Letter to a Shy Girl

There you are, sitting in a classroom, surrounded by other children who are nothing like yourself. They speak out loudly and confidently, they seem fearless in the face of danger, you envy their every move. Their effortless banter taunts you, it questions your twisted and tormented mind. Why is it so difficult for you and so easy for the rest of them? You wish the floor would swallow you up, you crave the comfort of dark and hidden spaces where you are invisible and have no need to justify your existence. Wouldn’t it all be so much easier if the world was like that? But it isn’t. You spend your days in a constant torment – wanting to blend into the background and then, at times, wanting to scream at the top of your lungs so they would all turn and acknowledge that you are actually still there.

There are lists with your name missing because you didn’t have the courage to raise your hand. There are punishments from teachers who get you and the naughty girl with a similar name mixed up (It took all of your depleted energy to speak up about that one, but once more you were ignored) There are days spent alone creating imaginary worlds in your mind because the reality of the real world was too painful to bear. You didn’t understand why you were like this, what made you retreat from society and disappear entirely. This feeling will never leave you as you get older, it will simply manifest itself in different ways. You will find ways to cope with this monster inside that destroys your self-worth.

There will be solace in pretending you are someone else and playing this out. Like a kind of euphoric release because at last they see you and appreciate you. You will try and find validation in the arms of men, men that will never give you what you need. You will try and drown out feelings of loss and betrayal by turning to the bottle – staring at your reflection in the dawn light and wondering where it all went so wrong. There will be days when you are unable to leave your room, when the thought of going out and facing people is a sickening and impossible dream.

You will once more become the Shy Girl in the classroom, afraid to take her place and speak her mind…

But the light spills through the clouds just enough to keep you going. You find beauty and peace within the chaos of your mind. Then you realise that all those years of quiet and shame were a training ground and now it is time to step up because you have so many things to say and do and time is ticking by.

You will always be that Shy Girl, you will always have this Monster in your Mind, but you must live with it, it is part of who you are and will always be.

“It’s all in your mind” they say…Yes, don’t I know that.


Letter to the Homebound

I have prayed for you to die. No, that’s not exactly true. I don’t dare pray that because every time I start to think it, I’m overwhelmed with guilt. I pray for you to live: to actually try and get better, to listen to the doctors who tell you you could be doing x, y, or z instead of lying to them and saying you’re actually doing it. I pray for you to have less pain so that you can see hope in your life and have the optimism to make change happen.

And yes, I have wanted you to die, because you are not living. You used to be the hardest worker I know. Now it’s too much work for you to leave the room to use the toilet. I used to think you could do anything, and now you prefer to do nothing.

When I was a child, we sat in the shade of beautiful tall trees and you told me you would never live like I see you right now– you would never want to be stuck in a chair. And here you are. I am frustrated by the life you are missing by being imprisoned in your four walls: playing with your grandchildren, supervising home improvements, visiting new restaurants, seeing my new house. Sitting in the shade of beautiful tall trees.

It would be difficult if you died. I love you so deeply and have wonderful memories of you. I would be flooded with guilt, missing all those moments we could have had together. To give you just one more hug. To laugh over a bad pun. To play you just one more song on the piano. To ask your advice about my house. For now, I can still do all those things. Why would I wish you weren’t here?

I might not be so negative if it weren’t for your caregiver. You see, my heart breaks for your spouse, who is similarly hindered from taking on new adventures because you need so much care. Your spouse, who worked beside you all these many years, would love to travel, would love to move to a smaller apartment, perhaps to play weekly games of cards with friends, or just to stay overnight with relatives. But you need someone to get you your food, to change the dressing on your sores, to bathe you, to monitor your medications, and listen to your angry rants. These things take their toll.

So many things would be easier if you died. We would not have to see you this way. You would be free of pain. Your spouse would be free to use the remaining years and enjoy life.

But I can’t say this out loud. The mist of these words hangs unspoken in the air when I talk with my family and friends, and I can only suppose they have had similar thoughts– thoughts none of us dare to put into words. So I will just say I love you. And my wish for you is never to forget that.


Letter to my Bald Head

We’ve been together almost two years now, though these days you’re not as naked as you used to be.

When my world fell apart, I thought I would beat the odds and get to keep your coat of armour. I was wrong. When my world fell apart, it smashed your armour into a million pieces and left you bare. Vulnerable. Weak.

Your dark brown dress flowed over my shoulders and tumbled down my back. For as long as I can remember, your armour was the part of me that made me feel the most feminine. When the rest of my body went through tumultuous changes – my skin paling and yellowing, losing all elasticity and natural shape – and I felt like I was quite literally losing my mind to the medication-induced brain fog, I was certain that somehow your armour would stay and help me feel like myself.

