Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Letter to My Twelve Year Old Self

Dear Age 12 Emily,

I'm writing to tell you a few strategies for handling the things that upset you. "Stress" is a hard thing to explain and isn't usually something kids are taught how to handle. But you are already familiar with feeling overwhelmed, fluttery in your stomach, nervous, and worried. I want to help you deal with those feelings.

Anxiety is a little like a mosquito bite. The more attention you give it, the more bothersome it becomes. Mom tells you to slap a bug bite (let it sting) and then leave it alone. Don't scratch it. With anxiety, it’s the same thing: give it your best shot, then leave it be.

Instead of a slap, the way to change your focus is to do something to distract yourself. It could be something active or something restful. Anything that takes your mind off whatever it is that's making you feel crazy. Take a bath. Give yourself a pedicure. Read a good story. Do some arts and crafts. Play with a pet (Droopy always likes attention). Do a chore. Write a letter. Practice piano. Bake something. Take a walk. Say a short prayer. Ask a brother or sister to play a game with you (they’d love it, even if you feel kind of annoyed. You’ll be glad later).

When you pull eyelashes or hair, you get tunnel vision. What you need is the opposite, something that makes you look up, notice the horizon, see what the sun or the moon or the clouds are doing. Watch for shooting stars.

That super-focused state when you're fiddling with hair is kind of like bellows on the wood stove fire. You’d think oxygen would extinguish flame (like blowing out a candle) but it actually feeds it. In fact, a fire with NO air goes out. Stop feeding your anxiety by giving it so much TLC.

If I was with you today, I’d French-braid your hair. I’d scratch your back. I'd give you a bear hug. I’d ask for your help making a collage from magazine pages. We could try fancy new cursive signatures (you’ll need to get really good at the letter U). I’d whisper to you that life is less about good behavior and more about enjoying yourself: fewer polite smiles and more belly laughs. Less silent observing and more Broadway show tunes, with choreography.

You already hear it a lot, but maybe coming from me it will mean something: stop worrying about what people might think of you. The reality is that everybody makes snap judgments and everyone also changes their minds. You can’t control what other people think. You can only do your best to say and do things that make you proud, happy, and confident. Don’t be afraid of growing up with a lot of regrets. So far, the only regret is all the time spent worrying about this kind of thing.
I love you. Your life is full of great things and you are ready to appreciate them ALL.


Age 31 Emily

This letter was prompted by a recent conversation with my counselor, addressing my current anxiety and compulsive behavior. Expressing compassion for the young version of me who invented coping mechanisms has been powerful.


  1. I love this, Emily, and my 12 year old self could've related. We may not get to go back and prevent the cracks that require tending later in life, but at least we can look out for some of the other young women in our lives. I think your niece really scored in the auntie department!

  2. I have etched in my heart an amazing life long develop gratitude & generosity:)+ It does wonders to the soul!~ :) Looking up & out!

  3. This is such a wonderful post, Emily! Oh, our 12-year-old selves sound so much alike (all that silent observing). Here's to more Broadway -- in fact, I'm singin' in the rain right now!