Mad World

Part 4 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters



May, 2019  

(several months ago)

Phuket, Thailand

C’mon, Jules!” Demi shouts, his cheery British enunciation bounding atop the surface of the choppy water, like a smooth, flat rock skipping across a pond. 

I squint into the sun at him and Eddie, bobbing and swaying effortlessly, like tiny pieces of kelp in the distance.  They are waving their arms wildly at me, beckoning me towards them, and away from the safety of the sandy shoreline.

They are only 50 yards away, but that might as well be miles. 

 I’m unable to swim, you see.

Not for lack of trying, of course.  Every boyfriend I’ve ever had has attempted to teach me.  And every lesson has ended exactly the same – with me in tears, and the boyfriend fuming at my complete and utter lack of comprehension.  

I’ve just never been very… buoyant.

And of course there’s that pesky deep-seeded fear of being submerged in any liquid past eye-level. 

And that whole ‘no oxygen for the foreseeable future‘ thing.

It’s a lot to contend with.

My point is – it’s hopeless.

Ignoring all of this, I forge ahead, folding under the weight of the light-hearted peer pressure.  

The warm, salty water laps at my waist, crawling slowly upwards with every inch I cover.  The sand is soft and grainy between my toes.  

Suddenly, a tiny wave jumps upwards, and bites me right in the chin with it’s frothy teeth.  A sharp hiss escapes my mouth as the fallout rains down upon me, covering me in foamy droplets that glisten in the beaming sunlight. 


September 7, 2019

2:30 PM

Minneapolis, MN

Hotel Room #213

I step awkwardly over the low porcelain wall of the hotel bathtub, flinching slightly as the tepid spray strikes my back.  

I pause for a moment, letting my body adjust to the temperature before committing myself entirely to the growing warmth of the cascade.

I’m exhausted, yet wired.  I know that I’ve slept…  yet feel like I haven’t. 

Why is that?

I reach absently for my loofah.  As I draw circles across my naked skin with it’s soft, springy texture, my mind begins to wander.  

Lunch today… I’ll bring that salad. Cut some avocado up and mix it in.  

Need to fill the car up with gas on the way home tonight.  Getting kind of low.  

I can’t believe I watched the entire third season of Stranger Things last weekend what will I watch tonight after work–

–now I need to find a new show I could ask my coworkers but I’m pretty sure they all hate me because why wouldn’t they because I suck at my job —

–and I’m not very likeable and last night was a disaster and I felt pretty dizzy and I don’t remember driving home and why is that  I still have lots of anxiety about it remember that guy that tried to kill my coworker and that mean nurse and the supervisor well I’m-certain-she-hates-me

becauserememberallthatwhisperingandshe’sneverbeenverynicetomesincetheminutewemetand–and–and–and–and-and-and–


Back in Thailand...

Months Earlier

Beads of twinkling salt water glide down my nose as I fervently study the rhythmic pattern of the waves.  My toes grip the shifting sand as I rock back and forth in perfect harmony with their beat, bracing myself for the impact of each note as it chimes, melodically through the tropical air.

Eddie and Demi are nearby, chatting animatedly with their disembodied, floating heads.  

I’m barely listening.  Not for lack of interest, though.  It’s hard work, anticipating the next wave, and it requires nearly all of my attention.

Until….

Until I begin to feel it, that is. 

An invisible force, pulling us towards the ocean, like the entire beach has just drifted dangerously close to a supermassive black hole. 

It’s gravity is inescapable. Even the water level responds to it.  I watch in awe as the ocean succumbs to this strange new vacuum, draining it’s bubbling contents from the shoreline, and towing all of us along for the ride.

Eddie and Demi grow quiet as they turn to face the ominous presence, which has now begun to manifest itself as a towering wall of water, barreling towards us at frightening break-neck speed.  

My legs are working tirelessly, attempting to resist the inevitable collision by running, ineffectively, in place. 

