Dear Teen Maurene,
Being in your brain right now feels like being in the eye of a storm. Where you don’t know what’s up and what’s down…which direction is forward or backward.
It’s not like you’re going through anything more terrible than most teens. In fact, your life is pretty good and you know it and therefore you wonder where this deep unhappiness and yearning comes from.
Part of it is, I hate to say, just being a teenager. Hormones are no joke. And you don’t realize it, but your body is actually a little out of whack compared to other people your age. You’re a late bloomer in every real way. You won’t have a normal period with actual cramps until you’re 35 and off birth control. You’re welcome for that knowledge.
But the other thing is, you have anxiety.
You know how you don’t understand how not everyone gets filled with dread every evening? How baffling it is that people want to go to sleep? When, for you, laying in the dark with your own thoughts is such a specific torture that you endure every single night of your life? Yeah, that’s not because you’re just some emo teenager feeling sorry for yourself, enjoying writing dark poetry about the grim reaper (yes, I remember that poem). It’s because something is off in your brain. Not to scare you, but you have a mental health disorder. That’s okay. Like an allergy, you can learn to live with it and find some tools to help lessen its effects.
Maybe that’ll help you when you spend six solid weeks in a paralysis, near-tears almost every minute you’re awake, because you think you have ovarian cancer. You don’t even know what ovarian cancer is but you’re sure you have it. That grim reaper poem came from this fear. You saw it every night in the corner of your room. You knew it was actually shadows cast by something on your dresser…but also it was the grim reaper.
But really, it was your anxiety.
Maybe it helps to know that when you feel your heart beat so hard that it feels like it’s going to shoot out of your chest when you think about your friends hanging out without you. When you think it’s because they hate you. That they all decided to hate you at the same time. Because you’re annoying. Because you can remember every banal and cruel thing you’ve ever said. You wonder if other people remember things this well. Some people do. But most don’t. That’s a real special joy you have to deal with because of your anxiety.
Right now, you’re like “Awesome, thanks. I have this shitty disorder that’s never going to leave and I’ll never ever be able to live in the moment. Cool story.”
Not to be all, but actually…but actually you will be able to live in the moment. You’re going to find an amazing therapist who’s going to change your life. You’re going to find out that yes,
your anxiety makes it hard for you to concentrate on one thing at a time (which is going to be a supreme bitch when you become a full time writer), but it’s also going to make you a creator. A storyteller. I learned this from therapy. That a lot of creators have anxiety because our brains are constantly making connections. Sometimes that means it’s telling you that your sore calf has a blood clot but a lot of times it’s you making a joke off the cuff or creating a whole back-story for a woman you saw at the grocery store.
I’m not saying anxiety is a gift or a curse—it just is. And you’re going to learn to deal with it, understand it, and be less scared as you move through the world.
You have so much cool shit coming your way. I’m so excited for you. Take a breath, the storm will clear. And when it comes again, you’ll be prepared.
The letter above is part of an ongoing weekly series featuring letters from authors to their teen selves. If you're a published author who'd like to participate in this series, we'd love to have you. Just click here and let us know you're interested.