On this very night 8 years ago, I made the decision to try and end the continuous emotional pain I felt daily because no method of relief worked for me. Being alive was an excruciatingly painful task every day because nothing got better and my mind went to dark places that should never be visited. If I had the chance to appear as an apparition in the form of a letter to my 18 year old self exactly 8 years ago, here’s what I would write:
You probably won’t believe what I have to tell you, but at least I know I already have your attention because you’re looking for any reason to keep moving forward- the truth is, you haven’t found any until this letter. I am not here to chastise you or shame you… because I know your suffering to the point that you feel is one you can’t return from.
Now you are probably peeved, thinking “How can anyone know my pain?” but I can tell you that I have experienced it first hand. To say it directly without escalating the situation, I will tell you that I know you’ve tried what feels like everything to create a tolerable existence, but it hasn’t worked thus far. I also know that you have hoarded your past expired medications in your toy hamper waiting for this day when you finally get “the nerve” to go through with ending it all. Your failing grades with another french test tomorrow morning combined with your lack of passion or understanding about why you are in university or working hard at the call centre is only worsening the state of mind you are in. The Jack Daniels you bought through a friend just for this purpose is hiding in the drawer under your bed and your hope is to wash those pills down and fall asleep, resulting in a peaceful demise.
You feel as if only a few people would care if you were gone, that they are the ones being selfish for wanting you to live since you are merely imitating the actions of survival but they don’t understand that abyss of emptiness just won’t disappear and it feels like it’s slowly killing you. At this point you’re probably panicking thinking that someone got into your room and discovered the crevices of your room and mind where your future secrets reside, but I can assure you this isn’t the case. The truth is, I am who you can be if you make it past tonight… except I am from 8 years later.
I can’t warn you about what situations you should avoid to get to where I’m at now because it may upset the natural order of how things need to transpire and you may miss out on opportunities that brought me to my current state. You see… I can’t tell you whether or not you survived tonight either because that could also set off a chain of events making you more intent on making sure you “do it right”. I wish I could be there with you, in your room, giving you a little taste of what your future has in store for you but you will have to take a leap of faith for me and trust, okay?
This exact feeling you are experiencing right now is the one that now fuels my ambitions. You did nothing to feel how you are right now and it isn’t your fault- you are in a position being without sources of help because even doctors don’t understand you. I will list what I’ve done since being 18, and know that 8 years later I still don’t accept bullshit so I’ll give it to you straight. I won’t tell you what you want to get you through to tomorrow, but I will tell you the truth and it’s what you have to look forward to:
1. You’ll model in front of a professional photographer many times. At first it’ll be at the request to Photoshop your scars out of the images, but then you will want them there to expose a greater truth using your body as a story to prove to the world that this is a serious illness.
2. You published a book about your condition! Yeah, really! I can’t go into details about how, but people have sent you wonderful messages after reading it telling you that you have helped them in their own journey to wellness.
3. You will finish school, no matter at what cost (boy I wish I could go into detail with this one!) and at the same time be finished the same filming of your documentary. Yes, you heard that right… and it’s about your skin picking.
4. I know you’re worried about love and it may take years from now for you to STILL believe me, as you aren’t ready to engage in even a simple kiss at this point in your life… but you will find it. You will meet a man who will revive parts of you that you lost when Dad had his brain injury when we were 10. He will support you through anything, make you smile at least five times a day, and tells you that there is no other woman in the world for him. You don’t need to hide your marks from him or how you’re feeling at any given moment because he can sense these things anyway but make it better with a hug.
5. You’ll do television interviews as far as the Philippines and travel to the other side of the continent talking about your experiences, encouraging others to move forward with or without this disorder. No matter what, your message is to learn how to be happy with yourself because only then can you rise above and make that difference in your own life.
