Dear 13 year old Katie,
I wish I had a lot to say to you, but the truth is I don’t remember you clearly. The picture I have of myself at the age of thirteen is blurry at best. I think it’s because you’re having such a hard time, and you feel as though you can’t tell anyone. You feel like no one really cares. So you lock those feelings and memories up and throw away the key.
Seven years later, and I still haven’t been able to get in.
You have just been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a chronic auto-immune disorder. This has caused you to mature very quickly, and I’m sorry to tell you that childhood for you is effectively over.
Over the course of the next year and a half, you will come to find that living with a disability that others can not see is a battle that you will need to learn to fight on your own. Your “friends” will leave you in eighth grade and this feeling of abandonment will plant a seed of fear deep inside of you.
I wish I could tell you that middle school is going to get better, because it isn’t. Soon your doctor will put you on a steroid called Prednisone in order to help you gain weight. Along with the weight gain you will experience: swelling of the face and hands; darker hair on your arms and upper lip; cruel, cruel bullying done to you by boys with nothing better to do than make a scared and sick girl cry herself to sleep at night.
People are going to feed off of the rush they get from tormenting you. Try your best to hold your head up high. I don’t know how you make it through, I just know that you do. This is the first time your strength begins to shine through.
I know that you’re scared. You still don’t have the proper medication to treat your illness at this point, and you’re getting sick all the time. Your parents, though they try their best to hide it, are scared out of their minds. You may doubt it sometimes but you are their entire world, and seeing you in pain – both physically and emotionally – is too much for them to bear.
They start having marital problems and this causes stress at home. Your cat, Lucy, your mom’s precious baby will get cancer and die. It is the first time you will experience loss, and the first time you feel inadequate in the eyes of your parents.
With everything mounting on you: the severe bullying, the tension in your friend group, the distance between you and your parents, your disease; you start to feel like a burden. Let me reassure you: you are not a burden to those who truly love you.
Thirteen year old Katie, you are stronger than any super hero. Your strength will help you through and it will only continue to build as you get older. When you tell your story to people in the future, they will wonder how you made it through. They will gasp in shock over the things people said to you. Over things people did to you.
They will wonder how you carried on at just thirteen years old, when you were dealing with things that even most adults could not handle. They will wonder how you carried on when you were too scared to ask for help.
When I feel weak, when I feel like a burden, when I want to give up, I remember myself at thirteen years old. I remember how isolated and scared I was. I remember how much I blamed myself for things that were out of my control. I remember crying in the bathroom during lunchtime when none of my friends would let me sit with them. I remember a boy that I didn’t even know coming up to me in the hallway and asking if I had gained weight. I remember being shoved into a row of lockers. I remember boys in my math class laughing at me while I tried to focus on my graphs.
I remember looking at myself in the mirror and wondering why I was even bothering to go on. I remember trying to tell people I was in pain and not being able to find the words.
My mother tells me that the challenges we face in this lifetime are thrown at us because the universe knows we are strong enough to go on. Thirteen year old Katie, I know it may be hard to believe, but the pain you experience now will foster growth in your future.
I am able to face anything today because of the battles you fought and won. I am able to overcome obstacles with ease because you struggled. I am able to appreciate my health because you endured sickness. I am able to receive love because you felt undeserving of it.
People suck. Crohn’s disease sucks. Pre-teen girls are cruel to one another. Geometry is hard. But you will survive all of it. You will come out a stronger person on the other side.
I am so thankful for your struggle, thirteen year old Katie. I admire your strength and I know others did too. You are one badass thirteen year old, and I hope you carry that knowledge with you for the rest of your life.
Your 20 year old self