Sitting in his office with tears streaming down my face, he sat there patiently waiting for an answer to the question he asked five minutes before: What’s your reason for being alive?
At the conclusion of every year, I like to make a mental list of things I’ve learned throughout the year. This year, I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve also written a lot. So instead of making a mental list, I decided to write what I’ve learned down. What I’ve learned turned into a list summarizing what I’ve written about, what I’ve talked about with friends, and what I’ve thought about late at night. It turned into a list echoing a letter, partially inspired by a wonderful friend I went to Guatemala with. Do with this list what you will, but I’ve discovered the importance of reflecting on how much a year can change you, on how much you grow over the course of twelve months. Without further adieu, what I’ve learned in 2014.
Dear Me of January 1, 2014,
In 2014, you will:
- be challenged, step out of your comfort zone, learn so much, cry, laugh, heal, celebrate, and mourn.
- experience the healing power of forgiveness without expecting an apology.
- be pushed to the breaking point (again) with one of the most physically and mentally exhausting semesters. You will learn from this and follow it up with one of your easier semesters. Thank yourself for this.
- receive an unexpected apology.
- experience God in new ways: through the first sunny day after a long, dark winter; through the cuddles of a toddler on Friday mornings; through the strength you find to get out of bed in the morning.
- deepen old relationships, discover new ones, and cut ties with toxic people.
- celebrate milestones marking things you’ve overcome.
- rediscover yourself, redefine yourself, learn to love yourself.
- make it through another year. Sometimes you’ll fight an uphill battle; sometimes you’ll walk on solid ground.
- be knocked down, knocked down, knocked down, but you’ll get back up over and over and over again.
- stop writing your book after a long period of self-doubt, and then you’ll start writing again after revamping and reorganizing because you have so many stories churning inside that sometimes you can’t sleep at night because the words inside your head won’t stop screaming until you give them live. And you learned a long time ago about the power of words–how they should not be silenced.
In 2014, you will:
- realize it’s ok to ask for help, to be vulnerable, to let people in. You should not be ashamed of your past.
- learn more about the world, and in doing so, your views and beliefs will be challenged, but in the process you will become more open-minded. What you believe may not line up with what those around you believe. Embrace this. The world in not black and white; it’s a complex amalgamation of issues that cannot clearly be defined. Life is not a math equation, no matter how many people try to define it as such.
- learn that you don’t agree with the way everyone lives their lives. That is ok. Some people don’t have the same beliefs as you. Don’t push yours on them. Love is more important.
- learn to appreciate the little things.
- have a hard time getting out of bed somedays, but you will anyway. Although it may not be until after you have an argument with yourself in which you way the pros and cons: it’s safer here, but you won’t get to see your friends. It’s warm and I’m tired, but you won’t get to learn. You will learn to have faith that the floor will hold your weight, and when you feel like the burdens of this world are too heavy for your legs, God will carry you through it.
In 2014, you will:
- come face-to-face with the ignorance of people. You will be forced to validate your existence to people who make jokes about your past. Look them in the eyes as you ask them to explain how the joke is funny. Watch them squirm as their face turns red. Do not apologize for embarrassing them. Do not accept their apology for cracking that joke. How else will they learn? Somethings are not meant to be joked about.
- learn that some professors wil make insensitive comments. Next time you hand in a journal about a depressing poem, compare the poem to your own life.
- learn that some professors are the most caring people on the planet and give so much time to their students. They will stop you on the sidewalk because they know you are having a hard time. You will pour your heart out to them. Tell these professors how much they are appreciated. Don’t take them for granted.
- encounter people who make you feel insignificant. Don’t speak softly. Assert yourself. Make your presence known. Do not apologize for existing.
- call people out on their behavior.
- realize opinions and beliefs you previously held were wrong. That’s ok, because now you know better. You have matured and learned.
- learn that people are the worst and the best. You will be horrified at the way people treat others, but in the midst of it all, you will realize the good of humanity: out of darkness comes light. Embrace the good. Learn from the bad.
In 2014, you will want to change the world. You will find strength you didn’t know you had. You will start fighting. You will continue fighting.
For 2015, promise yourself you won’t stop. Life is too beautiful to give up.
In 2015, you will:
- graduate from college.
- find a job.
- learn to love yourself more.
It’s a blank book, a blank slate. Embrace it. You’ve come so far in 2014, and 2015 holds so much more promise despite the unknown.
