A few years ago, I fell in love with a writer.
When I stumbled upon his essays, it was love at first read. He was a brilliant man and a powerful wordsmith.
He wrote the sort of stuff that made you want to ping people you didn’t even like just to share something they may find value in. In a haze of obsessive reader’s love, I’d swallow his work as though it were an elixir of life.
We wrote on some of the same platforms, for some of the same publications, and about overlapping themes. It was only a matter of time before he too would stumble on my work and decide that he related to me. We had a few short exchanges before he slid into my DMs telling me (in that eloquent, alluring writerly way) that he wanted to get to know me.
I, of course, did what any introvert would do – I said no, thank you.
It seemed like a bad idea to get involved with someone in the same field who was an extreme extrovert, a decade older than me, and in a whole other part of the world.
But I’ve always been a foolish risk-taker in love. So despite my initial arrant disapproval of the idea, we eventually got involved. And it turned out to be an every-bit-as-disastrous-as-I-predicted move.
Since we lived in two continents that were far apart, we decided that there was nothing we could do about our feelings for each other. While introverted me sat love-soaked and brooding at home, the extroverted man I was into went on dates every other night.
To make things worse, he kept writing, building, and thriving in his career and life but I kept sinking into feeling overshadowed, insecure, and replaceable. The little nuggets of wisdom I gleaned from my humdrum experiences felt lackluster beside his shiny, larger-than-life stories about hobnobbing with pop icons and renowned politicians. Each time I tried to write, I’d hear his voice in my head, and my own scurried into a corner, refusing to speak.
So I had a talk with him, said I needed distance and hit the block button. I wanted space to heal and find my own voice again.
But things didn’t fall back into place as I’d hoped.
After exhausting days at work, I’d return to my single-room apartment where I lived alone and have to deal with a sick brain, a broken heart, and dozens of questions that would not stop screaming at me. They were shrill, raging, desperate for answers. And there was no way to draw them out.
I still couldn’t write. After what happened with him, I felt so uncertain about who I was that I no longer knew where to draw my words from. His words and perspective kept showing up and filtering my experiences.
There was neither plot nor sequence to the things I was putting down. But most importantly, there wasn’t that one thing that always caught the light and shone – there wasn’t truth.
After months of this, I knew that I had to shut my laptop and try something else. So I started to write on paper instead. But I didn’t write essays since I couldn’t pull together the broken bits of myself using someone else’s voice, that tale wouldn’t belong to me. Instead, I took each of those broken bits and spoke directly to them, I wrote letters to myself.
Writing a letter was an act of conversation, a space that felt less intimidating to show up at as I was. Writing on paper allowed for imperfection and messiness, there was breathing room for error, long winding corridors that welcomed mundane stories along their expanse.
So each day, I picked one of the many questions pressing against me and addressed it in a letter. I examined every bit of insecurity, doubt, uncertainty, fear, and shame that the writer brought up in me. I wrote as though I had all the answers. My letters reframed what I was telling myself into what I needed to hear.
I didn’t think about how I sounded, what any of this meant, or what would become of these letters. All I knew was that I was summoned to write and so I did. From the kindest and wisest parts of myself to the most broken and hurting parts, I wrote 100 letters of courage, faith, and acceptance.
When I wrote out the pain and confusion our relation had whirled me into, I wrote out his voice from my brain too. My own voice was the magnet that zapped my story in place, mending my heart. When I was done, I decided to put the letters out into the world. I shared them with the community as catalysts for those like me who needed to look within to find their own answers.
On the day I launched my letters project, I had a conversation with the writer for the first time in a year. I told him that although he hurt me, I was glad we happened. When he left me with the acute discomfort of being overwritten, I learnt how to seek my truth and occupy every icky, average, and frightening part of it. I learnt how to step into all of who I was and be seen as exactly me.
But that was just one chapter. He stirred up a storm that was entirely mine and I know it’ll arise again. It will come as heartbreak, illness, loss, grief, pride, shame, jealousy, and insecurity. It’ll block my vision in unique ways, it’ll distort it, it’ll get dark inside.
But I now also know that we each have unfathomable wisdom within us, even when the darkness closes in and it feels like we don’t know who we are. We just have to keep pushing with the grit of our deepest convictions, one frame at a time until there is room for our light to shine and story to form.
If you are looking for answers, for closure, or for healing, give yourself permission to speak your truth into existence, because oftentimes, that’s the only way to find it.