Three years ago right around this time, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of repetitive gaslighting, harassment, and social isolation at the hands of my peers over the course of my four years of high school. Reconciling this diagnosis and understanding my psyche has been and continues to be a journey. To honor that journey three years later, I wrote the following letter to my younger self, who for the intents and purposes of this post is just beginning sophomore year. This is an effort to confront a part of myself I’ve distanced myself from, because it’s time I got to know that experience for what it is now that I’m on the other side of the subjective rollercoaster that is psychological trauma. A victory letter, if you will:
Dear 2012 Sonya,
Hello there. Yes, you, in the white polo and plaid kilt. You’re tired, I know. So tired you might not have it in you to hear my voice. Your voice. I know I haven’t been around. I know that when I shed the uniform I shed you too. In our sophomore year of college, when stuck on what you are going through, what we went through, my roommate said “what if you showed love to that part of yourself- what if you loved her?” I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how to love you. And maybe I still don’t, but this call to you is some sort of beginning, some prologue that hurts as it stretches out the past and hangs itself dry in the center of my gut. I want to say sorry. Not because of something you or I did, but for what everyone else didn’t do. I’m sorry those girls are so horrible to you. I’m sorry nobody is doing anything; will do nothing. I’m sorry it is so repetitive. I’m sorry about how they look at you, talk about you. I’m sorry they don’t look to you, talk to you. I’m sorry about the scream sitting in your throat, I’m sorry you can’t let it out. I’m sorry it’s so hard. I’m sorry everyone is telling you it’s in your head; your control. It is not. I’m sorry there’s no waking up from this, no simple path away. I’m sorry you are the only one who moves the way you do. I’m sorry you are made to feel dirty for it. I’m sorry you are silenced. But mostly, I’m sorry you are alone. You deserve better. And I’m here to say it does really truly get better. I’m going to tell you about now. About later. About a life beyond invisible. Because there is life beyond invisible. And I know you can’t see it, don’t believe in it. But I can, and I do.
Everything is different. So different that I don’t even know where to begin. For starters, I laugh everyday. And not just at stories you tell yourself. But out loud, big expressions of joy brought on by friends. Yeah, real friends. They walk with me. By my side. They ask how I’m doing, because they care. It took a long time and a lot of therapeutic hours, but I no longer wonder if it’s real, worried how long I have before they evaporate into thin air. Now, I live in a world where I can tell others I’m tired. There’s no faking what body can do. I live in my vessel fully. I use a wheelchair. And a crutch. I know that freaks you out but please try to trust me when I say it’s empowering. I choose what I do with my body, and when I do it. It’s this huge job that is sometimes terrifying in its huge-ness, but we’re doing it, and we’re doing it well. I stand taller, when I choose to stand. I flirt and flirt and flirt; I know myself entirely separately from who your classmates think you are. Which I know is who you think you are. I’m sorry that is the only person you know yourself to be. I’m loud, and I am soft. I don’t think quite so much.
There are still residuals of your experience held mostly in my chest. I apologize more than I need to, for things that are not our fault. I have to remind myself to choose trust; to go with the flow; to not run away at the first signs of exclusivity. I am safe. And I am still working to believe that. But at least I can confidently say I believe you. I believe everything really did happen. I believe all the lunches eaten alone, all the bathroom tears, all the times you were talked over, stepped on, the recipient of an eye roll, the walks alone, the averted eyes, being blatantly ignored, and then wondering if you are really there, the struggle to understand why, the struggle to be heard in that struggle, the unwillingness to get out of bed; the unwillingness to walk into school in the morning, the weight you feel leave you when you walk out and see mom smiling at you in the car, and the weight that returns the next day when you have to go through it all again. And I am writing this to you now because it didn’t go away as soon as we graduate. It is as real today as it was then.
I am being intentionally vague in how we got here, the events that led me right to this triumph, because if time travel is at all real and you get a glimpse of this letter in some fever dream or daydream about a life beyond the polo and blue kilt, I don’t want my hindsight to affect your foresight. Make no mistake, we got here because you did the work. You cried and spoke and screamed and questioned and loved yourself and stuck it out, when maybe we wouldn’t have if you knew all the details of what was still to come. But I will tell you one thing, we have best friends. True blue, here-for-the-ugly, laugh ‘til you cry best friends who I know the ins and outs of, the day to day schedules of. A strange and bold concept to you, no doubt, with your supports right now so far away geographically and held at arms length. But that golden thing called friendship won’t always be so distant. There’s one in particular that I just can’t wait for you to meet- a forever friend, if you can believe. I told her about an ableist thing said to me, because she has told me to trust her, and I did. She said “You are working so hard and I see it and want you to know that I see it.” I see it. I see you. I’m seen. I’m heard. I’m here.
With love and Solidarity,
P.S- We will learn that so many people are going through versions of exactly what you are. So many, in fact, that a whole musical was written about it. It’s called Dear Evan Hansen. These are lyrics to a song called Waving Through a Window: “On the outside, always looking in. Will I ever be more than I’ve always been? ‘Cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass, I’m waving through a window I try to speak, but nobody can hear. So I wait around for an answer to appear While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass I’m waving through a window, oh Can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?” I hope you find solace in that, as I have.
Today, this is Where She Stands