Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Day 3...Dear 18 year old me

Garrett and me, I was 23

Today is day 3 of WEGO Health's Challenge to post on my blog every day, using the prompts that I have been given by them.  Today's prompt:  Dear 18 year old me.  Write a letter to yourself when you were 18.  Be sure to tell yourself what to do more of, what to do less of, and what you have to look forward to in the next few (or several) years.

I love this prompt.  Love it.  I've wished for years that I could go back in time and smack me upside the head.  (LOL)  While, obviously, this post won't change anything (what is done is done), I believe this will be cathartic.  Here we go.

Dear 18 year old me:

On November 30, 1998, you turned 18 years old.  As I sit here, nearly 13 years later, I wonder what you would think if you knew what I know.  I don't think that you would have any basis for understanding it.  It would have absolutely no relevance to you.  At this point in your life, exactly (your 18th birthday, and the months directly after) there are things happening around you, that will change you, for the rest of your life.  Unfortunately, it will take many more years before you figure this out.

At this point, you already consider yourself to be an advocate.  You consider yourself to be an advocate for the homeless, and for those caught up in the criminal justice system.  On one level, that is true.  Over a decade later, it will still be true, in a sense.  However, at this point in your life, you do not have the sophistication necessary to realize that the homelessness, and the criminal offenses, are (a lot of the time, not always) not the problem.   They are a symptom.  The problem is untreated mental illness.

Right now, at this exact moment, your best friend on the planet, Jasper, is making decisions that will change and haunt you both for the rest of your lives, and you don't know about it.  He didn't tell you, to keep you safe and out of it.  Thank God for that.  Jasper is in the midst of manic episode, and he is suffering from extremely disorganized thinking.  I do want to tell you one thing-that new girl he's hooked up with?  The one you thought was bad news?  You were absolutely right.  She's trouble.  You are avoiding Jasper because you cannot stand her.  You feel vaguely guilty about this, but figure it will run it's course in a month and you'll explain it to him then.  What you do not know is that Jasper and his girlfriend are in the midst of a crime spree that spans over two months, starts with burglary, and culminates in armed robbery, a high speed chase, and a stand off with the police.  When you find out that he is in jail, and why, it will shatter you.  You will feel guilty about this for years.  You will blame yourself, over and over.  And yes, on some level, you might be right.  If you had called him up, there is a chance that you would have recognized that he was in the midst of a mental break, and gotten him the help he needed.  There is a chance.  But it's not your fault.  As Jasper will write to you for years, over and over again, he knew he needed help, he did not seek it, and he is responsible for his own actions.  It is not your job to save the world.  However, you will not make true peace with this until you are 26 or 27 years old.

Fast forward to 9 months after Jasper gets arrested, to the day he gets sentenced.  You enter the courtroom, knowing that it's going to be bad.  You're expecting twenty years.  If he gets twenty, he'll be gone for somewhere between five and eight years, before he gets parole.  You're scared and saddened by this, but you  are trying to be realistic.  You figure, hell, you've got friends that moved away when you were a little kid, 10 years ago, that you are still in contact with, it will be okay.  When Jasper gets sentenced to 50 years, your world literally turns on its axis.  5 or 8 years just turned into somewhere between 12 and 20.  If I could go back and tell you one thing, it would be this: DO NOT MAKE LIFE ALTERING DECISIONS WHEN YOU ARE EMOTIONALLY WRECKED.  Who knows if you would have listened-a lot of people will tell you that, and you will blow them off.

Within 5 months, you will be in an abusive relationship, and pregnant with Mikayla.  4 months after she is born, you will marry her father, and will become pregnant with Kastle.  Luckily, in 2003, you will come to your senses, and leave your husband.  You'll get together with Garrett, and your life will start to get a little better, for awhile.

Then Kastle will become school age.  You'll send him off to kindergarten, and he'll make it an hour before you get the call to pick him up.  Finally, you'll have to admit what you've known in the back of your head for years-he's not just willful, he's not just headstrong, and this isn't just a phase-there is something medically wrong with this kid.  Your son.  You'll learn about Individualized Education Plans, and the IDEA Act, and Section 504.  You'll take your son to his pediatrician, and she will flat out refuse to diagnose him.  She will tell you to take him to a pediatric psychiatrist.  You will procrastinate for over two years before you finally break down and do it.  Then you will wonder why in the hell you waited so long.  Then, you'll get on the roller coaster, and wish you could get off.  Diagnosis, medications, hospitalizations, therapists, it goes on and on.

In the meantime, some wonderful things have happened, and some horrible things have happened.  You married the love of your life.  You made some amazing friends that you will cherish for the rest of your life.  And you buried some people you thought you would have for the rest of your life-every single one through untreated mental illness.  While there are several others, Brandon is the hardest to deal with.  As I sit here writing now, he has been gone nine months, and I am no where near coming to terms with it.  Brandon's suicide is one of the hardest things you will ever have to find a way to accept.

Your dreams and your purpose have also changed.  At 18, you wanted to go to school to become a criminal defense attorney.  Life interfered with that, and the level of care that Kastle requires does not lend itself to being a student.  You simply do not have the time.  However, your dreams of advocacy still exist, just in a different form.  You have started an online support group for parents like you.  You have educated yourself on mental health issues, and become a source of information for parents that are just starting this process, and are afraid.  You have developed relationships with mental health activists from all over the country, such as Susan Schofield from Bipolar Nation Radio.  You are doing what you originally intended, but with a better understanding of the root of the problem, instead of focusing on the symptoms.

From where I am now, this is what I can tell you:  13 years is a long time.  It is also the blink of an eye.  During this time, you will know intense joy, and intense pain.  Hang on.  It's going to be a hell of a ride.

Love, Me

Garrett and I, taken at my sister's wedding this  summer
Garrett, Mikayla, and Kastle

~Jenny Ness

What would you say in a letter to yourself at 18?

This post was written as a part of NHBPM-30 health posts in 30 days.