Letters To My Past Selves

Hello, and welcome back to the blog.

Firstly, some housekeeping. I haven’t posted in like a month. I apologize, but I’ve also made an executive decision that following a posting schedule is BS unless I’m getting paid for it, and so I’m only going to post when I want to post and I will not be stressing myself out about it. Because that was what I was doing and it made me not want to post things. Now, on to the main event!

Dear pre-Earth-life, spirit Sarah: You made some decisions, kid. I don’t know what all of those decisions were, but I do know that you picked an excellent family, one that makes you feel needed and loved, and one that you need and love. So— you know, thank you. You’ve made some other decisions, and I hope that I don’t get older and look back on what I did with those decisions in mortality and go, “Wow, that was dumb.” For the record, though, I think you’ve done a great job.

Dear in-utero-Sarah: My propensity for inappropriate laughter is thanks to you. You were right-side-up, which for a fetus is upside-down, and they had to manually turn you and my mother was laughing uncontrollably the whole time. It’s one of those things that I am convinced is absorbed by osmosis because now I laugh when I shouldn’t. It is a coping mechanism for severe clinical depression, so I will allow it. And you came out okay, anyway. A little jaundiced, but quite healthy.

Dear infant Sarah: You learned to sleep well at a very young age, to the point where your mother was half convinced you were dead sometimes because you didn’t wake up at three in the morning to cry. Unfortunately for you, sleep is not something you can backlog, and in the future you will be very tired, very often. Mostly due to being sad and not producing enough neurotransmitters.

Dear one-year-old Sarah: I don’t remember anything about this time in my life, but I do know that you were full of joy. Hang on to that, kid. You’re going to need it.

Dear two-year-old Sarah: There’s not a lot of memories, still— but I’ve seen some pictures. You know, Two, you loved the heck out of your big brother. The two of you were best friends. It’s sort of adorable. He’s still one of your best friends. You fight occasionally, but it’s because you love each other so much that it hurts.

Dear three-year-old Sarah: You can read! Good job. You can also use the toilet, but that’s boring and not at all essential to your progress on the path to healthy adulthood. You already have a propensity for interesting names. Your Barbie dolls, Theresia and Evangelina and Susannah, thank you. Also, you believe that you are beautiful. Guard that belief, Three, because it’s unbelievably precious and you don’t get to keep it.

Dear four-year-old Sarah: You wear that princess costume frequently. You also have a windbreaker-sweatpants combo that make this interesting scratching noise when the fabric between your legs rubs together when you move. Yes, that is where that noise is coming from. It’s not a ghost or a tree or the wind. It’s your pants, Four. You can be so adorably stupid sometimes, but childhood is a learning process and I promise I am not judging you. (Just laughing at you. From the future.) Also, you know the big wall of mirrors in the house on Cherrywood Drive? Enjoy them now, because in the future you will hate mirrors.

Dear five-year-old Sarah: You’ve started school. I get it, I really do. School is confusing and loud and the other kids don’t understand your jokes, and on picture day you wore a really cute dress and the boy who sits next to you wore a suit and tie and everybody else said that you two were going to get married. You don’t need to cry about that, Five. Really, you don’t. He moves away after kindergarten and you never see him again. It will be okay. Also, just because you color outside of the lines on purpose sometimes doesn’t mean that you’re wrong. It just means you already have a healthy objection to categorizations like “colors belong in certain places.” The whole world is a big, beautiful rainbow and maybe the rest of them can’t see it, but you can. And you will keep seeing it for a very long time.

Dear six-year-old Sarah: You have the cutest haircut. Every adult you know tells you so. The kids your age don’t seem to agree; in fact, the one girl told you that you have “boy hair” and you cried about it— but Six, you cry about everything. Also, you wrote your first book. Remember the Young Authors program? Where you wrote a story and drew pictures and they bound it all up into a cute book for you? Yeah, you wrote a counting book.

Dear seven-year-old Sarah: This is the year you got glasses— and you promptly lost them three days later. This is a problem because you need glasses, Seven. You REALLY need glasses. It does not help that you have spent your nights reading by the extremely dim light shining through your open bedroom doorway. Stop doing that. You need your eyes. Also, you wrote another book. This one is an entirely fictional story about how your infant brother got lost in the supermarket. But you found him, because you believe in happy endings.

Cling to those happy endings, Seven. I’m begging you. I need them so badly.

Dear eight-year-old Sarah: So you moved to Red Lion this year, and everything is just— weird. You don’t have friends. At the end of the school year, that girl in your string lesson at school will be your friend. She’s a great friend. Everybody in your class thinks that you like the one boy because you played tag with him a couple of times at recess. There is nothing wrong with playing tag with a boy, and you do not have a problem. They’re the ones with the problem, Eight. They don’t know any better, so don’t judge them too harshly— but a boy and a girl can be just friends. It’s okay. At least you have Darcy the purple bear, who is your best friend and will be for a long time.

