My dear friend,
I am so sorry for your pain.
Don’t worry; no one else sees it, I promise. To the rest of the world, you’re fine. But when you’ve been there, you can’t miss it.
I see it in your eyes. That awful, combustible mixture of heart-wrenching pain and abject fear. God, I remember the fear.
I see it in the weight of that invisible cloak that you wear. I remember the coarseness of its fabric on my skin. Like raw wool in the middle of the desert. You see, it was mine for a time.
I never would have wanted to pass it on to you, my love. I remember so well suffocating under the weight of it, struggling for breath, fighting to throw it off while wrapping myself in its awful warmth, clutching its worn edges for dear life.
I know that the fear feels like it’s permanent, fixed. But one day down the line you will wake up and find that you’ve left it next to the bed. Eventually, you’ll hang it in the closet. You’ll visit it now and then. You’ll try it on for size. You’ll run your fingers over the fabric and remember when you lived in it, when it was constant, when you couldn’t take it off and leave it behind. But soon days will go by before you wear it again, then weeks, then months.
I know you are staring down what looks to be an impossibly steep learning curve. I know it looks like an immovable mountain. It is not. I know you don’t believe me, but step by step you will climb until suddenly, without warning, you will look down. You will see how far you’ve come. You’ll breathe. I promise. You might even be able to take in the view.
You will doubt yourself. You won’t trust your instincts right away. You will be afraid that you don’t have the capacity to be what you want to be. Worse, you’ll think that you don’t even know what you need be. You do. I promise. You will.
That’s how it happens. When you need capacity you find it. Your heart expands. It just does. It’s elastic. I promise.
You are so much stronger than you think you are. Trust me. I know you. Hell, I am you.
You will find people in your life who get it and some that don’t. You’ll find some that want to get it and some that never will. You’ll find a closeness with people you never thought you had anything in common with. You’ll find comfort and relief with friends who speak your new language. You’ll find your village.
You’ll change. One day you’ll notice a shift. You’ll realize that certain words have dropped out of your lexicon. The ones you hadn’t ever thought could be hurtful. Gimp, lazy, malingerer, stupid. Never again. You won’t laugh at vulnerability. You’ll see the world through a lens of sensitivity. The people around you will notice. You’ll change them too.
You will learn to ask for help. You’ll have to. It won’t be easy. You’ll forget sometimes. Life will remind you.
You will read more than you can process. You’ll buy books that you can’t handle reading. You’ll feel guilty that they’re sitting by the side of the bed unopened. Take small bites. The information isn’t going anywhere. Let your heart heal. It will. Breathe. You can.
You will blame yourself. You’ll think you missed signs you should have seen. You’ll be convinced that you should have known. That you should have somehow gotten help earlier. You couldn’t have known. Don’t let yourself live there for long.
You will dig deep and find reserves of energy you never would have believed you had. You will run on adrenaline and crash into dreamless sleep. But you will come through it. I swear, you will. You will find a rhythm.
You will neglect yourself. You will suddenly realize that you haven’t stopped moving. You’ve taken care of everyone but you. You will forget how important it is to take care of yourself. Listen to me. If you hear nothing else, hear this. You MUST take care of yourself. You are no use to anyone unless you take care of yourself first. I mean that holistically, my friend. Nourished, rested, soul-fed. Your children and others deserve that example.
A friend will force you outside. You will look at the sky. Follow the clouds upward. Try to find where they end. You’ll need that. You’ll need the air. You’ll need to remember how small we all really are.
You will question your faith. Or find it. Maybe both.
You will never, ever take progress for granted. Every milestone met, no matter what the timing, will be cause for celebration. Every baby step will be a quantum leap. You will find the people who understand that. You will revel in their support and love and shared excitement.
You will encounter people who care for you in ways that restore your faith in humanity. You will cherish the friends and people and doctors who see past your challenges and who truly understand your strengths. They will feel like family.
You will examine and re-examine every one of your own insecurities. You will recognize some of other’s challenges as your own. You will get to know yourself. You will look to the tools you have used to mitigate your own challenges. You will share them. You will be better for it.
You will come to understand that there are gifts in all of this. Tolerance, compassion, understanding. Precious, life altering gifts.
If you are a parent, you will worry about your children. You will feel like you’re not giving them enough time. You will find the time. Yes, you will. No, really. You will. You will discover that the time that means something to them is not big. It’s not a trip to the circus. It doesn’t involve planning. It’s free. You will forget the dog and pony shows. Instead, you will find fifteen minutes before bed. You will close the door. You will sit on the floor. You’ll play Barbies with your daughter or Legos with your son. You’ll talk. You’ll listen. You’ll listen some more. You’ll start to believe they’ll be OK. And they will. You will be a better parent for all of it.
You will find the tools that you need. You will take bits and pieces of different theories and practices. You’ll talk to peers and doctors and therapists. You’ll take something from each of them. You’ll even find value in those you don’t agree with at all. Sometimes the most. From the scraps that you gather, you will start to build your quilt. A little of this, a little of that, a lot of love.
You will speak hesitantly at first, but you’ll find your voice. You will come to see that no one knows you better than you do. You will respectfully listen to the experts in each field. You will value their experience and their knowledge. But you will ultimately remember that while they are the experts in science, you are the expert in you.
You will think you can’t handle it. You will be wrong.
This is not an easy road, but its “rewards” at times are tremendous. The remissions, however small, are the very sweetest of life’s nectar. You will drink them in and taste and smell and feel every last drop of them.
You will be OK.
And I will be here for you. Every step of the way.