Don’t panic now that you’re thinking that the world knows about you when right now only a few friends do, your immediate family does, and even they aren’t quite sure how it’s affecting you. Here’s where I’m afraid I may lose you again because I know you refuse to tell anyone else about your skin picking. It’s not scary after it’s “out there”… it’s better for us (well, me) because I don’t have to hide anymore. For the rare times you will run into someone, particularly strangers, who give snide looks or make inappropriate comments regarding your appearance- they aren’t who you want in your life. You have no room for judgmental and close-minded individuals who will drag you down due to their own insecurities and ignorance. Nobody has called you a monster or freak upon learning about those very marks- they will call you brave, beautiful, and a tough chick because of how you turned your disadvantages into something to help others like you… and you will meet and see MANY out there who are also on the brink of losing it all because of this damn disorder.
The questions your ailed mind keeps spinning around in circles are the WRONG ones that leave you with the same obsessed conclusions that you believe you can only stop by ending your life. No, I don’t want you to think that life is a cakewalk despite the above achievements being true… but I want you to reconstruct your line of thinking to what’s really important because you’re in too deep right now to pull yourself out of the same thought patterns. The common daily repeats in your mind are, “If no one can treat me then I’ll have this pain forever and I can’t deal with it for much longer let alone a lifetime“, “No one will understand the need to obsessively pick my skin and think I’m a freak“, “No one will ever be able to love me, the permanence of the mess made on my body let alone the mind that created it” and so many more destructive statements that it hurts me right now to rewind and remember them all.
My advice will sound like fluff, but I still hold onto the fact that I don’t endorse BS even if someone seemingly needs false hope to live another day. You have too many real hopes for me to have to tell you differently (don’t worry… you didn’t turn into a big liar in the past 8 years)! Stop telling yourself that you’re not worth it unless your scars can disappear or your skin picking can be cured. You’re dying on the inside from your thoughts about your Dermatillomania (that’s the term), not from the disorder itself. This may not be the best time to tell you, but you still are still a chronic skin picker who has found one method of minor relief for your symptoms. However, you have learned that it is irrelevant because you are not defined by your disorder. Look for ways to accent your strengths because you will do AMAZING things. Feelings are still a scary concept for you at times, but you’re improving as you’ve learned that you must let yourself feel negative emotions (instead of stuffing them down) in order to be capable of feeling positive ones.
Your family has gone through enough; I know this is bordering wagging-the-finger at you, but this is something you NEED to hear. They are not selfish, even in the name of love, for wanting you to stay alive… they know that you have lost the spark inside of you and believe you can fight to find it. They know that their spunky little girl is hidden beneath despair and even though they don’t realize how deep (you’re exceptional at hiding the extent of your distress) you are in depression, they know what you don’t right now- you’re not well, but this doesn’t have to be permanent. Your skin picking is NOT the only reason you feel like you’ve run out of options- alone, the disorder is problematic but it is your perception of it that is consuming who you are.
Hopefully by writing you I haven’t offset the great things that will happen but here I am now, still living with a man who makes me happy (and Piggy too!), still waiting to be finished with the documentary, and everything seems the same as it’s supposed to be given that you survived. If tonight is your last night, the remainder of your family will be mourning your loss and you will have died without anyone knowing your story. You will have died without being able to help others who also don’t deserve these isolating feelings, without them ever knowing that there is someone else out there just like them.
I won’t be hurt if you cuss your 26 year old self out (me) for giving you this letter because things won’t immediately become better- change can’t happen overnight. It takes time to reverse your personal paradigm and mistakes will be made for life to be learned from. Please don’t let today be your last, I want you to experience what it’s like to smile for real again and you’ll be taking that opportunity away; the cloud will lift and you’ll see things more clearly than before if you give it a little more time! I want to hug you, hold you, and let you cry and scream out that pain you feel you can’t escape from. I love you, even if you don’t love you. I love me in the now and I love you even if you hate yourself now, my dear 18 year old self.
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Never be scared to talk about suicide. If you suspect someone you love is thinking of suicide, please ask- it’s not putting the idea your loved one’s head. If you are the one who is contemplating ending you life, please reach out to a friend, family member, counselor, teacher, support group, or doctor. The International Suicide Prevention hotline provides international numbers and you can find someone in your area who will listen and help.
You don’t deserve to feel this way- you deserve life. It doesn’t have to end like this. There is always hope.
Check out the five- star documentary Scars of Shame and Angela’s ground- breaking memoir FOREVER MARKED: A Dermatillomania Diary. Like Angela on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, and join her on Tumblr.