I have just enough time to hear Eddie’s panicked, gurgling laughter and watch Demi dive gracefully into the mountain of brine with the practiced ease of a veteran sea-otter, before it’s on top of me.  


The freight train is upon me.    


Minneapolis

2:45 PM

I watch anxiously as the images stack upon each other, growing in size by the second.  

A helpless patient in an oversized hospital gown.  Breathing quickly, too quickly. 

 A man in khaki scrubs with his arms outstretched, chest-to-chest with a wriggling, angry patient.  Attempting to smother violence with proximity. 

 An eye roll from a nurse with thick, clumpy mascara.  

Whispering.  People whispering. 

Whispering and Staring.  

Staring at me. 

Whispering. About me.  

I can’t make out their words.  Only the sharp hiss of the occasional ‘S’.  So many S’s.  Why so many?  

The S’s join together in a constant, high-pitched hum.

Keening… like snakes. 

So many snakes. Wriggling snakes.  A nest of them, all around me. 

Sssssssssssssssss….  Sssssssssssssss….  Ssssssssssss… 

 Getting louder.  Louder. Joining with the squeal of the shower spray. 

ssssssssssssssssssssssssssSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS….. 

 I slap my hands over my ears.  Soapy water sprays from them. 

It’s in my head.  All around me.  I can’t get away, Can’t get away.

Can’t.  Get.  Ah-way.  


SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

Shut up.  Shut up.  SHUT UP.  SHUT THE FUCK UP

I sink to the floor.  Leave a trail of soapy slime down the tile wall.

Leave me alone.  Please.  Please, stop.

please


Back in Thailand….

Months Earlier

The ocean punches me mercilessly in the gut, expelling all my air before I’m even under water.  

It scoops me up in it’s massive tendrils and sends me cartwheeling violently through space.  No way of telling what direction I’m spinning.  

Which way is the surface?

As if to answer, the ocean bottom presents itself abruptly, and painfully. My forehead erupts in agony.  Although my eyes are closed, stars explode across my field of vision.

A muffled snap! announces the complete destruction of my favorite pair of sunglasses – loud enough to penetrate the deafening roar of the violent churning all around me.  

My lungs begin to burn, demanding oxygen.  My chest is growing tighter by the second. 

I desperately need to break the surface, but I’m trapped inside this effervescent fist and it’s dragging me bodily through this weightless, alien landscape.  

Am I going to die… in 5 foot-deep water?  

Yessssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss


Minneapolis

3:00 PM

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

The liquid panic burns in my belly as my chest heaves violently.  I can feel it crawling upwards into my esophagus, like the mercury in a thermometer. 

Steam surrounds me and thickens the air, making it impossible to breathe.  My lungs are working like pistons in an engine, but no oxygen is getting in. 

I’m drowning.  Drowning in the heat and the moisture.  

I reach out for the knob with a strangers arms.  They look like my own – identical, in fact – but they feel wrong.  Everything about them.  Someone has transplanted my arms with someone else’s.  Cadaver arms.  Cadaver legs too.  

I watch as the cadaver hands clamp around the knob, twist it to off.  Then the strange, trembling body  launches itself across the tile and crumples onto it’s knees. 

It scrambles jerkily for the toilet lid and forces it upwards just in time to release the geyser of liquid from it’s stomach, heaving and retching until the poison is fully expelled. 

It rests it’s head on the cold porcelain, heart racing, lungs burning, vision tunneling.  


Back in Thailand…

Months Earlier

I’m fighting the urge to let my traitorous lungs take in a large gulp of water, but slowly losing strength.  Time is crawling. Seconds feel like hours.

But then, suddenly,  I feel a slight release of the ocean’s vice-like grip around me.  I hear the roaring overhead begin to pass by, leaving both me and a swirling trail of silt and destruction in it’s wake. 

The ocean, it seems, has finally lost her interest in me.

A tickle of sensation near my toes tells me the sea-floor is near.  I dig my heels into it, like a child dragging their tiny feet into the gravel below a swing-set. 

