First, I want to tell you that I wrote this for you.
If you have felt, from the time you can remember forming a thought or feeling, that you are different, abnormal, out of place, uncomfortable in your own skin, unsure of yourself, or fearful of the past, present, and future, I wrote this for you.
If you are consumed by a greater knowing, a knowing that this world is sometimes just too much to bear, filled with too much despair, beauty, knowledge, people, and fear, this was written for you.
I wrote it for your strength in waking up every day and putting one foot in front of the other despite how you feel.
Despite the dragging, knowing feeling that this world is sometimes just too much to handle. For crying when you read beautiful words and sentences strung together that perfectly articulate a moment, a thought, a memory, a knowing, or just seem to say exactly what you are feeling in that moment. For crying at the moon because you cannot comprehend its wonder.
I want you to know that the dark cloud of despair overtakes other people and not just you, and that you must keep going. You will find the light. You will find out and realize that there is so much hope and so many reasons to keep living. That the world needs you and only you because you are the only one who has lived your life, every moment, every day, every year, and you must tell your story.
You must continue caring and feeling so deeply, because it is special to feel all that you feel. To empathize and understand suffering on such a raw and human level. To experience the knowing.
There are pros and cons to feeling emotions so intensely and so deeply. Along with experiencing the deep, dark, cavernous valleys of depression, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you experience moments of euphoric, untouchable bliss. This euphoria is not easy to describe, but it is like having all the answers to all the questions ever asked, all at once.
When the sun shines in a perfect way through your car window, with the breeze in your hair, and the air smells like the most crisp and clean air you have ever breathed in your entire life. It is so clean you get goosebumps, and you breathe the deepest, most valuable breath of your life. One that fills your lungs to maximum capacity. A breath so deep and true, you pray to God you can breathe like that again. And for those few brief moments, you feel like you are flying, soaring through the air of oblivion, and you are untouchable. Carefree, effortless, peaceful, calm, and your mind is quiet.
These moments may not last long, and they are few and far between but when they come, it is like going to church. You worship the moment with pure, genuine reverence, admiration, and gratitude, and you know with a deep, sincere knowing, that you will be alright.
If you know what I am talking about, it is likely that society’s systems, perhaps all systems, have failed you. The special constructs that the modern world, society, and government have created to help people like us, to help the suffering. The health care system, the criminal justice system, the mental health system, the treatment system, the family system, the school system, the youth services system, the therapy system.
At one point or another, you sat in front of a judge, therapist, prison guard, police officer, social worker, probation officer, counselor, specialist, mother, father, sibling, aunt, uncle, wife, husband, caseworker, case manager, psychiatrist, psychologist, addiction specialist, primary care physician, and you begged them for help. You begged them in the best way that you could at the time because you couldn’t articulate your thoughts, but you showed them in your tears or perhaps even in your silence.
You showed them that more than anything in this world, you needed help and you needed love. And you were failed. Over and over again.
From the time I can remember, I have thought about dying. What it would look like, feel like, smell like, when it would happen, and when death would come knocking, sweeping in and scoop me up and take me away. With that obsession was always the nagging belief that I should be somewhere other than where I am, and always feeling alone. Knowing I was alone. With big, scary, confusing thoughts that I did not and could not say out loud. Sometimes I wrote some of them down.
It has taken 31 years and a lot of work, but I have sought and found some quiet amid that old, comfortable, loud, nagging noise.
Society’s systems have labeled us; we go see a doctor hoping they will listen to the symptomology and give us a solution to our humanness. A solution to our anger, fear, frustration. We seek and we find a label: “anxiety, depression, bipolar, situational anxiety, PTSD, panic disorder, substance use disorder”—countless diagnosis we get slapped with in 15 minutes and carry around for the rest of our lives, hardly knowing what they mean or what to do with them.
They became my identifier, my anchor. When I would meet a new therapist or end up in treatment (again), the first few words out of my mouth were:
“Hi, nice to meet you. Yeah, I’m good, thanks. I have panic disorder, PTSD, and bipolar.”
My badges of honor, my identity, my way of telling you everything but nothing at the same time. And the truth is, the majority of the time, they took my word for it and either continued, increased, or expanded my medication regimen, never really asking or wondering what I did or what I was experiencing to receive that diagnosis. And sometimes, I would tell them the script I wanted, the one I felt I needed, and they would write it. A 7-minute session. Never really asking:
“Okay, but how are you? What are you feeling today? Are you okay? What’s really going on?”
Eventually, I learned that I have to do the work myself. Diagnosis and medications have their place; they are life-saving and pivotal for many people. But for me, they are not everything. They are not the answer.
I am the f*cking answer. I have power; I have words, freedom, religion, books, spirituality. I am unique. I can be whoever I want to be, despite a diagnosis, whether accurate or not.
Anytime I received yet another diagnosis, instead of just talking to me for more than a few minutes, I was failed by another system, by another leader, another doctor. Another pivotal societal figure who we are told to trust and a system that was designed and created to help people like me.
Instead of feeling heard, helped, or empowered when I left his office, I just thought about lighting his house on fire.