Hello, readers! My current therapist asked me to write a letter to my seventeen-year-old self for “homework” outside of our sessions. The final product turned out to be less of a letter and more of a self-reflection/imaginary dialogue hodgepodge. Sounds a bit odd, but I’m quite happy with my assignment.
There are so many things I would love to tell my seventeen-year-old self.
What I would give to let her know that her SAT scores were good enough to get into Penn State main campus as a freshman—yes, those sleepless nights tossing and turning and fretting over that dreadful test were not in vain.
That she’d overcome anxieties that seemed insurmountable when she first encountered them. That a girl who was once afraid to drive on a road with other cars managed to drive eight hours to another state to visit a friend. How I’d kill to see the look on younger me’s face.
I can picture the conversation:
25-YO Leah: Dude, we drove eight hours to Cleveland—one way—without anyone else in the car to help. AND without even having a mini panic attack.
17-YO Leah: Uhh, sure. And we also solo-piloted a Delta Airlines flight to LAX last week, too. Have any more fairytales you’d like to share?
25-YO Leah: It’s true! WE did that. It took a lot of practice—it didn’t just happen over night. And this awesome thing called Google Maps comes into our life that makes driving so much easier.
17-YO Leah: continues staring skeptically The other day we forgot how to use the brake while we were parking and ran into the side of Brig O’ Doon Inn*. Remember that?
25-YO Leah: …I’d gone nearly eight years and could’ve gone eight more without remembering that…
That a girl who’d at one time gotten physically ill before having to speak in front of others now teaches in front of a class without a second thought. I can also picture this conversation:
25-YO Leah: So you know how we don’t sleep for days before we have to give a presentation in front of the class?
17-YO Leah: Yeah, and obsess over it every waking hour and shit our brains out that morning from nerves? Where are you going with this…?
25-YO Leah: Well, our job now is teaching English to classes of judgmental teenagers who roll their eyes and openly laugh when we make mistakes.
17-YO Leah: Excuse me…what?
25 YO Leah: It gets worse. We actually like this job.
That a girl who couldn’t eat at a pizza place by herself would find the courage to move to a foreign country and navigate life on her own. (No need to write an imaginary conversation between teenage and current-day-me because the head of seventeen-year-old me most likely would have blown off my neck before my mouth managed to form any sort of reply.)
However, I’d also tell my younger self that the anxiety, feelings of worthlessness and melancholia she was experiencing were only the beginning of the uphill battle she’d be facing. I’d tell her that she’d hit periods where she’d attempt to climb up the great hill of all her internal struggles and roll flat on her face all the way back down. Or that she’d make some progress up its side but the hill would continue to grow until it resembled a mountain, rendering her progress insignificant. Or that she’d hit periods where staying in bed or sleeping 13 hours a night were far more appealing than trying to climb some stupid hill at all.
I’d tell my seventeen-year-old self to keep going. That although she’s going to face difficult times that will amplify her anxiety and depression, she has no other option but to keep climbing. Most importantly, I would remind her that she needs to take a look back and pat herself on the back for the distance she’s covered in eight years. It’s true that at twenty-five I still might not be able to see the top of the hill, but I’m a hell of a lot higher than where I started.
For now, I’m signing off. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ramblings of my black hole mind.
*The Brig O’ Doon Inn is a real place near my hometown. Although it sounds like a bed and breakfast run by pirates, it’s actually a cute coffee shop run by someone my dad used to work with. After nearly driving my car through its kitchen, my dad and I went inside and I got a pretty terrific bagel and smoothie.