Let’s tell them to look up.

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If You Feel Too Much: Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped For by Jamie Tworkowski

This book traveled from the US to Philippines shores, landed on the hands of a dear friend, and eventually made its way to me on September 3, 2016. The other night, I kept it close to me after I finished reading it.

Denise asked if I wanted to buy, so she could ship both our copies together. I said yes for three reasons:

  1. My friend is a strong advocate of healing for people who suffer from mental illnesses

Denise echoes beautiful virtues like healing and hope through her writings and art. Over coffee earlier this year, we met and she mentioned how mental illnesses aren’t taken so seriously here in the Philippines.

And then a few weeks ago, she posted something on Instagram about how she wanted to use art and healing together – to be an art therapist is the right term! (She also would want to be a professional book hunter – I think she already is; she knows so many hidden bookstores in different cities and online!)

I was touched by her heart to a beautiful cause like this (and To Write Love on her Arms), so I bought If You Feel Too Much too, to show my support to her vision and to people who went through this kind of difficulty in life.

She also told me about how she wanted to be an intern for To Write Love on her Arms. (If ever you’re reading this, Denise, I hope you try to apply someday!) 🙂

2. Listening to ‘You Don’t Know How Beautiful You Are’ by Jon Foreman introduced me to TWLOHA

If my memory serves me correctly, I first heard the song You Don’t Know How Beautiful You Are – a favorite song by Jon Foreman, lead vocalist of my favorite band Switchfoot – as part of a soundtrack from the movie To Write Love On Her Arms.

That was the first time I ever came across To Write Love on her Arms (TWLOHA).

At first, I didn’t know that TWLOHA was a non-profit movement that aims to encourage and help people who suffer from depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide.

Because I wanted to know more about this organization, I decided to purchase my copy. It’s not available in the Philippines, so I’m thankful for Denise for letting my copy go on a trip around the world together!

I love how one beautiful thing like a song will lead you to another beautiful thing. I was happy to read Jon Foreman’s note for Jamie Tworkowski in the first pages of the book.

3. I could relate to the title of the book

I have been told that I was too sensitive and emotional. And I really am. Without reading what the book will be about, I said yes to Denise that I want to buy a copy. Because I knew I will learn so much from it.

A month or two months from the first time I read it, I’m thankful that I was able to read Jamie Tworkowski’s stories – stories about his own struggles, about TWLOHA and how it all started, about his very good friends, about hope, about asking for help. Each chapter spoke like an encouragement that your voice matters, your life matters, and there will be a big hole in the world if you weren’t there.

“And i would like to be the sort of person who loves people unconditionally. The sort of person who loves people even when they hurt me. When they offend me. When they embarrass me.” (p.33)

I love how he writes, I love his honesty, I love how he handles and cares to cultivate real deep friendships, I love the shade of blue the book was – the calm shade of blue that does not pierce one’s eyes but the shade of blue on a bright day, I love that he wrote more about his friends and how much they mean to him, I love the things that I was able to relate to and learn from, I love how he shows love and forgiveness, I love that despite the negativity that he and other people who struggle with depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts feel, they continue fighting. They know in their hearts they are fighting, and they will win because there are people who love them and support them.

There was a time that happened in 2015. The year was about to end in a few weeks, and I had so much to do still. I cried and cried uncontrollably and breathing hard because of the anxiety. It just happened once, and my Dad had to call me; he kept me comforted, asking me to drink water too to calm down. I didn’t want to self-diagnose, so I don’t know if that was a panic or anxiety attack.

Many people suffer worse from that. And what we need to do is to understand where they’re coming from and let them know that we are a safe place to ask help from. I’ve read time and time again that depression or a mental illness isn’t something that they can just turn off like a switch. To ask someone who suffers from it to be happy will not give immediate outcomes. I have little knowledge about this, but I hope to be encouraging and loving to those who struggle, the way Jamie welcomes them, the way Denise cares about them, the way that God saw them as people to love rather than to change.

Because Jamie shared so much about his journey, I too felt that I should be honoring my story as well, with the good and bad taken into account. He truly made one feel important and loved, and I believe in what Alex Morgan from the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team wrote in her review at the back of the book: “He has the biggest heart, and when he says the words ‘You matter,’ you believe him.” And even though I haven’t met this man who helps a lot of people, I believe him, because you could never doubt a man’s goodness and sincerity, because he himself endured these seasons of depression and darkness.

“We believe it’s possible to change. We hear from people taking brave steps towards hope and help and healing. We hear from people sitting across from a counselor for the first time, people stepping into treatment and people picking up the phone to call a crisis hotline. We hear from people pursuing sobriety and stability. We believe that great help exists and we know the first step is often the hardest one to take.

If you’re struggling, please talk to someone. It’s okay to ask for help. People need other people. If someone you care about is hurting, talk to them. We know it’s not always easy, but it could be the thing that changes everything.” (p.123)

I have this funny feeling that all of the books I read this 2016 have molded me well. This book, meanwhile, became the friend who comforts you about your deepest thoughts and feelings.

This book was my companion during a time I had to wait for a Book Gathering to attend to. I read about Jamie Tworkowski’s stories full of hope, and the particular chapter about a few of his dearest friends David McKenna, Renee Yohe, and David Kuo in the morning sun inside a coffee shop I got in for the first time in an unfamiliar city.

This was the book I carried when I went out with my high school friends, and after two of my friends shared something that hurt them recently, I remembered I had If You Feel Too Much in my bag.

I shared the chapter What I Feel VS What I Know which I underlined for me to remind myself about important things:

“…i have the opportunity to make a difference.
A lot of people would give anything for that.

i am healthy and i am young and there is air in my
lungs and a shining sun outside and a sea as
well and a story still going. And i’m allowed to
be honest.

So do not despair.
For there is more than what we feel.
There are things missing in every single room.
But there is even more not missing.
So don’t be blinded by the ghosts.
Don’t let them glow brighter than your friends.
Don’t let them glow brighter than your family.
Be present.
Fight to be present.
Don’t live only in your head.
It’s lonely and it’s dangerous.
Put your phone down for a few hours every day.
Talk to people. Look someone in the eyes and be
honest and invite them to do the same.
Read a good book and watch a great film and put a
song on repeat and remember who you are.
Keep dreaming all your dreams. And perhaps as
well some new ones.
Go to counseling if you need to go to counseling.
Take your own advice.
Take care of yourself.
Take care of the people who you love.
Tell them that you love them.

There is much to be thankful for.” (p. 124)

Truly, there is much to be thankful for. I’m thankful that his words became a quiet comfort to my friends when they needed something to be happy about again. I’m thankful for Denise for inviting me to buy this book together with her copy and for our friendship that only started out a few years ago. I’m thankful for my Mom and Dad who continuously forgive me for my impatience, shortcomings, negativity, and complaints and who discipline me and teach me in love every day and night. I’m thankful for people who keep me grounded when my pride is high. I’m thankful for God for breathing life again to me every time I’m about to falter and think that I’m becoming worse and worse.

I’ll remember Jamie’s words, his stories, and Renee’s particularly too for everyone: “Tell them to look up. Tell them to remember the stars.”

Because in darkness, that is when we can appreciate the light more.

Look up, friend.

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