Dear Past Me,
I don't really know why I'm doing this. Someone asked me recently what advice I would give to myself if I were able to travel back in time to about a year ago, and I've thought a lot about it since then. The Love Letter Project is this collaborative thing where people who've made it to the other side of a challenging situation write to other people who might be going through the same thing. And if this past year or so hasn't been a challenge, then I don't know what has. This seems like the kind of thing you'd write about in a journal, but I don't have a journal and I've never I've never been good at keeping up with those. I do have a sudden abundance of free time on my hands, however, so I figured that maybe getting this out of my head and onto paper, even if I'm just going to tear it up afterwards, would keep me busy for a while. And maybe, if I'm lucky, it'll help me process some of the stuff that's happened lately.
Okay, Past Me. So. One year ago, I was...well, I was me. I had just started my acute and critical care surgery fellowship at Mass Gen. Sam and I had just moved into our new apartment in the North End, because the house we had lived in before, the one in Beacon Hill that we shared with Bren all those years ago, had burned down because of a gas leak. Supposedly. I'm still not sure that's what actually happened, but that's what the fire department said, and that's what the insurance companies have on record. We lost almost everything, but we came out of the fire unscathed and alive, and that's what matters in the end. It was a bumpy road coming back because of this thing called dissociative amnesia. It happens to some people who've experienced trauma, where their brains conveniently forget the traumatic event and some of the time around it, as if it's trying to protect itself. I couldn't remember anything about the fire. That it happened at all, when it happened, how; all of those details were lost on me. I wasn't able to remember any of that until maybe a month ago, right around the anniversary of the fire, because brains are mysterious things that science and medicine don't actually know much about. Anniversaries come around like clockwork even when you're not aware of them, and they can catch you off guard and make or break your day when they do. I had made peace with the idea that whatever it was that happened early that Wednesday morning might always be a mystery to me, but now I know, and though some things make a little more sense now, at least in retrospect, I think my therapist was right when she said that if those memories did come back, that I shouldn't expect them to make a huge difference. They don't, and I'm okay with that.
So, Past Me. The house fire was only the beginning of a very long, very strange year. I'm supposed to be giving you advice on how to approach what's coming up for you, and it wouldn't make any sense if I explained any of it, because everything that you're about to face is in that realm of things that you have to see to believe. But you have witnessed some of this strange stuff, even if you weren't totally aware of it at the time and/or have probably forgotten about it now.
Here's some context: a year from now, you'll find that almost nothing will have gone as you've planned. You still have your fellowship, and that's going great, and you'll have submitted all of your applications for your next fellowship, so at least that's done. You're still living with Sam. But everything else in between then and now falls under the category of Un-Fucking-Believable and other expletive infixes. You'll have to find out for yourself, because if I spoil any of it for you, you'll probably bury yourself in work or barricade yourself in your room and never leave, and then you'll inevitably turn into Marjory the Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock and no one wants that to happen.
In about a month or so, you'll realize that you're not who you think you are. You haven't been for a while. And you're about to go through a lot of crazy shit that's going to demand all of the patience, strength, and integrity that you've got. You're going to witness so many things that you never thought were possible. You're going to get hurt, and you're going to watch your friends get hurt, too.
But amidst it all, you'll pull through. All of you will. I don't know if I can say whether things are better, one year later, but you'll learn to work with what you're given, just like you always do. You'll have a support system in your friends. You'll be a support system for them, too. Some of these things are going to be really difficult, but you'll still have time to have fun and laugh every now and then, and that's just as important, because whatever happens, don't lose sight of yourself, and when you do, find your way back. It's happened a few times. It's happening right now. It isn't pretty, and it isn't fun, and it won't do anyone any good, least of all yourself. It's probably been the most difficult thing you've dealt with this year, if not your entire life, but each time you feel challenged, use it as a springboard to take stock in yourself and do better next time. Look at what's happened, why you've made the choices that you have, and trust that you've done your best with the circumstances that you've been given. When you look back on those things, you won't always love the decisions that you've made, but that's okay. Don't let them define you. As some smart person once said, character is who you are when nobody's looking.
So, strap in and hold tight, because you're in for a wild ride.