mental health

Letter to Self

22 October 2020

Dear Catherine,

Of all the letters you have written during treatment, this one may be the most important.  I know that sometimes you feel hopeless, helpless, worthless, and like you will feel that way forever.  I want to remind you that no feeling is final.  I want to remind you that in the moment you are writing this, you feel a sense of hope, peace, and comfort in spite of the fact that there are a lot of really stressful things going on.  I want to remind you of some key elements that will help you remember how to get out of the woods when all you can see is darkness and trees. 

First of all, check the facts.  Is it really true that you don’t deserve to live or is that just your brain being mean to you?  I know you’ve done some unkind things in your life, but you’ve helped people, too.  With your courage and vulnerability, you have helped others know that it’s ok to ask for help and seek treatment when they aren’t doing well.  With your kindness, you’ve shown people that they are worthy of love and belonging.  You also learned from when you messed up.  As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better.  Then when you know better, do better.”  What would someone else have to do for you to feel that they don’t deserve to live?  Have you done any of those things? My guess is that no, you haven’t.  You don’t believe in the death penalty for other people, so why would you believe in it for yourself?  I know that right now it feels like these feelings will last forever, but that hasn’t historically been true.  Even when it feels like the night will last forever, the sun eventually rises.  It has without fail every time before.  You have no reason to believe it won’t this time.

You have known about self-compassion as a concept for several years now, but you hadn’t really done much work to put it into practice until recently.  You have found that when you acknowledge that you are in a moment of suffering with your hands over your heart, it can actually make you feel better, as silly as that may sound.  You have found that when you practice kindness towards yourself, acknowledge your common humanity, consider the power of hugs and gentle caresses, observe what you are feeling, describe what you are needing, remember that to err is human, and remember that suffering = pain x resistance, you are a much happier and healthier person and you judge yourself far less harshly.  I know sometimes it can feel like you are the exception.  You sometimes feel like it’s ok for everyone else in the world to make mistakes except for you.  That isn’t true.  It is true for everyone in the world including you that it’s ok to make mistakes, especially when you use them to grow and learn, which you do almost every time.

Two of your core values are vulnerability and courage.  When you live from those values and use vulnerability and courage to share your experiences, you feel like you are making a difference in this world, even if it’s just for one other person.  You know that your most read blog posts were written when you weren’t doing well.  They are open, honest, and authentic about your struggles.  When you are courageous enough to be vulnerable about how you are doing, it helps other people, but it also helps you.  You know that when you write posts like that, you get messages of love and support.  So reach out and tell someone how you are honestly doing, even if it’s only one person and you don’t currently have the capacity to write a blog post.  It will be good for you and it will be good for whoever you choose to be courageous and vulnerable with.

Advocacy is another core value of yours.  I know it’s exhausting to have to try to stick up for causes that affect you every single day.  I know it’s exhausting to feel marginalized and lonely and alone.  I also know that you have the power to impact positive change in systems and people around you.  Sometimes it feels like you don’t have the capacity to advocate, and that’s ok, too.  You have to take care of yourself before you can help make change for yourself or anyone else.  Sometimes it will feel like people expect a lot of emotional labor from you.  That’s because they do.  They always will.  As a fat and disabled woman, you’re going to be marginalized and experience oppression.  Don’t forget the myriad of ways you hold privilege, but don’t let that invalidate the oppression you experience.  People are going to expect you to explain and justify that oppression to them and to random people and to the people oppressing you.  You are not obligated to explain to someone who is hurting you how and why they are hurting you.  Someone they aren’t oppressing can do that.  Be willing to take a step back when it feels like it’s too much and allow someone else to do the education surrounding the issues that affect you.  When you have the capacity, by all means, help educate people about causes and issues that impact you.  When you don’t have the capacity, don’t feel guilty about it.  It’s also ok to speak out about things that are hurting you without having to be the person who educates the person or people doing the hurting.

It’s ok to be open to new experiences.  I know new things are scary, but they aren’t always bad.  It’s also ok to go back to old experiences that you know support you.  If you need help, reach out to your therapist, The Refuge, or Willow Place.  If you need that level of care again in the future, it isn’t something to be ashamed of.  You can feel proud knowing that you’re asking for what you need and doing what is best for yourself.  You can feel good about putting yourself first so that you are able to help others later.

