Before you read this first entry in Letters to Little Sarah, I wanted to give some context of how this came about.
In May 2020, I was diagnosed with Autism. I was 52. A diagnosis of ADHD followed a year later. Whilst I thought discovering I was neurodivergent would immediately make me feel better, it did not. Whilst it did explain so much of why I didn’t quite get how people seemed to find living life so easy, and helped me to understand my own responses to life and living, it brought with it its own problems – grief of a loss of a life that might have been had I been diagnosed before (this is very common), and learning through some intensive therapy that I had to acknowledge that I had quite a lot of childhood trauma that I responded to from an undiagnosed neurodivergent perspective meaning traditional avenues of therapy weren’t going to be the fix-all I was hoping for.
This latter realisation sent me into a deep depression. Because of my neurodivergence, traditional medicines used to treat depression were not effective. I am currently undergoing Transmagnetic Brain Stimulation which is having some positive outcomes, but I am still prone to emotional breakdowns when confronted with anything by which my Brain feels threatened (which can be anything from worrying about the smallest daily things, to the recent events in Afghanistan, to another lockdown in this pandemic).
As you can perhaps imagine, a neurodivergent brain, whilst amazing, also brings with it exhausting responses to the world.
These letters to my inner child (Little Sarah) are my way of trying to make sense of my world, acknowledging the inner child in all of us and that without nurturing that inner child, no meaningful healing can take place (at least that is what I believe). It is also my attempt to manage my anxiety and once again reclaim some meaning in my life, possibly for the first time ever.
The original idea I had was to handwrite them, pop them in dated envelopes in a box, which I am doing. It worries me that we aren’t handwriting anymore and that we are doing all of our writing online and that there is a real possibility of entire generations of what life was truly like will be lost. Diaries offer such important insight into our histories (think of Anne Frank, as just one of hundreds of examples – such a seemingly mundane diary of a young teenager’s life, but one that has captured hearts and given us such an amazing glimpse of life back then and during an awful war).
Being an over thinker and a worrier, I think about these things a lot and so, in the spirit of openness, healing and offering something to the world that might help someone else one day, I decided to share my very personal handwritten letters online as well. I write them in the morning, and then type them up unedited and verbatim to share here.
I am also using these letters as a way to start a daily writing practice without the pressure of having to produce something polished, edited or refined. In that context, I ask you to forgive the mundaneness of the writings, and to take what you find useful, if anything, and to leave the rest.
I will also ask you to refrain from offering advice. That is not the point of this exercise. I am “free writing” what is in my head and it is my firm belief that unedited writing facilitates an avenue of healing. There are some excellent books on this (How the light gets in and The Artists Way being two of them)
Side note: As I finished writing this introduction, it occurred to me that my school friend Roy suggested some time ago that I write to my inner child. That thought obviously percolated unconsciously for a while until today. Thanks Roy ❤️
Dear Little Sarah
The past couple of days have not been great, have they? Brain has ramped up the memories of where we didn’t measure up and fear for the future seems to have been taken up a notch too. We seem to flip flop between lamenting the past – how we messed up – and looking into the abyss of a future that doesn’t seem worth living. In particular, the constant barrage from the media (social and mainstream) of all the evil and natural devastation in the world seems to be out of control and our poor sensitive souls just can’t cope with it all.
Usually, I would just spend the day scrolling endlessly through the internet look for pretty things to distract me, but we both know that this isn’t helpful, or sustainable, plus it just keeps Brain’s neurones turned on, which then puts them on high alert for miserable memories and possible dangers. I mean, we know that Brain is just trying to protect us, but the truth is she is paralysing us and fuelling our mental struggles.
Scrolling constantly is no way to exist (it certainly isn’t living), plus sitting constantly in that sofa is causing us unbelievable back pain, not to mention muscle degeneration resulting in an even flabbier body than before.
Yesterday, to add to all of this, I released that Dave is exhausted. Being a carer to two quite emotionally charged people must be draining and yesterday he said things that hurt – not intentionally but they hurt nevertheless. Last night I knew that the old adage of nothing changes if nothing changes had come to roost.
So what do we do, Little Sarah, what do we do? We work within the confines of our neurodivergent limitations (thank you Autism and ADHD) to do things differently, to slowly but surely work our way into a life that has meaning.
Firstly, we are going to do the basics:
We both know that this is something I have neglected, especially since becoming vegetarian. I hate cooking (well, I dislike it intensely), but there are myriad of ways to still feed the body in a way to support a fragile mind and flabby larger sized body. We are aiming for food that strengthens and feeds the body well, NOT weight loss here.
