You Are Not Your Pain: A Letter to Myself

Mental Illness

This post originally appeared on TWLOHA’s blog. (View it here.)

Dear friend,

I know how you’re feeling. I know the exhaustion that stretches across your skin and the emptiness returning to your chest after a long year. It has been a long one. You’ve survived so much.

I know you want to huddle in bed right now instead of writing this, but I also know you ache to be remembered. You yearn to be longed for. You want people to see and know you. You hope to be that person for them—a person worth loving.

You’ve changed. You entered this year on uncertain feet, without any direction, and you leave this year with more scars and more purpose. You’ve been humbled. You’ve opened your heart and had it crushed, opened your heart and had it seen. You’ve seen vulnerability and betrayal, grief and broken spirits. You’ve cried in a doctor’s office and alone on your bedroom floor. You’ve sat in a therapist’s office and heard her say this will probably last your whole life. You cried again and you let go.

You let go of fighting this, of trying to overcome this. You let go of being the failure who couldn’t pull it together, who couldn’t get the victory. You let go of holding God responsible for not “fixing” this. You let go of the doubt that this is all in your head—that you need to think harder or smarter to get over this. You let go of the friends who didn’t stay.

You’ve lost much, but you’ve also gained. You learned to ask questions. You learned to be honest. You learned to tell someone you need help. You learned the importance of being present and the importance of listening. You learned about yourself—that who you are is OK. That all of the emotions and questions and fears, all of the stories and passions and dreams—all of these are yours to own. They are not simply symptoms of an illness. You are more than any illness. It does not own you.

You’ve learned not to blame yourself for the things that aren’t you. The obsessive double-triple-quadruple checks. The irrational thought patterns. The tears that come and go without reason. The hollow days. The tired days. The shaky, sweaty days. The incessant moments of panic rising up out of nowhere, tackling you when you aren’t looking. You’ve learned that the rants and the downhill tumbles aren’t what define you.

People who’ve left don’t define you, either. How you respond to their absence doesn’t define you. Hope defines you. Love defines you. You define you.

You are not a hopeless case or a lost cause. You are standing up again, tending your wounds, moving forward. You are not a victim. You are a survivor, a warrior, a strong human being growing stronger every day. You are not in spite of your struggle; you are not because of your struggle. Struggle is only a place where you are refined, made stronger. You are becoming more clearly you every day.

You don’t have to try so hard. The pain is not your fault. The pain is not a character flaw or a quick fix. You don’t have to blame yourself for it or pretend it’s not there. Feel it. It’s OK to feel. Feeling takes strength.

It’s OK to be in pain. It’s OK to say you’re in pain. But always remember: You are not your pain. You are living with pain, but the pain is not everything. The pain is, but you are more.

Don’t forget: You do not have to find your way out of this darkness alone. You do not have to hide in shame. After all, you are not fighting against yourself anymore. You can call to others to help you.

Look at you: the strong one, the one who survived a hard year. But you didn’t just survive. You kept hoping in the dark places. You believed in your own worth even when you felt broken and alone.

How do I know this? You are here. You didn’t give up. You kept moving forward. You were so brave to ask for help, so brave to face the pain and see yourself beyond it.

You are so strong, friend. You have been all along.


Tori Margaret is passionate about writing honestly, loving deeply, and walking with people through their stories. She writes about her struggle with depression, anxiety, and OCD to encourage others that they are not alone and to open the door for real conversations about real suffering. She has written for TWLOHA, a non-profit devoted to supporting people with mental illness. You can find more of Tori’s writing at her blog,, or connect with her in our Writing group.

Image by Christy Anne Photography. (Give her a follow to see her upcoming Nashville adventures!)

September 13, 2016

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