To My Younger Self Struggling With Mental Illness — I Forgive You
During one treatment admission, I heard someone talking about writing a list of “forgive you’s” to herself. The idea intrigued me, so I sat down and played with it. This is what I came up with. Most of mine come from my school-age years, which were the hardest years for me. Those were the times when my mental illnesses ran wild and when I didn’t have very many friends to lean on for support because most of my “friends” were leaving me because I was “too much” or “too hard to deal with.” Now, looking back at it, the fact that so many of my friends didn’t want to be around me anymore after I got sick was perhaps one portion of what helped keep me sick — because I felt like I didn’t have anyone else to turn to. And it’s because I truly didn’t at that point. But in treatment, I found writing and found it was one of the only things that was able to bring me back from dark situations. So, one night as I was laying in my uncomfortable hospital bed, I wrote this list of forgiveness to myself, which I now read when I’m feeling either down or trapped —in an attempt to make myself feel a little bit more freed again. To remind myself I am OK and am not an inherently bad person for having been sick.
- To the second grade little girl who wrote down all of the things she wished she was. Who wrote down “skinny” and “popular,” who just wanted to have a lot of friends — I forgive you for not becoming her.
- To the third grader who cried and called home every day because she was so anxious about getting germs on her or on anybody else, I forgive you. Your cracked, over-washed hands healed and stopped bleeding. I forgive you for feeling weak.
- To the sixth grader who followed the “emo” crowd, made her hair into a swoop and experimented with self-harm, I forgive you for just not knowing who you were.
- To the eighth grade girl who cried to her ballet teacher, many times after class, about not feeling good enough — who just needed some extra reassurance to ease her paranoia, I am proud of you for sticking around and getting what you needed. I forgive you for being needy.
- To the 15-year-old girl who spent some of her first days of high school crying in the guidance office, I forgive you for losing your hope. I forgive you for not being able to enjoy what was supposed to be the most exciting days of your teenage life.
- To the freshman who started to count calories and began what became an abusive relationship with the scale, who had to fight like hell to make her mind her own again — I forgive you for not knowing this would hurt so much. I forgive you for not knowing that you would soon meet your eating disorder.
- To the sophomore who basically moved into the guidance office, who left most class periods crying, who hid in the abandoned hallway when sitting in class got to be too overwhelming, who was barely able to ever show up to school in the end, I forgive you. You needed to protect yourself, and you did that.
- To the 18-year-old girl who, attendance-wise, probably shouldn’t have graduated high school, I forgive you. I forgive you for missing out on your teenage years and for “living” your life with your mental illness that you never really wanted. But I thank you for doing it. I thank you for allowing it to make you stronger, not bitter, and for letting it teach you instead of making you run.
- To the girl who had to take medical leave in her freshman year of college… and her second year and her third year, “catching up” really doesn’t mean anything in the end. Take your time, you’ll get where you want to be. I forgive you for not doing things the way you thought you needed to. You may not have done everything the way your friends have, but you found other things that are just as important. Like your voice. Don’t let anybody ever take that away from you. That is your power.
- To the girl I am now, you’re going to remain ever-changing. Don’t let your past dictate your future. I forgive you. For whatever is holding you back, or weighing on you. Whatever you need forgiveness in — I forgive you. Nobody said it would be easy. And it definitely hasn’t been. No matter how many times you drop the ball, trip over that crack in the sidewalk or fall to the ground – I’ll always forgive you.
I honestly wish I could sit here and write 100 more things I need forgiveness for — for things I did and didn’t do in recovery that I want to apologize for and would also like forgiveness on — but I think these are a good start. Recovery is the messiest, trickiest thing I’ve ever done and I know I don’t do it right all of the time, no matter how much I want to. And I have to learn to be OK with that. I think, personally, it’s important to get other people’s forgiveness if you do something like accidentally step on their toe when you’re walking around the corner, but, I think the ultimate forgiveness we need is from ourselves. And I don’t know how to tell you how to go about doing that. But I can tell you that once you’ve figured out a way, it will feel good.
Forgive yourself. You deserve it. It’s been a long time coming.
Getty Images photo via kevinhillillustration