Letters To My Younger Self
To my barely begun self
Wish I could put a smile and a hug in this letter. Words? Not easy to find ones to explain and reassure you that you are the same as the other little girls you dream of changing places with. A sweet innocent. Only difference is that you are having to face things that no child of your age (indeed any age) is equipped, or should have to deal with. My heart breaks when I see your distress...such a load for your small 6 year old shoulders.
I know you find it hard to put your feelings into words...that you do not feel safe enough to express yourself using the natural to most healthy kids alternatives - crying, stamping your feet, having a hissy-fit.
I wish I could tell you that relief is around the corner. That an adult outside your family will no longer accept the spurious explanations for your non-accidental injuries. That a professional will join the dots and dig deeper. That a teacher will look beyond your slow learner label and realise that your inability to concentrate is not down to you having a 'not up to much' brain'...rather, is due to the same thing that makes you come to school dressed in a sweater and long socks on a hot day.
I can truthfully tell you that with a few more years you will adapt and adjust...abuse will be a thing you learn to live with. You will get to know its pattern. You will learn to float away from the pain and by the time you are eight or so to dissociate. Breaks my heart to tell you this...however in its own way it will be a blessing.
I am so, so sorry that circumstances beyond your (any child's) control mean you are in your present situation. Wish it was otherwise that you were being raised in a safe environment – had the support and care that you need to flourish. That you don't fills me with anger; makes me want to roar, scream and cry, wrap you up and keep you safe.
I unlike you have the benefit of hindsight...know that things will get better. Not soon. Not soon enough. I also know that you the strength and drive you need to survive.
With all my love. Jane
To my younger self
Dear younger Jane
You don't look it but you are just a few months into your fourteenth year. I can tell you that the next 3 years are going to be hard...put you through stuff that that will really make you doubt your sanity...test you.
Your anxieties will get worse, you won't feel safe. Your sense of self will be virtually non-existent, and people who should love you will turn their backs on you.
Heavy medication and fear will confuse your thinking and make you doubt your judgement ...so much so that when a small voice within you shouts out that you are ok, fine, you will be so surprised that you won't know how to respond. Not trust enough to believe this message...assume it is untrue. In fact it is true...will remain so.
For reasons, that you will later make sense of, your parents chose not to acknowledge the wrong they subjected you to, - instead, fabricated alternative reasons for your distress and symptoms. Did this convincingly enough to make the experts conclude that you are mentally unwell; need the care and protection of this secure residential facility that you were admitted to a week or so ago.
I'm telling you all of this because I want you to know that, no matter how tough it now seems, and how hopeless and frightened you feel, you will get through it, you will dig deep and find and do what it takes to survive...to maintain your true essence.
It's going to be okay.
Although at present, things feel grim, I wish to reassure you that there is light, and good, waiting for you on the other side. Your will never forget these hard times but later in your life will come to understand and appreciate the valuable things they teach you, about yourself, about others, and about life. They will serve to make you value freedom, love and compassion...will make you strong.
Until you become mature enough in your thinking to realise it for yourself (as you will) please know that these people who harm you, do it because they, too, are suffering. They hurt others because they are hurt/hurting. As you grow in confidence...into your adult self you will see that you don't have to put up with this bad behaviour...that you have what it takes to speak up for and protect yourself.
Don't avoid the things, places or people that make you anxious. You know those nightmares you constantly have...that you have learned to live with are not normal... they are caused by the trauma you have lived through. These nightmares will eventually drive you to seek therapy.
Gradually you will come to understand that your fears aren't based on anything real anymore...that the war is over...that you have the resources and power to protect yourself...to keep yourself safe. You will feel a great sense of liberation when you realise that you can let down your guard, relax and enjoy your life.
Most of all never doubt that you like every person (no matter how they present...their life story) are worthy of love and to be treated with respect...that it starts with you. Treat yourself lovingly.
For you, with deep love and admiration.
