Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped For
When I was 14 years old I met a girl with scars on her arm. None of them new, yet all of them equal parts intriguing and frightening to 9th grade me. We quickly became friends, discovering a shared interest in music, movies, and the other pop culture oddities of 1995. We went out for a little while — well, as much as 14 year olds “dated” back then — but eventually went our separate ways, only ever seeing one another in passing throughout the remainder of high school. That’s a highly condensed version of that story, but that point of it is in all that time we never once discussed her scars. She didn’t freely offer up that information — not that I would have known what to say in response — and while I cared for her and was interested in what was sure to be an emotional origin story, I didn’t have the slightest idea about how to approach the topic.
Now, 20 years later, there are few moments from high school that still stand out — yet this girl, and this story, remain. 20 years later, having lived through the hiring and firing of a number of jobs, a marriage and a divorce, depression and elation, I like to think I’m more equipped to have the meaningful and impactful conversations I wished I could have been a part of back then.
Last year — a year and three days ago to be exact — upon hearing of the death of Robin Williams, a flood of memories came back. And as the “we lost a [insert superlative here]” rhetoric began, I could not help but look at the “we” in that statement with a growing disdain. Robin Williams did not belong to us. He did not owe us anything.
In trying to articulate those feelings here on EAH, I posited that suicide should be 100% preventable. I still believe that, and — fortunately for all of us — there are plenty of people trying to make that a reality. One of those people is Jamie Tworkowski.
You may not known him by his name, but as the founder of To Write Love on Her Arms, you’re no doubt familiar with his work. If you need a refresher, TWLOHA is a nonprofit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and thoughts of suicide, and Tworkowski speaks in public frequently, telling his and the organization’s story at universities, concerts, and music festivals.
As well documented as his work is, it is the publication of his new book, If You Feel Too Much: Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped For, that has spurred this latest and extended trip down memory lane (I also hope he’ll forgive me for co-opting the subtitle for this editorial). A compilation of his own writings from 2005 through 2014 — including the very, “To Write Love on Her Arms”, that started it all — this book provides an incredible amount of insight into Tworkowski’s motivations and how that continues to drive his mission today.
The stories reveal a man of tremendous love and faith. A man who, in the face of countless losses — to cancer, to car accidents, and yes, to suicide — continues to move forward every day, even if by one small step at a time.
One thing that this book is not is pretentious — as romanticized memoirs can sometimes be. Quite the opposite in fact. Throughout the book, from the introduction through the epilogue, Tworkowski only ever refers to himself with a lowercase “i”, as if he is himself somehow unworthy of capitalizing his own memories. The following passage from the introduction does a better job than I could do of setting up the book as well as the author’s mindset.
The ache is for a life that i believe in, and this book is brave in ways that i hope to return to. i needed to go back, to read these words and retrace the steps, in order to move forward.
As I read through this book, I could not help but think that Robin Williams would also probably retell his story with a lowercase “i” — a man with an incredible gift, yet filled with turmoil and inner strife. I do not think it a coincidence that the title of Tworkowski’s book comes from a piece written last August 11th.
If you feel too much, there’s still a place for you here.
If you feel too much, don’t go.
If this world is too painful, stop and rest.
It’s okay to stop and rest.
If you need a break, it’s okay to say you need a break.
Every time I have read those words — whether in this book, as they appear towards the end, or in this moment as I re-type them — I begin to feel just a little bit better about the world. I know there are still issues at hand, and while the dangerous stigma of depression and mental illness remain, there are organizations like To Write Love on Her Arms and countless others all trying to help.
As soon as I turned the last page on If You Feel Too Much I went to facebook to look up the girl from 9th grade — because that’s a thing we do now. Finding her, I smiled. She smiled back.
Emo At Heart was generously sent a review copy of If You Feel Too Much by Tarcher/Penguin and Big Picture Media.