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The Rife Team

Back To School: A Letter To My Former Self


Ailsa, Aisha and Jazz write letters to themselves at school, because as a new terms starts, we need you to know it’s going to be ok.

Hi, this is Nikesh, the editor speaking. I wanted to give you a bit of context as to why I commissioned these essays from our Rife guys: I hated school so much. Well, I thought school was fine till I was 13, when I went to a much bigger school. It was scary, exhausting, I spent days trapped by my own anxiety and loneliness. Now, I look back at school and I can still feel the cold sweat of walking down the corridor, the sting of maths and physics lessons where I understood nothing and the fear that the person I didn’t want to see in the corridor was about to appear.

If I could tell myself then what I know now, that it’s going to be okay, I would. I wouldn’t worry about disrupting the space-time continuum or anything, because, I know it’s going to be okay. I asked our Rife guys: Ailsa, Aisha and Jazz, to reflect on their school days and write themselves a letter telling them the things they wished they’d known at the time.

If it’s your first week back at school, then you need to read these.


Dear Ailsa

It’s me, your 22 year old self. No, I’m afraid we haven’t quite got time travel down yet, this is a writing gimmick. Sorry to disappoint.

The reason you’re receiving this letter is because you still haven’t finished your ‘good’ degree in maths and physics at Bristol. Instead, people pay you to write and do photography. Your friends call you a ‘young creative’ or ‘multidisciplinary artist’ when they want to make you cringe but you all laugh because you are happy with where you are. Thus, the gimmicky writing.

Yeah, your writing gets better. Though you’re still probably too proud of that reflective essay you wrote in S3. You get better too. You don’t know it yet but your eating habits, crying in your cupboard for hours, barely sleeping, anger and ridiculously high energy: they’re not just due to ‘teenage hormones’. You have an eating disorder and a mood one too. And things get a lot worse before they get better but they do get better.

You move to Bristol but drop out of that maths and physics degree because of depression. Uni teaches you a lot, but not anything you expected: how little money you actually need to live comfortably; that your worth is not tied to your academic success; and ignoring your emotions was and is a really really bad idea. You learn more than you knew existed. You fall into the role of mental health advocate.

I know at the moment you’re bored at school and frustrated at how little you feel you can do to make the world a better place. You still struggle to accept that you can’t help everyone. I think you always will. But after several breakdowns induced by spreading yourself too thin you’re beginning to learn that you always need to look after yourself first. You have a ridiculous number of beautiful friends in your life but you’re the one constant, the one who you always have by your side.

In short, you’re doing good. But please be kinder to yourself. You know that old saying people always spout? ‘Treat others as you would be treated.’ Turn that around. Start treating yourself as kindly as you treat others. It’ll work wonders. Keep reading all that feminist stuff. Keep running hard at life but take a break when you need it. Keep up that enthusiasm. There are hard times ahead but don’t let yourself be hardened: you’ll lose, love, and learn a lot but staying soft is more powerful than any money, war and domination. Keep on being kind. It’s what helps you survive and thrive. People love you for it. You begin to love yourself. Good luck. See you in a few years.


Dear Aisha

It’s me, 20-year-old you.

I know what you had in mind for what you hoped you would look like. The kind of person you wanted to be… {Insert image of cool, sophisticated fashion businesswoman} >here<. You thought you would be at university studying something academic and socially acceptable. You though you would be ticking all the boxes that have been laid out for you since you were little. You thought knew what it meant to be ‘successful’. I see you. Standing in your school uniform looking up to those Year 11 girls, thinking aloud with your friends how long is it going to take for us get there? To be like them. My response to that now is, please, please don’t worry so much. Enjoy the present, enjoy being a child and doing childish things. Stop trying to be a fully-grown woman at the age of twelve, it isn’t healthy.

But back to the Year 11 girls, with their dyed hair and short skirts. These were all white girls, just to mention. Maybe you thought you were going to grow up to be a white woman? A slim, toned, privileged white woman with long flowing hair, an easy laugh and a great job. Interviewing people, something important and glamorous, something that would require you to wear sunglasses in December and carry coffee in the summer, balancing on top of black heeled boots with a long jacket, looking effortlessly calm. Sorry to disappoint you, young Yeesh, but in the last five years I’ve come to realise that I can’t actually walk in high-heeled shoes. I truly believe that trainers are the way forward in making the world a slightly more cushioned place and heeled boots just give you blisters anyway.