You were also baptized this year. That’s important, because it marks the beginning of your relationship with God. You knew He was real before this, but this time, it’s more important. My advice to you (not that you will take it) is to remember your baptism day as often as you can.

Dear nine-year-old Sarah: This is the year you learned that you hate math. This is unfortunate, because your father does math for a living but also because from here on out you are going to struggle with math, and therefore science, for the remainder of your education. I’m very, very sorry about it.

Also… puberty is on its way, and it’s not going to be fun. Hold on for a hot minute, Nine. You can make it and I believe in you.

Dear ten-year-old Sarah: I’m sorry.

Ten, I just— this is the year of capital-I Issues. Literally, because this is the year you get boobs and experience menarche, and on top of that you embark upon the lifelong, self-destructive train of Hating Your Own Body and you’re not going to get off that train for the next thirteen years. And even then you sometimes hang out near the tracks and ride from town to town like a hobo in the forties.

This is the year you did a report on the state of Wyoming. In the future, you will go to Wyoming and discover that it is not nearly as interesting as your report made it sound. I mean, you were on Interstate 80 the whole time, but it’s a six-hour drive from one border to the other and there’s one town along the entire highway. Also, it’s always raining.

The most important part about that report is that you stood up and gave that report in front of everyone, and it was the last time you were ever comfortable giving a report because afterward… well, afterward, one of your friends told you that two of the popular girls were laughing at you the whole time because you have hairy legs.

I’m crying for you, Ten. You didn’t know any better. You didn’t know that the cultural patriarchy had already taken an awful grasping hold on the minds of those girls and caused them to believe that body hair is the worst thing a woman can have. They didn’t know, either. But their mockery hurt you, and you asked your mother for a razor and she showed you how to use it.

Ten, you never needed to shave. Neither of those girls had to do it. One of them had light-red hair and her leg hair was invisible, and the other one had tanned skin so her leg hair didn’t show up. You had fair skin and dark body hair, and the only reason that they teased you is because it was visible.

There’s not a thing wrong with your body hair, but you don’t know that, and you’re going to spend the next ten or eleven years having a love-hate relationship with your razor before you and your therapist realize that this specific report on the state of Wyoming is the cause of half of your hang-ups about body hair.

Dear eleven-year-old Sarah: The Puberty Stagecoach took you to the Hating Your Own Body express, and that train has made a stop in Acne City. You have bumps on your face. Sometimes they have cyst-like fluid in them. Sometimes they’re just clogged pores that have become blackheads. Either way— you have acne, and it is the plague of your existence. Eleven, I am sorry to inform you that acne will remain the plague of your existence well into your twenties. It’s unfortunate. The residents of Acne City are also the drivers of the Hating Your Own Body train, and they feel the need to return home frequently. Sometimes you will hate your legs, or your arms, or your back, or your chest, or your stomach— but you will always hate your face because you can’t yet see the beauty in it under the acne and the scars.

Dear twelve-year-old Sarah: Junior high is hell, Twelve. I have no advice for you other than this: Survive.

Dear thirteen-year-old Sarah: This is the first and last time you will get a sports award for anything. You won the Presidential Fitness Award for the V-Sit, which is where you put your feet against a box and reach forward to rest your hands on a ruler on the top. This is supposedly a test of flexibility, but you have an advantage because you have short legs and a long torso and arms. This is the one time you actually enjoy something your body, Thirteen— savor the moment.

Also: that kid who was a jerk to you once in gym class, because you were afraid of getting hit by the volleyball? He’s not so bad, honestly. He’s going to date like half of your friends so you better get used to him.

Dear fourteen-year-old Sarah: So high school is okay. You see a lot of couples sucking face in the hallways, and part of you is grossed out and part of you is deeply, unreasonably jealous. Not because kissing looks all that fun, but because once these people are done making out they hold hands and walk to class together. You would like that, but you’re a hopeless romantic and you are also quiet and you believe you’re too ugly for anyone to look at you like that. It’s not going to happen.

Also, there’s this boy. I know it’s too late to give you advice now, but please don’t fall in love with him, Fourteen. It’s going to hurt you. Please.

Dear fifteen-year-old Sarah: Now that you’re busy and having fun with your friends all the time, you can sometimes forget about hating your own body. I mean, there are still moments— all of your friends are getting boyfriends and dating, and they hold hands and sometimes make out and you’re still unreasonably jealous but not that way, eww. They’re your friends. You don’t want to make out with them— you just want someone to make out with, someone who will fill this growing emptiness inside of you and tell you that you’re pretty.

