Reaching Back When You Reach Out

Reaching Back When You Reach Out

I write about a lot of things that people often don't know how to talk about in person. Hell, I write about a lot of things I don't know how to talk about in person. Part of that is the complexity of the social dynamics in a conversation (is this a person I can talk openly about abortion with? or are they, for instance, a minor in a high school setting?), but also because when you can actually see somebody, when you're actually making eye-contact and you're inferring from their expression and tone what's going unsaid between the lines, you know better what is actually being asked of you (Like when you tell me your father died of cancer and the pain is raw on your face; or when you ask me how I ever found it in myself to trust a romantic partner after being raped and stalked, and I can see in your eyes that you don't know how you will ever open yourself up again to love).

Because I write about these things, these things specifically instead of in the abstract, because when you google phrases like "husband glioblastoma" and "rape and suicide" and "postpartum depression and PTSD," you find me. And that means strangers who are desperate, who are afraid and lonely and feeling hopeless, they often find me.

I get a lot of messages, all over the place, on these subjects. And I always try to answer.

Whenever anyone writes and wants to know what to do now that the most important person in the world to them has an aggressive, terminal brain cancer, I tell them. I tell them to breathe, I tell them not to think about the future any more than they have to. I tell them that really, we all live with the specter of death looming over us, and somehow all of us have to figure out how to live anyway. I tell them a little denial goes a long way. And then I tell them to look for trials, to ask their doctors about Optune devices, to avoid Avastin as long as possible, and to plan on getting their loved one antidepressants if they're going to spend months on steroids. I tell them to get a medical marijuana card if it's an option.

When my inbox fills with people who aren't sure how to name their assaults, afraid that if they disclose their rape or was-it-a-rape-because-I-don't-want-to-have-to-live-with-being-raped, I tell them it's okay. I tell them that being raped doesn't define them, that they did not ask for this, that they are not obligated to stand up and announce what they have lived through, it does not have to become their identity. I tell them they are enough, and they are still themselves, and they will get through it whatever it is. I tell them to connect to other survivors because in a community of survivors you are not constantly asked to prove your trauma pedigree. I tell them that anyone who says, "It could have been worse," is not somebody they have to talk about their experience with.

When pleas for help come to me, fears from mothers that they are broken, or that there is something fundamentally wrong with them, that they are not up to the challenge of their lives because every time they close their eyes all they can see is that they might fall with the baby into the street and might both be crushed by oncoming traffic, or that they can't sleep because their baby might stop breathing and then all day they cry when nobody is looking, I tell them to cry. I tell them to go ahead and cry until they feel hollow, because hollowing yourself out when you're full of pain is better than letting the pain explode, and I tell them to get help, please, get help, because help is out there.

In between all the writing I do, all the advocacy work I do, all the work of taking care of my family and my husband's treatment and everything else I do in my day, I also do this.

I also answer these emails.

I wish I could answer them faster, or better, but the fact is these take their toll. It's one thing to see all the comments, the "hearts" and "favorites" and retweets and shares, but it is another when a person knocks on your door and asks for help.

It might be online, it might be on social media or in my email, but that's what they are doing. I live online, I live in social media, so when somebody comes looking for me and asking for help, to me it is as though they have appeared on my doorstep with a rucksack and an empty belly, and although I cannot turn them away, I can wait, a bit. I can take a breath and take these messages one at a time. I can take the time I need to hold their stories, and hold their pain, and honor it, because this is not about me. People don't go to you for help because they want to hear about your pain. They go to you for help because they need you to learn about theirs.

This is different online than it is in person because it is so hard to talk about these things in person. And that means, often, reaching out online is the only way people reach out at all. It means I am being trusted, deeply and profoundly, as deeply and profoundly as though they truly were showing up on my doorstep.

So if you have reached out to me, thank you. Thank you so much for trusting me with your broken pieces, thank you so much for opening your heart to me.

If I have not answered you, I will. If I do not fast enough, reach out again. I want to be there for you. I want to do whatever it takes to help you stand, to set you onto your feet and back through my door again, with a belly full of sustenance and bandages wherever you are raw.

I am here for you.


Read more about the internet being a real place with real people here: Threats Online are Real Threats

Read my most recent post here: Sit at a Typewriter and Bleed

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