“How do you prepare yourself for another 365 days of uncertainty?”
The You of December 31, 2014.
Wait… what? I’m going to Guatemala in 20 days? (August 5, 2013). Yes, yes I am (In case you didn’t know that little tidbit of information, which if you’re not my friend on Facebook or a follower of mine on Twitter, I’m sure you had no idea).
And I’m kind of freaking out here, quietly and internally of course. But, freaking out nonetheless. Am I freaking out because this is my first time on a plane? Nope, because last summer I flew to Seattle, and I mastered the art of Getting Massive Headaches on the Plane Due to the Change in Air Pressure and Not Having my Head Explode. Am I freaking out because this is my first time leaving the country? Nope, because I’ve been on a canoe trip with my Youth Group to the Canadian Wilderness where Moose and Bears roam in abundance (when I was there, I ran into some wild, stinky teenagers, too. Now those are terrifying).
I’m freaking out because my support group is here, and I will be there. And I’ve never really done this before: I’ve never been on a Missions Trip. I’ve never been to a country where the culture is different from my own. I’ve never been to a country where a different language is spoken even though I speak Spanish, which is helpful, it’s still… different. I’ve never traveled with this group of people before, and even though they are all lovely (but strange) people, I’m worried. I’m worried not that I won’t fit in, because I’m sure I will. I’ve got the strange part down pat.
I’m worried about a lot of things.
Large groups have never been my forte, but that doesn’t really concern me. What concerns me is how I’m going to react when we get to where we’re going. Am I going to become loud and hilarious or quiet and humorous? Am I going to feel all the things, or am I going to shut down, feel nothing, and have my mind take a siesta? Am I going to cry? Probably. Because I’m a crier. I cry watching movies. I cry reading books. I cry when other people cry. I cry when I run over squirrels. I laugh so hard I cry. So yes, I’ll probably cry. At least once…. a day. I’ve embraced that fact.
My life is like one big ball of blah. And my feelings come in waves, which is fine, because I’m at the point in my life when I can tell when the tides will change. But at the same time, they can change without warning. I may be reminded of something. Memories may come flooding back, and that scares me a little. Because in my comfort zone, I know how I will respond when unwanted memories return, but I don’t know how I will respond when I’m in another country. I suspect I’ll be doing a lot of writing.
I’m an English Major, and you may be thinking so what? But let me tell you what that entails. I will freak out when you talk about books. I will speak in metaphors (most likely). I will probably connect things that happen to books I’ve read (or at least try to). If you’re extremely unlucky, I will correct your grammar in my head as you speak (I’m sorry in advance if this happens to you. I try not to, I really do). I will probably, most likely, definitely speak in book quotes. A day may come when I won’t speak in book quotes, but today is not this day!
I play piano, so I will probably at some point make a fool of myself and play an imaginary piano. Just go with it.
I’m clumsy, and I don’t mean like normal clumsy. I mean like full-blown Queen of the Clumsies. I was the one who sprained her ankle Wii Bowling after all. At some point during this 12 day escapade, I will fall on my face after tripping over nothing. It will happen. I guarantee it. And this clumsiness is not conducive to playing sports. Even though I’m competitive enough to believe I can win, my athletic ability (or lack thereof) proves otherwise.
Basically a million things could go wrong. I could have a mental break down. I could have flash backs to things I don’t want to remember. I could make a total and complete fool of myself in front of all the cool people.
Ergo. I HAVE NO IDEA WHY I’M DOING THIS! I AM DOOMED!
However, I do know that God called me to go on this trip for a reason. So I’m going into this trip hoping it will be fantastic, and I’m trying not to worry about it being horrible. Because it could be. But I’m hoping it will be fantastic. I’m believing it will be amazing. And I trust that God will do great things on this trip. I pray that He will bless it. I pray I will make new friends and strengthen relationships. And I pray that I will come back with a stronger faith, because I am willing to step out of my comfort zone, and God will bless me indeed.
Dear Fellow Cutters (And Those Who Aren’t),
I’m writing this letter because this is an issue that needs to be discussed. I want you to know that you are not alone even if it feels like you are.
And I know I’m quoting from other things I’ve written, but this needs to be talked about.
I know what it’s like to be tormented by inner demons, who are constantly telling you you’re not good enough, or pretty enough, or insert adjective here enough. I know what it’s like to be waging a war on the battlefield of your body where the enemy is nothing other than a darker version of yourself: two sides of the same coin that will never work in tandem. You’re trying to save yourself from yourself, which is the last person you should have to worry about, but is also your own worst enemy.
