The year had only just begun when I heard my psychiatrist, his voice quiet on the other end of the phone, telling me to go to the emergency room. “Will you go?” he asked me.
And I remember in that moment feeling like my cells were crawling and clawing in my body. The mere state of “being” was painful. I wanted to ask that doctor if he knew what he was asking me to do. How could he ask me to stay when everything hurt this much?
Last January, I couldn’t think of one good reason not to jump in front of the next train.
There were a million reasons not to.
Here’s what I would have missed: Trying my first veggie burger at Burger King. Learning I had obsessive-compulsive disorder. Eating sushi for the first time. Getting the first job that I’ve ever loved. Finding the best therapist I’ve ever had. Adopting a cat named Pancake that makes my heart so much fuller. Discovering how much I love yoga and learning more about astrology.
Buying the best pair of boots I’ve ever owned. Listening to Lorde’s best album and witnessing Kesha’s… everything.
Holding a dear friend’s hand while they waited for an ambulance. Crying with my partner when their father died. Learning a best friend’s new name. Trying out the word “no” for the first time. Looking in the mirror at my body and feeling gender euphoria for the first time. Figuring out (finally) that I actually am an introvert. Remembering what it feels like to believe in magic (and making a little magic of my own).
All the times I picked up the phone when someone needed me. All the times I said the right thing to someone that needed to hear it. All the times my being here made someone else feel like they should stay. All the times I said “I love you” and had the honor of hearing back, “I love you, too.”
All of the many, many moments this year when I woke up and thought, “I’m so glad I’m still here.”
It wasn’t easy. I relapsed spectacularly. I had to leave (what I thought was) my dream job. I almost lost my apartment along with it, and came within inch of losing everything else. I had to watch Trump celebrate his inauguration on a flickering screen in a psych ward, next to a poster from 1995 with “stress-busting” tips like, “Stop worrying so much.”
I was in that hospital for a week. In the last two days, it rained so hard that my ceiling leaked, drenching my group therapy handouts on the shelf below. You know, the handouts that were supposed to teach me how to be well again. And for a moment, I remember being flustered, thinking that maybe I should just throw them away.
I laid them out carefully to dry.
When I was discharged, I brought them home with me. And I started to rebuild, day by day.
If you’re reading this, it’s probably safe to say it wasn’t easy for you this year, either. I won’t presume to know why and I won’t tell you how to feel. But from one survivor to another, there were a couple things I wanted to shout out into the big internet void, hoping maybe the right person will read them.
Because you and I? We got through it. And the mere act of being here is a tremendous thing.
1. You are remarkably strong.
How do I know that? I guess I don’t exactly. But I have a hunch. Because it takes real strength to keep yourself alive, especially when your brain isn’t cooperating. You’ve had years now to throw in the towel, and yet, here we both are.
And yes, I suspect there were setbacks and close calls and tantrums, even, and all of that is valid. There was rage and grief, because if life is anything, it’s definitely not fair. I don’t doubt that it took everything in you, maybe even things you aren’t proud of, to keep going. And looking at where you are now, you may feel scared that you don’t have what it takes to rebuild.
But you’re here. Holy shit. You’re still here. And of all the jobs you have, staying alive is the most important one. You had the guts and resilience it took to survive this year. That was you.
Sometimes it was recklessly running into battle because, fuck it, what do I have to lose? Sometimes it was having an impulse, and choosing the less destructive one instead. And sometimes it was swallowing the pills you didn’t want to take, dragging yourself out of the bed you didn’t want to leave, or slowly sipping that nutritional shake to make sure your body had something, anything to sustain itself.
Whatever you had to do, you did it. And you should be so, so proud of that.
2. You belong here.
There have been more moments than I can count when I wondered if I ever should’ve been born. If there was really a place for me in this world. If someone like me could exist someplace like this.
That’s been an open wound from the moment I realized I wasn’t like most people (though, to be truthful, I have to wonder if there was ever a time I didn’t feel that way). I was queer, I was transgender, I was traumatized, I was sensitive, and by most accounts, I was crazy.
