When you finally read this, you’ll be back home and 3 months will have passed since the day you decided to check yourself back into rehab. There’s so much that often goes unsaid between us, but a lot needed to be said on that day and I should not have let you go without hearing these words. I should have stopped the car.
I was too afraid of saying anything that would spook you into demanding that I turn the car around and take you back home. Instead, we had a subliminal conversation about Frank Ocean’s lyrics. Instead, I watched you wipe off another tear through the corner of my watering eye and pretended that we weren’t having a telepathic conversation about how heartbreaking this was. I was driving you to the one place you swore you would never go back to. A place where people start counting down days the moment they walk through the gates.
Even in the backdrop of what seemed like the right decision, I felt like I was betraying you. Nobody who had worked as hard as you, deserved to be in this position again. But, here we were and I can already hear your voice saying ‘Deserve has nothing to do with this’. You, more than anyone of us, knows that self-pity is worthless when you’re fighting for life. No matter how many times you try to say you’re sorry, the truth is I am the one who failed you. There’s so much I could have done to make this journey easier for you.
From the very start, you were the strongest one amongst us. You had the courage to forgive us for calling you weak at a time when this illness was simply invisible to our eyes. You never once resented me for my lack of understanding. Even when I shouted at you for not being ‘man enough‘ to tough it out, you still made a distinction between love and ignorance. You chose love then, and still do now. Despite all the pep talks and silent treatments, you made your recovery a priority above anyone else’s approval. In some ways, you grew up faster than me. The next 3 months are not just about you getting better. They are also about your support system learning how to be better at their jobs. We owe you that much.
We have to learn where your depression ends and where your identity begins. They are not the same thing. You have spent too much energy forgiving people who don’t understand what depression is. I could say it’s as real a broken bone, but even a broken bone doesn’t paralyse your will to live. A broken bone doesn’t threaten to break up a family. The only similarity between it and depression is that you can’t treat either with sheer ‘willpower’. I look back in shame at the days when I told you to ‘calm down’ or to ‘stop making a big deal out of it’. Nobody tells me to will myself out of Malaria when I fall ill. It’s our job to keep our own prejudices in check, not yours. When it comes to how you feel, it will never be my place to decide what is and what isn’t trivial.
I should tell you how much I’m proud of you. You thrived at a time when it made little sense to survive. Every single one of those 183 days had more meaning than just being clean. They meant that you were present. That you made it a purpose to show up for every single moment of your life. How many of us can count 10 days of living life with every intention of being alive? I’m proud of you for amassing the skills you need to live your best life. For not blaming how you feel on the people who continue to misunderstand your pain. For treating them with compassion and educating those who are willing to learn. For surrounding yourself with the people who do understand.
It’s now our turn to repay the faith you’ve shown in us by siding with you. We do more damage when we misunderstand mental illness. I don’t need to be an expert to believe people who show me how much they’re suffering. Understanding comes from a place of love, while stigma is rooted in fear. You can’t help the people you love if you are guided by fear. The two just don’t go together. I realise that you’ve been crying for help without getting it. That no matter how much awareness we raise, our efforts will continue to fall short until they are guided by compassion. Until the ones speaking are the ones hurting, and the ones listening are the ones helping. For too long you have been surrounded by people who want it to be the other way around.
I can’t wait for you to come back. First, because I want to be a part of the solution this time. Secondly, because I hate what life is like without you. There isn’t a lonelier time for me than when I do something stupid. Because nobody laughs at me the way you do. Nobody even laughs like you do. Nobody laughs like we do! I laugh just thinking about us laughing.
It makes me appreciate the fact that despite everything you are battling, you still have time for the rest of us. You’re still the funniest person in the room; even when you’re not trying.
You’re still here. Standing. Breathing. Living.
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