Dear Zack,

I know right now there aren’t really any words to properly articulate and convey just how angry and confused you are at this time. I know as well that your greatest fear at this stage is the possibility of losing your early 20’s. The time period in life that many preach to be the pinnacle of our existence, that stage where we explore new things and continually work to find ourselves and figure out exactly who we are. I understand that you still hold on to the possibility of living out those years the way you had always imagined. I realize deep inside you still believe there’s a chance you’re going to backpack by foot from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa or live out your youth near a beach in Melbourne, Australia. I actually quite miss your ability to dream and set goals for yourself many deemed ridiculous. But I’m also aware of the great anxiety of possibly not being able to fulfill these lofty dreams will cause you over the coming years. I know you stare at the ceiling late at night feverishly trying to grasp and clutch onto the youth that you slowly see fading away. I wish there were more comforting words I could give, I wish I could tell you to keep those dreams. However, if we are to look through the lens in which you currently see the world then yes, you will in fact lose your early 20’s. But that’s only due to the way you currently define the word, “lose”.
I know that through the duration of this letter it seems like all I’m trying to do is put a positive spin on very difficult, if not traumatic times. Maybe I am to an extent, but I promise you, you have lost nothing over these years. I promise you that in some odd way you needed these years to manifest themselves the way they did. I promise you, with every piece I have of my heart that these years will be worth it.

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With the Masai Tribe in Kenya months before I became extremely ill

I know right now excruciating pain radiates throughout your body. I cringe when I think back to those days you laid in bed using whatever strength you had left to scream violently into your pillow. I know at that time you’re screaming in some great desperation that the pain will leave with it. No words I can offer you will help lessen that pain. Your screams will often go unanswered. You will have to grin and bear it, you will have to endure levels of suffering you previously thought impossible. But with each jolt of pain, a strength and resilience will rise in you that hadn’t existed before that moment. Through each scream you will learn what it is to suffer, but you will learn what it is to live as well. The pain will slowly subside as time passes. Please never forget those days when you awoke and something was clawing at you, grabbing you by the throat and throwing you back into that bed to endure the torture chamber that had been your own body. Don’t lose sight of those days, so you can fully understand how lucky you are to be in a body that isn’t working against you.

This is about six months into my illness, rarely left that bed for years

I know you will have moments where you’re at your absolute breaking point. There will be times when every signal being given throughout your mind and body will be telling you to end it all, to give up. Please, I beg of you to not feel like you are weak for coming so close to giving into these thoughts. This isn’t your fault. Between the pain, the medications, the toxicity from the illness, there are so many things within your body and mind that are completely out of your control. They are telling you to do things that you personally would’ve never considered. This is not weakness, this is struggling, and this is what we all go through. The fact that you have never completely surrendered yourself to those horrific impulses signifies strength, and you must never forget that.

I know the levels of anger and aggression that exist within you that had never touched you before. I still think back and wonder how at six feet tall and one hundred thirty pounds you were still able to punch all those holes throughout your wall. However, you must never fully give into those feelings. You must remember that you can no longer define yourself by your accomplishments relative to your peers. There will always be a blank space on your resume that can’t be filled. But deep down, as cliché as it may sound, you will fill it. A character will be built in you that otherwise may have never come to fruition. I know the many lessons and values in life passed you by throughout your younger years. It cost you dearly growing up, as you never truly learned how to connect with those around you. But this illness over time will allow you to become compassionate, and to empathize with others. You know what real pain and despair is, and every time you hear of someone who goes through something similar it will bring you on the verge of tears. I assure you, this isn’t a weakness. The ability to be vulnerable with those around you will be one your greatest strengths. You will learn what it is to truly care about others more than yourself. I promise you, nothing you could’ve otherwise learned over these years would’ve possibly supplanted this.

I know you’re alone right now. I know the isolation is breaking you day by day. But you will see the goodness in people that you hadn’t known ever existed before. Friends who you were rarely ever good to will come to your aide and be by your side anyway, and they will continually talk you off the ledge. Strangers will come by your side and offer help in any way they can. Yes there will be those in your life that you’re close with, even those bound to you through blood who will let you down. But not everyone can step inside your body or have the right words to say, the human species isn’t perfect. However, don’t ever lose sight of the goodness that exists within people, even when the bad tries to crowd them out.10363931_10204112453944386_5087351202447225318_n


I know you’re frustrated. I know you’d so much rather be healthy right now. I know you want the world to know how ridiculous it is what’s happening to you and others throughout the world. There are times you need to pull back though. You can’t let this illness be the only thing that defines you. If you make every conversation you have with others about this illness, you will be nothing more than this thing you hate. However, there will be times where you will want to forget the egregiousness of what the medical community has done. You must not allow this to take root within you. You need to continually speak up and raise awareness throughout the duration of your life. Many people that you have met throughout your life will find a diagnosis and even regain their health who otherwise may have remained ill for years had you not spoken up. You need to find a balance between raising awareness without letting it consume you and annoy others. But lives are at stake if you choose not to put your story and experiences out there.

I know you don’t believe in God right now. And I’m not going to tell you that you ever should. All I want to tell you is that there is so much in this world that we don’t fully understand. I get why you scoff at the notion of there even being a higher being. You’ve seen friends and amazing people around you suffer and lose their life who deserved so much better. I empathize with the fact that you look at where you are currently and the ridiculous nature of how so many things needed to go wrong for you to end up where you currently are today. I understand it’s strange, that you of all people had to succumb to this insidious illness. However, I assure you that the amount of things that will have to line up precisely and perfectly for you to eventually overcome this monster is even greater, yet somehow it happens. I’m not trying to say that your life is more important than those who lost theirs, because it isn’t. All I’m trying to convey to you is that for some reason, beyond my explanation or full understanding, is that there is possibly a force or energy guiding you, directing you, and looking after you. I don’t know why, and I don’t know why it possibly chose you. I know how ridiculous this sounds, and I know you’re at the other end of this letter laughing hysterically to yourself at this very notion. You will do what I continually did and will always chalk it up as an extreme coincidence that things came together the way they did. But over time you will begin to understand what I am telling you now. Over time, you will understand that you aren’t in fact ever alone.

Eventually things do improve

I know you’ve never fully trusted anyone. I know even before this illness you went through very extreme and albeit tragic times throughout your childhood. But this illness will give you someone special. This person will know your flaws and stick by you anyways while you work through them. This person will give you a shoulder to cry on, and a hand to continually lift you up. This person will give you the ability to do the same for her. This person will teach you and help mold you to be the best possible version of yourself. You will have a premonition of this exact person at some point through your illness, and somehow she will find you. Remember that prior paragraph, because yes it will indeed begin to make sense.



I know this letter is tough, and I know it may not have allowed you to feel better. But I needed you to read this letter. I needed you to take this in. Because you will learn these lessons, and these experiences will eventually cultivate a good person. But somewhere along the way you will let the lethargy of our daily existence consume you and forget everything this illness has taught you. The greatest thing an experience like this could give you is a lust and love for life that hadn’t existed before. The ability to wake up day in and day out and appreciate the ground upon which you walk is truly something special and amazing. If you lose this gift, if you lose that ability, then yes you are right, you have indeed lost those four years that are defined as your early 20’s. That is why, whenever you succumb to that lethargy, whenever you forget this gift that has been bestowed upon you, I need you to read this letter.


Your Older Self

Written by Zach Roberts, please check out his page HERE