To Lauren from Tampa/St Pete

Subject: To Lauren from Tampa/St Pete
From: Mark - Late 80's
Date: 5 Sep 2022


This is certainly not the first letter I’d ever send to you if I found you. This would be the second letter, after having asked and received permission from you to send this one. I’ve been looking for you for a little while, to no avail. I wonder how you could not have any digital signature anywhere. It’s interesting how someone so remote in time and who probably hasn’t thought of me in decades is in my thoughts today. But I’ve been looking for lots of old friends and acquaintances lately. Someone in conversation said it was “end of days shit” and I suppose there’s a bit of truth to that. (Don’t worry, I’ve taken good care of myself and am quite healthy, though with a little less hair!)

It's been what, over 30 years since we knew each other. I know, I know, it was my doing, I was the one that retreated. If only I could have appreciated you at the time for who you were, for the things that were important to you, for your commitment both to yourself and to me in those moments, perhaps our lives would have been very, very different. Like the song says, you don’t always get what you want, you get what you need.

Anyway, there is something to admit now that you don’t know. At the time we were together the Mark that you knew, the overly self-confident, arrogant even, person that ended up taking you for granted – well Lauren, I apologize from the deepest part of my heart – there was a part of that person that was a fake, even to me.

You see, from the time I was 19 or 20 until my mid 30’s, I suffered from severe, and I mean very severe anxiety and panic attacks. That unfortunate person you knew and once loved, well, he was hiding from you the very thing that defined him for the better part of 15 years. He used the self-confidence as a way of treating himself, though (and this part is hard to understand, even for me) – even he didn’t know it at the time. (Sorry I’m writing about myself in the third person, but it seems easier to convey what I’m trying to say. And I am so much different today than then.)

Very fortunately, or unfortunately, this worked. What would have happened to us if it hadn’t? I never gave you the chance to let me know. I never confessed my reality or worse, trusted you not to judge me. From the start I felt like you were attracted to that personality, that acting which allowed me to make it through the daily struggle with the torture (and at times it truly was torture) of my diagnosis. But honestly, I didn’t know I was only acting, I really felt that way. I was confident because that was what was required, it wouldn’t have been effective any other way. I know this is hard to understand, but I’ve been through years of talking with people and this is the best, perhaps only, explanation of what was driving my behavior at the time.

It took 15 years of very reluctantly taking anti-anxiety medications and going to ineffective therapy, to finally go to my physician and admit I needed more help. I was able to do my own research and knew what I needed, so I asked for and received a prescription for a particular anti-depressant that had good effect with panic disorder. Short story – it worked. So well in fact that I didn’t want to come off it, so I stayed on it for 3 years before someone convinced me to stop it. Turns out that this drug actually changes a certain receptor concentration in your brain and that effect is permanent. So when I came off the drug I remained symptom free. I now consider myself cured.

As you can hopefully now see, this ailment affected more than just me. I realize and take responsibility for it affecting those around me as well, even the people closest to me. Even, very regretfully, those I came to love and who loved me in return. I truly wish I could have been more honest with everyone, but the stigma was too much to bear. The label of a mood disorder has so many implications that (again, subconsciously?) I feared I would ruin those relationships by admitting my problem.

You would be rightful to inquire as to why, fully 25 years after I “considered myself cured” I am writing this now. The truth is that I can’t point to a sole reason, there are probably many things that are coming together that prompt this. And in the end, does that matter? Maybe, maybe not. But I can tell you the spark that lit the fuse, if you will.

It started with a cluttered cabinet in my house. Just a cabinet next to our fireplace with a piece of paper sticking out of it. I opened it as saw a mess, so I decided to straighten things out a bit. It turned out that that cabinet was home to some very old photo albums, ones I haven’t seen in decades. Going thru them I saw some old pictures of my time in St. Petersburg and some old friends. I did think of you at the time and did look for some pictures, but I didn’t have any. (Could it really be in our time together we didn’t take any photographs together?) Anyway, I became a bit nostalgic and decided to reach out. I contacted a couple I introduced to each other who eventually married. Then I tried contacting some old friends from my time in South Florida, where I moved to go back to school. It was then I came across an obituary of an old friend. (A woman and colleague, but who I never dated. But we were close friends). She was one of those people who you just know, even after 30 years, you can just call and pick right up where you left off. It hit me very hard probably because it was so unanticipated. She passed away a full year and a half before I found out, and I now regret not reaching out sooner. Life really is short.

That was earlier this year and shortly after I decided to make a more concerted effort to contact old friends. You, in short, made the list, though I know I’m taking a liberty in contacting you. I hope you can forgive the intrusion.

I can only imagine the amazing life you must have insisted upon for yourself. Full of love, laughter, and happiness. Words are in short supply now, suffice it say it’s a feeling based on limited knowledge of how you were when we were together and intuition.

I guess that’s about all I have to say, and I apologize for the length. If you’re inclined, I’d love to hear from you, to at least know you received this and that you are in good health and spirits. Please take care and know that I think of you fondly from time to time.

Oh, and that couple I introduced…I saw them this summer! And we did pick up right where we left off, and we’ve promised to keep in touch.

- Mark