In terms of finding a career and straggling after that career path, finding happiness will become your main occupation once you leave school. Whatever journey it forms itself into, that will be your job. I know that sounds incredibly vague and unhelpful, I know you will feel impatient to not know the specific and direct route that you have been expecting. But just trust me. You will find it.

You will face things that you never thought you could face, you will embark on journeys that you had shut down the roads to, that had been to painful to rebuild. But you do. Believe me you do.  Please continue to remind yourself of your patterns, of your habits that are destructive and rather than trying to ‘fix’ them, acknowledge them.

I believe in you.

See you soon.

Love Aisha x


Dear Year 9 me, circa 2007

Things are pretty weird right now. You’re thirteen at the moment, and I know it probably seems like this is life, and you’ve got it all sussed out, but there is so much more to come. And better stuff too. You’ve been working hard and doing really well in school so I’m proud of you for that, but I’m going to just address some of the other things going on in these crazy few years, in hope that you’ll then see some things in a different light.

First of all; keep killing it with the art. As in, every day, like you’re doing, get out your sketchbook and draw. During the next few years you’re going to build on your skillset so much, which is real important. You’re not going to know why you’re drawing what you do just yet, but relax, that’s all in due course.

People don’t hate you, and you really don’t have to try anywhere near as hard as you think you do to make people like you. It’s waste of time and energy, and all the people you think are coolin’ right now, I can tell you something this is them at their peak. Don’t bother rising to it, there’s nothing great about side fringes, blue mascara, and lycra trousers anyway. You know that isn’t your thing. Stay humble.

Read more. Oh my god, read more. Stop wasting your time with the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants; this will do you no good. Order something tonight that will open an eye that so far has remained shut.

Don’t text boys telling them you like them. Don’t spend the next few months ignoring them either. Especially don’t dump boys by text; it’s weird, awkward, and unnecessary. General rule: text is a no-no when it comes to all things boys, you clearly don’t know what you’re doing yet. Face-to-face interactions are a key thing to do right now, so practise that, please. It doesn’t have to be like this, but dodging their side eyes and hiding from them in the playground will make the situation so much worse.

Which leads me to the ever so important point; don’t try to look like other girls because you think it’ll make boys like you. It wont work because you’re not going to look like the rest of the girls. They don’t want to know now because everyone in Worcester right now is massively into the whole chav thing, but in a few years the boys you thought were peng but laughed at your dodgy haircut are going to try hit on you in club smoking areas. And you’re going to have the absolute pleasure of turning them down.

Don’t cut your hair off. You’re going to want to, there might be a series of questionable trims coming your way but don’t cave or freak out, and most importantly don’t reach for the scissors. You’ll regret this so much, give it time and learn to embrace your hair.

Be friends with who the hell you want. And bitchy Year 11 girls aren’t all that either. The bottom line is the people that are going to stick up for you and have your back over the next few years are the people you want to stick with. You know what to do. Don’t par anyone off that provides you with that kind of love and support.

Make more time for your family. It’s been a strange year, so it’s now more than ever you need to put in that family time. Get on your bike and go see your dad. Hug your brother, and help your mum.

GCSEs are not worth crying about. Trust me. I cannot stress this enough. In eight years you’re really not going to remember very much about the Battle of Hastings or Pythagoras theory; by all means do your revision, get those A’s, but there are other skills to work on that are more important right now. Like I said before, read some books.

Enjoy yourself. This is my final point and most important. During school years a person changes so much and starts to find their flow and find out who they are. I’m not going to lie and tell you you’ll have it all sussed out by twenty, but you’ll be a little closer. You’re still going to have that drive that is going to get you far. But teenage years are for care-free fun and not giving a damn about the smaller stuff.

You’re going to go through some amazing times, and some pretty low ones too, so just ride the waves. Just stay humble, don’t let it all go to your head, and remember what you’re about.


Your 22-old self, circa 2016.

What are your best and worst parts of going back to school? Let us know on Twitter at Rifemag and on Facebook too at Rife Magazine.

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