Extend my knees, forcefully.  And explode upwards.

Glorious, oxygen-filled air stings my face as I finally break free from the shackles of the dark abyss. 

I drink in a large gasp of air with my eyes closed, and hear a voice that sounds like Eddie’s to my left. 

Another one!  Another one!”

God Dammit.


Minneapolis

4:45 PM

My skin is no longer damp, and the light has begun to fade, when I slowly blink open my eyes.  My right top lid is cemented to the bottom. Why is that? Crying. I’ve been crying.

I look down, see my own hands.  Mine.

My pulse has stopped thundering, breathing has slowed. 

My ears are still ringing.  But the hissing, has subdued.  The snakes are gone. Finally… gone.

I ache, all over.  My stomach still feels a bit dodgy. 

But I’m me again.   Safe and sound.  

Except I’m not.

Because I was supposed to be at work, 45 minutes ago.


To be continued…

Renegade

Part 1 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters

September 16, 2019

Potosi, Missouri

The steering wheel is hot and sticky in my hands as I wrench the tiny rental car to and fro around the unfamiliar winding roads of some random town in Missouri.

My body whips violently from right to left, a slave to the centrifugal force of this spontaneously curvy highway. The seamless vibrant green splash of endless thriving farmland paints a blurry streak of bright green across this dazzling earthly canvas. The engine hums loudly near my toes, joining the loud homogenous buzz inside my brain.

The one picture I managed to snap while on the lam…

My eyes struggle to adjust to the foreign landscape as my mind reels tumultuously from one hurried thought to the next. The cadence of these rapid, urgent thoughts is perfectly synchronous with the turbulent forces exerted upon my body.

Both physically and mentally, I am helpless against the violent forces pulling me in all directions. They are indestructible, these forces. Strong enough to bend the very fabric of one’s reality. I watch in amusement as it bubbles around me like boiling water, stretching and shrinking and threatening to tear its delicate fibers apart, as it borders on the limits of its own fragile elasticity.

I’m exhausted. Hours, days, weeks of running. Go go go. Never stopping. Never slowing. Always going.

What am I running from?

I don’t remember anymore.

Where am I going?

Couldn’t tell you.

Have I ever known?

When does this end? Where does it stop? I need it to stop. Want it to stop. I’m so very tired.

That membrane that was bubbling outwards… roiling and stirring ominously? It’s so close to bursting and I’m not sure I want to know what’s underneath.

What lies beyond the boundaries of reality? What happens when the very tendrils of space-time are penetrated? Can the tear be stitched? Or does it spew out its contents irreversibly like Pandora’s box?

So many questions. Too many answers. Too much. Too fast. Too far. Too wide. Too. Much. Too. Much. Too Much.

I can’t take much more. Can’t handle this. The car is barreling down the road, the thoughts are ripping through my mind.

Faster fasterfasterfasterfaster.

And then… those flashing lights.

Blue and red in my rearview. So many lights. From so many directions. Police cars on top of more police cars.

They are coming for me. Finally. It’s over.

I slow the car to a crawl and wait for the lights to draw near. Relief washes over me. I close my eyes. Breathe. Sweet, pure oxygen fills my lungs. It’s over. Finally over.

The buzzing in my mind fizzles. A ringing calm takes it place. Help, is here. Finally. It’s over.

There’s no beginning to this story. Nor is there a middle, or an ending. I have always been this way. It was always going to turn out like this.

There are triggers. Things that make it more noticeable. But the pot is always simmering, threatening to bubble over the rim. Certain things, they heighten the flame. Stir the pot. Bring it to a boil. But the water was always simmering. Always.

I’ll tell you all about my little stove. How it was fanned and fed. And how it tipped me past the boiling point. To the point of no return.

For now, the cops have arrived and they’re slowly, cautiously approaching my vehicle. Their hands are on their guns, which makes me chuckle. For Christ’s sake it’s not like I’ve killed someone. I haven’t even broken the law.

