When I first found out I had been accepted into the TWLOHA intern program, people kept asking me, “Why are you going?”
It’s a valid question. Why would I quit my job, leave my family and friends, and move 1,200 miles away to a random place in Florida to live in a house with complete strangers for an unpaid job?
My answer was always the same: “I want to help people.”
Those who are on the outside might think that’s me being noble, or something to that effect. But honestly, it was different than that. Yes, I absolutely wanted to help those who were struggling—but I also knew I couldn’t do anything more than comfort them. Reassure them. Tell them they matter. I’m not a counselor, and TWLOHA isn’t a counseling center. We are only a bridge on the road of recovery, a first step—and it’s up to the person how far they go. So the questions remains, if I knew coming in that I could only do so much, why did I want to do anything at all?
Five years ago, I lost my sister in a car accident. I watched my parents lose their child, watched our family fall apart. As the only kid left, I was the one who had to go to school and get the awful looks of pity from my classmates and teachers. Everyone grieves in their own way when it comes to tragedy; mine was pushing people out, putting on a brave face, and making people believe I was moving on. I wanted to seem like I was OK, so no one would see the completely broken mess I really was.
When I was in college, there were a lot of distractions, which helped me not think about what I was feeling. I played basketball for my school, and it was a great diversion … for a while. But eventually, what was going on inside caught up with me. At that point, because I never would let anyone in, I felt entirely alone. I had no one to turn to, no one to talk to.
Someone once told me that walls are safe, good, human; that if you don’t want to burden anyone with your problems, keep them inside. We keep silent because we are afraid of what others might see and if they’ll run the other way. But TWLOHA talks about the importance of community and having a support system.
I wanted to be brave enough to let people see the real me: all of me, the good and the bad. Even after years of depression and feelings of hopelessness, even in spite of all the bad things that have happened, I realized there is life still worth living. A life that can be full, and happy, and overflowing with love. And maybe, in this life, I could help others realize the same.
Not everyone will run away. Not everyone will look the other way when bad things happen. There are people who will love you no matter what. I’m still coming to trust this myself—it’s incredibly hard to let others in, especially when you’ve lived a life of intentionally being alone for so long. But let me tell you, it’s worth it. It’s worth taking the risk, because it is so freeing to be able to have someone you can talk to about anything and know they will never be scared off.
So if you’re reading this and feeling like no one will understand and no one can help, please believe me when I say, it’s simply not true. There are people who care and love you. Seek them out and let them in.
I did. I’m healing. And maybe, just maybe, you can heal, too.
—Jaimie, TWLOHA Spring 2013 intern