Fifteen, you are never going to date in high school, and I know that sounds terrible but I promise you it is a blessing. It is protection. God is literally protecting you from getting screwed up by these emotions you don’t know how to handle. I know it’s bitter, and it’s hard to watch and not feel envious, and I know that it feels like the only reason boys don’t look at you that way is because you have thin, beautiful friends— but Fifteen. I swear you are better off. Please just trust me.

Dear sixteen-year-old Sarah: Your mother let you get contacts this year, and your hair is longer than it’s ever been. You not only feel pretty, but downright beautiful. I mean, you still get acne, but your school picture this year was the first one in five years that was not a complete travesty, and they retouch the acne away so you can pretend you are a normal, pretty, slightly overweight girl instead of the fat ugly mess you believe yourself to be.

Sixteen, I hate to burst your bubble— but you are going to cut your hair a lot in the next few years, and you are also going to go back to wearing glasses full-time. Once you get the right frames, they will make your face much thinner than contacts.

Dear seventeen-year-old Sarah: You’re nervous about getting that BYU acceptance letter. Don’t worry, you’ll get it— it just won’t come until March because BYU is really picky and your GPA was on the edge of Nope for them. Fortunately, the abundance of extracurriculars and the whole perfect seminary attendance and lettering thing did it for them. And you know, you did score a 31 on the ACT. Nice going, Seventeen. You might believe you’re ugly, but nobody’s ever said you were stupid and trust me, being smart has done more for you than being pretty.

Dear eighteen-year-old Sarah: So— college. You have a lovely roommate and four other lovely apartment-mates. You are doing your own laundry and cooking; you are going to class; you have your first job selling doughnuts and brownies at the football games. You have made some really good friends who like the same books and TV shows and movies as you. You are doing good. And you are on a huge campus with thirty-six thousand people (including the Independent Study people, so maybe it’s more like thirty thousand) and you feel invisible. It’s the best feeling in the entire world. Nobody is looking at you. Nobody cares. Yes, they’re all prettier than you and there are tall, thin women who wear six-inch-heels to class every day but nobody bats an eye at your sweatpants. Nobody cares and boy, do you feel free.

Eighteen, a small part of me now wishes I could tell you to dress up cute every day and learn to put on makeup, but the rest of me is glad that we didn’t do that. It wasn’t necessary, and if you felt like you had to do that in the future, and… well, let’s say it would have contributed to a whole host of factors playing into your depression and anxiety.

Dear nineteen-year-old Sarah: Remember how I told you not to fall in love with that boy? Well gosh dang it, if you didn’t go and fall in love with that boy. He is going to break your heart, little by little. And— here’s the thing you won’t understand right away— he isn’t even going to do it on purpose. Some of it is definitely his fault but some of it is you over-romanticizing the whole situation (which he did not know about), and the rest has to do with the Hating Your Own Body train, next stop Acne City, next stop Fatty Station. For once, a boy is making you feel pretty, and not because he says so— but because he likes spending time with you and talking to you. It is flattering and lovely, and infatuation is such a powerful drug that you can’t wait for your next hit.

Nineteen, it’s still a drug. And once you came off that high, once you realized that the relationship was toxic and bad and wrong— you crashed.

Nineteen, I told One to hang on to her joy, and I told Seven to hold her happy endings close, and I told Ten that puberty was going to be awful, and I told Twelve that junior high school was hell, and I told Fifteen that she was better off without a boyfriend. I told them those things because they were true, but I also told them those things because joy and happy endings are something you can’t see anymore. I told them that puberty and junior high were awful because those things are survivable. I told Fifteen that she was better off without a boyfriend because being single and alive is better than slowly wasting away because your heart is broken.

And Nineteen, it’s not just your heart. There’s something wrong with your head, too. You’re going to be okay, Nineteen. You’re going to be fine. Please— don’t think those things. Don’t think so loudly. Put that bottle of ibuprofen, that full bottle, back into your medicine drawer and call your mother. It’s three in the morning, but call your mother because waking her up is better than… the alternative. You’re not actually going to down that entire bottle of pills, but stop thinking about it. I know that’s not entirely in your control.

Nineteen, I’m talking you off the ledge. Listen to me.

Dear twenty-year-old Sarah: Your new medication is helping. And some other things, too. You moved apartments, and you’ve got a good job at the campus bookstore. You’re quieter now than ever, though you’ve always been quiet. Boys scare you, in a way they never did before. You guard your heart so carefully, Twenty. That’s smart, but it’s also lonely.

Remember Five? Remember how she’s always seen rainbows? The rainbows left and you didn’t even notice, until they came back. Now that you’re on medicine, the whole world looks brighter and warmer. Even rainy days just remind you of home.