I know you are struggling and suffering right now.  If you weren’t, you probably wouldn’t have sought out this letter.  I’m sorry that you don’t feel like you’re at your best right now, and I want to remind you that there is hope.  “Stay afraid, but do it anyway.” Live anyway.  Love anyway.  It won’t feel like this forever and when this feeling passes, you’ll be so grateful that you decided to stick around and actively engage in life.   

I know it doesn’t always seem like it, but I do love you. I love your laugh and your smile and your kindness.  I love the way you’re always thinking about how to help other people.  I love your intelligence and your ferocity and fierceness.  I love the way that you can imagine a better world.  I love your passion.  I love how much you love reading and traveling and sharing things you’ve baked with other people.  I love your sense of humor and your love of baking and the love and care you show River.  River loves you.  Mom and Dad love you.  Jac loves you.  Dani loves you.  Georgianna and Amelia love you.  Tiffany loves you.  Ashley loves you. Beth and Jim love you. Your family and friends love you. There are many people and beings in this world who love you exactly as you are.  They love you so much on your good days, but, my god, how they love you on your bad days.  You never expected that to be true.  You are worthy of their love, even on your worst day.  You are worthy of belonging, even on your worst day.  You are worthy of eating, even on your worst day.  You are worthy of water, even on your worst day.  You are worthy.  You are loved.  You are enough.

Love,              
Catherine  

Books

September 1, 2017

*Nineteen Years Later*

Today is Harry Potter Epilogue Day.  It’s the date, nineteen years from the Battle of Hogwarts, when Albus Severus will board the Hogwarts Express for the first time, stressing out about what house he will be placed in.  It’s the date that Ron and Harry see Scorpius Malfoy for the first time.  It’s the date we find out that Harry is happily married to Ginny with three children and Ron and Hermione are married with two children.  It’s the date we found out “All was well.”

In honor of epilogue day, I’m going to talk yet again about what Harry Potter has meant to me over the years.  It’s so much more than a book and movie series to me and many people don’t understand my passion for it.  I received the first three books as a gift from my parents on Christmas Day during my fifth grade year.  I accidentally picked up the second book first and was very confused, but figured out within the first few pages what I had done.  I read all three books in about two days and then I just had to keep re-reading them because the fourth book wouldn’t come out until July 8, 2000, the summer between fifth and sixth grade.

My friends and I would pretend to be Ron, Harry, and Hermione and run around with sticks for wands.  I received my copy of Goblet of Fire in the mail and couldn’t put it down, barely sleeping and taking it to summer camp with me during the day until I finished it.  I had to wait almost three years for the fifth book, which came out the summer after 8th grade.  I started suffering from depression in seventh grade, so the books got dark around the time my life did.

In high school, there were a couple of times when I was suicidal, but decided not to kill myself because I had to know how Harry Potter ended (and I couldn’t leave my family behind, but Harry Potter was a big factor, too).  J.K. Rowling quite literally saved my life with the books she wrote.  Aside from needing to know how the books would end, the books gave me hope.  More than being stories about magic, they are stories about love, hope, family, friendship, courage, loyalty and good conquering evil.  The characters may be fictional, but they are like old friends to me.  J

.K. Rowling taught me that Dementors don’t have to be the end and that  I can survive hard feelings.  She created the Dementors as an allegory for depression and I can’t think of a better one in any literature I’ve read.  They suck all of the happiness away and make you feel as though you’ll never be cheerful again, which is exactly what depression does to me.

When I find myself feeling sad or lonely, watching or reading Harry Potter always makes me feel better about my life, even if it’s just temporary.  So Happy Epilogue Day.  I hope the Harry Potter series can bring joy and peace to others the way it does for me.  I’m off to watch some Harry Potter!

Tragedy

This is not about adventure.

This blog post is not about adventure.  It is not about fun or happiness or sunshine.  It is not about memories yet to be made or exciting experiences.  It’s just about what is and about what is not.