That’s all I wanted. Through all of this. The last two years. I just wanted to feel like myself.

I was so afraid to see you stripped. I put it off as long as possible and when I finally had the courage to see you, it felt like I was meeting you for the first time. I was both exhaustingly sad and incredibly delighted. I didn’t want you this way, but I had always thought my skull was oddly shaped. You proved that theory wrong. You weren’t so bad; even with that scar from the ice hockey puck that hit me half a decade ago. That was a story I had never shared with my mom but, in light of the scar’s exposure, I can now laugh about it with her. You allowed me to let her in on a part of my life that she hadn’t known before.

You remind me, every moment of every day, that I’ve been ill. That I’ve stared Death in the eyes and told her ‘Hell No!’ That I’ve found a way to continue my life despite Her efforts to stop me.

You remind me, every moment of every day, that no one’s recovery is the same. Forget the aches, the nausea, and the disintegration of my stomach lining. Forget the days of sleeping nearly twenty hours and the fact that I may never fully recover from all the side effects.

That was then.

This is now.

You and here and now you show the world a false representation of me.

I am no longer ill. I’m cured. I’m moving on with my life.

Sure, there are days when depression consumes me. There are days when I feel like I can’t move on. There are days when I am so afraid that I will get a phone call from my medical team telling me that we have to start over. There are days when I wonder if you will ever be dressed again. If your armour will ever be returned to you. If you’ll ever reclaim your former glory. There are days when I wonder if I’ll ever look healthy again… Be normal again…

But there are also days when I love you without your armour. When I relish in the ability to wear cute hats the way I never could when you were dressed. Days where it’s ungodly hot and I can expose you to the world without shame, allowing a slight breeze to cool me down, without you being bogged down by the weight of your armour.

I love you.

I hate you.

It doesn’t matter which or when. You are part of me now. I am alive and you better be sure that I will live this life to the fullest. Despite your nakedness.


Letter to My Future Self

When are you reading this letter, I wonder?  I can’t see you from where I sit.  Is it a few years from now, on a milestone birthday, as you sit and reflect on your life?  Or well into your dotage, when the physical world is smaller and harder to navigate, even as your mind stretches to cover great distances through time and memory.

What will you say to me, I wonder?  Will you tell me I was right to be scared of life?  That the world, in its hubris, succeeded in destroying empathy and compassion?  That the noble concept of community, where we all accepted each other with our flaws and foibles, dwindled as the lights were turned out on us all?  Every one of us living only for ourselves?  Will I still feel alone, often lonely, always awkward and suffocated, sitting uncomfortably drenched in unspent potential?  Did potential even exist for me or was it a dream?

Or will you tell me I was right to expect kindness, of myself and of others?  That the journey was leading somewhere, that fate was guiding me carefully towards my destination.  That my efforts to create intelligent, meaningful connections paid off. That I found love and love found me, in a million different ways, shapes and forms.  That peace descended over life so completely that the unforgiving boredom of routine, the frustrations of work, and the mercurial moods of life’s companions never wholly succeeded in weakening my spirit or resolve.  That I was able to see beyond the nonsense of daily existence, not assimilated into a culture of discontent and cynicism, but rather that I was right in trusting in life, in believing the universe to be open, benevolent and giving.

Will you laugh at my fear, I wonder?  Not mirthless schadenfreude, but a gentle laugh, a knowing laugh, an acknowledgement of my irrepressible mind?  A caring laugh partnered with a quiet whisper reaching back over the years, comforting me, willing me to have faith in the fact that simply by being here, I am enough.  That I created myriad opportunities to bless and be blessed.  That I made a difference, significant and not, simply by existing.  That each breath I took meant something to someone beyond myself.  That my being able to draw breath actually began to hold meaning for me.

Will you tell me to be healthier?  To protect my physicality from the toll of all those childhood falls?  Will you caution me to keep my heart strong and my mind stronger?  Will you ask me to pay more attention, be present for myself?

Will you cry for me, knowing I have not seen what is to come?  Will you advise me to stand still, not venture forward, take another path?  What regrets will you hold for me, what wisdom will you impart?  Will you tell me to be more outspoken, more brave, take more risks?  Or will you tell me to simply let go, accept that everything is unfolding just as it needs to.  That life is simply life.  That I am simply me.  That everything contained within simply is.

Will you chastise me for worrying so much?  Will you shake your head at my timidity?  Perhaps feel a swell of anger at the time I wasted in useless contemplation?  Will you pick up on my missteps and mistakes, cursing me for not believing in myself?  Or will you be kind to me – your younger self – understanding, forgiving and patient.  Will you know this was the only journey I could take?  The only way to reach you?

