A letter to my teenage self
©Valua Vitaly / Adobe Stock
Seaneen Molloy, The Secret Life of A Manic Depressive
A letter to my teenage self
I’m sorry that there’s so much grief in the years to come: a letter to my teenage self about growing up with a mental illness.
I’m not sure when you’re reading this letter. When would it have been the most helpful for you to find, tucked under your pillow, like a pound coin for a tooth? The magic that happens when you’re asleep. How would you feel to wake up and find this, unfolding in front of your swimming eyes, still half in a dream?
It was often hard to wake up. It was often harder to sleep. Since you could remember, you were in dread of the downstairs, the muffled monsters of nighttime arguments. The mornings are not any better, the alarm clock psst of your dad opening a can of beer in bed, and the day begins. These are the sounds that have echoed down the corridors of your years.
Nowhere ever really felt safe for you then. I remember it all. You couldn’t even live in your own body. You starved it and purged it and hurt it. The more you hurt it, the more people noticed, and the more you hated it. The more you hated it, the more you were told, “Stop seeking attention. Stop being a drama queen”. The more you were told it, the more you believed it.
I wonder if you could have read this when you were 15. You were so sad. You departed for almost a year. You wore a yellow fleece your mum bought you. She called the fuzzy duck fleece. It clung to you for every sallow day for months on end. The effort of a bath was too great. You missed nearly all your GCSE year and had to drop two subjects.
They stopped marking us as late; they were just glad on the odd days we still showed up. When you put your coat on, you didn’t take it off again. You couldn’t look into a mirror, you couldn’t separate what was real and what wasn’t, you could barely lift a hairbrush.
And then one day we rose; frenzied months followed. You kept your mum awake at night with your talking, you climbed out the window and wandered the nights. Years followed of rising and falling; kicked out of school because they thought you were too ill to continue, leaving the country, starting again, and again.
I would hope you would keep this in your pocket. You lost a lot along the way, of all the starting-overs. House moves got smaller and smaller. The world did, too. From your house to the doctors and back again. The hospital waiting room, the crisis team. The pill bottle and the water, and the long, implacable sleep of medication. I remember how you felt, that this was forever, but it wasn’t.
I’m sorry to say though that you’re mental. We’ve heard it a lot! In a lot of different ways. From a lot of different people. In a lot of different words. Bipolar disorder, self-harm, body dysmorphic disorder, borderline personality disorder, and anxiety disorder. All the disorders of being mental, coming down to one neat thing; pain. Just pain! I know it’s crap. I know you’ve been in a lot of pain. I know you feel bad still that you just wished for silence in the night as a child, and when the silence came, the echoes haunted you afterward.
People don’t care. Wait! Don’t crumple this up. I know what it’s like to have our memories locked in someone else’s head. I know all those words for that neat little thing means we’ve acted in ways that make us want to dissolve, have led us to places we can’t return from, the places people we loved have gone to and not come back from.
Don’t follow. People are more forgiving, more open, and thankfully more forgetful than you think they are right now. It is not the end of the world. None of it is. None of it ever was. Your world will go on. The more it doesn’t end, the more you will feel able to go on, too. The worst happened. It happens again and again and I promise, you’re going to be okay. You don’t have to keep running every time you rise and fall.
I wish you’d known that one day you’d feel sympathy, affection for your hated skin. That your body would do amazing things. That you’d become a mum and grow a person, and grow your heart, and fall in love. That you would rise and fall for always, but not the mountain and the cliff; you are still, a bottle bobbing gently up and down over the widest sea. That things you did and said and couldn’t forget, or be forgotten, you forgot, and were forgotten.
I’m sorry that there’s so much grief in the years to come. You know there will be. There is for everyone. You’re going to feel like it will extinguish you each time. I know it doesn’t.
You’re going to find a home. You’re going to find a place and space without that itch, without waiting for the next disaster ready to run. You’re going to unpack a bag and keep it that way. You’re going to be able to pick up a book again one day and read it. I remember that desolation, when you realized being ill and being medicated, had taken that away from you. You’ll be a bit slow – but you’ll get there.
You’re not going to feel ashamed anymore. You’re going to tell people what happened to you. And they are mostly going to listen. What happened to you happened to me. It’s happened to other people. You are not as alone as you feel you are. We were never as alone as we felt we were. In the unsleeping nights, you are going to find comfort in this. In the years to come, you’re going to be able to nap again. Sometimes, strangulating panic is going to jolt you awake. But it comes and goes. That’s ok.
Don’t give up. Don’t let the words define who you are – it is not all of you, even though it feels like it sometimes. It will, you know, but that’s okay too. You need to go through that, and own them, inhabit those words that you’ll hear and see written down about you, explore them, unpack them. That’s the way you’re going to do it.
You are not going to be standing in the big clean glittery recovery kitchen where you’re going to prepare wholesome whole foods and drink nothing but green tea. You are never going to be slim. You are going to drink so much Coke it stains your teeth and your kitchen cupboards will be overflowing with bags and debris and all the normal things of a normal life that you never thought you would live to see.
Fold me up now and remember, keep me safe. In the nights when the panic comes, take me out and read again. There is light coming through the window to see by; always.