when i started writing these letters, it was mostly just a way to process all the health scares we’ve been having, a small but cathartic act of defiance against a growing new collection of diagnoses. a list that frankly, scared the shit out of me. *deadpans to a camera that isn’t there*
something shifted along the way though, and writing these letters has cracked me open in places i didn’t even know I was brittle.
it’s helped me name a lot of important things, beginning with the deep ache and longing i felt.
the ache of feeling unfamiliar to my own self, and the longing to come home, not just to my flesh and bone but to all the parts of me i missed so badly i couldn’t even talk about it, much less acknowledge it.
my ability to dream.
my compulsion to mine for the humor, no matter how dire the situation.
sometimes when you are busy surviving, or even just doing regular life, it’s easy to forget that you’re still a fun person. or a sensual person. or a thoughtful person.
i know you feel it too, body. the ache in that faintly familiar space, the one that begs to be fully inhabited.
i’m becoming really fascinated with what happens in that space, because when we gently press down on the ache and listen to what it has to say, it can bring healing and freedom to places within us we didn’t even know existed.
for as long as i can remember, writing has always been the way in for me. a way in to my thoughts and feelings (of which there are multitudes). my way of processing and understanding and naming. of coming home to myself when everything else feels a little upside down.
a tether, even.
but ever since february, when i almost died, it was like i couldn’t find my way back in. not totally, not yet.
trauma will do that to you.
so much of me has been cut away- by necessity yes, but also by brute force. i feel so different than i did 6 months ago. a year ago. 3 years ago.
by the time i turned 40 i couldn’t have pointed you to a single area of my life that wasn’t in either deep or obvious transition. this is why the writing feels particularly tender now. this is why, even though the words are suddenly pouring out of me, i am keeping most of them for myself.
whatever the creative outlet, there’s a certain amount of resistance one should expect in the process. we know this by now. that no matter how long we’ve been doing the thing, there are still going to be hurdles to clear, every. single. time. we set out to do it.
quieting pride + ego.
submitting to the process.
catching creativity by the tail as it scurries across your path.
learning when + where + with whom we are meant to share our art.
remembering that yes, sharing is an important part because it connects us.
but the truth is, i am afraid to show up here again. i feel messy. like an exposed nerve.
i’m afraid i’ll never have the guts to say what i really want to say. i’m afraid i’ll say it wrong and be misunderstood (related: as an enneagram 4 the need to be understood resides deep down in my bones.) i’m afraid i’ll say too much and then regret it later (see item above for Reasons We Over-Explain).
and now, i suppose i am afraid to invite an audience in to my suffering.
usually i have no problem being generous in my vulnerability. that part has always come naturally to me. i am a sharer by nature; it’s just what i’m wired to do.
it’s what comes after that i struggle with. the vulnerability hangover. i’ve learned to expect this bit and even to navigate it fairly well under normal circumstances. but these are not normal circumstances. you are still in triage, body. we haven’t even stopped the bleeding yet.
but the writing won’t leave me alone. it never does. you make sure of that, don’t you? always steering me back to it, by any means necessary, like 4 am wake up calls.
side eye to you, every day this week.
there’s been so much trauma in the last few months. the last year. the last few years.
because lest we forget, before The Big Sick there was The Big Weird, adding ‘global pandemic’ as #4 on a list that for right now we’ll just call Suspicions of a Simulation, okay? (tiger king accounting for numbers 1-3 on that list, obviously.)
and we’re only talking about my own trauma here. but there’s more. because of course there is.
my people have been hurting too, and not in small ways. it’s all connected. it always is.
it’s like we stepped into the upside down the hits just kept coming, non discriminate.
body, you are a teacher and i know i’ll never be done learning, but sometimes i’d like to forget that class is still in session. sometimes i want to throw the curriculum through a window. (not out a window- THROUGH a window.)
first anxiety showed up.
then the digestive issues.
then extreme + inexorable weight loss.
then a brutal bout with covid.
then a raging bacterial infection.
then the myriad of gut disorders and malabsorptions that followed.
then losing most of my hair.
listen, i know i’ve always had a penchant for drama, but CLEARLY SO DO YOU, body.
finally, after a year and a half of agony and defeat, we got down to the root diagnosis: 2 different autoimmune diseases.
both came with a bonus attached, a warning from my doctor- there might be more coming. this might not be the root diagnosis after all.
