This is for a friend who is going through a rough time, but is struggling to deal with it in public.
I recently watched a movie called Dear Jack. Dear Jack is a documentary that Andrew McMahon, lead singer of Jack’s Mannequin, made when he found out he was diagnosed with cancer. I know some of you don’t like Jack’s Mannequin, and yet you were perfectly willing to start moshing when we saw them in concert with the Frenchies…Jack’s Mannequin is Andrew McMahon’s solo project. I don’t know about the Mannequin part, but the band was named partially after Andrew’s friend’s little brother named Jack, who was often bullied and eventually diagnosed with leukemia while still in elementary school. Andrew wrote him a song called “Dear Jack,” urging him to be brave. Years later, Andrew was diagnosed with leukemia himself, right before Jack’s Mannequin was about to release their first album. In this album, many of the songs mentioned death and illness, such as “She thinks I’m much too thin, she asks me if I’m sick,” and “Tell me, doctor, how to shake a waking nightmare that is only worse when I am sleeping,” even though he didn’t know he was sick then. I don’t know how often freakish coincidences happen in this world, but this is one of them. When he began filming every step of his battle with cancer, he said, “I plan on recording just so I don’t forget what it feels like to be this ready to fight.” Anyway, I couldn’t finish the movie because it was too sad, but I looked up the lyrics of Dear Jack.
Attach it to the end of your rope
A rope that wove ambition in with sorrow
Distancing tomorrow, tomorrows come and past
One thing he said in the movie, right before he had to shave all his hair off because of the chemo, was about how he knew he was going to lose people. In times of crisis, some people really step up to help you. They visit you, they write you cards, they bring your family food, they listen to you when you need to talk. Other people fade into the background. Some people who you wouldn’t expect step up, and others who you were depending on end up disappointing you. Andrew said he just hopes the people who matter are the ones that stay with him to the end. I don’t know if he knew this, but the terminology for what we was feeling is called secondary loss. When you experience a great loss, such as a loved one, or in Andrew’s case, a loss of health, you lose many other things. Sometimes these things aren’t apparent until much later. When all your strength is spent on being healthy, sometimes you don’t notice that other things are slipping away. You lose a sense of future- the future is an abyss. The abyss is black and you don’t in if you will make it out, or who will lead you out. The abyss can crush you. You lose self-confidence. When you are too ill to make it out of bed, you feel inadequate. Weak. You can’t do anything for yourself. You feel like you’re being clingy. You feel your role in relationships changing; maybe you were the strong one that held the family together once, but you can no longer fill this role. You feel like you are losing people. You feel yourself changing, and you fear this change. Will your friends still love you if you are weak? If they can’t understand what you are going through, will they stop understanding you entirely? When you lose a loved one, you lose the same things and other things. You lose a sense of self. There was a part of you that was dedicated to that person that has now been ripped out of you. You don’t feel whole again. You lose the lifestyle you had planned to live with them. You face the vulnerability of living alone. You fear forgetting them. You start forgetting what their voice sounded like, or what they would do in a situation. Hearing their voice again becomes more important than breathing. You lose things beyond yourself, like financial security or someone to walk you down the aisle or drive you to school or be proud at your graduation. You lose the past. Everything seems different in retrospect. At your sister’s birthday party when he walked out with the cake, something was already dying inside him but no one knew that yet. You were so naïve and disgusting and ungrateful back then. You lose stability- you know that you could break at any second. I have said these things to myself and to other people so many times that the words sound dead and technical in my ears. But I know I believed them once. Once I wrote this down, back when I was encouraged to write. “Back then the world tasted different. I can’t really describe it. Back then things were more beautiful. The air felt different on my skin. Music was beautiful. Everything was cool and dark blue. Now at night I go to a place where no one can reach me, and everything you could possibly say hurts me. I am so lonely in the dark I could die. I am so lonely in the dark I could die…”
And so, my friend, I know you want to scream like they do in that one scene in Garden State. I know you want to bitchslap people when they say insensitive things, which is so frequently that sometimes you feel you can’t stand another second of these hallways. I know you’re going to scream and cut and eat less or whatever you do to punish yourself, but I know you’ll be ok. Your pride and your family and your future mean too much to you. I am so proud of you just for getting out of bed and coming here and trying hard in school. I want you to talk about it. I want you to have a conversation with a stranger. I want you to tell them something about the past, back when it was good. I want you to enjoy the weak winter sun because at least you’re here to enjoy it. I want you to feel like you can ask for help any time. I know you will feel joy again.