All The Advice I Have

Someone I know via Teh Interwebs has a teenager daughter who is in a pysch hospital. I asked if I could write the girl a letter. Below, with a few very minor details removed, is that letter. 

Reading about your hospitalization really struck a chord in me and I felt compelled to write to you.

I’m a bit hesitant to tell you too much of my story because I don’t want to trigger you. but I do want to tell you enough so that you will trust that I know of what I speak. So I’ll just tell you this: when I was a teenager I was a complete disaster.  I had issues with self-injury and food and panic and anxiety. Eventually, I was briefly hospitalized. I was furious. I’m sure you were too. There can’t be a whole lot of things that are worse then feeling like your parents are imprisoning you. And of course pysch hospitals always suck. The fact is no one has come up with a really good method for dealing with hospitalized teens. If your parents were like most good parents—and they are—they made the least bad decision, putting you somewhere where you can’t hurt yourself.

I know it sucks. And what sucks even more is that after some combo of meds and therapy has gotten you past the most dangerous part, you will still be left with the hard part. Meds and therapy, as I’m sure you know by now, can’t fix everything. They can’t fix the parts that are so deep down you don’t even know they are broken. And even then, you can’t do it by yourself. You have to use therapy, and meds, and friends, and family, and dogs, books, hot baths, drawing, movies, music, dancing, long walks…every single resource you have, and all the ones you don’t know you have.

Some days will be terrible. Some days it will feel like you walking uphill, in the mud, while hail hits your face and wind pushes you backwards. But you have to keep walking, because it’s the only way to survive. And you have to work hard. Harder, even, then you can imagine. You will have to examine how your choices hurt your family, and how their choices hurt you. You’ll have to look hard at the places you’d rather run from. It will be tough. You will not enjoy it.

I knew an anorexic once. She spoke English as a second language. She was about to go to a treatment facility in Germany and she had a choice: she told me that she would either get better or she would die.

She got better. She is also the girl who told me that being in the hospital was like climbing a mountain—going up was so hard, but then you get to go down.

And that’s the good part. Actually, that’s the great part, the amazing part, the part that I am grateful for every single day: once you have begin to do that work, things get better. Oh, for awhile there will be still be bad days. But then there will be fewer and fewer. When you are older, this whole period will be an anecdote. The kind of thing you tell your girlfriends about in a bar. It will not define the rest of your life. It will just be something you remember occasionally, something you’ve worked so very hard to get past. You will have drawn the line, and you will be on the right side of it. And you’ll stay there, if you work at it.

It isn’t fair, of course, that you have to work at what comes naturally to most people. You can be angry about that, and resent it, but you can’t change it. All you get to do is fight like hell, until the day comes when you no longer have to.

So work hard. Let yourself talk. Let yourself be open and honest, even it feels like it will shatter you. It won’t.

I send you all my best.

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