casually, he tossed two little letters out there. two letters he probably says often. letters that he’ll forget all about by the time he’s at home eating dinner with his family tonight, because they don’t apply to him.
he tossed them to me like i was supposed to, what, i don’t know, catch and release them?
body, everything in you took umbrage against them. you wanted to stand up and yell or i don’t know, maybe run out of his office and never come back.
we try not to think too much about those two letters and most days we do pretty well.
but they’re always there in the peripheral.
of course anxiety immediately conjures a narrative of meaning from the fact that i just so happen to follow about 5 different people on social media who all have this disease. randomly, of course, not intentionally.
all in their forties.
all writers and creatives and deeply sensitive souls, like me.
we were meant to keep an eye on it.
it was meant to be a caution.
it felt like a harbinger.
they say the gut is like a second brain, an entire microbiome of life and death, and that it dictates just about every area of our lives from our mood to our weight to our sex drive. it makes sense then, doesn’t it, when people say their “stomach dropped” the minute they got bad news, or they aren’t sure why but they just have a “gut feeling” about someone, or how as humans we all tend to lurch for our middle whenever stricken with emotion.
you tell the whole truth, body, but you tell it slant.
you speak from instinct, from memory, from reflex.
yet you have always been the smartest person in the room.
i’m sorry i disregarded and disrespected you for so long. there is much that you already know here, body, and that i am only beginning to understand.
but there are a few things i need you to know, too, while we are stuck out here in the wilderness together. while the storm rages on inside of you.
i want you to know i am trying. i am trying so hard to hear you. but triage is loud and you are hoarse now. so i want you to know that i will do whatever it takes to get low and quiet. i will listen for your whimpers and i will tend the wounds as lovingly as i know how.
i will keep on trusting you, even when it is hard. even when it is scary. especially then.
i want you to know that you can trust me, too. that i will be brave. i will partner with this pain. i will not stop trying. i will use every single tool in my tool belt, because i am desperate for you to heal.
i want you to know that even though you are not safe you are good.
do you hear me, body?
you are good.
you are good.
you are good.
i didn’t know that before. not really.
i think so differently about you now, body. about your tender, visceral, animal existence.
about your nervous system + your self-protective modes + your surprising resilience.
about your fear and your grief and the unexpected places they hide under your skin.
your delight too.
something happened here, body, and we will not pretend otherwise. we were in an explosion and i am still grasping at myself, trying to survey the damage.
in my last letter i promised that i would not leave you alone in the rubble. that i am here. that i will stay. i meant it.
you beg for gentleness now, and I need you to know that i will give it to you. i will not deny you that any longer. i will think singularly about you, for as long as you need me to.
i want you to know that i am building us a shelter.
it looks like long stretches of deep quiet.
like turning inward.
like trusting my intuition. more and more. so much more.
it looks like going for walks.
like letting you cry.
letting you laugh too, because that is a part of us that we cannot, must not ever give up.
it looks like trusting you enough to let you lead- in the kitchen, in the bedroom, and in every other room i walk into. it looks like forgiving myself for all the times in the past when i didn’t.
it looks like doing red light therapy and biomat therapy and talk therapy and alllll kinds of therapies. stuff that me-from-5-years-ago would’ve blanched at.
it looks like allowing myself to change, even though change tends to feel like death in the moment.
it looks like giving up all the buffers, all the vices, anything that might hurt you or drown out your voice.
it looks like mourning the losses- from the big things, like freedoms + relationships + dreams all the way down to the little things, like sushi + bread + champagne.
it looks like getting back out into the world and opening up to deep friendship again, even though the instinct is to retreat.
it looks like remaining generous in my vulnerability but more shrewd in the sharing of it.
it looks like slowly meeting my middle aged self and discovering that all the resistance to getting older might be way off base, because actually? i really like her.
like, I’M SORRY, but where has this amber been all my life?
you know what, don’t answer that. it doesn’t matter. she’s here now.
mostly, it looks like letting go. which is hard and messy work, it turns out, so thanks for being so patient with me.
you did that, body.
you have been the one to help me process and understand and name.
YOU have been my way in.
have i said thank you for that?
i love you.
Amber, these letters are great. I just had a really big surgery. Me and my body and in constant conversation right now… maybe negotiations? This was very helpful to read. I wish you all the best on your health journey. ❤️