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To My Former Self Before My Turning Point With Chronic Pain and Depression

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As I sat down to write today, I let my curser blink for a very long time. I finally had an epiphany! I would write a letter to myself. The self I was before tragedy, chronic pain, loss and mental health crept in with a vengeance. After all, who needs better understanding of my disability than my former self.

For the record, I was born with a disability, cerebral palsy to be exact, so my former self is well aware of what it is like to struggle with having a disability on a day-to-day basis. The disability itself is not new. The other challenges I now have to face are. Sometimes it feels like the after-effects of the medical challenges ripple like aftershocks of a major earth-shattering earthquake. Where do I begin? How do I articulate what is going through my mind? Well, this is my attempt to put it all into perspective, so here goes:

Dear Former Self,

I know you’re angry and scared. I feel the frustration seeping through every fiber of your body as you struggle with everyday tasks. Putting on your pants in the morning feels like you have completed a triathlon! I know you don’t understand why all of this had to happen to you, especially since you’ve already gone through so much. Twenty-five orthopedic surgeries, half your life in a wheelchair and hospital-bound. Seizures, migraine, chronic pain, bipolar II disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. I know it feels like the list goes on and on.

So why did the diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis suddenly have to happen when you had just turned 28 years old? Why do you feel like a geriatric patient at 33 years of age? I know you want the answers to these questions. I know you ask “why?” at least 50 times a day. The truth is, I have no idea why any of it had to occur. You need to stop asking “why,” because you will never truly find the answer you are looking for. I do know this: We are not the same person that we were before, and this is why that is completely OK.

You have grown stronger with each new challenge. Stronger than you realize. With each day of physical pain, you’ve managed to conquer it, even if you felt like you were only going to fail. When the pain got so intense — to the point where you crumbled and sat hysterically sobbing on the bathroom floor — you somehow managed to still fight and get through that day. Those little moments might not seem like much, but, oh, they are! See, Self, you never gave up, no matter how much you felt like you wanted to.

I know our Former Self never had to deal with the darkness of mental health challenges, and that struggle feels like you are drowning, despite being able to swim. I know the hospital stay in the psych ward at 25 made you feel like a complete failure, and that your life was ruined. That was the turning point of when our Former Self transformed into our New Self. You see, even in soul-crushing depression, we managed to rise, escape the bowels of hell, blood, fire and all, and conquer our new demons. However scary, our perceptions changed, and we merged together to become one new person.

We now realize it is OK to be different. It is OK to hurt on all levels. Our empathy has grown, for ourself and others. We now understand our journey was not meant to be easy. We’ve learned that life is not meant to be easy. If it were, it would not be so joyous when we have good days — and the good days far outweigh the bad ones. We’ve learned that like the mighty phoenix, a part of us had to die and rise again in order to be a stronger, wiser, braver, version of ourself. We are not the same person. We have more wounds, but the wounds are becoming scars which means that we have truly lived.

So Former Self, you have indeed grown and you are not as “worthless” as you once thought you were. Even though you now have greater challenges, your perseverance, courage and depth have never wavered. You learned you had to go to the darkness in order to truly appreciate the light. You learned you need to take a step back, breathe, and take your life on a day-to-day basis. You learned you aren’t exactly who you were before; however, your New Self needed the tenacity you had as a child to get through these new, different challenging days.

You learned how to wing it, and that some days are truly harder than others — on all levels of your existence. You’ve come to accept you are not perfect, but you don’t have to be. You’ve learned it’s OK to fail. You just have to pick yourself up and try again. So, Self, even though it can be confusing, isolating, overwhelming and scary, you are a lot braver than you ever thought possible. Keep up the good work. After all, you are a wonderful work in progress.


Your soul

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Originally published: April 6, 2016
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