Where is My Mind?

Present Day

I awake with a violent jerk, tangled inside a nest of disorganized cotton sheets and blankets.

The room is dark, with a hint of fluorescent light trickling in through the cracks in the blinds. A lone streetlight casting its ghostly rays on the quiet, chilly corner outside.

I blindly reach my hand out from beneath the down comforter, probing expectantly with grasping fingers, and wincing as the cold air strikes my exposed skin.

The tiny muscles at the base of my fluffy arm-hairs tighten. I shiver as the goosebumps erupt. 

I continue my sightless search, combing the perimeter for that tiny familiar device, containing all the abstract data that comprises my existence here in the 21st Century.

Finally, my palm slaps something smooth and hard. My thumb instinctively swipes across its polished surface. 

I squint my eyes as the screen springs to life.

An angry grunt bubbles up in my throat as I note the time. 

4 AM

GOD. DAMMIT.

I toss the phone away and scoop up an armful of blankets instead, bundling them over my face. Letting out a muffled wail of frustration into the soft, cushy fabric.  

Suddenly, a sharp pang ripples through my belly, and my irritation at the ungodly hour evaporates. An impending sense of urgency replaces it.

I frantically kick my feet, attempting to free my legs from their tangled bonds before it’s too late.

My stomach bubbles ominously. I Groan as the walls of my intestines dance and writhe and twist, swishing their contents back and forth like a small child making waves in a bathtub.

Not a moment too soon, my legs have tunneled their way to freedom and I plant my feet on the cold hardwood floor. 

As I rise from the mattress, I reach down with one hand and grab a handful of the elastic waistband, hanging loosely around my sharply protruding hip bones.

It’s a habit I’ve only recently grown accustomed to.

Five weeks ago, these pants had fit perfectly.

Funny how quickly the body turns on itself, cannibalizing it’s own precious tissues in a desperate plea for sustenance. Liquidating it’s own assets in a frantic attempt to survive the nutritional recession.

Cinching the fabric tightly about my waist, I stumble  into the hallway and onward to the bathroom. 

How many times has this happened tonight?

What number am I on? 

7?

8?

How is there anything left in my stomach to expel?

Surely it must be empty by now?

Several minutes later, I collapse back into bed. The sheets have grown cold in my absence.

Oddly, I’m no longer wallowing in self-pity.  Instead, I feel… reassured. Relieved. Vindicated. 

I’m reacting to this much better than I had two weeks ago. I’m not panicking, like I did last time.

Because now, after 1 month of slowly titrating up the dosage of this new medication, I’m finally recognizing the patterns.

Patterns lead to predictions.

And predictions lead to preparation.

And preparation, leads to a sense of control. 

I may not have control over my body just yet, but if the cycle continues… I will feel physically well again in about a week. My body will adjust to the higher dose, and the cramping and nausea will subside.

I just have to keep the faith and ride out the storm. 

Easier said than done.

Because as much as I’ve come to accept the physical demands of this adjustment period, they absolutely pale in comparison to the hell they’ve imposed on me MENTALLY.

Three weeks ago I was out running when I passed by a garage sale.

As I coasted along the sidewalk, I noticed a spunky little clock that stood out among the rest of the mundane and perfectly ordinary baubles. It’s borders were undulated, as though someone had suspended it over a blowtorch. It was artistically melted.

I thought to myself, “That’s cool. Looks like one of those paintings by… by… by….”

That artist. 

You know the one…

C’mon you know this.

You wrote a research paper on him in college. 

It’s a household name, for Chrissake.

You KNOW this. 

You have to know this. 

Why don’t you know this?

Why don’t you fucking know this? 

What’s WRONG WITH YOU?

Why can’t you REMEMBER?

This went on for my entire run.

I don’t remember what route I took, what music I listened to, or what my time was.

But I vividly recall spiraling into a full-blown panic attack that didn’t let up until I arrived back at my front porch and FINALLY, screamed aloud, practically sobbing in relief…

SALVADOR DALI!!

Salvador fucking Dali.

I get it. I know it’s stupid.

Normal humans, all over the world, are probably forgetting the names of Early-20th century Spanish painters on a DAILY basis.

No one, that I’m aware of, has ever found themselves in mortal peril from their lack of useless art facts.

And more importantly, I’m not an artist.