Will you tell me I found happiness?  That happiness is truly possible?  Or will you tell me it is enough to settle into a comfortable contentment?  Will you share that living moment to moment is all that is required to complete a life or enrich a soul?  Will we reach the end of our life ready to leave?  Will it be easy for us to draw our last breath?

When are you reading this letter, I wonder?  What words do you have for me?  I just can’t see you from where I sit.


Letter to the Abandoned

I saw a friend on the train today. Someone I haven’t seen in eight years. He’s come so far from the little boy I remember growing up with – the cheeky one who used to check out girls’ bottoms through an empty kitchen towel roll and rate them on how ‘delicious’ they looked while wiggling his eyebrows at the other boys. But that was fifteen years ago. He’s in his mid-twenties now and works as a corporate finance solicitor. He looked so handsome in his suit, so smart. It made me think of you.

Every once in a while we see each other, you and I, and, for me at least, things have been awkward when we do. I have so much guilt regarding you; guilt I didn’t realise I had for a long time. When I cut ties with your family, I thought it was just your sister I was leaving behind, but it wasn’t. I was leaving you too. The promise I made to your dad all those years ago wasn’t just about never leaving her, it was about never leaving either of you. I had promised to stay by your side, to always be in your corner, to look out for you no matter what the future entailed. When he died and your sister shut me out, I backed out of that promise – I figured that you can’t be there for someone who doesn’t want you anymore. Now I realise I did so thinking only of your sister.

But it wasn’t just her I grew up with.

It wasn’t just her that mattered.

When we were children, you used to laugh at me being scared of spiders. I remember one incident where you ripped the legs off a rather large one and threw them at me as I tried to get away. I was standing on the bed, screaming, and you were blocking the door so I couldn’t get out. Then there was that Hallowe’en when you deliberately terrified me with the floating pumpkin outside the window, or the time you locked me under the house in the dark. Had that been our relationship in a nutshell, this guilt wouldn’t exist. But we had our good times too. Whether it was playing cops and robbers or baking shortbread biscuits with me, saving me from having to eat any more tofu or even taking me to orientation at university… You were my brother, in every good way and every bad way possible.

But the memory that stands out the most is when you and I were in hospital together the night your dad passed away. I remember standing outside the door and listening to you crying inside, begging him to get up and go home with you. I had never seen you so vulnerable. If I’m being honest, it hadn’t ever occurred to me that you, of all people, who held so much power and sway when we were children, could be so helpless. I couldn’t think of a single word of comfort then and, when it fell to me to say something, all that was running through my head was that you were the man of the house now. You were the one that had to go home and tell your mum and sister he wasn’t ever going to walk through those doors again. You were the one that had to take his place at the head of your family and be the provider, the level head. I saw you at your weakest.

It broke my heart.

And then a few months passed, and you came over. You were a little stronger. Not talking too much, still not laughing or eating more than an apple, but there was still a strength there, brewing just beneath the surface. That’s when I realised it wasn’t just your sister I had left, it was you too. I left you in a house where, often, you were standing opposed by everyone else beneath that roof with no one to back you up. Another few months passed, and another, and another until you were talkative, healthy looking, smart. I couldn’t tell if you were happy or if you were faking it, but I hope with all of my heart it was the former.

I have this dream for you. It’s something that has been in my head ever since the rose coloured glasses came off and I learnt of the atrocities our family was living through. Now, after everything that’s happened, now that neither your dad or I no longer have your back in that house, it’s grown. It was a dream I shared with your dad. With the majority of the family, in fact. We all spoke about it often…

I dream you get out.

I hope and I pray that one day I will see you smiling and know, without a single speck of doubt, that it’s a sincere smile. That behind it is genuine happiness and love.

I wish, so deeply, that you stumble across love – that you find a woman who is strong and beautiful and smart. Someone who will take you out of the house that has suffocated and poisoned so much of our family. Someone who will rid your life of all that negativity, who will show you what love truly is, what family truly is. We haven’t really had that in this family, have we? The negativity, aggression and grief is far too deep rooted.

I pray that you have children one day too. You’ll be a brilliant dad, you know. Yours had so much love to give and he didn’t get the chance. But you’re so much like him. I see all his goodness in you, you just need someone to help you let it out. Someone that pushes you to soar instead of stifling you and caging you.

I’m sorry I had no thought for what would happen when I left. I’m sorry I avoided you and did everything in my power to keep away. I’m sorry for abandoning you. It’s too late to change it now, but there’s one thing I need you to know because it will never change: No matter when we see each other next, whether it’s in another few months, a few years or even a few decades, and no matter what happens in between, know you were, are and always will be, my brother.