By now, I’ve tossed out a good handful of well-filling tools to find joy. I believe very deeply in all of them, but perhaps none more than my Letter. I wrote this letter to myself almost two years ago during a joy-filled moment of my life. I’ve tucked it away in my desk drawer to pull out on the dark days. There is no more powerful tool than my own voice – the voice of my strongest and most joyful self – telling me that it will be alright.
My dear CJ,
You’re opening The Letter today, so I’m going to assume it’s been a bad one. Not like a bad hair day… I know you, and you can plow through those with a cup of good chai tea and a well-placed headband. Sweetheart, you don’t go to The Letter for just any crummy day. It must be a dark day. Maybe it’s even been a dark week, or a dark month. I hope that you haven’t waited very long to open The Letter while you were hurting, but if you have, that’s okay. Please don’t beat yourself up. It’s been here waiting for you, whenever you were ready.
Where are you right now while you are reading this? Are you huddled on the bathroom floor? Are you curled in your bed, zombie-eyed after watching six straight, mind-numbing hours of television in the middle of the night? Or are you at work, looking for all the world like you’ve got it pulled together when you’re actually falling apart? I know. Believe me, I remember those places well.
More than the places, I remember the feelings. Can I hazard a guess about how you’re feeling right now? You are exhausted – straight up, bone-deep exhausted – but somehow still restless, always desperately wanting to be somewhere other than where you are. You want to escape from yourself. You are lonely. You feel like you have pushed away everyone who might have cared for you, and no one wants to be burdened with your glum, boring self anyway. But, more than anything, you feel like it will be like this forever.
That is a lie. Stop whatever you are doing right now. I don’t care if you halfheartedly skim over the rest of the letter, as long as you read this. Depression plays a lot of dirty tricks with you, honey, but this one is the dirtiest. It wasn’t always like this. It won’t always be like this. You cannot see this right now, I know. Depression blocks out your peripheral vision so that all you can see is the darkness that immediately surrounds you. But I can zoom out and see the bigger picture. And trust me here – I have never said a truer word – it is beautiful.
I’ve enclosed a picture in this letter. I want you to look at it now. It’s you, see? You are absolutely radiant with joy. Do you remember that moment? You were leaping off a rock into the water with friends after a spur-of-the-moment trip to the beach. That wasn’t a different life; that wasn’t a different woman, as far away as she seems. That woman is you, and me. The joy of that woman is in you – right now, right here – just as much as it was in that picture.
Now, look at this letter. Look at your own curly, sprawling handwriting and your doodles all over the margins. This is you, my friend. My words to you are your very own words. You are holding in your hands living proof that depression does not get the final say. When you wrote this letter, you were sitting in a patch of sunlight, sipping a giant mug of tea, feeling fluid and radiant after practicing yoga. Don’t get me wrong: life wasn’t “easy” then, and it isn’t easy now. But in that patch of sunlight, you were so sure that you had everything you needed for that moment. You were so full of joy.
Let me say it again in case you missed it the first time: this joyful woman is one and the same as you. She’s probably hiding under some serious piles of self-hatred and anxiety because you might not have thought about her in awhile. But believe me: she is there, and I have seen her rise up and breathe life into you.
CJ, listen to me. Wherever you are right now, go outside. I do not care if it is cold, or if it’s raining, or if you haven’t changed out of your pajamas and it’s 5:00 pm. Just haul your butt out the door. I really want to be gentle with you, honey, but we’re working against some pretty nasty forces here, so forgive me if I’m a little pushy.
When you get outside, take a deep breath. Fresh air is like rat poison for depression. Remember that. For a few minutes, your only job is breathe in and out. That’s all you have to do. You are resuscitating the joyful woman inside you. As you’re breathing, think about that woman. You don’t have to feel happy right here and now. You might not feel “happy” for a little while. You just have to remember that she exists. No matter how silly you think you sound, tell yourself, “I know that I will be joyful again.” Even if you don’t believe it. Say it anyway. I’ll believe it enough for the both of us.
When you get back inside, find your list of well-filling joys. Pick just one thing on this list. Maybe it’s taking a shower. Maybe it’s scrambled eggs. We don’t have to be fancy here. Just pick one thing and do it. Then pick one thing tomorrow. Healing is slow, and it isn’t always glamorous. That’s OK.
Breathe deep, CJ. And tell that liar Depression to bug off. (You can use other words if you’d like. I won’t tell). It will not always be like this. If you need a reminder, I will always be right here.
All my love.