Dear Teen Me from author J.J. Johnson (THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING)

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Dear Teen Me,

Yes! It’s future you! Returning, as promised, to whisper hope into your ear when you are at your lowest.

Which means it’s 1988 for you. You are a teeny tiny fifteen year old, curled up inside a billowy extra-large Champion sweatshirt, staring at the clock in the lounge of the eating disorders unit at Benjamin Rush Hospital. The seconds are ticking even slower than they do in French class. And you reek of cigarettes, even though you don’t smoke, because in 1988 smoking is still allowed just about everywhere, most especially in the common room of the eating disorder unit.

Still not convinced it’s future you? The quote that most touches you right now is from Nietzsche. “You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”

Now do you believe it’s me/you? I passed the test? Good. Moving on.

It’s 2012, you’re 39 now —although you still feel 20 on the inside— and you’re married to a fantastic man (Spoiler alert! You’ll meet him when you’re 19, but you won’t fall in love until you’re 25. I won’t tell you who it is. You’ll never guess). And you have a seven-year-old child, and a loyal rescue dog, and a cute little house, and last but not least, you are the published author of two novels. Pretty cool, right?

That’s where you are in 24 years. Right now you’ve got a couple months left in the hospital. You don’t know if you can survive it. It’s so lonely and painful and you can’t imagine your life without an eating disorder propping you up as your best friend / worst enemy. Your counselors and fellow patients tell you you can do it, but you’re not so sure.

Well. You can do it. And you do. You’re going to grab recovery by the horns and you’re going to make that eating disorder your bitch. So to speak.

You will have a couple of short relapses, but you’ll get right back on track and I’m here to tell you: Life. Gets. Better.

With one exception, which I’ll get to, you are right now surviving your lowest points in life. Mind you, it’s not going to be a stroll through a rose garden the rest of your days. Picture it like this: you are a ladybug, clinging to the spokes of a bike that’s going uphill. At any given time, you might be higher on the wheel, or closer to the ground again, but overall? Your progress is UP.

When you get home from the hospital, you will tack some good quotes—inspiration and wisdom—on your bedroom walls. (This you’ll do forever.)

I’d like to suggest adding this one: “… be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” —Max Ehrmann, Desiderata.

In other words: go easy, and have faith.

There’s a lot to tell you, and this wormhole in the fabric of space-time could close any second now, so I’m just going to make a list of the important stuff, ‘kay?

1. Just get through high school. Hang with good friends, both the cool kids and your nerd herd. Keep your grades up because college will make you so, so happy.

2. You’ve already had your heart broken (semi-worth it, life lessons and all that) last year, and you will have it broken again, but mostly it will be from decent, solid guys and totally worth it. EXCEPT for one. So important this deserves its own item:

3. I (we) have very few regrets or calls for do-overs — even your hospitalization is worth it, in terms of health and how well you’ll know yourself by the time you get out — except one: There will be a guy. He will be in college, 20 when he asks you out, and you will be 17, and if you go out with him, you will spend the next fifteen months getting dragged through the mud. Listen: heartbreak that’s worth it, I’m all for (see: J.M. in college). But there is nothing worth it about this one. He will do nothing but hurt you. Note: when your friends, counselors, and parents don’t like a guy, TAKE THE HINT. They have good reasons. It’ll be death through a thousand little paper cuts with this dude, and also two BIG, HUGE hurts that I’ve since forgiven him for, because he was a big-ass dummie, but you have NO NEED to suffer in your life. You’ll know who it is when he calls you up at the end of your junior year. Please, please on this one, just trust me. Don’t go on that first date. It’s a crappy movie he’ll take you to, anyway.

4. Colgate University is going to send a thin envelope. Which means rejection. You’ll be devastated, but it is such a blessing. You are going to LOVE Binghamton University. There, you find your tribe! At last! People who get your jokes! And who love you even when you’re tired and crabby! And you will meet a BFF on THE FIRST DAY (it’s not who you think it will be). Also, because it’s a state school, you will graduate without huge loans, and even though you roll your eyes at Dad every time he talks about it, it really is a huge benefit, giving you all sorts of freedom after you graduate.

5. Good call, taking keyboarding your senior year of high school. I’m touch-typing this at 80 words per minute. In college, follow your heart in the classes you take—skip freshman chem!—but do me a favor and learn Spanish and also this thing called HTML. (Trust me. This “internet” you hear about? It’s going to be HUGE.)

6. Tell Mom and Dad to invest in Apple stock.

7. The rest of it, you’ll figure out just fine.

Take care of yourself, my stick-thin fifteen year old. Get healthy and take it from there.

Give yourself the same love and consideration you show your friends. Learn to find your reassurance from within, and from the loving spirit of the universe, instead of constantly seeking it from others.

Above all, be good to yourself. Surround yourself with loving friends and family so you can follow my last quote suggestions, the first from the very wise Friar Tuck:

“Eat, drink, and be merry.”

And lastly, from the very wise Obi Wan Kenobi:

“The Force will be with you, always.”

I love you sweetie,

— J.J. From the Future

J.J. Johnson is the author of the acclaimed YA novels The Theory of Everything and This Girl is Different. She graduated from Binghamton University and earned a master of education from Harvard University, with a concentration in adolescent risk and prevention. Johnson has been a youth counselor and coordinator for programs such as The Learning Web and Justice Summer. She lives with her family in a cute little house in Durham, North Carolina— where she eats, drinks, and is merry.

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