Living with mental illness is hard, but it gets better
Letter to My Former Self
You and I are long overdue for a talk. We used to have these more regularly, but at those points we were on the same page. Now, from my current standpoint and your future one — it’s 2012 where you are and nearly 2015 for me — I want to tell you how you change.
The summer before you started college, you were with a (now former) friend and said, “I want to be more open.” After four years of hiding away, you had decided you were going to make closer friends. Open up. You’ll come to have mixed feelings about that decision, and from where I stand, I’m still not sure if I’m better for it.
I’m starting with that example because of what happened so soon after. You remember, of course, falling in love with your new best friend, or at least knowing afterwards that you had. Remember how you used to avoid him because you first thought he was interested in you, and even though you wanted more than anything else in the world to be loved by someone, you were scared?
I can explain why: you didn’t think you were worthy of love. You hated yourself, your body, your personality, your passions and laugh and everything that made you the imitable Naseem. You hated that you weren’t the gentle breeze you were named after; you hated that you were a hurricane that couldn’t be stopped. You wanted to carve into your flesh and burn in there your worthlessness, that everyone around you deserved better, that if you weren’t living a life that was only for others, you were meant to die.
I’m standing here from past that, and I want you to know: it’s not true. None of it is true. You are fire and that breeze and laughter on an autumn’s day. You will live your life in service to others, not because you think you are a lesser being, but because that’s what makes you happy. Your body is your own: you will learn to accept the hair and the fat and the curves and the bumps because they’re you. They’re why you wear clothing that hides being a girl and refuse to wear make-up, even though you want more than anything to learn how to be a woman. You will look in the mirror and still hate your body even though you’re trying to destroy it, but I am building it back up. Taking care of it will be one of the best decisions you’ll make. (One day you’ll get runner’s knee and be told by your best friend that you have to lay off it. You’re going to hate every day of that pain, the four weeks you stare resentfully at your novel revisions instead of going to the gym.)
You’ll keep your eating disorder bible, Marsha M. Linehan’s masterpiece of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, in your bedroom closet, and you’ll remember empty hours and hospital hallways. You’ve already forgotten the early days, the details of when and where and how you started to starve yourself; when you’re me, they’ll be irrelevant. What’s important is that one day, after many months of weight-watching, you realized that you need help. That your meticulous calorie-counting, pressing your fingers to your hips to feel the bones, tapping your collarbones and sliding your hand between your pants and waist to measure, are unhealthy. And I want you to know that even though you’re recovering well right now, you’ll have many slips — that I still have slips — and that you’ll forgive yourself for them as they happen.
You’re weird — funny and tactless and caring and it doesn’t matter that you’re strange because that’s you. Because you have friends who love you — yes, you! There are people in your life who don’t want you around because you do them favors or give them things, but because by being yourself, you bring them joy.
Dear past self, I know the days are hard. I remember wanting to sink into the wall and disappear. I remember how you would hide in the lab with your mice and experiments so you wouldn’t have to face yourself at the end of the day. Sometimes things are still rough like that, but not always. Guess what? By the time you’re me, your therapist will have decreased your appointments to once a month. Once a month, when we started at fifteen! You’ll walk out of his office crying one day because for the first time that you can remember, you hear the words, “You’re not depressed.”
Even so, I want you to know this, too: I would never take away these scars, the ones you have and the ones you will. Not the one on our right arm from when we dig in nails when no one’s looking; the ones on the sides of your knees that you’ll soon give yourself, or at the bottom of your shins, kissing your ankles. Those burn marks that faded on your palms are mine, too. I understand why they are there, made the conscious decision for them to exist. You can’t do it from where you are, but I take ownership of harming our body. My scars remind me of how I became the person I am, and what they will mean for the person I will become. There’s a future you after me.
And because of those scars and memories and pain and joy, you’re not going to settle. You’re going to realize what you want. And you’re going to learn that you’re pretty chill, after all. It’s going to take a while, and it’ll be a hard road, and I’m sure I’ll trip up soon and frequently. But when you’re finally me, you’ll be okay with that, and learn how to forgive yourself for it.
All my love,
PS: Keep writing. You’re happiest when you are. And contrary to your own belief, you deserve that happiness.