College was an incredibly dark time for me. I struggled with anxiety and depression and considered taking my own life several times. My 24th birthday, almost exactly five years after everything got ugly, was incredibly special to me as it was the first birthday in years that I was truly happy to be celebrating. At that point, I began trying to write this letter as a way to say goodbye to the part of me that didn’t survive those dark experiences. Several months ago, I finally got it right. Today, I am posting it in honor of National Suicide Prevention Week with the hope that it will help and inspire others who are struggling in the midst of similar darkness.
Hello, 19 year-old me.
I’ve been trying to write this for almost a year, now. I’ve thought about it on the bus and in the car. I’ve put pen to paper time and time again, only to crumple it up and throw it all away. But I think I’m finally ready to come back and talk to you, to consider the girl I left behind.
Life seems pretty confusing, doesn’t it? The bottom has dropped out of your world, and right now, you’re in free fall. You feel scared. You feel alone.
I want you to know that it gets better. (That will be ironically funny in a few years. Just wait.)
I also want you to know that first it gets worse.
The free fall ends with a bang. You drop out of school in lieu of failing everything. You feel like a failure anyway. You go back to your parents on hands and knees, trying to make the world make sense again, and spend a terrifying six months adrift in a sea of your father’s rages and your mother’s standards while trying to remember how to wear the masks and dance the dances like you used to.
In the end, you realize that you will never get that person back. In the end, you will realize that you cannot tie the blinders back on and go forward in the old, comfortable ignorance. Instead, you learn to detach. For a while, you detach from everything, which is almost as scary as that seemingly endless free-fall. But little by little, you start to wake up again. The cold, dead parts of you thaw and find that life is still worth living. You remember how to be passionate about things. You find a way forward. You learn how to love and be loved, and you find out what real friendships are like.
It’s a confusing road. There is no map. There are hard decisions to make and stand by. There is medication and boundaries and therapy and journaling and razor blades. You gain about a hundred pounds. You chop all your hair off, grow it back out, and then realize that you were happier keeping it short. You have panic attacks. You get good at deep breathing exercises.
I wish I could tell you that in six years everything will be wonderful. I wish I could tell you that after all of that, life makes sense. The truth is that sometimes I still wake up and wonder if getting out of bed is worth it. There are still nights when I wish I had a handy razor blade. There are still days when it’s hard to leave my apartment.
But the truth is also that there are more good days than bad, now. The truth is that you will learn to have grace for yourself, and the bad days don’t seem as terrible after that. The truth is that having all the answers seems less important now and that forward progress is the only measuring stick that really matters.
The truth is I have hope. You will have hope.
I want you to know that even in the darkest moments of the next six years there will be flashes of light. I want you to know that God never fails to provide for you or to rescue you, even though he seems late a few times. I want you to know that the loneliness doesn’t last forever.
There will be a day when, after months of wishing you could fall asleep and never wake up, you will wake up and be happy to be alive. There will be a day when you crouch outside of a classroom having a very quiet panic attack and then find the strength to go inside instead of going home. There will be a day when you look at a graduate school website and know that you are not good enough, and there will be a day when you finally get your acceptance letter from that very same school. There will be many days when you wonder if you will survive to walk across the stage at commencement, and there will be a day when you receive two degrees with honors.
Your life looks different than you planned, but it is beautiful all the same.
In the meantime, keep pushing forward, even when it all seems uphill, even when it’s too dark to see. You’ll come out on the other side. I’ll be there waiting.