Nor am I a curator, or a museum-owner, or someone who can dissect a famous painting for hidden meaning, or really comment on art at all, except maybe to say things like “I think this one might be a watercolor?”

So why did I let Salvador Dali and his bizarre acid-trip style interpretation of the world ruin my day? 

Let me explain.

I am by nature, an extremely scholarly person.

I love to learn new things, expand my vocabulary, and binge-watch Netflix documentaries until I can recite all the exact dates of the major World War II battles for no particular reason other than to annoy you. 

I tend to consume information gluttonously, eating it up like a package of freshly-opened Girl Scout cookies.

And I pride myself on retaining that information. Its a huge part of who I am and how I define myself.

And throughout the past few weeks, as my psychiatrist has slowly begun to alter the dosages of some of my meds, I’ve felt that part of myself slipping, ever so slightly. 

And that scares the shit out of me.

For the last two weeks, I’ve had my own brain under interrogation almost constantly. 

Insignificant bits of forgotten information have become evidence…

… that my medicine has dissolved my memory into soup.  

Every perceived deviance from my normal way of thinking has been carefully monitored, cataloged, and placed in the repository of “Things That Prove I’m Now an Idiot and will be This way Forever.” 

To top it off, I’ve been terrified to write anything for fear that the entire world would pick up on the fact that I’ve somehow transformed into Charlie Gordon from Flowers for Algernon.

And even if I’d wanted to write, I was having trouble finding the right words to convey even relatively simple ideas.

That burning flame of creativity that had always been raging in my mind, had been extinguished.

Needless to say, it’s been a trying 2 weeks.

But near the tail end of it, the fog began to lift, ever so slowly, as my body became accustomed to these strange new chemicals.

And I realized, much to my relief, that the change… was hardly permanent. 

Best of all, I’m beginning to feel, a hint of “something else” that I can’t quite put my finger on.

I feel, slightly better? A tiny bit… balanced?

Not an overwhelming change, but enough to give me a tiny glimpse of hope to get through these next two weeks, as my dosage was increased again yesterday. It’s a perpetuating cycle of adaptation and agony.

As I lay atop my sheets now, preparing for the next round of cramping and nausea to begin, I desperately cling to the idea that this is temporary.

My body, will recover.

The atrophied muscles, I can rebuild.

I won’t live on soup and crackers forever. 

My mind, is healing. That takes time.

And although this all seems so wildly unfair… in the broad scheme of things, it’s actually not so bad.

So I close my eyes… grit my teeth, and probe my struggling mind for activity.

Salvador Dali

It becomes my mantra.

I clench the phrase in my hands and squeeze it until my knuckles turn white.  

As long as I can remember it… I know I’ll be okay. 

My mind, is in there somewhere. Lying dormant.

Waiting. Healing.

It will return when it’s ready. 

Before I Forget

Part 10 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters.

A memory

Downtown Mt. Clemens, MI

2009

It’s 1 AM on a Saturday night  and I’ve just clocked out of work.  My apron, removed from my waist and folded sloppily into thirds, lies in the crook of my right elbow, it’s threaded compartments overflowing with ink-stained ballpoint pens and crumpled bits of green paper.  Scribbled messages litter the lined guest checks, written in a language only fellow servers could interpret.  

6 wings, Mango Hab, Bl chz, cel

Patron Marg. on rcks, w/s – NO LIME 

I shuffle my feet carefully on the soapy, tiled floor of the kitchen, as though it’s a frozen pond. 

The back door, propped open with a large white bucket, provides a brief reprieve from the pungent smell of chicken grease and dirty dishwater, hanging over the tiny space like a noxious gas.  

“Guys, I’m heading out!”  I yell, my voice ricocheting between the worn, steel kitchen appliances and bounding over sauce-stained counter-tops.  

The freezer door squeaks open and a large shadow looms in the dim light of the kitchen.  

“Okay, baby, be safe,” hums a voice, as silky as the ebony skin of the man it belongs to.  

I don’t look back to check if Tony, our lead cook and giant Teddy bear of a man, is watching me make my exit.  I already know he is. 

Tony’s good like that.  Forever on alert, protecting the female servers and hostesses from the dangers of the night. 

And there are dangers a-plenty in this neighborhood.

It’s not exactly downtown Detroit, but it’s close enough. 

Our back parking lot has long been a breeding ground for drug dealers, crackheads, and thieves. 