I know what it’s like to hate yourself so much that self-hate eats at your soul until you are unable to feel any emotion. I know what it’s like to feel as though you are not human, because let’s be honest: A human void of emotion is no human at all. So to cope with the numbness that we feel, we cut. Because for that one minute, when the warm blood is dripping from our skin, we are allowed to feel something, anything, which is better than nothing.
I know what it’s like to become addicted to this release. I know what it’s like to hide the scars from judging eyes and from those who don’t realize anything is wrong. Because, let’s be honest, we want to see the best in people, and we don’t want to believe people around us are hurting this badly. And we don’t know how to explain we are not trying to kill ourselves; we are trying to stay alive (because in that moment, when the razor of hate touches our skin, we are not thinking about suicide. It’s after we’ve stitched ourselves back up that those thoughts begin).
But I also know what it’s like to hit your lowest point: to look down and realize your skin is not your skin anymore. After years of being bloody from fighting last night’s battles, it’s become a puzzle to be put back together. It’s become a battlefield marked with the gravestone of those lost in the fight. it’s become a maze or a timeline; traceable lines mark the path you’ve walked, how far you’ve traveled. I know what it’s like to wonder how you’ve made it this far. I know what it’s like to be scared by the future because you didn’t think you’d make it to see today.
I know what it’s like to tear the Band-Aid off, to feel the pain, to fight the fight, to put down the razor. And it’s not easy. Every day I have to tell myself that I don’t need to pick up that razor: I am better than this. For three years I have been telling myself this, and it doesn’t go away, but it gets easier.
So, dear friends who are reading this: I understand. I understand that it is hard to stop. I understand that it’s an addiction, and a method people like us use to feel alive. But if you are trying to stop, or have beaten it, I am so proud of you! For the rest of you, keep fighting. Life is hard, but it is also so beautiful.
You’ll probably never read this, and that’s ok. Because now that High School’s over, I don’t have immediate plans of seeing you again.
But I just wanted to let you know that I forgive you. This decision is one of the hardest I’ve ever made (let me tell you that I am a very indecisive person, I think. So every decision I make is relatively difficult). But, in order for me to get on with my life, it needs to be said.
I forgive you.
I forgive you for hurting me. I forgive you for making me feel like I was worth nothing. I forgive you for making me believe that I would never be loved and that I would never amount to anything.
I forgive you because I have proven you wrong. I am worth something. I deserve to be loved. I will do great things.
For a while, you destroyed my faith in God. For a while, you made me believe that I was so ugly, so broken, so worthless that not even a perfect God could love someone so completely imperfect.
I called out to God so many times without an answer, and I began to wonder if he had forgotten my name and the sound of my voice. His name became a rotten taste on my lips, because if there was a God why did he allow his people to suffer?
But suffering happened. I could do nothing but watch as my innocence was stolen from me as if it was never my own. And I wanted to fight back, I did. But fighting back becomes exhausting, which is probably why I sleep all the time. So, I let you take advantage of me. What else was I supposed to do? You were popular; I was not. And since school is filled with the wrong kinds of people, I said nothing.
But God knew what happened. God saw. And even though I tried to destroy the temple he made. Even though I cut myself open with all the hate that I could muster, he stitched me back together. Someone perfect loved someone so imperfect that he didn’t run away when I wanted nothing to do with him, and as I lay in bed crying, he wrapped his arms around me and refused to let me go, despite the screaming.
That’s why I forgive you. It’s not because of my own power, but God’s power.
These last five years have taught me so much about myself. I’ve learned that finding yourself is the same thing as losing yourself. I’ve learned that beauty comes from brokenness. I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I think I am. Albert Camus once said, “But in the end, one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.”
It’s true, you know. It would have been easier to give up; it would have been easier to just do what you said. But, that would be akin to me admitting defeat, which is not something I do easily. I prefer winning and coming out victorious. So I fought. And I fought hard. Even when the air was knocked out of my lungs again and again, I got up screaming through the pain, determined to prove you wrong.
And I think I’ve done a good job of proving you wrong thus far. And even though the odds are stacked against me, I refuse to give in. I’m going to keep fighting to stay alive.
A lot can happen in 5 years: you grow up, you change, you learn to forgive.