To my nearly 17-year-old self
I'm writing to tell you that I am impressed with how you are coping. Nearly three years have passed since I last caught up with you...got to say the way you have adjusted to the situation you have found yourself in makes me realize what a strong sense of survival you have. I suppose some would say you have become completely institutionalized – however I think you have operated with skill and cleverness beyond your years to make your stay in a facility designed for custodial rather than therapeutic care survivable.
You have bobbed to the top to become an identity in an institution that does not recognize or value individuality. You have a role which comes with some power (not bad huh for a not yet 17-year-old). You become a "worker" A person trusted to carry matches and light other patients' cigarettes...to accompany new to the ward nurses when they do med rounds...”That's Milly, nurse she has one of those pink pills and two of those green ones”. Trusted to take your own pills (which you don't!), to wield the floor polisher (a bit of a struggle for a skinny underweight kid). Best of all to have the freedom to sneak into the ward store room (yummy dried apricots). Oh so sophisticated Jane...you are still such a kid.
You have also forged friendships with the staff...if you play your cards right you get to join them in the staff room...stay real quiet and they will forget you are there. Can read the newspaper, medical books, and student nurse's text books. You feel like you belong; are one of them. Not a crazy patient.
After a gap in your education you are now also enrolled in correspondence school. Have green canvas bags of schoolwork mailed to you each week. Some would be surprised given the nature of the ward that there is no shortages of people able to help you with your assignments...clever people, impressively so, teachers, doctors, even a famous opera singer. You learn that people even those discarded by society, shut away have much to offer...are not worthless.
So here you are settled and adjusted...living your less than usual life unaware that behind the scenes the professionals caring for you are starting to question your need to be hospitalized, to revise their earlier opinions about your inability to cope in the community. That your time for discharge is near.
For you my resilient nearing adult self.
Lots of love Jane
To all my younger selves
Hi guys realise that one of the things that adds to your burden is uncertainty. You with good reason fear what is around the corner, worry about how you will cope with it, if you will survive. Always watchful. Always interpreting what this means, or that means in terms of your own safety.
The sad truth is that I have no power to change or soften your present or future experiences. So, have decided to write you this final letter with the hope that what I share (this glimpse of the ‘Jane' you are destined to become) will reassure you that you do have a future, that things will improve.
As I mentioned in an earlier letter, you were discharged from a psychiatric facility when you were about 17 years old. Despite being away for 3 years or so you re-entered your community without too much hassle. Your return to your family was more awkward. Topics were avoided and hedged round...'stories' created to fill the gaps. You (and probably your family ) counted down the days left till the end of the year, when it would become possible for you to leave home. Live without the financial support of your parents.
It was a surprise and relief to discover that you were no longer a target of abuse. Not sure why. May have been because you were older, bolder and more likely to tell...that you no longer appealed to your abuser...that he preferred children, that your mother had finally taken a stand on your behalf. Any or none of these things.
Your school admission assessment showed that you were academically capable of joining your peer age group in regular classes. Was the first time that anyone had accepted that you were not a slow learner. That the system had got it wrong. Was a relief, and a turning point for you. After completing your final year at school, you gained admission to the university of your choice along with a grant to cover your accommodation and tuition fees. You enjoyed being a student and successfully met the requirements to gain an undergraduate and graduate degree in your chosen field.
Think you will agree...great progress for a person who had for so long been diagnosed and treated as intellectually and mentally under par.
You went on to develop a successful career. To form some strong professional and personal relationships. To pursue a wide range of outside interests. Is fair to say that you were a tad wary of committing to a permanent relationship, but after several years of ‘delaying' did marry and later become the mother of an adopted baby son.
Things were not all plain sailing. Your husband (the love of your life) developed inoperable cancer and died when your son was two. It was sometimes a struggle but you generally managed to keep things more or less stable...to balance the two important roles in your life – being a mother and a career woman/family income earner.
Hope it helps to know (in broad outline) how your life story will unfold...that you will create a satisfying and productive (though not incident free) life for yourself.
Lots of love Jane
~ Eldridge Cleaver
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