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Dear 16-Year-Old Kaitlin,
We’re going to Sea World! Younger self, if we could cross paths at the same time, that’s exactly where I’d take you. We’d sit on the hot bleachers, watching seals wave hello as we welcomed memories of your first time there. You were four and it was the dreamiest preschool school field trip idea imaginable. Wearing your favorite denim jumper, it was finally your turn to experience the whale-shaped ice cream sandwich you’d been waiting for. But that’s not the part that stands out, is it?
Somehow, in the bustle of chaperone herding and sunscreen applying, you found yourself locked in the bathroom alone. All of your friends were outside watching walruses clap their hands and dolphins jump through hoops, but you were sitting on the stained cement floor, hearing the fun but feeling trapped and forgotten.
When you were finally discovered, your teacher was horrified but you were fine, brushing off your knees like you’d purposefully chosen to study tile grout instead of sea animals.
And while I’m happy to report that you haven’t been left in a bathroom since, at sixteen, you will find yourself in your own closet, trapped not by a lock, but by fear. Anxiety is your grown-up Sea World bathroom, keeping you in a dark space while your friends play without you. They will look at you strangely, wondering why you can’t just enjoy the penguins.
You may be disappointed to know that at 25 you still won’t have it all figured out, but I do want to give you a little pep talk about what to expect.
First of all, people are going to tell you a lot of things. They may tell you that the things you worry about rarely happen, that being afraid is a waste of time, or even ask you to stop your anxiety, as if it’s a piece of gum to spit out. This advice, while well-meaning, is about as valid as dating tips from your dental hygienist. Their entirely wrong words at precisely the wrong time will make you feel alone.
Before I go any further, sweet girl, I need you to know that there is nothing wrong with you. This is not a flaw, a malfunction, or a mistake you made. Fear is not a sign of weakness; rather, it’s a sign you’ve been strong enough to love. You’ve been bold enough to lend vulnerability and compassion, to give yourself to things you know you could lose. This is your biggest strength, and man, I can’t wait for you to see the places this takes you. Anxiety will huddle up to the things you adore most, but I hope you’ll remember that love always showed up first.
Although you grew up in church, you’re just learning what it means to open your Bible and believe it for yourself. When you do this, you may be tempted to think that anxiety is due to a lack of faith. You may find it hard to take your fears to a God who allows such bad things to happen. Because you’re desperately afraid of suffering, you’re reluctant to follow a faith that guarantees it. Before today, you’ve always had the Truth to discuss in Sunday School or write in a notebook, but from now on, it is your lifeline. Yes, suffering is unavoidable, but hope isn’t. Please don’t miss it.
As you grow closer to God, you will give Him ultimatums, saying you’ll leave if He lets bad things happen to you. But at the root of all your fears, you’re afraid He will be the One to leave first. The bad things are still going to happen, but He won’t leave you, not for a second. Your worst fears may come true, but the Gospel will ring truer.
And finally, you may not be able to control the darkness, but you can control whether or not you face it alone. Don’t be afraid to go to the scary places that make you feel like the only one, because that’s the only way to find out you aren’t. Because love showed up first on The Cross, loneliness is never the end.
You have a lot to look forward to, and most of it has to do with hope. Keep looking for it. There’s a room for you there, too.
P.S. You don’t have to enjoy the penguins, but please eat the ice cream sandwich.
I first read Kaitlin’s work at She Reads Truth, and she’s one of those social media follows that I never regretted. Thank you, Kaitlin, for so beautifully putting into words the way anxiety’s grip can feel. Be sure to check out her blog today where she is hosting an English Lessons giveaway! And here’s more info on this wonderful writer, who she is and what she does:
Kaitlin Wernet is a twenty-something who uses too many exclamation points and not enough inside voice. Although her feet are currently planted in Nashville, TN, her heart has a new favorite city every day. With a degree in journalism, an affection for SEC football, and a distaste for parallel parking, Kaitlin spends her days loving people and words until they become stories. A regular contributor to She Reads Truth, she also writes about grace, grief, and the occasional goldendoodle at KaitlinWernet.com.