Twenty, you spend a lot of time on the Internet. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, I’m glad you did. If you didn’t spend a lot of time there, you would never have learned about the body positivity movement and feminism. Those things have helped you realize that the thoughts you have about your body are— well, you’re not sure what they are, but you know they aren’t quite right.

On the other hand, you have suddenly gotten a lot jumpier. Go to the doctor for that. Anxiety medication will make you sleepy, but it will also help you if you’re about to have a panic attack. By the way: panic attacks are not fun. Also: you’ve been having those since fifth grade, but you had convinced yourself that you were just a crybaby. Don’t do that anymore, Twenty.

Dear twenty-one-year-old Sarah: I’m sorry, again. I’m sorry you couldn’t finish college. You had less than a month left in your last semester, but it was too much and you self-sabotaged because of anxiety. It’s going to be okay, Twenty-one. We’re getting you therapy, we’re getting you new medicine because Lexapro stopped working and Zoloft— well, it was quit college or talk yourself down from the ledge again. And you’ve gained thirty pounds in the last five months of college. That was Zoloft, too.

I’m sorry.

Dear twenty-two-year-old Sarah: Therapy is really amazing, isn’t it? You’ve been going for about a month and it’s already made such a difference. You haven’t talked to your therapist about your body yet— but once you both realize what’s going on, you’re going to fix this. The Hating Your Own Body train will be leaving the station— but you, Twenty-two, are going to get off the train and stay in this new place. It doesn’t have a name yet, but I suggest you call it Confidence.

Dear twenty-three-year-old Sarah: Here we are. We’ve come a long way, kid. Heartbreak, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation— it’s not been pleasant. But you are finally starting to look back and see little spots of joy. Remember Four? She believes we’re going to be a princess. Maybe we haven’t always felt like one, Twenty-three, but Four is right. You’re a princess.

You’re still uncomfortable with your body, but you don’t hate it. You’re down to high school weight, or a little over. You still have acne, but you’ve also talked to the therapist about the whole picking-at-your-face-and-nails thing and learned that it’s a symptom of anxiety. The comedone extraction kit has been helpful, and once you get hold of a cube or a spinner, that will be even better. And you know, you graduated from college. Not a big deal, or anything. (Yes, it is. Good job on finishing college without dying.)

You’re still lonely, but you’re also beginning to understand that friendships are in some ways more important than relationships. You’ve also learned to serve people. You’ve learned that God loves you, and that even when you don’t believe you are beautiful, He knows you are. You’ve found faith in your healing, and healing in your faith. You can look at a mirror and see your bright hazel eyes and your cute little nose instead of acne scars and fat. You can look at a mirror and see acne scars and fat, and the thoughts are not “ugly and worthless” but “a set of genetic dispositions that have no actual bearing on my aesthetic appeal.”

Dear future Sarah: In June, you will be twenty-four. Sometime after that, you will be twenty-five, and twenty-six, and twenty-seven, and so on. Eventually, you will land a cool job that lets you buy a computer on which you can finally run Minecraft, and maybe someday you will meet a nice boy that thinks your acne scars and fat are just as cute as your hazel eyes and tiny nose, and maybe you’ll marry him and have babies like you’ve always wanted. And you’ll have a little house or an apartment or something, and you’ll grow old and happy.

Of course, maybe none of these things will happen. Maybe you’ll land a job that makes you want to tear your hair out but pays your bills, and maybe you rent an apartment that won’t let you have pets, and you never meet a nice boy in your whole life.

But Future Sarah… you’re still going to be happy. You can write, and you can talk to people you love. Your sister is one of your best friends, and you need her as much as she needs you. Your older brother needs you more than you think he does, but not as much as you need him. Your little brothers are growing up and they are going to be such cool adults. Your parents have always been cool, even when you were a bratty teenager, and they will continue to be cool. And you will always have extended family, and friends, and medication, and Darcy the purple bear, and the love of God.

No matter what happens, you will have such a joyful, happy life. It will be hard. There will be days where you don’t want to get out of bed, and there will be days when you don’t get out of bed, and there might even be days where you think about suicide as a viable option for getting some rest because depression always makes you tired and sleep just isn’t doing it for you. There will be weeks and months and years where you will continue to wonder if any of it is worth it.

In a moment of rare wisdom, Future Sarah— let me tell you that it is worth it. It is worth it now, it was worth it when you’ve struggled before, and it will still be worth it. It will always be worth it.

With love, fondness, exasperation, and more than a few tears,

Sarah

If you’re looking forward to seeing this blog in the future, consider following. If you want to see Occasional Pictures of My Face and Food I Have Made, you can follow me on Instagram at hypotheticalelephants. If you want to see me being a Whiny, Immature Human, you can follow me on Twitter at sadINFJwriter.

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