A Dear John Letter To My Shame

It’s been ten hours, six minutes, and twenty-three seconds since I became conscious of my shame.

I sat down, grabbed a pen, and stared blankly at lined pages. It didn’t take long before I realized that I could not put pen to paper what I really wanted to say. I did not know that I was ashamed of my own mental health.

I’ve never been one to publish self-reflections. My social media is filled with words and pictures drafted at an arm’s distance. This is the closest I’ve been to writing about something so personal and private, and it scares the crap out of me.

At this very moment, my sentences are strung out in fractions, my thoughts stopping at every half-idea because it makes me uncomfortable to think that people in my past and people in my future might hold this against me – that it might shape their impression of me. It’s easy to talk about mental health as a concept, but strap me to a chair and force me to write a public statement about my personal mental health and you’ll find my shoulders sticking up, legs drawn in, and fingers limp at the keyboard. I don’t want to, but I want to.

Even as I am writing this, I silently hope that my relatives don’t stumble across this letter. For their judgment becomes my Shame.

It’s strange being a psychology student who is afraid to talk so openly about her own mental health, but I’m going to try.

I have been luckier than most. My mental health has never completely disabled me, but for the past few years, I’ve been learning what it means to truly panic – a thousand worries caught in my throat, suddenly becoming very aware of my breathing, and my thoughts tensing and gripping tighter and tighter until all I can do is let out a scream.

I’ve been learning what it means to self-harm – feeling angry and confused, conflicted and self-critical. It was easier to use scars instead of words to express disappointment in myself. Then I hid underneath colorful braided strings and bulky watches.

I’ve been learning what it means to feel loss of hope – a sort of struggling silence and tense calm washes over my mind and body, I feel like gravity is pulling me down a little more than usual, and I drift. I’m stuck in limbo.

It’s been eleven hours, thirty-three minutes, and eight seconds since I’ve confronted my personal shame. Is it weird that I wrote them a letter? But no matter how many one-sided conversations I have or how many letters I write, shame is something that will follow me around. It silences you when you ought to speak, instills a lingering fear of judgment inside you, lives in your bones and aches.

But at least now I can say that I’ve spoken.

Dear Shame,

I don’t need you to silence me

I am not yours to control

I remember when you would drown sympathy for guilt

Forgiveness for criticism

Kindness for anger

My voice would inflect inward

Words teetering around the edges

Teeth picking at the skin of my lips

Sweaty palms in constant motion

That is not what I need

That is not what I need

That is not what I need.

I breathe out desperation

And take in your silence

But I can reflect outward

And my ideas will rush out like tidal waves

Dancing against cracked lips

Courage strung out in whole numbers

I can speak fine on my own

I am speaking fine on my own

I speak

I’ve spoken.