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What I Wish I Could Tell Myself When I Felt Stuck in a Life of Illness

Dear Past Self,

I want to read you something you wrote yourself on March 5, 2013 at 8:49 p.m. (according to your phone’s Notes), and I want to tell you something that I wish I had told you then, three years ago.

This is what I wrote:

“You’re waiting for life to start. You’re stuck, suspended in this sort of limbo. You don’t know which way is up or down, where to turn. All you know is you have to keep going, wherever that may be. You must learn to let go, to be flexible and pliable, to trust. Trust yourself and the people around you. You learn that you’re your own best friend, that you have incredible people surrounding you, but that there’s a part of it all that only you can grasp and must work out in your own time. This limbo is your own little world. It becomes your reality when in actuality, nothing in the outside world makes sense. You put on a brave face and trudge forward when all you want to do is curl up in a ball and never the leave the privacy of your home. And then you feel selfish and self-pitying which only makes the situation that much worse. This isn’t physically happening to you, so why are you acting this way? You’re on the sideline, unsure of where you stand, unsure of how you feel, what to feel, or what feelings are even acceptable. Nothing is normal, everything is unsure. You wait, day after day, for life to start. And then it doesn’t. You’ve said your goodbyes, made your peace. Plead to whatever higher power may (or may not) be out there, to let this end, to put a stop to this horrifying extended goodbye. And then the guilt returns. And each day is a constant rerun of the day before. Groundhog Day, again and again.”

Past Self, everything you felt that night, when you were so consumed by your father’s devastating disease and probably your own chronic condition, was valuable. It was OK. It was your truth. Every single feeling you felt was acceptable. You said it yourself, that you need to learn to trust, so I say trust those emotions, feel however you needed to feel, not only then but also always. Honor your emotions — something my boyfriend’s mama has told me (and guess what? It stuck). Relish in the fact that you let yourself feel so deeply. These moments, these horrifying, lonely, emotional, debilitating moments led you to where you are today.

You cannot regret how you felt or regret the actions you took, because those actions and those emotions were what you needed in that moment. I have learned, over the past few years, to not live regretting my choices because those were the choices I made, and I must trust (see, you were onto something then, those three years ago!) myself and my intentions; those feelings were real to me then, and that is beautiful.

But I want you to know that as time has passed, I have learned that this “limbo,” your “own little world” you spoke of, was you limiting yourself to the “incredible people surrounding you.” I know that I, Present Self, must take advantage of those incredible people and be lifted by their love and support in those hard times. Because, as I so proudly now preach, love lifts us back up. It fuels our souls. It refreshes us and allows us feel as though we have a new lease on life each time we are reminded of it. Do not feel guilty to lean on the people who love you the most. Do not limit yourself to your own “reality” because after all, it’s a scary and lonely place. And when life is scary and challenging enough, the last thing you need to do is “trudge forward” alone — man, even trudging sounds exhausting!

Past Self, since writing that in Notes on your phone, you have begun to paint and express yourself with a positive, creative outlet. Getting stuck in your own head, Past Self, driving yourself mad, as I know you once used to, wasn’t the way I, Present Self, would go about it today. That truth you were searching for, that honesty, does come from within. And just like painting and creativity are an honest expression of your soul, verbal expression and purging of your thoughts and feelings are honest, cathartic expressions of all the demons you harbor inside.

You were not a burden. Today, I am not a burden. You did not need to feel guilty for your truth. There is never a “right thing” to say or to feel — as my mama always tells me: “There is no guidebook to life.” Just be. Be present. You were not alone, you are not alone, you will never be alone. Yes, at the end of the day, if you listen closely enough, you know what’s best for you and yes, you must live your life for yourself, making sure that you are the star of the show and happy at all times (well, at least all the times that are humanely possible — the Pollyanna that lives in me dreams of 24/7 smiles and happiness).

You choose your path, Past Self. No, you can’t necessarily choose to feel a certain way because frankly, different emotions hit at any given point in the day, and well, ya just gotta roll with those punches, baby! Roll with them and learn from them. Ponder and reflect on them. Ask yourself why you’re feeling that way, if it is worth it, and who you can reach out to to lift you up. To love you. After all, love is the answer.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing you thought on the day of your or a loved one’s diagnosis that you later completely changed your mind about? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.