Driving one street over could land you in a drug-infested wonderland, if you so desired. 

I’d vowed to myself that I’d never head in that direction again, after my last experience, nearly a week ago.  I’d innocently offered to drive one of the hostesses home that night, and as surely as they say – no good deed goes unpunished. 

Upon approaching her house, a man with bulging eyes had approached my rickety jeep’s driver-side window.  He’d stared at us, disconcertingly and slowly nodded his head up and down, repeatedly whispering to himself, “Theeeeese… is some young-ass girlssssss.”  

The hostess had reached over me and shouted, “No thanks, Morris.  We don’t want none!!”  and then jumped out of my vehicle, slamming the door behind her.  

“DRIVE!!!” She’d yelled as she’d spun on her heels and made a bee-line for her own dilapidated house.  And drive, I did.  Like a bat out of hell.  I’m not proud of it, but what can I say?  It happened.

But now, as I make my paranoid trek across the parking lot, I keep a key between each finger of my right hand, just in case Morris should return for an encore.  My hand is balled up in a tight fist, the jagged metal poking outwards like a knock-off version of Wolverine.  A poor man’s brass knuckles.

I let out the breath I’ve been holding, as I slip into my driver’s seat, doing a quick once-over in the rearview to check for serial killers. 

Satisfied with the result, I  look up through the glass windshield at Tony, standing in the back doorway of the kitchen, with his arms crossed and muscles bulging underneath his grease-covered apron. 

A quick thumbs-up from me, confirms that Ted Bundy has not crawled into my back seat during my shift.  Content with my safety, he closes the door, and I’m left alone, drenched in the ghostly-pale glow of the parking lot.

I find the ignition with my former-wolverine-claw-turned-car-key, and start the engine with a faint roar.  My right hand absently reaches for the volume knob on the stereo, a habit I’m inclined to, lest the entire neighborhood be woken by the obnoxiously loud Metallica album currently residing in my CD player.  

Oddly though, no noise is emanating from my crackly speakers at all, and I realize this at the exact same time that my outstretched arm, lands in a giant black hole. 

I shriek, pulling my hand back quickly, as though I’ve miscalculated and accidentally put my hand inside a snake hole.  Adding to the sensation, are the free wires that brush my hand as I return it to my body.

I scramble for the overhead button, find it, and illuminate the vehicle instantly. 

And there it is… plain as day. 

My stereo, has been stolen.

What – – oh COME ON!!!’

I scream angrily out into the night.

The broke college student part of me laments the financial loss, although as I think it over, I realize that the stereo itself will probably sell for less money than the Metallica CD that was housed inside it.  That doesn’t soften the blow, however.

Aside from the bereavement, another sensation creeps through my veins – one that I can’t quite put words to. 

The best way to describe it?  I feel…. violated. 

Knowing that some asshole has had his grubby fingers inside my dashboard.  That some uninvited person had sat in my driver’s seat.  Had fiddled with my wires.  And I hadn’t been here to witness it.  

The intrusion didn’t include just my car.  This burglar had somehow managed to strip me of my own sense of safety.   He hadn’t just tinkered with my belongings, but left me with an unanswerable question. 

A compelling need to know JUST WHAT exactly he had done during his invasion.  What all did he tarnish with his slimy, undeserving fingers?

I place my palms on the steering wheel. Did he have his hands in the same spot as mine?  Was he looking out the same windshield, at some point? I shiver at the thought.

I throw the car in reverse, and hit the gas. 

But as I drive home in my abnormally quiet vehicle, I feel slightly sick.

I can’t shake the lingering feeling of his palpable occupancy, as though it’s suspended in the air all around me.  It may not be visible, but it’s detectable.  

And I have no idea how to get rid of it.


Present Day

October 8, 2019

I reach my outstretched fingers into the last unopened pocket of the large hiking backpack, and pull out 2 chapsticks, a tube of SPF, and a miniature, pocket-sized notebook. 

I lay the contents on the hard-wood floor, where they blend together with the rest of the camping gear that’s spread across the room in a half-circle all around me, like a colossal rainbow.

My forehead scrunches as I examine the items individually. 

A camp stove with little propane cylinders.  A rain-flye.  A compass.  A hand-drawn map of Des Moines, Iowa’s Adventure Bicycle network.   A hunting knife.