Today I am forgiving you. Today I am saying goodbye.
I won’t forget what you did. But I’ll use it to help others, because everybody has a purpose, and I have found mine.
“If someone hates themself so much they want to die, they are better off dead.”
Those kind words were said in one of my first classes as a college student. Being the type of person that I am, I walked out. I walked out and never looked back.
People are rather ignorant these days when it comes to Depression. They can hear the statistics, they can know someone who is struggling, but they can never truly understand. So many people laugh it off and say, ‘it’s no big deal.’
It is a big deal. People who struggle with depression can become really good at hiding it on the outside, but the smiles, the laughs, the loudness doesn’t quell the battle going on inside. It’s an exhausting fight: a fight that would be all too easy to end (but that would put us on the losing side, and humans don’t like to lose. But the thought is always still there, lying in wait in the back of our minds).
Depression is more than sadness and tears. Depression is the constant feeling of being numb. People who struggle with Depression don’t feel anything. We feel dead: a human void of emotion is no human at all. We wake up in the morning and dread getting out of bed (on our worst days, we can’t get out of bed). Days aren’t really days as much as they are obstacles that need to be tackled. And so we deal with them through medication, drugs, cutting, starving ourselves—anything that will make us feel something, anything other than nothing (because nobody wants to feel like they’re nothing, like they’re invisible and barely breathing).
That’s what Depression is: the overwhelming sense of numbness, and the desire for anything that can help us make it from one day to the next.
Some days we’re fine; other days, we’re not at all fine. And while the world around us is moving like normal, we are spinning in slow motion or just frozen in time. These are the days when the thoughts come back.
If I just swerved off the road here, if I just took a few extra pills, if I jumped down the stairs, it would all be over. I would be completely whole once again.
And then people tell us that “We shouldn’t be sad, because somebody always has it worse,” which is almost as bad as telling someone they can’t be happy because someone always has it better.
But, it’s not as bad because people enjoy being around happy people more than sad people. Us sad people need friends too. We need to feel just as loved as the next person (except maybe more because we don’t love ourselves). And it’s not that we are not capable of love. Because we are. We are capable of so much love, but we don’t know how to love ourselves.
And while everybody else is busy living their lives, we’re just trying to survive.
When I read my poem “Checkmate” at Youth Group, people came up to me afterwards and said, “I had no idea, I’m sorry, etc.” But now you do.
One last thing, if you tell me that everything that’s happened to me in my life is my fault, it’s not my fault that my fist ends up in your face.
I had no control over it; your ignorance was asking for it.
The world doesn’t stop for you when yours starts rotating the other way. The waves keep touching the seashore even if your moon is gone. The day still awakes somewhere even if your sun is gone. You walk down your school hallway with a smile painted on your face even though you’re breaking inside. But nobody knows, because nobody ever cares enough to take a second look, to give it a second thought, to peel back the clown mask you are wearing. Your home room teacher won’t question you when the jacket you’re wearing reaches further than your fingertips even though you’re not supposed to wear coats in school. You’ll turn in last night’s homework, and you’ll fail. Nobody will tell you that it’s okay that you put yourself before a paper on society’s pressures on teenagers these days. You know society’s pressures well—they are haunting you.
You’ll cry behind the door of a bathroom stall. Somewhere between the tears, deep inside your heart you’ll hope that someone will care enough to look in from the beneath the closed off wall and extend some sort of life preserver. But everyone only washes their hands to get rid of their own dirt. Someone will nudge you in the middle of your history lecture because you fell asleep, or because you fell into something you still can’t find your way out of. The teacher will say your name and shake his head, and you think that the weight you carry is entirely your fault.
Things will stop moving for a while. Your emotions will freeze; your brain will stop processing the day to day tasks. You’ll reach home and won’t remember how you got there. There will be lead in your chest and oceans held back in your eyes, and you’ll walk into your house without being home. And as you crawl into bed that night, you’ll pretend the last 14 hours didn’t happen—the time between eyes open and eyes close isn’t ripping your hope apart. Morning will slither across your eyelids, and you’ll have to wake up. But you never really do. You’ll keep everything inside, because you don’t want to be that kid with the messed up life. And it’ll build within your walls.
