(Pic: Pikul Noorod/Shutterstock.com)
At around December of 2013, my wife was diagnosed with a serious mental illness. This was after having our third child in three years, and since then, right up till just maybe a few months ago, it’s been like a constant storm in my life, and in our family, but not without a lot of blessing. I chronicled a lot of that story and some of those blessings in a series of posts you can read under the “Mental Illness” category of this website.
In a sort of weird move, I thought it worthwhile, while in the thick of this in August 2013, to write a letter to my future self about the things I didn’t want myself to forget years later. You can read it here.
And to make an even weirder move, it seemed appropriate to write myself back. I apologize for how “meta” this is. It just seemed like something I had to do, and it’s brought me a lot of closure when it comes to this very difficult season of life for our family. I hope it’s encouraging and a blessing in some way for you to read it.
Dear Past Me,
Thank you for writing. I know it felt strange at the time, but stumbling across your letter was important, especially now. You write about how happy you were despite everything that was going on. Honestly, when I think back on those months, I don’t look at them with fondness. I remember a lot of yelling. I remember the kids being crazy. I remember being crazy myself. I remember the cockroaches. I remember how I killed one and left it on the wall as a warning to the others to stay away and then found out cockroaches eat each other. But I don’t remember being happy, but obviously I was. It’s easy for me to forget that joy is in service, and that I don’t need much to go my way to live a contented life.
But I know, in that letter, there’s something you didn’t mention – something you could barely admit to yourself, because if you did, it might have made everything crumble around you. You didn’t admit how scared you were. You didn’t admit how very out of your depth you felt and you had no idea what you were doing. And I get it. When you are in the middle a snow storm, you don’t stop to think about how depressing it is that you are in the middle of a snow storm. You just keep moving until you find shelter. You have to. But pretending that everything was ok, or being optimistic all the time, wasn’t the answer either.
I feel a profound sadness being able to benefit from the letter you wrote then, but not being able to go back four years ago and just give you a hug, and tell you over and over again what you couldn’t believe no matter how many times you told yourself: that you are not a failure. You kept feeling like life was demanding of you 120%, but you only had 100% to give. You kept feeling like this was all your fault, and others may have even implied that it was. But it wasn’t. And it wasn’t your wife’s fault. And it wasn’t your kid’s fault. And it wasn’t God’s fault. No one was to blame for life going to shit. There are countless things you could have done better in hindsight, but nobody has the luxury of seeing life in hindsight.
I wish I could tell you where you are now. I wish I could tell you that your three kids are doing so, so well. That your wife is doing so, so well. That you live in a beautiful home with a lawn. That you have things you never knew you could even pray for, because they seemed so out of your reach. I wish you could see how courageous and strong your wife is now. I wish I could convince you, somehow, to really believe that God is going to pull you through everything you’re going through. But I can’t.
Everyone told you having kids close together can be a good thing because they play with each other when they get older, even though right now in your life they are insanely difficult to manage. Everyone who told you that was right. They do. It gets easier. Young kids grow up. They mature. They start going to school.
And my goodness, what a school they are going to! They are learning all about the Catholic faith that you love. And they are loving it, too! I don’t know how this is possible. Somehow these Sisters and teachers are making it all come alive for them. I’m even learning from my own children when they come home and fill me in on the Stations of the Cross or some feast day.
All of this was possible. None of this was beyond your reach. But you can’t see that now. All of this is the Promised Land you never dared let yourself hope for. And I guess if I gain anything from reading your letter again, it’s that maybe there are things I dare not hope for now that can really be if I just trusted God enough to ask for them and pursue them.
I knew we needed the last few years. And maybe years like this will come again in a different way, or a different form. But I won’t give up hope anymore. I won’t despair, because if our family can get through what we got through these last few years and come out stronger, wiser, humbler, more grateful for life, then there is nothing we can’t get through.
God has already blessed you,