I’ve held off doing this for too long now.  It’s been 2 weeks since I’ve returned to Michigan, and yet I’ve procrastinated combing through this backpack in it’s entirety. 

And there’s no question as to why. 

I’m terrified. 

Not terrified of what these bits and pieces will cause me to remember.  It’s not the memories themselves that incite terror.  That’s not it at all.

I’m terrified, because these items are undeniable proof.  

Proof of all the moments that I’ve forgotten.

That there are things that I did last month, items that I purchased, people that I met, plans that I made, that I have no recollection of whatsoever.  

I know, it probably sounds like I’m exaggerating this for cinematic effect.  I swear to God, I’m not. 

I have no reason to.  As a matter of fact, this story would be much more interesting if I did remember.  I’d love to be able to recount, in great detail, what exactly transpired when I left my hotel room in Minneapolis on September 9, 2019. 

I wish I had all the information so I could continue this story in a perfectly linear, logical way.  But I can’t do that.  Because I can’t fucking remember.

Do you have any idea how horrifying that is? 

Have you ever lost time? 

Have you ever done things, when you were 100% sober and awake… that you cannot account for? 

I have.  It’s not exciting. It’s not thrilling.  It’s awful. 

And this isn’t the first time it’s happened to me.

Years ago, I stopped taking an anti-anxiety medication very suddenly, and I wound up in the hospital having seizures from the unexpected withdrawal.  When I finally was cleared to come home, my two best friends came to visit me. 

I don’t recall what story I was telling them, but I remember that it was hilariously funny. 

Except that when I got to the punch line, instead of laughing, they were both sitting there, mouths agape… looking absolutely horrified.  

Confusion had overtaken me, and I asked, “What?  What’s wrong?”

They looked at each other, swallowed nervously, and proceeded to inform me that I’d just told them that exact same story.  Word for word.  

As in, I told them the story, and when I got to the end of it, I started telling it again like I’d never told it the first time. 

And if I didn’t believe them… THEY HAD THE ENTIRE THING ON VIDEO.

They were understandably concerned, and we never quite figured out what the fuck happened in my brain that caused it.  I always assumed it was the meds they had put me on while I was in the hospital, and maybe that’s it – maybe it’s not.  

All I know is that sporadically, throughout my life, I’ve had these little episodes where I’ve seemingly lost time.  Which is extremely strange, because in my everyday life, I pride myself on having an excellent memory.  And I’m not trying to brag or anything, but my memory is pretty ACE.  It got me straight-A’s throughout school, nearly effortlessly.  I graduated with a 3.98 GPA in college.  

What does it feel like, you may ask, to have a chunk of your life excised from memory? 

It feels dirty, like someone’s been poking around in your skull uninvited. 

It feels like being robbed. 

It feels like having the most important thing in your possession, your very EXISTENCE, stolen from you. 

It feels like looking around in your own mind, and there’s this foreignness about it. 

It feels like there’s a part of you that’s tainted  – touched by another.  

It feels like you’ve been violated. 

It feels, like being paranoid, I mean absolutely paranoid all the time, that the burglar is going to come back. 

And there’s nothing you can do about it.  Because the burglar

… is you.  

From here on out, I’m going to attempt to tell you what I do remember from my disappearance, because there are plenty of lucid moments sprinkled in with the foggy ones. 

But I’m only going to share what I can prove to be reliable. 

I could try to fill in the gaps by combing through receipts or asking family.  But I’m not going to do that.  Because this is my story, and I want to tell you what I experienced.  However sparse that experience may be.  

I may have been robbed, but she didn’t take everything. 

And so we’ll start, with my next available memory. 

Which is at a cheap, dingy motel, in Baldwin, Wisconsin. Although I’m not entirely 100% sure how I wound up there.

To be continued…

Ride

My daily running route, over I-94

I should be typing up part 8 of my little series right now – the one where I describe, in full detail, what exactly transpired when I disappeared several weeks ago.  

And not like, the good, refreshing kind of disappeared where you tell everyone you’re heading to the health food store, but really you drive to Barnes & Noble, buy a double chocolate chunk cookie the size of your face from the fake Starbucks that doesn’t accept Starbucks gift cards even though their sign says Starbucks and they sell all the same shit as Starbucks, and you take your mammoth cookie and you just curl up and read half a book from the young adult section on a squishy chair that is more comfortable than anything you’ve got in your real house and then just pretend that you live there for about 30 minutes before you put the book back and pretend it’s not what you were looking for after all. 

