A note from a 16-year-old that blew my mind

Do you mind if I share this lovely note with you? Sarah L. reached out to me with the letter below. I get hundreds of letters and messages daily in response to first, we make the beast beautiful. I’ve had to employ someone two days a week to help me answer the questions and provide help. (I share this to explain why sometimes response are slow and other times I just don’t reply…please don’t be offended. I read most of what you share with me.)

Turns out Sarah is 16. Her note reminded me of myself when I was her age. It reminded me that young teens with anxiety are ready to talk differently about it (many parents ask me if the book is suitable for teens…I think it is suitable for the type of teen who is riddled with/alive to anxiety because they have a mind about to explode with quite expansive thoughts). It reminded me that I really didn’t address the situation for young people enough in my book and that I will need to do some more work in this realm. I have to continue to “go first” in the conversation to help young people feel cool about sharing their own stuff (even just to themselves in diary format…which is what I did 30-odd years ago).

Sarah’s note also explained to me why it’s not a bad thing (at all) that reading my book makes some people anxious, which is a comment made by some. (She also alerted me to the fact that young people often use a semi-colon with more élan than most thrice her age.)

Thank you Sarah L. xx

To Sarah Wilson,

Hi there! I don’t really know how to start this message, or exactly how I can say what I want to. I really just want to make sure you know what an amazing act writing that book was and how enlightening it has been for me.
My mum sent me ‘First, We Make the Beast Beautiful’ from my home in Australia to where I’m currently on exchange in Italy. I had mentioned the book before and how I wanted to read [it] but, I must admit, I was a slightly offended when she sent it to me. Thanks mum, for sending me a book about anxiety when I was trying desperately to pretend I was fine fine fine. But after the first few chapters, I realised it was exactly what I needed…
I have always pushed the reality of [anxiety] being present and buzzing inside me aside. However, here in Italy, I am learning all kinds of things about myself – a lot of which I don’t particularly like (teenage girls aren’t exactly taught to love themselves). But this whole experience sees me also learning to accept a bunch of difficult things, including myself. Thus, the perfectness of your book. With it I see how running won’t work forever.
Here is where I just feel like writing all about my anxiety and my anxious journey, even though you’re a complete stranger. This is what you’re writing does; by being so honest and real, you’ve made me feel like a friend. But I’ll try to resist the temptation. Also, the fact that I have a different “flavour” of anxiety to what I understand of yours from the book didn’t matter when I was reading, because you got right down to the core, to the itchy, painful feelings the anxious share. And I hope you understand this, but while I was reading your book I felt my anxiety grow a lot. It felt so great to know that I wasn’t alone, but it was also scary and confronting because I guess I didn’t really know how I felt until I read it. I don’t know if that makes sense. But I was just suddenly so aware that I have anxiety, and I could see how present it’s always been, when I’d previously passed it off as stupidity or insanity or restlessness.
Then, I began to see how it has made me. How, yes it stops me from doing easy, little things (like reading out loud in class, I have a anxious heart attack just about every time) but also how it has pushed me to do incredible things. I would never, ever say this before reading your book and being shown the other side of the “beast”, but I know deep down that the real reason I embarked on the whole exchange to Italy was because of my anxiety. Trust me, I’m probably the last person you’d expect to go on such a journey. Yes, of course, I had a million grand, moral reasons. But I know the truth is that I was driven here by my anxiety, to prove something. All of those complex ideas for coming here matter are very true, but it all really comes down to me wanting to stick my tongue out to anxiety and say “yeah, I did it!”. Anyway, who cares really. It’s landed me here, in this amazing place with beautiful people.
Of course, sometimes my anxiety wins and everyday I hurt. But with your book, I feel understood. You can’t imagine how much that means to me and has helped me…
It was really quite funny (maybe only for me but I’ll tell you anyway) when I would read a part of your internal monologue, for example, “Sarah everyone else is doing just fine, find a way!”, I would have [a] little laugh because that’s quite literally what my internal voice is shouting at me most of the time.
Anyway, I’ve gone on too much… Just know that I’m incredibly grateful. Mental illness has always been prevalent in my family, but it has never been healed or helped the way I believe your approach can. You really are an inspiration, I would love to teach the destigmatization (not sure if that’s a word but it should be) of mental illness just like your book has. And I just truly appreciate how you’ve used your talent with words for such an important thing. Thank you again, really, from the bottom of my anxious little heart that took a crazy amount of time to work up the courage to send this.
Look, if this whole thing is messy and incomprehensible just know this: your book was a universal, anxious person sigh. One, big sigh of relief.
Sarah L.


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