Dear eighteen-year-old Lauren,
The reason I chose this picture is because unbeknownst to anyone else, you are in the midst of a panic attack in this photo. You’ve gotten pretty good at hiding them, but I know. I know you hoped that when you would look back on this picture you would forget, and instead just see a happy girl just graduated from high school, enjoying her brother’s thirteenth birthday party.
But you don’t forget. You remember.
And you remember why you’re having that panic attack too. Partially, it’s because for the last three days, you’ve barely eaten anything and your stomach is writhing in pain. And, well, you know your emetophobia. When your stomach hurts – instant panic.
You know, recently, a picture of a girl before-and-after a panic attack has gone viral. In one picture she looks ready to party and happy. In the next, she is a teary mess. And although you’ve had panic attacks like that in the past, yours mostly look like this. No one can tell before, after, and even during. Look at the picture above. If I didn’t know you, I would have no idea.
But I do know you because, well, I am you.
Okay so, let’s ask the question. Why haven’t you eaten for three days? Well, the day is September 18, 2010. The day before, on a Friday night, you go on your first real date. And that boy tells you that he really likes you. And you tell him you like him back. The day after this picture is taken, you will enter into your first ever relationship.
And you are absolutely freaking out.
Now, I’m going to warn you. And you probably won’t believe me, but that relationship will not last. I mean, it will…for over a year. And then it’ll be over, like most first loves. But that’s okay. Because the point is no matter how sad you are at the end of it, no matter how much you feel like you’ll never move on, no matter what…you will have grown more in that year than any other year.
Because during that year, you decide to fully commit your life to Christ.
And during that year, you realize that staying up past 10:30 is no reason to have a panic attack.
And during that year, you realize that camping isn’t all that scary – even if you do hate it. And you realize that it’s possible to get through your emetophobia. You realize it’s possible to go out to a restaurant late at night with your young adults group and eat nachos and sip a coke and not get sick to your stomach.
You realize it’s possible to go away on a youth retreat with your church for a weekend and actually, for the most part, handle it. You’ll stay away from home without any family members for the very first time that year (I know, you’re kinda old for that “first,” but that’s okay) – and it’ll prepare you for all the times you’ll have to do it again in the future.
During that year, you’ll learn to drive and you’ll get your licence. And during that year, you’ll get your wisdom teeth out and you’ll be so, so, so scared. But you’ll do it anyway.
You’re able to do that all because you’ll have someone there to support you. And even though that relationship doesn’t work out, never regret it. Because just like every single other relationship in your life, it helped you grow.
And now you’re 23, almost 24. And guess what – you’re married. I know, you probably think I’m just lying to make you feel better about everything. But I’m serious.
Your friend “Jason” will set you up with this really cute guy. And you know what, you won’t even like him at first. But then you will. And then you REALLY will. And he will help you grow even more than you did when you were eighteen. You will start to truly feel like an adult. You will start to truly feel like you have control over your thoughts and your emotions.
This is probably my last letter to you for a while. I think I’ve said everything that needs to be said (for now, at least – I’m sure thirty-year-old Lauren would really like to have a chat with twenty three-year-old-Lauren).
I wish I could tell you that the panic attacks have stopped. Honestly, they don’t. And they’ll get worse. And then they’ll get better. And then they’ll get worse…and so on.
I’m actually having a panic attack this moment as I write this! But see, in the past, you wouldn’t have been able to blog as you had a panic attack. All you could was stand there and fake a smile. Now, you can coherently (hopefully) write a (hopefully) meaningful blog post with limited spelling and grammatical errors!
Anyway, you should really be proud with how far you’ve come. I know you got a long way to go, but boy, have you changed in the last six years…I can’t wait to see what will happen in the next six.