 Not like that.

I mean, full-blown, “there’s an entire town in Missouri swarming with cops brandishing a poster with my face on it” kind of missing.

So far, cataloging all of this on a public forum has been super therapeutic for me, even if the subject matter is ridiculously dark.  It’s helping me to sort through what happened in a chronological and systematic way, and it’s bringing to light a lot of minute details that I otherwise would’ve forgotten or waved off as not important. 

And it’s SO very important.  All of it.

But at the same time, I’m rather exhausted. 

In writing about all of this, I’m forced to re-live it for a second time, and that can be pretty stressful in it’s own right. 

It sucked hard the first time.  The second’s not much of an improvement.

It’s not just that that’s got me feeling kind of low today.  I can’t pinpoint what it is exactly, I’m just… down.  

Maybe it’s the rainy, cool temps bleeding into my psyche over time.  Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve returned to a city I’ve spent half my life trying to escape. 

Maybe it’s the fact that I feel… stuck.  Paused.  Still. 

While everyone else seems to be moving forwards, I’m trapped somewhere in the middle.


My dad texted me earlier this morning, asking how things are going… how I’m feeling today. 

My response?  

Remember that wicked-bad traffic jam we were stuck in on the way up here from Missouri?   I kinda feel like I did then.’

The jam I’m referring to was one of those nightmare bumper-to-bumper scenarios right smack in the middle of downtown Detroit on I-94.

During rush hour. 

Our car was inching ahead so slowly, that the ‘estimated time of arrival’ on the GPS was INCREASING the further we went.  

’10 minutes ago we were 55 minutes away from our destination.  Now we’re 58 minutes away…’ I’d confirmed aloud.  ‘The closer we get to the finish, the longer it takes to actually GET THERE!’

My dad had sidelong glanced at me, and then…

… as we sat in the stuffy, immobile truck and peered out into the endless sea of vehicles…

… and beyond them to the backdrop of multiple abandoned factories-turned-crackhouses with their busted-out windows and graffiti-ridden walls…

… my dad whispered, in the dreamiest voice he could conjure:  

Puuuuuure Michigan.’ 

It was a spoof on those ridiculous Michigan Tourism commercials that make Detroit look like a friendly, safe, and culture-rich city that welcomes outsiders with a gentle, loving embrace.  

It was perfect.

I’d just taken a sip from my water bottle, and sprayed a fine mist of it onto the dashboard as we both doubled over in laughter.  It was my favorite moment of the entire trip.



And yet here I sit yet again, metaphorically stuck between the roadblocks of my own life, watching as everyone in the adjacent lane zooms ahead and leaves me in their dust. 

Forced to wait with the engine idling, while we titrate my new Bipolar medicine to a dose that’s even remotely therapeutic.  

It’ll take 6 weeks to even get to a place where the medicine is concentrated enough to notice a difference.  And even then, we may discover that the medicine doesn’t work.  What then?  Then we repeat this process again and again and again until we find the right cocktail. 

It could potentially take years to dial it in just right.  But I can’t think about that right now.  It makes me so fucking sad, and, even more-so… frustrated.

I want to stick my head out of the car and loudly curse the heavens. 

Why is this happening to me?  Why did I get stuck in this shitty lane while everyone else plows ahead around me? 

Why do I have to be left behind while everyone else moves forward in life? 

Why do I have to become a spectator, while everyone else gets to be a participant?

Why am I surrounded by other people’s life progress, while I sit here, stagnant?

WHY WHY WHY WHY

FUCKING WHY?!!!!

I’ll never know.  

All I can do right now is remind myself that, although I may not be moving forward, that doesn’t mean that I’m moving backwards.  

I force myself to remember that we are all on this freeway together, but that doesn’t mean we all have to get off on the same exit. 

I may be trapped at this mile marker, but who’s to say that the guy who just passed me doing 80, doesn’t have to travel twice as far as me to get to his destination?  

My journey… is exactly that.

Mine.

And right now, all I can do is roll the windows down, put on some 90’s gangster rap, and enjoy the fucking ride. 

Even if the wheels aren’t moving.

Not a lick of makeup, hair unbrushed, and a tiny seed stuck in my tooth. This is your Brain on Bipolar Depression…

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.