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Archive for the ‘Letters’ Category

Dear Jo,

You wrote me in November 2021, back when I thought my post office box had been closed (turns out the lock was just sticky).  So I just got your letter today.  Nice to make your acquaintance, and… oops.  I hope you got through the holidays okay.

You opened it it thus:

“Can you stand another ‘I loved your book and it’s helping me feel better and less lonely’ note?  I hope so, because here it is.”

Oh, gosh, I guess I can, if I must.  It’s a tough row to hoe, being so eloquently appreciated, but I’ll do my best.

No, seriously, thank you.  Authors don’t get as many of these types of letters as people assume we do.  Especially not handwritten ones.  Every one I get, I treasure, even though I didn’t manage to respond to most of them over the past two or three years.  I’m going to try to be better about that in the future.

In your case, tragically, the post office stamped the outgoing envelope in such a way that I can’t read your return address.  I really wanted to write back to you, and I even have stationery ordered and on the way due to a resurgence of my interest in paper correspondence!

So I’ll reach out to you here, and really hope you see it.  I’m so glad you never gave up on making something out of your life; so many people do, and they miss out on so much.  I hope that all the work you’re doing right now, all your persistence, pays off more than you could ever have hoped.  What kind of degree are you shooting for?  I’m genuinely impressed.  I hope Millie lives to be your age, and I hope she does as well for herself as you seem to be doing.  Seriously, do you know how amazing you are?  I’ll bet you don’t hear it as often as you should.

What I like best in your letter, I think, is that you said Borderline helped you take yourself less seriously.  That sounds trivial, but it really, really isn’t.  I think you understand exactly what I mean.  It can be so easy for those with mental health struggles to let their pain define them, to wrap their identity up in a diagnosis.  To focus on the difficulty rather than the rewards.  It’s so important, and helps so much, to be able to laugh at the absurdity of your brain when it does stupid stuff to you.

You said that my book touched you, and I hope that it touched you half as much as your letter did me.  Feel free to pass along your address to me at my Mailbook in a more readable form.  If you do that, I’ll write you a real letter as soon as I get my new shipment of stationery.

But the next time you take a moment to appreciate someone who’s done something to help you through life – would you do me a favor and check the mirror?  Look at the life you’ve built for yourself.  How long you’ve kept at it, kept learning and using coping strategies, kept making things incrementally better, kept striving, even though you got dealt life on Hard Mode.  Don’t ever let anyone minimize what you’ve achieved.

Can you stand hearing that?  I hope so, because there it is.



Mailbox: Seven Decades

Thanks to my putting my mailing address “out there” prominently for anyone to find, I’ve begun to receive such truly remarkable letters on a regular basis that I think I’m going to have to make blogging about them a semiregular activity.  For a while I was contented with occasionally tweeting that I had received something that touched me, but then I received a letter from a 60+ year old woman in Idaho, and I realized that 140 characters wasn’t going to cover it.  I don’t have her permission to use her name, and don’t know how to contact her online, but I’ve asked permission in my reply to her letter, and so I’ll possibly edit this post later with a bit more about her.

I was intrigued before I even opened the card; it had a haunting photograph of misty trees pasted to the outside, created, I can only presume, by the author of the letter, as it was titled beneath: ” ‘ECHO’ – for Mishell Baker “.

This woman wrote a letter to thank me for having written Borderline, and somehow, it seemed, to thank me for simply existing.  It sounds strange, doesn’t it?  Excessive?  Except that this woman, better than anyone, must have known how valuable it is for me to receive reassurance that it’s okay for me to take up space.  She knew this because, like me, she has borderline personality disorder.  And somehow, miraculously, without the new tools we have to identify and manage the condition, she has survived into a seventh decade.

I’m not certain if she realizes how miraculous that is.  I fact I’m sure she doesn’t, given that she had written to me to congratulate me on something she considered a tremendous achievement.  All I did was write a book.  This woman has somehow not only survived past sixty without ever finding an understanding therapist, but also managed to find some kind of peace, after many harrowing decades that she only delicately alludes to:

“…after a long lifetime of moving around in hope of outrunning all that ailed me, I have finally grown roots and stayed put these last seventeen years; able to…make some real progress in the construction of self.”

My eyes fill with tears just reading this.  Can you even imagine?  To be a woman in her forties, carrying around (what I can only imagine must be) a string of broken relationships and abandoned careers, and to still have the courage to try again, to settle somewhere and begin the process of finding out who you are?  This woman attributed courage to me, but only I think because, as someone with BPD, she found it hard to recognize such a good quality in herself.  People with BPD are prone to idealizing others and belittling their own accomplishments (as well as the accomplishments of anyone foolish enough to love them).

It’s hard for me to express what it meant to receive this letter.  I never imagined that anything I might write or say, could move a person more than twenty years my senior to thank me.  If I ever nurtured fantasies of illuminating readers or changing their lives for the better, I always imagined lost souls in their teens or twenties who hadn’t yet reaped the benefit of surviving long enough to pick up a few tricks that pass for wisdom.

I don’t even remember now exactly what I replied to her, but I hope I said something to make it worth the effort she took in reaching out to me.