When I was 14, I essentially had a nervous breakdown. It was not the best time in my life, but, I have to say, I think it was easier than the months leading up to it. When I was in the midst of a breakdown, I wasn’t always aware of what I was doing, but before the anxiety hit the fan, I was hyper-aware of every little thing I did. I was constantly second-guessing every action. During that time, I really needed someone to tell me that it was okay, but no one did because I was too afraid to let anyone know how I was feeling and (most) people can’t read minds.
While I’m addressing this letter to my younger self, it’s actually for anyone who is going through a rough patch. It might even be for my future self! And maybe this letter will be able to time travel and find my younger self. My 13-year-old self can unlock my secrets for figuring out post-breakdown life before she experiences a breakdown. Or not. But it’s worth a shot because that will save my parents a lot of money on therapy bills.
Dear 13-year-old Chelsey,
Not to sound creepy, but I recently watched a video of you at C’s 13th birthday party (You know the DVD of the party her dad gave everyone as a party favor? You still have it, nearly a decade later.), and I just wanted to hug you. You looked so uncomfortable and out-of-place. You actually disappeared for a good five minutes of the video! All of your friends were having a great time as they watched a juggler, and you were nowhere to be seen. I think you snuck away for some alone time by the candy counter. (You still do that as an adult.) When you returned to your friends and watched the juggler, you completely zoned out and I couldn’t tell what was going on inside your mind.
Eventually you caught sight of the camera, and you forced a smile and I suddenly knew everything that you were thinking. I knew that smile all too well. You didn’t want anyone to know how unhappy you were. You wanted them to think you were having just as much—if not more—fun as they were. They relied on you to be the optimistic, happy-go-lucky friend, and you couldn’t betray that by showing your true feelings. You believe that happy is the only emotion you are allowed to feel, but it’s not. That’s why I’m writing you this letter. I need you, the girl I saw in that video, to know that you’re going to be okay.
You’re probably really worried now, because why wouldn’t you be okay? Well, a lot is going to be happening soon. You’re going to get bangs and really unfortunate blonde highlights, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You’re also going to start having terrible stomach pains that won’t go away. You’re going to start missing school and ignoring your friends. By summer, you will be completely agoraphobic, only leaving your house to see doctors or by force.
The real issue at hand is that you’re going to be at war with your own brain. It’s the absolute worst, because if you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust? Family, for starters. That’s who you can trust. And friends and doctors. Basically, you can trust everyone but yourself, but that won’t be your fault. You’re not going to have much control over your actions or the things you say. There will be times when you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror as you scream at Mom and Dad, and you won’t recognize yourself. You won’t know why that crazy person in the mirror is yelling such mean things at your loved ones, and you’re probably going to hate her a little bit. She’s very mean, but she’s you. And that means she is me. So please don’t hate her. Continue loving her, and forgive her for being so rude. The sooner you can recognize that the crazy person is yourself, the easier it will be to get better.
I can’t tell you exactly how to handle that situation or what will happen. You need to figure all of that out as you go because that experience is what helped you become the awesome person I am. But I need you to know that things are much better on the other side of that struggle.
During your senior year of high school, a teacher will ask you to create a video using quotes and pictures to summarize the first 18 years of your life. The first half of your video will feature pictures of your quiet, uncomfortable self, but those will soon be replaced by pictures of a loud, constantly-talking girl. Believe it or not, you are that loud girl. Separating those two sets of videos is this quote from Looking for Alaska by John Green, a book you’ll someday love: “And then something invisible snapped inside her, and that which had come together commenced to fall apart.”
That’s what is going to happen to you. You’re going to snap very soon. Actually, let’s not sugar-coat it, you’ll have a compete nervous breakdown. But afterwards, you’ll rebuild yourself. The person you were for the first 13 or 14 years of your life will fall apart, and a new version will take its place. This new version of you is still shy. She’s still uncomfortable in social situations, and she’s still anxious. But she is so loud! She loves to hear herself talk. She even loves public speaking and having all eyes on her. And she is still happy-go-lucky and optimistic, but there are times where she lets other emotions break through that exterior. She’ll cry in public and not care who sees her. She’s even crying a little bit as she writes this because she is so proud of the person she became.
You really have become an amazing person. And I’m not just saying this because I’m a narcissist. I would be proud of Chelsey even I weren’t Chelsey! You did good, kid. You can finally go on planes by yourself, and you have survived nights at parties and clubs. You can get through the things that once sent you into panic-mode, and you’ve grown up to be a leader. I think that is one of your biggest issues. You’re a born leader, but you won’t let yourself speak your mind. You just go along with what others say, even if you disagree. Trust me, life becomes a lot better when you get over that and voice your opinions.
Just keep working through these next few months. Please take the time to breathe and relax. And know that you will someday have friends and a job that you love. You’ll be able to pay your own bills and take care of your own apartment. You’ll travel and be a master of public transportation. And when the anxiety gets bad, which will still happen when you’re too stressed out, you’ll know how to handle it.
I’m so proud of you, Chels.
Best wishes and lots of love,
Featured Image Via Flickr