Dear Teenage Sam,
I want to tell you where I was this morning.
I woke up with the California sunshine peaking through the blinds, falling on my face, colliding with my eyes. You wouldn’t believe how beautiful it is, waking up like that. It’s my favorite way to wake up, and we get to wake up this way every day now.
While I was drinking my coffee, I was curled up on the couch crying. You and I don’t do much crying these days, because you fell in love, moved across the country, and found an antidepressant that helped you to understand what happiness actually feels like.
(We used to cry a lot. You never understood why – but I promise, you will one day.)
I have a brilliant friend who says that recovering from depression is kind of similar to wearing high heels for a long time – that moment when your feet touch the ground, and you remember what walking is supposed to feel like.
When you wiggle your toes, stretch your feet, and remember what solid ground is like underneath you.
This morning I was crying because I finally understood what that really meant.
Put another way:
Yesterday, I lit a lighter by myself for the first time.
We were always afraid of fire, you know, afraid of something catching fire or getting burned. 25 years old, and I’d never made a fire until last night.
(And I think this can account for, at least in part, why you’ve never taken up smoking cigarettes.)
When I held it in my hand, I knew at last what it was like to hold fire. What it was like to glow brightly without getting burned.
And I learned that it wasn’t fire that we were so afraid of – it was the belief that we could never be trusted with something like that. That, given the chance, we would always destroy something good. That we could come so close, and draw so near, but we could never control the fire.
(And I think this can account for, at least in part, why bonfires and fireplaces always frightened you a little.)
But last night, I held the light between my fingers. I watched the flame flickering and dancing in the dark, and I finally understood that I could trust myself again.
Sam, do you understand what I mean?
I mean that, one morning, you will wake up and know what it’s like to move through the world without aching feet, the ground reliable and solid and soft underneath you. And you’ll know joy not just as the absence of pain, but the PRESENCE of something.
Something ecstatic and whole and hopeful that you didn’t know you could feel.
I mean that, one night, you will know what it feels like to be bright and unstoppable and in motion, without fearing what might happen if you get carried away – if you love too hard, if you feel too much, if you trust yourself too deeply. You will love, you will feel, and you will trust with beautiful abandon.
You will know what it’s like to be in awe of yourself, startled but not afraid.
I promise, there will come a morning – tears sliding down like beautiful gems scattered across your cheeks – and you will say underneath your breath, “This is the way I was supposed to feel.”
This moment will be made possible only because you survived.
I can’t stop you from trying. I know that. I know this because I spent many years looking for you behind closed doors, flashbacks deceiving me, trying to spare you before you stopped breathing.
I know this because I remember how desperate you were to end your pain. There wasn’t a single force in the universe that could’ve intervened.
(When you’re older, you’ll become acquainted with emergency rooms, and meet the doctors that will ultimately diagnose and save you.)
I forgave you a long time ago – for this, and all the trauma to follow – from the moment you woke up, as the room spun and closed in all around you and I knew you needed someone to care for you.
You need to be brave. And you were brave, Sam, you have always been brave.
This is a remarkable thing you’ll learn about yourself soon – that you might always struggle with the impulse to hurt yourself, but you will never lose the instinct to care for yourself, stitching up your own wounds.
Surviving is what you do. You will survive this, too.
I know this now, having courageously and stubbornly picked myself up so many times, a lesson I learned from watching you.
If you or someone you know are thinking about suicide, you can always call:
- The National Suicide Prevention Helpline: 1-800-273-8255
- The Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQIA+ youth: 1-866-488-7386
- Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860