Dear 16-year-old me,
You don’t know you’re going to develop an anxiety disorder in your 30’s yet, and there’s nothing I can say to you that will stop that from coming.
Everything is already in place; the seeds of your disorder have been planted.
All I can tell you now is what I wish I’d have known when I was your age.
As you’re struggling to navigate the complexities of growing from an independent teenager into full-blown adulthood, life is going to seem pretty dark at times over the years to come.
Here are some things I need you to hold on to from now until you don’t need me to guide you anymore.
You are loved.
While you might not feel this as you look around the room you’re in, there are people all around you who love and care for you and would do anything to see you happy.
People don’t always come right out and say they love you. But look for the comforting pats on your arm, the gifts which people mistakenly think replace feelings (they don’t, but if the intention is there, it’s love), and the people who are happy when you’re winning.
Those people love you but it’s up to you to learn how to receive it.
Be thankful social media doesn’t exist yet.
Social media is going to become a new form of communication in the future, and you wouldn’t be able to cope with it at your impressionable age. Friendships will be made and broken over the internet, and people will start to put their value in their own online profile and each other’s.
Be thankful you’re not 16 in the social media era as you don’t have much self-confidence at the moment, and the pressure this would put on you now would destroy you.
You don’t like to look in the mirror yet (don’t worry, you’ll get over this and learn to love your outside as well as your inside), so your happy-go-lucky selfies will be fake, and that will start to come across in your real-life personality. By the time social media arrives, you’ll be much more confident and able to take the things you read online with a pinch of salt.
For now, be thankful that the only public footprint of your 16th year is in your high school yearbook, and no one will ever judge you for that!
Communication is the key. To everything.
You’ve never been a very good talker. So far, you’ve always kept things bottled up. As you start to recover from anxiety you’ll realise that communicating with those who understand you will be the one thing that helps you most on your journey.
You may never recover fully from anxiety, but learning how to talk about it will make the disorder bearable and a normal part of your life. Don’t ever stop communicating with people who get you, even if you don’t get anything out of the conversation, you never know who’s watching, listening, and learning from you.
You’re stronger than you think.
There are times, my teenage friend, that you’re going to hit rock bottom. If I could tell you all the things that would happen to you, you’d run a mile right now. Which is why I won’t. We’ll keep it as a surprise. Those tough times are essential for your growth, and you must never run from a hard situation.
You need to experience difficult things, grow from them, build strength from them and take all your lessons with you to the next part of your journey.
The bad times that are ahead of you are nothing to be afraid of and once you come through them (which you always will), the good times will be so much better because of them.
Don’t be afraid to walk away from people who drag you down.
And no, I don’t mean the friends you’re bunking off school and smoking cigarettes with at the moment, they’re all good people.
No, I mean the friends who don’t make you feel good inside. The ones who go out of their way to criticise you, to be negative, and to make you well and truly feel that they’re better than you.
Those friends will come into your life every day from now until the moment you die, but you’ll get better at spotting them.
You’ll get so used to feeling good about yourself that when someone tries to drag you down, you won’t take it.
Those people will trigger your anxiety in future and it’ll be really easy for you to walk away from them without causing drama, without causing a scene, and with the knowledge that their issues are nothing to do with you.
And you’ll do it all without looking back.
You’re going to learn how to be vulnerable, and it’ll be the best lesson of your life.
When you develop an anxiety disorder, you’ll realise that you’ve kept a lot of things bottled up for a long time. You’ll learn to let this out and talk to people around you. You’ll learn that it’s more than OK to not be OK and if people around you can’t deal with that then you’re better off without them.
When you learn to show your vulnerability, you’ll learn that your relationships are fewer and further between but stronger and more solid.
This is the way life is meant to be.
Without learning how to talk to people and sharing your feelings beyond a surface layer, you’ll never make those connections that your life will ultimately come to depend on.
Don’t avoid the crash.
Don’t delay crashing to rock bottom and finally accepting your anxiety. Anxiety will turn out to be the best thing that ever happens to you because through this process of understanding your anxiety you’ll get to know yourself, accept yourself, and learn how to live the life you were created for.
If you can stop putting off the crash and bring it forward so you can start to rebuild sooner, you should.
16-year-old me, lastly, please just be you.
Once you remove the behaviours and thought patterns you’ve adopted as coping mechanisms or to fit in with the crowd, you’ll be much happier, more confident and, if I’m allowed to say it, much more pleasant to be around.
Yes, anxiety is going to hit you like a tonne of bricks and it’ll make you think your life is never going to be the same again.
It won’t be, but that’s not a bad thing.
Love from 30-something-year old Jo.
PS – 16-year-old me, if you really feel that you’re on your own once anxiety does hit you, go and search out the Anxiety Buddy Facebook Group. It’s a community of people who all experience anxiety and get what you’re going through. They’ll help you understand your anxiety and will let you know that you’re never alone.
They’re waiting for you to join them; however old you are.
Founder - Anxiety Buddy
ABOUT THE AUTHOR.
Jo was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder in 2014 and knows what it’s like to live with the crippling disorder and suffer in silence. She also knows how much easier anxiety is to manage when you connect with others and have a strong support network around you. Jo is committed to normalising anxiety and helping others understand their anxiety to reduce the impact it has on everyday life.