I am a total packrat. It’s really bad. My garage is scary. Confession: I haven’t taken out any trash since I moved because I’m scared of the landfill and honestly, I kind of thought I’d have a boyfriend by now. It’s fine. The only reason why I haven’t been on Hoarders yet is becasuse I’m really good at organizing all the things I won’t throw out in cute little polka dot nesting boxes in my study. And there are clothes in my closet that are probably from the first time I set foot in an American Eagle. You should still see all the Lowe’s moving boxes that are still out in my garage. I used to joke that I must not need anything that’s still out there since I apparently haven't missed any of it, and I packed those suckers back in December.
And then I think of something I do need and have to get seriously pumped up to go out and dig through them. Like this morning. I promised a “Part Two” to my “Operation: Steal Your Life Back” post from last week, and have been putting it off for days because I couldn’t find this one little stack of notes from people that I need to use as an illustration. And that was a bummer, because this particular collection of notes is actually sentimental solid gold because it’s what helped me jump-start my own stealing my life back process.
And so I went out there. And finally found them in a box marked “Kitchen” (makes sense).
A few months after I moved to Boone and was pretty much 100% solidly hating everything about myself and my situation (seriously, bless the people who walked with me through that season), my therapist told me that I needed to work on positive thinking. Which was annoying, because when you’re clinically depressed, your brain sort of loses its ability to think any way but negatively. But then the other side of that is when you’ve been clinically depressed for four years, you get pretty sick of that and realize that you need help with it. And asking for help with something like that sucks, because if you go fishing for compliments in a place that vulnerable and come back with no fish, it could derail things even further. So I decided to lie. But just a little. I picked 6 or 7 of my closest friends, sent them an email, and told them that my therapist told me to ask for lists of things that were true and good about me since I was having trouble coming up with them all on my own. That part was true. I could only really name things that were true and negative, like “I flake on dinner plans too much,” or “I try to push the elevator door close button before anyone else can go on because I have too much anxiety.”
And I wasn’t expecting the response I got. I always knew that my friends were incredible people and that they all thought very highly of me, but holy cow. I thought I would get a list of adjectives, but everyone sent an actual letter of words and traits and memories with explanations. These lists. The game done changed, y’all. They’re amazing. And they caused this beautiful shift in the way I think about myself.
People have always said very graciously positive things about me, and I have always had trouble believing them because I didn’t feel the same way about myself. There was a big wall of ice keeping me from them. I could see them, but couldn’t quite get to them, couldn’t quite feel them. When people would say them, I couldn’t accept them. It wasn’t humility, and it wasn’t intentional self-deprecation. It was something else; it was that wall of ice, and I knew I needed to do something about that. And I couldn’t quite melt that wall all on my own, so I called in the troops. And I went to war.
I printed the lists off into this wondrous 15-page Word document of goodness. I made myself read it all the way through every morning when I woke up and every night before I went to sleep, and then I prayed that I would be able to believe these things as truth. One true thing at a time. As long as it took. And the more I read the lists, the more I saw patterns. And the more I saw repeated phrases like, “most encouraging person I know” and “respected” and “faithful through setbacks,” the more I could be like, “Okay, yes. It must be true,” and could recall them when I was having a hard time with something. I think I was the most surprised that “fun” and “hilarious” were words on most of the lists, because I’d never really thought of myself as a fun person; I thought of myself as the opposite as fun, as the one who sucked all the fun out of things. It was my flawed perspective, and that was just the nature of my condition and the season, but it wasn’t actually true. Having people shower me with things that were true was what allowed me to replace those negative thoughts. One true thing at a time. As long as it took.
I have these lists to thank for a lot of things. It’s a wonder that I’ve gone without reading them since I stuck them in that box back in December, really. I’m glad I found them when I did, because they’ve been crucial reinforcements in my personal war against insecurity. Reminders that I am secure, that God and other people delight in and adore me, that I am going to be okay even when things look bleak, that I am strong and an overcomer, and that nothing is wasted and that everything absolutely is for something. I need help remembering those things sometimes, and those 15 pieces of paper help me do that. I’m glad I found them again, out there in the garage.
And like every good scene in a movie when someone finds something in a garage, which could be an actual thing or something I made up (I’m not sure; didn’t that happen in Jumanji? Why is that the only example I can think of?), I accidentally found something else. The entire rest of the box. A box full of shoeboxes that were full of even more true things.
It turns out that I’ve never thrown out a single letter that anyone has ever sent me. My dad used to say, “You’ve got to write mail to get mail,” and so I spent all of college demanding addresses from people and then used the three summers I spent working at Young Life camps writing and writing and writing. And received letter after letter after letter. And now I feel so much better for being a packrat, for refusing to throw out things that might be important later. And by "important," I mean "everything."
And now I have these boxes. I went out and got pretty boxes to replace the shoeboxes because I don’t ever want to mistake these little life rafts for hiking boots again, you know? Every birthday card and Christmas card. Every five-page letter and quick little surprise inspirational post-it note. Pieces of paper that have been re-read so many times that they’re torn at the folds and are falling apart. My own little personal security blankets, these words from people.
I went and gave a talk to JMU’s Nursing school about my story with depression and bipolar a couple of weeks ago (and yes it’s on film, and yes I’ll post it soon if you promise not to count the number of times I say “like”) and I noticed that I talked an awful lot about feeling alone when I was sort of down at my lowest point. And then this morning I found all the cards that people wrote me during that lowest point; cards about bereavement when my friend died, and “thinking of you” cards when the bereavement passed but the sadness didn’t, and the “you are brave” cards when I went to try a new psychiatrist. And then things people say even now, when I’m at what’s probably my highest point to date. Anything encouraging thing that happens on my phone? I take a screenshot and keep them in a special little album. Every email, Facebook message, blog comment. There are hundreds. I’m about to print them all out and keep them in an album beside the polka dot boxes of handwritten love – my little arsenal of truth.
And so that is my second challenge. The lists. First, decide you want to steal your life back. Decide you want to melt the big ice wall that’s keeping you from believing the good things about life and yourself. Ask your friends and your families for those lists of good and true things. They know them, they think them anyway. Lie and say your therapist told you to. They’ll be such important armor when negativity and insecurity come knocking, as they do. Write other people big long lists, or short and sweet little ones, and send them to ‘em, whether they ask for them or not, or know they need them or not. (Spoiler alert: they absolutely do, so incredibly much.) Write down the good things you notice about people and send them. It’s not cheesy and it’s not stalker-ish. It’s important. It might be the most important thing you do, and it might feel like nothing, and it might feel creepy. But I think it’ll change everything, for you and for them. It might be the thing we all desperately need but are too afraid to ask for. It might be everything.
It might be the game changer that’s been under our noses or out in a box in the garage all this time.
Ask for them. Send them.
Absolutely don't throw them out. Stare at them until you believe them, one at a time, until the ice melts.
Be a truth hoarder.
My prayer for us: That we are brave in our sending and receiving, and may we one day all have boxes full of truth that are too heavy to lift.