Letter to SE
Last night, I sent a text to a number of people in my life, telling them I am counting my blessings, that they were one of them, and how glad I was to have them in my life. My friend Amy, to whom I have referred a number of times in this blog (as a true inspiration) wrote back and told me she was having a hard day, but someone who was having an even harder day was one of her students, who had tried to harm herself and was in the hospital. Amy, ignoring her own health issues, asked me if I would be willing to write this young lady a letter, to let her know that she is not alone.
Of course, I said yes. Here is what I wrote:
My dear, my dear;
Amy told me that you recently made an attempt to take your own life. When I read those words on the text, my heart broke and I wish I was nearby so I could wrap you in my arms and tell you, not any pithy or insincere words, but that life is indeed worth living.
Who am I to say this? I am sure right now you are asking yourself that, among a myriad of other questions. Who is this stranger writing to me? What does she think she knows about my challenges, how I feel, what I am going through? Who does she think she is?
The truth, my dear, is that I am you.
I know what it is like to be so lost in the darkness that you don’t see light anywhere. To look at yourself in the mirror and wonder who is looking back. To feel as if no one else understands the agonizing, and physical, pain you feel – the lack of ability to sleep (or the desire to only sleep), the lack of appetite, the yearning for someone, anyone, to break through and come see you and the pain and disappointment when people don’t respond as you want them to, by showing even the smallest amount of kindness. The confusion at your own responses to people, the wishing that people could see who you really are under the shell of the outer you – the brave face you put on so people won’t know how you feel inside.
I know what it is like to be told that I should “snap out of it”, “buck up”, that it is a bad day/mood. I know what it is like to think that absolutely no one cares about you, and that no one would notice if one day you just disappeared.
I know the darkness. The darkness that comes creeping in, like a mist in the morning, and suddenly envelops you, when you did not even see it coming. Or seeing it coming and feeling powerless to stop it, trying desperately to fight it, and feeling as if you are trying to climb out of a hole using only your fingernails.
I know what it is like to go to bed at night and pray that I would not wake up in the morning. To be absolutely and undeniably confused, to lose all of my logic, and to wonder if I make sense to anyone, and why anyone would ever love me, as I am unlovable. Yes, unlovable. To feel that I am so not worthy of anyone’s love, that there is no real reason in trying. To feel like things will never get better, so why even get up and make an effort. To hate the fact that I wake up in the morning.
See, I told you, I am you.
I have, at times, searched for any reason to continue. For a time, the only thing that got me out of bed was the fact that I had two cats and I needed to feed them – I didn’t much care about myself. I have been in darkness so deep that I wonder if there is a light there at all because I certainly could not see it. I have cried when someone asks me how I am doing, and been unable to explain why I was crying. I have been told, time and time again, “it’s just a bad day/mood”, among the other things I wrote. I have felt absolutely worthless and wondered why I was alive, since I did no good in the world. I have felt like “why bother at all?” when even thinking about dealing with people.
I am not going to sit here and tell you that life is all wine and roses – it’s not. Sometimes it really sucks. It sucks to deal with small-minded people, or people who mean well but just don’t get it. It sucks to feel like all you want is someone to come and be with you and tell you that you matter, but no one is there, and no one comes.
Those people who look at you in a way that you think “they think I am crazy” – they just don’t get it. They are not bad people, but they don’t understand what it is like to fall into darkness that is so deep and engulfing that it is hard to remember a time in the light. So you seek out those who do know what it is like – and believe me, there are plenty of us.
You’ve heard of Robert Frost, right? Here’s one of his poems:
Acquainted with the Night
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
A luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
What do you think Frost was talking about when he said “I have been one acquainted with the night”? I think Mr. Frost was acquainted with the darkness that can come over a sensitive soul, and that he understood it.
How about Rainer Maria Rilke? Another favorite of mine:
“So don’t be frightened, dear friend, if a sadness confronts you larger than any you have ever known, casting its shadow over all you do. You must think that something is happening within you, and remember that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why would you want to exclude from your life any uneasiness, any pain, any depression, since you don’t know what work they are accomplishing within you?”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Rilke had some wonderful observations. He had the ability to look inside himself and embrace the darkness, and to use it to his advantage. Would that we all had such talent, right? You do, my dear.
Life is full of curve balls. It’s full of people who will make you lose faith in the human race (as seen on “reality” television), with disappointments, with regrets (though hopefully not many of those). Life only seems easy for others because they cover it up pretty well, but when you get below the surface, you find that the woman who is always smiling and laughing has some deep emotional pain that she covers up by keeping busy and drinking, so she won’t have to be alone with her own thoughts. That the always happy-go-lucky person had an abortion years ago and it still makes her emotional to talk about it. That the man who is such a jerk was actually cheated on by his wife, to whom he was faithful. That the man who cheats on his wife – well, he’s married to a woman who stopped having sex with him after they had their two children.
Everyone has shit to deal with. The difference is, other people deal with it in their own way, and it is up to you to find a way to deal with yours. This is something that took me many, many years to learn, and how I wish I had had someone sit down and put her arms around me, and tell me that I am worthwhile, and good, and beautiful. That life was going to be hard, but that it is so important to find people who see you for who you are, who love you, and who appreciate you.
So how do you embrace the darkness and come out on the other side? I wish I could tell you. What I do when I feel it coming, or realize it is there, is reach out to as many people as I need to and ask for help. I cry on the telephone. I lose my logic and tell people “I need you to tell me that I am a good person, that I am worthwhile.” Sound ridiculous? Maybe it is. I used to write poetry (bad poetry), and now I also take photographs. I blog. Most importantly, I ask for help. It was the hardest thing to do, the first time, was to ask for help. I felt so powerless, so utterly defeated, and did not think anyone would care enough to respond.
Boy, was I wrong. The more I have reached out, the more I realize that I have some really wonderful, kind, loving people in my life, who, even if they don’t understand the darkness, will try to provide some light to help me through it. Amy is one of those people.
Turn to Amy and let her love you – she is so good at loving people, and has served as an inspiration for me for quite some time. Reach out to people who care about you, and there are so many of us out there.
I happen to now be at a point where I am counting my blessings on a daily basis. I know the darkness can come at any time, so I try to remind myself of the good things about me, and about the world. Here are a few wonderful things about the world (at least in my opinion):
The pure joy in a baby’s smile
The taste of Swiss chocolate
That first sip of real champagne (the good stuff, from France)
The smell of French lavender
The feel of the fur behind a cat’s ear (the extra-soft stuff)
Someone else doing my hair
The sound of Mozart
Flying. It’s a miracle that we are able to do so
The wrinkles on the face of the 100 year old woman, and the stories she has to tell
Our bodies. They are amazing in their ability to heal
Sex (really, it’s pretty great) and the ability to connect on a deeper level with another person
The smell of an ocean or sea
Knowing that you are loved. You are, by so many people.
I am posting it on my blog for all of the SEs out there, in the hopes that it will be read by a few people and make even the smallest bit of difference. You are not alone, and you are loved.