As I roll down the window I flash them a giant grin. “The jig is up, and news is out. You finally found me…”

Badfish

Early 1990

Albion, Michigan

As the car crawls to a stop and we turn off of J Drive North road, I smile to myself.  Not just at the comforting presence of our tiny 3-bedroom home, but at the secret that only I know.  

When we’d first moved into this quaint little country-house, my dad had pulled me aside to entrust me with the secret.  

J Drive… you know what that stands for, right?” he had asked. 

I had shaken my head in confusion and stared at him with wide eyes.

“It’s short for Julie, and Jim,” he had explained, “Your name and mine.  This is OUR street.  Julie – Jim Drive.  Now you’ll never forget what street you live on, right?”

I had nodded, speechless and awestruck.  

Of course it will be years before I realize what a brilliant ploy this is to help me remember my own address.  And the fantastic luck that we’d had in purchasing a home on this road, as opposed to the neighboring I-Drive North or K-Drive North.

But right now, my four-year-old mind is deeply immersed in the deception, and I can barely contain my excitement at having a street of my very own.  

The engine cuts out, as do all thoughts of my secret, allowing more pressing concerns to come to mind – like the audience of stuffed animals patiently awaiting my return.  I unlatch my seatbelt  and prepare to leap out of the van, but before I get a chance, my mother’s voice grinds me to a halt.

“Hold on Julie-bug.  I want to talk to you about something.”

I freeze, wondering what kind of trouble I’ve landed myself in. 

“You’re not in trouble.”  

I release the breathe I’ve been holding.

“But I spoke with Mrs. Kulakowski when I picked you up today.”

That’s my friend’s mom.  Okay, what’s this about?

“She mentioned… that you…”  the corners of her mouth are quivering, like she’s desperately fighting the urge to laugh.  “…she said that you had changed into your bathing suit.  Is that true?”

I stare. “Yeah…”

What’s your point?

“Okay.  So listen, honey, it’s winter time.  It’s a little cold for swimsuits, don’t you think?  And our swimsuits are meant to be worn in the pool, or at the beach.  We don’t wear them under our clothes and change into them at our friend’s houses.  That’s not what they’re for, okay?”

I nod, understandingly. 

Well, that did not go according to plan.  

What my mother didn’t know was that I’d been wearing the swimsuit for weeks now, underneath my regular clothes. Everywhere.  Day and Night.

It had begun with the summer Olympics.  I’d been entranced by what I’d seen on the TV screen, in those giant, sparkling pools.  Those majestic creatures donning their Latex caps and thick, plastic goggles.  Their spandex leotards with giant Red, White, and Blue letters.  Their magical ability to move through water as quickly and easily as an astronaut through space.  

I wanted to be like them.  Needed to be like them.  So much that I began to dream about it every waking second of every day.  All of my energy poured into it.  I couldn’t think about anything else.  It consumed me. 

We had a big, ratty, blue blanket that we had spread on the grass last fourth of July, to watch the fireworks.  I sought it out and secretly stashed it in my room. 

Transformed it into water.

I’d lay it on the floor, change into my swimsuit, and use my bed as a springboard.  I’d leap through the air with my arms overhead and with a loud sploosh, I’d land in my imaginary pool. 

I’d run across the floor, circling my arms wildly in the air, and proceed to win eternal glory for my country.  I’d step up to the lego-box podium with tears in my eyes and thank my stuffed animals for their endless support and encouragement.

My obsession was all-encompassing and I could no longer stand to walk around NOT wearing the uniform that would one day lead me to international distinction. 

Not feeling the familiar tug of it’s spaghetti-straps around my shoulders began to spark nervous butterflies in my belly.  And so I slept in it, ate in it, and played in it.  And in a moment of pure artistic insanity, attempted to share my newfound enthusiasm with my friend down the street.  

Like Clark Kent changing in the phone booth, I entered my friend’s room in normal 4-year old clothing… and emerged as a miniature Olympian. 