I certainly wasn’t the kid my parents were expecting. And I was never going to be the kind of person this world was built for.
I was lucky to find people, though, who taught me that while this world wasn’t built for us, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for us here.
And we might be a little rough around the edges. We might be a little wild, a little unsteady, and a little weird. But we find ways to grow no matter where we’re planted. Some of us make art, create zines, speak in poems. Some of us throw our bodies on the line for shit that matters. We speak truth to power, we stare down our fears and our demons, we exist despite everything that tells us we should not.
We show up for one another. We take up space. And we keep trying, knowing that there are kids like us growing up in the world that are going to need us to look up to.
We keep trying for them, the way we wished someone had been there for us.
…one of them was probably born, just now. (Let’s hope they find themselves a little faster than it took for us to find ourselves.)
This is the legacy we’re here to build, the legacy we’ll someday hand down to them.
3. Please be gentle with yourself.
Be gentle. Be soft.
There is an inner child within all of us, I think. Someone who’s doing their best in a scary world they were never prepared to enter. Someone who, every day, is hanging on tight as life does what it does best — changes.
And just when we think it’s settled, it changes some more. Sometimes for the best, but often for the hell of it, and almost never in the ways that we expect.
You are allowed to make mistakes. You are allowed to be messy, emotional, unsure. You are allowed to be afraid (in fact, I’d be surprised if you weren’t). And being human in all of these ways? That doesn’t make you “too much,” no matter what anyone else says.
You deserve compassion. You deserve patience, understanding. You deserve all the space and support you require to grow.
It’s easy to ruminate on what you wish you’d done, or the ways in which you disappointed yourself or someone else. That’s a feeling I know all too well; I think everyone, especially folks with mental health struggles, knows how that feels (which isn’t exactly comforting, but hey, at least you’re in good company).
I hope that when you find yourself going there, you remember what I’m telling you now: You are worthy of kindness and care. And whenever you can, I hope you’ll give yourself permission to receive it.
4. You aren’t alone.
I don’t say this to you as an empty platitude or promise. I say this because it’s the truth.
Mental illness and trauma can so easily cut us off from our connection to the outside world, making everything and everyone feel like it’s a million miles away.
But feeling lonely is not the same as being alone. And I can almost guarantee you that someone out there has walked in those same shoes before — or at least wears the same size.
This year, I was finally diagnosed with “pure obsessional,” a very difficult form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. I spent a lot of years with painful and confusing obsessions that I couldn’t control — and it convinced me that I was some kind of monster, the sort of monster that no one could ever understand.
When I got my diagnosis, a whole new world slowly opened up to me. I started to learn just how many people in the world were a lot like me, even people that I knew and talked to every day.
Shame and stigma are like a fog sometimes. We can see ourselves and our struggles so clearly, but it’s difficult to see anybody else. But that doesn’t mean other folks aren’t out there.
And if you keep searching, keep reaching out, the figures in the distance will become clearer. There is someone that’s been waiting for your story.
I know it’s terrifying to venture out into that fog, not knowing who’s out there. I know it’s scary to be vulnerable, to ask for help, or to share a piece of yourself with someone else. More than once, I’ve wished I could gather up the words I just said and shove them all back into my mouth.
But then someone says those words — “I thought I was the only one,” “You feel that way, too?” or my personal favorite, “YES!” with a bunch of frantic hand motions or snapping — and it suddenly feels worth it. Or at the very least, it gives us just enough courage to keep venturing out.
So here’s to this year and everything it took for us to survive it.
And the next one, too, whatever it may bring. Here’s to another year of stumbling through the fog. Here’s to all the people who waved their flashlights, giving us something to follow; here’s to all the shoulders we cried on, and the right words that came at the right time.
For what it’s worth — and I really hope it’s worth something — some very tender boy in California (hello, that’s me!) sends his love. You survived. And I, for one, am so glad that you did.
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