You’ll find a silver lining in a blade. And count the ways you could end it all. But you won’t, because you want to stand tall. Instead you’ll climb to the edge of a cliff and stand, looking down at it all. You’ll pierce your heart with the knives of your own ribcage. You’ll whisper your secrets to the wind in the hope that someone will hear and lend a wayward ear. You’ll attach your hopes to the wings of a migrating bird and dream of spring.
You’ll sit with your journal at night and pour your heart out with blood, because you reached that point where there is so much distance between you and yourself. People can’t begin to comprehend the weight, the war inside your head: the war for your soul. Neither can you. Everything, you think, is out of your hands. You can’t trace your hope back to a name or a face or a place, but the pain is easy to blame. You’re alone—so consumingly, hauntingly alone, or so it seems. You want so badly to believe in that reflection, to respect your own skin. But you’ve reached that point, and don’t know where to go from here.
You don’t know how this story ends. It remains to be written. It takes years and lives and bloodshed before you realize that the blood you’re writing with is not yours alone.
To all the people who think that they are not good enough; to the people who believe that there is no way out; to the people who believe that they are alone in this struggle; to the people who believe that they will never be loved:
This is for you.
To all the people who took a razor to their beautiful skin; to all the people who have starved themselves, who refused to eat, and then asked, “Am I beautiful now?”; to all the people who have ever wanted to end it all:
This is for you.
I know it’s hard. I’m not just saying that either; I’m not trying to sympathize, trying to understand what it’s like—because, until you’ve been to that point, you don’t understand. Until you’ve been down that road, until you’ve lost sight of the light, until you’ve been down the never-ending pit of despair, you will never understand.
I’m saying it’s hard because I’ve been there. I’ve been down that road; I’ve been down that pit, and I’ve dug myself out—over and over again. And I have the scars to prove it. Scars faint enough that only the observant will notice; but scars dark enough to show that I’ve survived.
I know what it’s like to be told to snap out of it, as if it were an insect that could be smashed with the smack of a hand. Rather, I’m the insect, and depression is that hand, threatening to destroy my being as it comes closer and closer—like a dark, ominous storm cloud that threatens to engulf a lone ship, Hope, sailing on the ocean of my soul.
And I know what it’s like to watch the blood drip off my skin as I cut myself open with the razor of hate, waiting for the needle of hope to stitch me back together again. I’ve treaded water in the ocean of darkness, while trying not to drown, waiting for a life-preserver to be thrown my way.
You’re not worth it; you deserve it; you’re ugly, and nobody cares.
Those words have repeated over and over again in my head. They serve as unwanted memories of things said and things done.
If only I were prettier; if only I were skinnier; if only I looked like that, all my problems would be solved.
Those lies are fed to me by the devil’s hand as I compare myself to others, reminding me that, sometimes, I am my own worst enemy.
If any of these words have ever applied to you, I’m here to tell you that you’ll be ok, and you’re not alone. It will get better, and it will get worse; though it may get worse for a while, I promise you that it will always get better. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.
You won’t wake up one day and say, ‘I’ll be ok.’ It’s a journey, it’s a struggle, and it’s a fight. And with every battle you fight, you get a little bit stronger; every journey you take, you gain a little more courage. When it comes around again, you can fight harder.
Hope whispers in your ear: ‘You can do this; don’t give up.’
Some days, you will scream, and you will cry. Some days, you will want to stop fighting; but, don’t give up, my dear. Because, one day, you will realize that you are stronger than this demon that plagues you. Even though the urge to pick up that razor won’t go away, you’ll learn how to control it.
I learned how to write with pain—how to take the blood that flows from my skin and turn it into something beautiful instead.
And even though I know I have talents, I sometimes doubt my abilities. But, don’t we all? And even though I know that I am beautiful, sometimes I still compare myself to others.
“Some girls say they’re not pretty, because they know someone’s going to come and say “Shut up, you know you are”. But some girls say they’re not pretty, not because they’re looking for attention, but because that’s how they feel. They compare themselves and see what others don’t. We see someone beautiful, but they see stretch marks, gut hanging out, small bodily features that wouldn’t catch the average guy’s eye. That’s why some girls can’t take a compliment; they feel like they don’t deserve it.”
If you don’t know what it is like to feel this way, don’t tell me it will get better. It’s not a disease. Don’t judge what you don’t know.
But if you do know what it’s like, trust me when I tell you it gets better, because I’ve been in your shoes. I’ve walked that road, and some days, I still do.
My scars and my words prove it. And believe me when I tell you this:
One day, you will spread your wings and fly.