Unfortunately, the world was not ready for my heroic feats of imaginary athleticism just yet.

“I won’t do it anymore mom, I promise,”  I say as we make our way up the circle driveway and into the house.  And I keep my promise.  This time.  But it’s not long before I find another harmless obsession to fixate on.  

Years later, these obsessions will take on a life of their own, and have  much less amusing effects on my life.

Ironically, to this day, I’ve still never learned how to swim.

Sweet Child ‘O Mine


I’m not exactly sure how many people on this Earth owe their existence to beer – all I know is that I’m one of them.  Green beer, in fact.  


On St. Patrick’s day of 1978, just outside of the Northern Michigan University campus in Marquette, my father and a college buddy strolled into the local grocery store, Mike’s Supermarket.  They were on a quest for some cheap beer to ring in the Irish holiday with.  A pretty brunette clerk smiled flirtatiously as she rang up his 12-pack, and as he made his way toward the exit she yelled, “Is that green beer?”  To which he suavely responded with, “I’ll have to let you know.”

Later that night, egged on by his buddy and emboldened by the 12-pack, he returned to Mike’s… to find that the girl, had gone home.  He asked another store clerk for her name, and learned that it was Kathy Weston.

It was now midnight, but armed with this new information, he returned to his dorm room, grabbed a phone book, and spent the next hour waking up every Weston household in the county. 

Eventually, he reached someone who was related to my mother and asked them to pass on his phone number, along with the following message: Tell her the beer wasn’t green.  

5 months later, they were married.  My dad – the shy, dirt-poor, aspiring young Engineer, and my mom – the former head cheerleader and charismatic social butterfly. 


Early 1985

Two Rivers, Wisconsin


My mother sat patiently in the cold doctor’s office as she awaited the unnecessary test results.  Unnecessary, of course,  because the constant puking, headaches, and lack of period were more than enough evidence to confirm her greatest fears. But pregnancy tests didn’t exist back then, and one couldn’t just go around telling people they were pregnant if they didn’t know for certain.

My mom with my oldest Sister, Christel


None of that stopped her from bursting into tears when the doctor relayed the news.  He patted her arm, gently, and cheerily assured that, “Everything will be okay.”  Easy for him to say.  He wasn’t the one living in a cramped, two-bedroom apartment as a family of 4.   Soon to be 5.


Things could have been worse.  At least she was happily married.  And although they struggled with money, her husband’s career as a young Engineer for Hamilton Industries was beginning to show promise.  But a 2-bedroom apartment with a family of 5?  How on Earth was that going to work?

The fam, shortly before my arrival


In the months that followed, my early presence wreaked havoc on her body – much more than my 2 older sisters had.  In fact, somewhere between the endless vomiting and migraines, my father was sent off for a vasectomy – to which he willingly obliged.  


Finally, on a cold night in November the misery came to an end, as  I very narrowly escaped being born in a warm bathtub. 

Apparently it’s rather difficult to ascertain that your water has broken when you’re… well…. immersed in water.  Nevertheless, my mom did indeed make it to the hospital just in time for me to make my dazzling entrance into the world.  I came out with a full head of thick brown hair, my mother’s eyes, and a special knack for the occasional sarcastic quip. 

Well maybe the sarcasm came later, but I’d like to think that it’s a superpower I was born with, rather than a byproduct of environmental conditioning.

Me, as a tiny human


My story isn’t terribly unique, especially not my early years.  But interspersed between the happy, normal, and often embarrassing childhood memories are hints of something darker, growing just beneath the surface.  Precursors to the eventual explosion of anxiety, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and major depression that would invade every aspect of my teenage and early-adult life. 

Writing, is my favorite form of therapy. Mainly, because it’s free.

And so I write. About the past. About the present. About the obstacles. About the losses. About the wins. And by doing so I will, hopefully, begin to heal.


I don’t expect that many will be interested in my tale, but for the select few that are… I welcome you on this journey.  So strap on your seat-belt and hop in this DeLorean because where we’re going… we don’t need roads. 


Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. Many of these events occur on or near major highways. I just can’t resist the opportunity to reference one of my favorite movies.  Sorry about that.  


Anyways, welcome, and thanks for coming along.

Gimme Shelter

Sometime in Early 2000’s…

The familiar scent of burning plastic permeates the air, drifting over the pile of jeans, tank tops, and undergarments strewn haphazardly about the carpet of my bedroom. It floats past the obligatory Tupac poster and the various black-light responsive tapestries hung from push pins on the wall.

It merges with the sound-waves pouring out of my dust-covered sub-woofers, riding atop the melodic riffs of the latest Incubus album, before finally reaching my nostrils.

I launch myself out of bed and towards the mirrored wardrobe where the scent originates. I carefully lift the squeaky plastic lid to expose my hot-rollers and feel the oven-like warmth hit my face. No need to check the indicator… the smell is all I need to confirm that they’re ready to use.

With a practiced ease that comes from years of repetition, I grab a section of hair and a roller and carefully begin to wind them together, securing the finished product with a worn-out metallic pin. I repeat the process, systematically weaving a loom of both hair and roller, until no strand is left untouched.

I dump tiny blobs of foundation on my palm, in varying shades of tan and ivory. I mix them together like acrylic paint and dab the miasma of beige onto my cheeks and forehead, smearing it’s cold creamy texture across my skin.

I hum along to my favorite Sum 41 song and apply the perfect shade of glittery eye shadow from my growing collection. I grab my black eye-pencil and carefully start to drag it’s point across my lashes. I flinch, a gasp escaping my mouth, as I miscalculate the position of my pencil tip and feel it’s tapered point strike my eyeball. Tears pour from the offended eye as I scramble for a Kleenex to preserve my precious work.

Several outfit changes later, my hot rollers are no longer hot. I yank on a pin and watch as the curl cascades downwards, framing my freshly-powdered face.

As a finishing touch, I spritz a tiny bit of perfume into the air, then make an awkward, ungraceful leap through the invisible mist.

I take one last look in the mirror, and smile. I hit a button on my radio and the music peters out, giving way to silence.

I walk towards my bedroom door. Reach my arm out for the doorknob.

And leave it there.

I stand quietly, with my hand resting on the cold brass. Study the swirling pattern of the wood grain .

Feel my arm fall away in defeat.

I turn. Grab the cordless phone from it’s dock. A familiar melody rings cheerily into the air as my fingers dial the numbers.

Hey. Yeah, look. It’s me. Um… dude, I have this massive headache and I just don’t think I can manage to make it tonight. I know. I know I promised. I’m sorry. I wish I could be there, I just… yeah.

Disappointment crackles through the airwaves as I listen to the disheartened response. I hang up. I sit on the edge of my bed and stare blankly at the wall, hand trembling. I picture my friends piling into a car, and leaving, without me. I picture them laughing and dancing. Without me. Again.

It’s better this way. Really, it is.

They can’t ever know. I can’t let them find out. My heart, it pounds in my ears when I walk into those parties. My hands shake and my breath catches. The panic creeps up and snatches words right out of my mouth. The anxiety is unbearable. They mustn’t know any of that. That I’m not normal.

So I pull the comforter over my freshly-pressed clothes and curl into a ball. I lie there until the light fades. The voices of other teenagers out on the sidewalk tinkle through my window, and I feel the sharp pang of jealousy hit my belly.

I may not be normal. But at least here, in this dark room, all alone, I can be safe.

My secret… is safe. For now.

Intro

A Letter to Me:

Hey there, it’s me. I mean, you. Future you. Future… me? Not sure how to phrase that. It’s not like there’s a precedent for this sort of thing, so bear with me, okay?

It’s been a minute since we spoke, and it’s summer here now. Sticky and humid. Hotter than I remember as a kid. Today is the first day of August.

I know you’re feeling trapped, back there in April. I know that you’re scared – terrified, actually. I know why that is.

