Emotionally, not physically. Unless you count my ass, which honestly, I try not to.
I wrote this letter months ago, before I understood my anxiety or sought help for it. I’d been laid off for the second time in two years and was feeling extremely depressed. Truthfully, I was wallowing in a big, fat pool of self pity.
After living in bed for five days on a diet of Netflix, red wine, and failure, I watched the episode of Parks and Recreation where Leslie loses her city council recall election and reads a letter her best friend, Ann, wrote for her that acknowledges her defeat. I felt defeated and thought maybe that would work for me too. Unfortunately, I have no Ann (I’m currently interviewing potential candidates, if you’re looking for a side hustle or, more realistically, a volunteer opportunity), so I wrote something for myself.
The funny thing is, I thought the writing process would be helpful, but it really wasn’t. It was cathartic, certainly, and I felt connected to my words. I just wasn’t motivated by them. I vividly remember sitting in bed at 5am, staring at my computer screen, and detachedly thinking I'd written something powerful, something important. Which honestly, gross. What is wrong with me? Also, don't answer that. It’s amazing how my self esteem can basically be a dank crawl space, and I can still find a way to be conceited. Let's just chalk it up to sleep deprivation, please. But the next day, nothing had changed. I was still just, me. Same face, same hands, same brain. Same fear. Same depression. Same shame.
Anxiety has been the hardest thing I've ever done. I know how debilitating thought loops and safety behaviors are. I know how exhausting it is to be held prisoner by your own mind, to be unable to live in the world because it's too much to even live inside your own head. I know how shaming it is to constantly compare your suffering to others and to always come up short.
But Phil reminded me of something important, something I now constantly remind myself. There is no comparison for pain. Suffering is suffering. And I can read my suffering in every word of this letter, feel the heat of my pain radiating off of the page. I feel sad for myself, sad that I couldn’t recognize then what is so obvious to me now. But I’ve grown more in the last year than in the previous twenty-seven. I’m proud of myself, and despite how painful it is, I wouldn’t choose a different process.
In the months since writing it, I’ve reread this letter once or twice a month—sometimes once or twice a day—and it gives me hope. It reminds me that maybe I’m failing now, but I won’t be failing forever. It reminds me that nothing is permanent if you’re patient. I’ve never been great at being patient—my husband might agree—but I’m learning. With that, my husband might disagree.
So here’s a reminder: you are not the same person you were five years ago, and five years from now, you’ll be a different person than you are today. That’s so exciting! It means we learn and get better. We grow. It’s been hard for me. I imagine it is for all of us.
But I hope that my hardships can bring others hope and peace. I hope that we can all be a little kinder to ourselves. I could’ve desperately used both when I wrote this letter. Truly, I still can. But until then, I’ll reread it twice a month or twice a day and remember that I’m growing, and growing hurts.
A Letter to Who I Used to Be
I am you, but different. Not just physically, although my pores are bigger and so are my thighs. The years have changed my hair, my skin, and my expectations, and twenty-two feels like a lifetime ago and a weekend simultaneously, in that funny way time passes. Forever inching and leaping concurrently. Days will drag, but years will fly, and you will wake up at the start of every new one wondering how it happened.
For now, you know who you are. You are proud of yourself and your accomplishments. That will change. Soon, you will feel the cold slap of discrimination for just being yourself. And it hurts. You will cry as your ideals disappear right in front of you. You will feel naive and stupid. You will question yourself and your life and every choice you’ve ever made. It will all feel like a mistake.
But it will make you better. For the first time, you will step back from your own privilege and confront the gritty realities of a grimy world. And it hurts. It hurts how selfish you are, and it hurts how ignorant you’ve been. You will think of the growing pains you had in your legs as a child, the ones that would wake you screaming in the middle of the night with no relief for hours. It will feel like your entire life is one big growing pain. That’s okay. Just as you grew into your adult body, you are growing into your adult life, the life you are meant to inhabit. Growing hurts. No one ever told you, but it does.
"Life can be so heavy."
You have big dreams, of an important job and padded paychecks. You aspire to greatness. But your dreams will change as you do, and that’s okay. Instead, you will dream of a long life with your husband, one filled with happiness and hardship. You pray desperately for this every single night and thank God for the time you’ve already had. After years of others dictating your time and your future, you will dream of meaning and flexibility. Instead of wealth and recognition, the drive to work hard will spring from the hope of providing for your family.
This will make you feel like you’ve failed yourself, like you’ve subtracted from who you were. You didn’t. Your priorities changed as you did, and you begin to understand what, and who, you value most. You will work hard for them, toward the life they deserve, and for the first time, you will consider yourself last.
Speaking of, you dream of a family and children, but that day seems so far in the future. It is unfathomably near. When it comes, you will recognize the sacrifice required in your decision, and you will be grateful for all the times you were allowed to be selfish. Enjoy them. Everyone tells you they are fleeting, but you never understand until they are gone. It will bring you more joy than you could ever imagine, but sometimes it will make you cry.
The immense weariness of relentless responsibility will weigh on you. That’s okay. You will understand Atlas and the titanic weight that he bore. But you are resilient, and you persevere. Some days, you so desperately want to give up. It feels so hard, and life can be so heavy. But you don’t. It is something you will struggle with continually. When it is hard, it is so, so hard. But every time it’s hard, it gets a little bit easier. Soon enough, the hard won’t be quite so heavy anymore. Atlas endured, and so will you.
Speaking from experience, I’m sorry for the hard days. I know how much they hurt. And I won’t lie and say you wouldn’t trade them. There are many that you gladly would. But they’ll happen, and you’ll survive. Occasionally, you may even thrive. But the days that hurt are so important. They teach you reflection and humility and commitment. Sink in. Roll around in them. Dig your heels in and plant.
"It will never be easy, so just adapt to the hard."
Life is not linear nor is it static. It happens in starts and fits, carving out incremental triumphs amongst the mundanity and the defeats. Sometimes, you will cry yourself to sleep every single night because your life feels like fly paper, immobile and passive, just watching as the timer counts down to zero. Sometimes, you will feel like crisp champagne, effervescent from the richness of the life you’ve chosen. Time will feel like a thief then too because you know how quickly it passes. It undulates and curves, lapping at successes like waves do at the beach. Always almost there, but never quite enough. It feels just as futile but far less peaceful. But waves debit and deposit each time they come ashore, and that’s what your life is like. For every experience that takes something from you, it leaves something else in its place, a kernel of sand with which to build your beach.
So you will try to live for the present but plan for the future. You will fail often and tremendously, a spectacular fireworks display of glistening failure. It will feel like just as many people watch and cheer. Failing does not mean you’re a failure. It just means you haven’t succeeded yet.
So much of life is painful, and so much doesn’t make sense. Just try to relish the good days and learn from the bad. Some days, you’ll feel helpless or crazy or unwound, like you’re spinning out of control. Some days, you’ll feel powerful and confident and driven. In those moments, you'll know exactly who you are, the person you used to be. It will devastate you when they disappear. As soon as you acclimate to one, it will change to the other. It will never be 100% easy, so just try adapt to the hard. That is the best advice I can give.
I read in an article once that a good life is a life of goodness. Regardless of how much money you make or the job you have, the trips you take or the people you know, a good life is one of goodness. Be good and do good and cut yourself some slack. You are growing, but you aren't grown yet. And I finally understand that no one really ever is.