“Letters to My Younger Self” is a series focused on wisdom and self-awareness. Just as you write letters to a friend to encourage and uplift them, here is the advice we would go back and tell our younger selves.
You feel anxious.
I know that you were expecting to feel many things during college—like freedom, the sand under your toes every weekend and the security of new friendships. You felt those things, and many more, during your first, perfect year.
During the second semester of your sophomore year, you were not expecting to feel anxiety—social anxiety. You could not have expected to feel it because you had never heard of it. Even if you had known what it was, social anxiety was never a threat to you because you always had friends. You were always involved in groups, team sports and were able to talk to peers and adults alike.
You were always so social.
Social anxiety was never a threat to you until now. You feel scared to walk through campus and scared to go out with your friends. You are scared to do anything except sit in your dorm room with the door closed, studying and watching movies.
Social anxiety was never a threat to you until now.
What I want you to know is that social anxiety did not happen to you because you stopped following the rules or because you were not trying hard enough. It did not happen because you were not praying enough. I may never know exactly why it happened to you, but perhaps the “why” is unimportant. What is important is how you handle the things you could not have expected.
I am proud of you for walking through campus although you are scared. I am proud of you for going out with your friends. I am proud of you for allowing yourself to sit in your dorm room with the door closed—studying and watching movies—when you feel overwhelmed. I am proud of you for going to counseling every Friday afternoon to talk about how you are feeling.
Now, 12 years later, social anxiety does not feel like a significant part of your life. It no longer feels like a significant part of your life because you kept moving through the darkness. You took small steps toward a life that did not weigh so heavily on your shoulders.
You took small steps toward a life that did not weigh so heavily on your shoulders.
After social anxiety loosened its grip from around your neck, you were expecting life to “go back to normal.” However, there was no “normal” anymore. You felt like a different person because you were a different person. You knew about suffering now because you had walked through pain that few people understood.
I am also proud of you for accepting that you had lost what was your “normal” and for not trying to get it back. I am proud of you for using your experiences to empathize with others—to understand that pain is a universal human experience.
I wish that I didn’t have to say this, but, with the years, there is going to be more pain and more suffering. Some of it will be your fault and some of it will not be. What I hope you do is exactly what you learned to do when you were 20—grieve what is “normal” and then rebuild.
You rebuild by walking through the darkness and taking small steps toward a life that does not weigh so heavily on your shoulders. In other words, keep going and you will rebuild. Always, always keep going.
Your older self
What advice would you give your younger self? What is something younger you really needed to know?
Image via Max Krutz, Darling Issue No. 22