It’s the unanswered question that’s been echoing back and forth throughout your mind for weeks, keeping you up most nights, and draining the happiness out of your days. You’ve tried to suppress it. Drown it out. You’ve tried distraction. But the question lingers despite all that. And that’s why I’m writing today – to give you the answer.

Are you ready? Here it is. The answer… is yes.

Yes, it is back. Yes.

Of course, you’ll come to that conclusion on your own in just a few days anyways. You’ll be lying in that bed, inside that dark room with the shades pulled tight, in that house you haven’t left in weeks. You’ll review all the ominous, telltale signs from the previous months, and you’ll come to that dreaded realization. And then you’ll whisper softly into the night.

Hello Darkness, My old friend.

Nothing scares you more. You know what you’re in for. A gradual, seemingly endless torture of the mind and soul. A winding descent down the spiral staircase to hell. A pain so deep that nothing physical could ever compare to it. Inescapable, indescribable mental agony.

In the coming weeks you’ll watch in real-time as your life is slowly and methodically drained of all meaning.

Food will lose it’s taste, so you’ll stop eating it. Books will become meaningless collections of letters and words. Sunlight will be too bright, music, too loud. Conversation, too stimulating.

You’ll wake each morning in a panic, soaked and trembling. Every waking moment will be consumed by anxiety.

You’ll begin to feel your body waste away. The muscles you’d worked so hard to build over the years will shrink from disuse. Your body will begin to reflect the fragile, emaciated condition of your mind.

The same obsessive tendencies that so often drive you to perfection and achievement, will go rogue and become cannibalistic.

You’ll watch, helplessly, as your brain latches on to a negative thought and transforms it into an infinite loop of dark rumination over and over again. You’ll be trapped in these loops for hours at a time.

Every negative thing you’ve ever said or done will present itself in rapid succession, like a Youtube auto-playlist of traumatic, spine-tingling memories.

You’ll clutch the back of your neck in frustration, and crumble into a ball on your bedroom floor. Tiny drops of blood will roll down your neck and onto your collar. You’ll change shirts often, and grind your nails down to nubs to hide the evidence of your descent into madness.

Eventually, your defenses will begin to weaken, and you’ll fall prey to the tiny voices inside your mind. The ones that quietly whisper.

You are worthless. Your are weak. You are a bad person. You should die. Die. Die. Die.

And the more you let them speak, the louder they’ll get. Until there’s nothing left but them. Until there is no truth, except for theirs.

Then, you’ll start to listen, hypnotized by their message. You’ll find yourself nodding along with glazed eyes, agreeing. Yes. Yes, you are right. I see that now. Of course.

The day will come when the voice is so deafening that you can no longer cover your ears to drown it out. Then you’ll start tying knots again. Your fingers know them by heart. No need to look them up anymore. You can do it without thinking. It’s muscle memory. Easy.

But just as you feel the knot tighten against your skin, you’ll think of your family. Contemplating their pain is the only thing preventing you from ending your own.

You’ll summon that tiny bit of strength you have left, and you’ll use it to tell the people you love that the darkness is back.

Up until then, you will have tried to hide it. To protect them from it. To save them the burden. But they’ve seen your darkness before, and they know what it looks like. They’ll have known all along.

I know that right now, you can’t imagine telling people about your struggle. You are embarrassed. You feel weak. You’ve kept it a secret, afraid of what people might say. And because of that, you feel so very alone.

Although it may seem hopeless right now, I promise that one day very soon, you will finally find the strength to speak up. And it all starts with making the decision to fight back. Right now. And you need to let the people who love you, help you.

Your family will rally behind you as you wage this war. Your sisters will never stop texting or calling, even when you can’t bring yourself to call back for weeks.

Your dad will send you short but inspiring messages. You are not alone in this, he’ll say.

Your mom will come to you in your darkest hours and curl up in your bed while you cry. She’ll recount all the times you’ve beaten this before. She’ll remind you that you are a fighter, no matter what the darkness tells you. You won’t believe her, just yet, but that’s okay.

