the lowest lows and the dramarama, that a quiet life seems like heaven. Some people see the world, some people hear the world. You? You feel the world. It’s caused you a lot of heartache. Your head is constantly full. You ran away from it for a long time. Sometimes that head of yours gets so busy from just feeling EVERYTHING that you have to drown it out by all means necessary. But I’ve come to realise that it’s not a curse, it’s a gift. Remember how you wanted to be a superhero? This is your superpower. You have the ability to make people feel things, to connect with them. Use it. By being truthful and honest, even when it feels scary and uncomfortable, you will help people. When I was you I had no self-esteem. I was always chasing something or someone to ‘fix’ me, to make life exciting. I’ve learnt the hard way that you can never rely on others to fill in what’s missing. If you want self-esteem, do estimable things. It’s not about looking good, or having nice things, or having lots of sex. Those things are like a drug that eventually stops working. When you’re down and feeling self-involved, go out and do something for someone else. When you’re feeling ungrateful, count your blessings. Yes, I sound like a fucking hippy, but it works. I’m not going to lie. Life is going to get very, very dark at times. You’ll contend with a lot of things – an HIV diagnosis, alcoholism, depression and heartbreak, but they will be the making of you. Perhaps not immediately, but you will learn to turn them round. So I’m not going to warn you off doing any of them, but I will offer some advice; lessons I’ve learnt along the path of life, in the hope that you might spot them earlier than I did. It’ll save a lot of aggravation. Don’t ever try to dye your hair: and if you do, for god’s sake, don’t try to chemically strip the colour like I did a few weeks ago. Because it just turns ginger. And although we both think ginger men are hot, it’s just not a look you can rock comfortably. Especially with brown eyebrows. Appreciate your six-pack: Look down. See that? That’s going to be like the Holy fucking Grail by the time you’re 34. And while we’re on the subject, can you please try to eat a little more healthily? It’ll save me a hell of a lot of resentment when it comes to the subject of dieting. Learn the difference between strong and hard: Take it from someone who still falls back on the ‘I am an island’ mentality. Islands are lonely. Hard people are usually just very, very frightened, so they’ve made themselves impervious. You see, when something is impervious, it doesn’t need to be strong because it can’t be damaged. Accept your vulnerable side. You’re not weak, you’re just human. We all need a cuddle sometimes. Smoking: Not cool. Not cool at all. Please stop trying to fit in. Did you know that it’s EIGHT QUID a packet in 2015? I KNOW, RIGHT? So don’t start. My lungs, teeth and skin will thank you for it. But hey, I know you’re going to start anyway (I secretly still miss it). So it comes back to my original statement. Given the chance to truly send this letter back in time and have you read it, would I warn you against decisions we’ve made? I honestly don’t think so. I’d certainly ask you to learn to be a bit more grateful for what you have; to live in the now, rather than living in a myriad of possible futures. But I’d rather let you learn the real lessons for yourself. And this brings me to my final point. Regret nothing: Make mistakes, fuck up, fall down and get back up again. It’s human nature to make mistakes, but that shouldn’t stop you from living. Don’t be the person who gets to the end of their life and says “I wish” – be the person who says “I did”. The only thing I want you to do is to go out and live this amazing, beautiful, painful, joyful thing they call life, and regret nothing – because in the end, it’s made you who I am. Live life with dignity, gratitude and bravery. And remember, when the world throws its worst at you and then sticks two fingers up and slams the door in your face, there is always hope. Just have a little faith and everything will come right in the end. See you in a few years. Seriously, kiddo, we’re going to be awesome. Just don’t ever dye your hair. I mean it. Kristian Johns is an author and former editor. When he’s not raising awareness of HIV issues, his sole mission in life is to convince his boyfriend to let him have a dog.