Move the body
By far the biggest challenge for me. I remember mom wanting to take me for walks and me just sitting down insisting I be carried (which did not happen HA!). I so wanted to be good at sport, especially in South Africa where sport was so defining, but alas it wasn’t meant to be. Moving my body to any level of excess really took it out of me and so I avoided it.
Having said that and accepting my reluctance, I acknowledge that the stiffness I feel in my body is probably more reminiscent of someone with an 80 year old body and if I am going to end up travelling the world once this pandemic is over, then I have to move.
I was thinking about this last night and it is clear that high impact exercise is never going to work, so what I think is that a combination of yoga and low impact exercise is the best way to go about this. Yoga draws in the breath, calms the mind and stretches the body. Plus I know that it isn’t competitive (it isn’t meant to be at least). I can do this at home in the beginning to gain some confidence before heading off to a studio, which is important to do I think to get out and around people, which leads me to the next item.
Feed the soul
Doing the previous two will contribute massively to mental well being and feeling strong, but to truly feed the soul, to feel purposeful or to live a life with meaning, we need to do things that give us connection. I am connected massively to Dave but recently that has evolved I think to a more codependent relationship of late that has me looking to him for approval and agency and when that isn’t forthcoming in the way or time I would like it to, it catapults me into a depth of emptiness where I can’t breathe. You know this is true, don’t you, Little S.
A way out of this is to find things that nurture us independently, from within, not externally. We need to self esteem ourselves. For the longest time, I have wanted to live a creative life (writing, crafting, hand making) but have been frozen by a fear of a lack of talent, not being able to make money from it and an overly acute fear of rejection (again, thank you ADHD). But now Autism and ADHD releases us from that need to make money since we know that at 53, we are never going to need to enter the corporate world again, nor do I want to, ever.
Our neurodivergence has presented us with a gift – the ability and time to create, to nurture and explore what is within us without pressure to earn from it (though selling a few of our hand made items on Etsy would be nice). So after spending a fair bit on equipment and supplies, I want us to do a daily practice of leaning into our creativity and honing our skills.
I am very drawn to yarn art at the moment. If I am brutally honest, it is because it doesn’t require us to be able to draw. Having said that, I am finding myself already inspired to try new things and combine crafts. We just have to work on our fear of failure. No-one is going to see it after all, and let’s face it, it’s just yarn.
The other prong to feeding the soul is connection to others. And this is where we truly struggle, isn’t it Little S? You, in the recesses of my mind, afraid and convinced that everyone hates us, and me, looking in the mirror at our bald head, ageing skin and large body, wondering how on earth anyone would want to or could want to be with us or love us.
But here is the kicker, in order to thrive as humans, in order to feel connected, we have to put ourselves “out there”. We have to get off the phone/screen and off the sofa and get out amongst people. It is terrifying I know. And the demand avoidance is huge because of what we now know is our neurodivergence (we are still getting used to that, aren’t we Little S). But, Little S, you know we have always wanted to be of service to our fellow man. Right from when we were little, being able to do kind things for others, to help them feel loved and valued, has always been a massive part of who we are.
Now, it is true that service-to-others desire has appeared to leave us, as we have retreated further and further into ourselves because of people who would beat us down, a neural pathway that perpetuates a negative outlook and self talk the convinces us that to be alone is far better. But nothing changes if nothing changes, right?
So, I’ve been thinking that we could put our toe out into the big wide world by volunteering one day/morning/afternoon a week at an op shop. I figured that minimum of four hours is doable. We would be connecting with people but not in a way that would be too demanding – initially at least. Plus we would be contributing to the greater good of humanity instead of sitting on the sofa day after day listening to Brain telling us of all the ills of the world and how bad we are as a person. We can turn that around, Little S, by focussing on doing service and helping others.
So, those are my thoughts for today Little Sarah. In case you hadn’t guessed it, these letters to you are part of our strategy to help us feel connected again. I can’t do that though without connecting with you first. I have ignored you and shunned you for too long and I am so sorry for that. I hope these letters help you to know how very precious are you are and how very much you are loved. I hope they help you to feel safe, valued and validated. You have been with my my whole life (and boy, haven’t we been through a lot?) and you have been amazing, even though I have ignored you. So it only seems right that I take this moment to stop, breathe in, wrap my arms around you, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for never giving up on me, for not letting me go.
I love you. See you tomorrow.