You’ll go to the doctor, again. He’ll change your meds, again. You’ll go through the hellish side effects, again. You’ll throw up and get massive insomnia and frequent headaches. You’ll watch your savings dwindle to nothing as you pay out-of-pocket for the treatment you need. You’ll begin to think it’s all for nothing, but then, slowly, it’ll start to work…

One morning, you’ll wake up with the urge to go for a walk. You’ll climb out of bed and put your shoes on, step outside… and nearly pass out. It’ll have been so long since you’ve been active that you’ll need to rest on the porch before getting to the sidewalk.

Your legs will shake like a newborn baby deer taking its first steps. You’ll return home exhausted and pale. You’ll collapse into bed and cry. Hard. Because of everything you once had. Because of everything you’ve now lost. Because of everything this disease has robbed you of.

But the next day, you’ll go out again. And the day after that too. And pretty soon you’ll be strong enough to walk to the park 2 miles away. Spring will fade into summer, and you’ll even begin to apply for jobs again.

Come June, you’ll try running. You’ll make it 1 mile before nearly collapsing in exhaustion. Again, you’ll go home and cry.

You’ll think about the time you ran 13.1 miles and sprinted across the finish line. You’ll wonder if you’ll ever be able to do things like that again. You’ll ask God why this is happening again. You’ll get on your knees and beg for help. You’ll pray for strength.

You’ll keep up the short-distance runs throughout the job search and therapy. You’ll experience frustration with both. You’ll feel like you’re getting nowhere. You’ll fall prey to duplicitous recruiters and you’ll be lied to by people who don’t have your best interest at heart.

But eventually, you’ll find a new work assignment. Two weeks before you leave for that assignment, you’ll go for another run. Four miles, this time.

As you approach the park that marks your finish line, you’ll look out at the water, stop, and begin to feel the corners of your mouth curl up into a smile.

It’ll feel so foreign, at first. For a brief moment, you’ll lift a corner on that dark veil that’s been draped over your life, and get a quick peek at the beautiful reality that lies underneath.

Then, as you stand there with the warm summer breeze on your face and the smell of the lake in your nostrils, you’ll feel your eyes brimming with tears. You’ll close them, pointedly, and revel in the sensation as the hot, salty drops slide down your cheeks.

No, these won’t be tears of despair or hopelessness. They’ll be ones of relief.

Relief, for the ability to feel anything other than pain, if only for a moment. So much relief.

As you stand there, crying and looking out at the water, a woman will ask if you are okay. You’ll wish you could convey to her the significance of this moment. The struggle it took to get here.

Look at what I’ve just done. What I’ve accomplished. You’ll want to say.

But the truth is that no one will ever understand the vast intricacies of your darkness, nor the strides taken to overcome it, because that darkness is yours and yours alone. Just as the pride is, in having fought it off yet again.

You’ll return home after that run, and you’ll sit down at your computer. You’ll type up this letter.

You’ll address it to your past self – the one that isn’t sure if the darkness is back yet. But when you get to the end, you’ll realize you’re writing for your future self too. Because you’ll know that this battle with the darkness is not even close to being over.

You’ve been fighting it since you were 6 years old, and it has defined your life in so many unexpected ways, both good and bad. Future us will need this message just as much as we do. Maybe even more.

Last of all, you’ll realize that you don’t want to hide this part of yourself anymore. That your struggles have shaped you into a compassionate, empathetic person who wants nothing more than to help others who suffer. But you can’t do that if you never tell anyone about it.

So you’ll do the bravest thing anyone can do when faced with this situation.

You’ll tell the truth. To anyone who will listen.

You’ll finally be free. Truly free. And although it may seem so far away right now, you can and will do it.

So hang in there, kid. And keep fighting. You’ve got this. I promise.

I’m proof.

Love Always,

Your Future Self

PS – On a side note, don’t even bother watching that Game of Thrones finale you’re so excited about. Just trust me.