Dear Teen Me:
You are sixteen-years-old and you’ve just sat down in your first Spanish class at a brand new school. For any teenager this would be nerve-wracking, but for you, it is paralyzing. You spend most of your days worrying—about what you’re wearing, what you’re saying, what you’re doing, about why you’re not good enough. For you, Teen Me, every conversation, every glance, every moment with groups of people feels like you’re standing on a stage stark naked in front of an audience of thousands. It’s that uncomfortable.
But let me tell you something: what you don’t realize is that you’ve got anxiety—social anxiety—and oh how I wish you could understand that. It would save you years of pain and discomfort and poor choices.
You spend so much of your teen and college years making decisions from a place of fear. Fear of people and what they’ll think of you, fear of trying things that you might not succeed at, fear of being noticed, being judged, being you. You give up people, you give up opportunities, you give up yourself.
There’s a long time, Teen Me, when you just scrape by because you’re too afraid to go out in the world and do the things you’d really like to. You miss things like the gap year in England, three different out-of-state colleges, junior year abroad, law school. Yes, that fear will lead you to miss out on all sorts of things over the next decade. And every time you make a poor choice or give up an opportunity you will become more ashamed of yourself, which leads you to make more poor choices and give up more opportunities. Until the day you make the poorest choice of all and walk down the aisle with that guy you know you shouldn’t.
But have faith teenage Selena, because sometimes you’ve got to hit rock bottom before you start to climb back out. That marriage, as brief as it was, as horrendous a mistake as it turned out to be, is the catalyst for you becoming the woman you should have been all along. Once you’ve made that ultimate public mistake, you’re finally free from so much of that fear. In your mind you’ve completely humiliated yourself in front of everyone you know, and you’ve survived it. From there, it’s bound to get better.
And it does.
It doesn’t take you long after that to meet Mr. Laurence. This is the man who will give you confidence. He is an adult, and he shows you that you can be one too. You learn to see yourself through his eyes, and what he sees is someone worth loving, someone who is smart and talented and beautiful. He gives you a home and a family and a place finally to belong.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all easy after you find him, he comes with two young kids who don’t like you for quite a while, and an ex-wife who will nearly drive you insane in years to come. And eventually, anxiety will rear its ugly head again when life gets really damn hard. But your husband and your kids will keep you on track, and no matter what else happens, those kids will be your greatest joy and Mr. L. will be the best parenting partner any woman could ever ask for.
Yes, Teen Me, your kids will be amazing. They will be smarter and more talented and more successful than you could ever imagine. Three of them will be, if not outgoing, socially confident and competent. One of those will even be an extrovert, God forbid. But the fourth will have social anxiety too. That child will remind you so much of yourself it’s scary some days.
However, you will have learned about anxiety by then, and you will make sure that shy kid is always in places and with people that foster confidence and minimize fears. You will make sure from Day One that this kid tries things and succeeds at things and develops confidence. And that kid will end up being one that any parent would give their left arm for: smart, athletic, hardworking, and just as beautiful as can be. And when you look at everything shy kid is able to do because of what you learned about anxiety, those years of pain will have been worth it.
So, sixteen-year-old Selena, take a deep breath in that Spanish class, try not to worry about what everyone is thinking of you all the time, or better yet, realize that they’ve got a whole bunch of things other than you to think about. Try to like yourself, just a little bit, and maybe smile at someone once in a while. I wish I could give you the confidence to go on that junior year abroad, but at least I can tell you that it gets better, and you end up with everything you ever wanted—a beautiful family, a gorgeous home, a career that you are passionate about. You’ll do fine. You really will.
Selena Laurence lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and spends a lot of time at soccer games, on her laptop, and reading. She is a full-time romance author who loves nothing more than a good love story, whether it be about rock stars or college kids. She is a member of the Romance Writers of America and the Colorado Romance Writers. Her books have been on Amazon Topselling lists in Military Romance, Contemporary Romance, Hispanic fiction and Multicultural Romance. She requires a Mocha Latte every day to function, keeps a goldendoodle at her feet most of the time, and has more kids than she knows what to do with.