Death.  It’s a sad part of life, but it is still just a part of life.  From the time we are old enough to understand that we will never see someone again (and often even before), we are taught to fear death.  We are taught that it’s something dark and ugly that we should cry about alone in our rooms, but not talk about or share our feelings about.  We are taught that funerals should be a place for crying and mourning our own loss of a loved one instead of celebrating the life of the person who has died.  We are taught to be selfish and be sad when we lose someone, even if their death marks the end of a long, difficult, and painful battle.  We are taught that death is an ugly, scary thing that we should fear and avoid and that we should not plan for or talk about.  We are even taught that it isn’t polite to say “died” or “dead” but that we should use euphemisms such as “passed on,”  “left us,”  and “passed away” instead.  I am not saying that you shouldn’t cry when someone you love dies.  It’s okay to experience whatever emotions you have and to experience them freely.  I’m just saying that we been socialized to cry and be miserable and that maybe that isn’t the most healthy way of dealing with death.

Literally everyone is dying.  From the moment we are conceived until the moment we leave this world, we are on a journey that culminates in our death.  It does absolutely no good to fear death because it is completely inevitable. You will die.  Everyone and everything you love will die.  I’m not being morbid, that’s just the way the world works.  It doesn’t help to fear death or be extra cautious, because living and eventual death have a perfect positive correlation.  You cannot have one without the other.

 J.K. Rowling’s quote is so lovely and true.  Something in life is going to go wrong.  No one is perfect, no one’s life is perfect, and we are all delusional for thinking that there are perfect people with perfect lives somewhere out there in the world.  This is one of innumerable valuable lessons that Jo Rowling has taught me.  If you are constantly afraid of dying or of the people you love dying, it’s impossible to really live.  If you are constantly so upset about your loss of someone else or your fear of failing or dying yourself, you merely exist.

People with anxiety disorders don’t get that.  I didn’t get that until very recently.  I have been living my life so terrified that I or someone close to me would experience tragedy or die that I am 23 years old and have barely lived my life.  I have made so many choices that I regret based on a deep seated and socialized fear of death.  I realize that my anxiety is more extreme than the typical person’s, but I wouldn’t go off of rope swings or travel away from my family because I was so terrified of death.

My grandmother and my dog are actively dying and I don’t know when they will die.  My dog has an 11.5cm tumor on her liver and can’t regulate her blood sugar.  Her belly is swollen.  She feels pretty good most of the time, but there are times throughout the day when you can definitely tell that she doesn’t feel good.  With Missy, we have the option of ending her suffering and preserving her good quality of life.  When it comes down to it, we will not be selfish.  We will let her go when she needs to go.  My grandmother’s preliminary biopsy results show a grade 4 blioblastoma multiforme tumor.  We don’t know anything for sure, but based on statistics I have found online, the prognosis isn’t good.

This entire experience over the past week has been confusing and complicated.  I was hysterical when I initially found out about Missy’s tumor, but I had to accept her death very quickly.  We had an appointment to “put her to sleep” (another euphemism for death/dying) one week ago today.  She is still here and I have had one more week with her than I ever imagined I would a week ago.  I have been so incredibly privileged to spend time with her over the past week.

In January when I visited my grandparents, I recorded my grandmother talking about visiting the White House, meeting Elvis, and playing with my brother and I when we were small children.  In April, I had the enormous privilege and honor of conducting an over two hour long audio-recorded interview with my grandmother as part of a project for my Developmental counseling class about her life experiences.  While she wasn’t feeling well when we conducted the interview, her tumor wasn’t impacting her memory or speech yet at that time.  While she can still speak, she can no longer move her left side or walk and has experienced some confusion and forgetfulness over the past few days.  I have been meaning to audio-tape my grandmother about her incredible life for several years, but only finally got around to it just in time because an assignment forced me to.  My professor gave me an absolutely amazing gift by giving me this assignment and my grandmother gave me an even greater one by sharing her life story with me.

I am sure that I will cry when they die, but I am equally sure that I will not be as completely hysterical as I have been over losses in the past.  Instead, I will actively and consciously remember everything that I have to be thankful for and the wonderful and enormous ways that they positively impacted my life.  I will cry for myself, but I will smile for them and remember the time I have spent with them fondly.

Any way you look at it, it seems like my life is kind of falling apart right now.  It’s strange, but I don’t feel overwhelmed or super sad about everything that is going on.  Instead, I just feel so incredibly grateful for the extra week I have had with my dog and the audio-tape I have of my grandmother.  Her voice is only ever going to be a click away.  I am also incredibly grateful that even though everything is happening very quickly right now, I will have an opportunity to go see my grandmother and support my mom soon.  I guess I have just finally learned that life is going to happen and there is nothing I can do about it except appreciate the meaningful events and try to live it to the complete fullest.