From Will

Dear You,

I used to feel the way you feel, I still do every now and then, but it used to be all the time.

Anxiety, social phobia and depression led to me becoming agoraphobic. Because I lived alone, I eventually went weeks at a time without seeing or speaking to anyone at all.

These days I perform spoken word material from memory, sing acapella, host and organise events. It was once unimaginable that I would do what I can do now. I always wrote, stories, poems, songs, etc but being a ‘shut-in’ meant I was just writing for myself - that is the best reason to write, by the way. At first I wrote about my life and feelings and vented onto the page anything I needed to let out. It was safe to do this because you never have to let anyone see what you have written unless you want to. 

I never had any ambition to perform. I never used to see or speak to anyone, so it wouldn’t have made sense to have that ambition. The performing came partially because I did some CBT and took it very seriously. Even when it seemed like a waste of time, I resolved to tell myself that was part of the process. And thinking that it, or anything, was a waste of time and pointless was something I was used to feeling. I reminded myself over and over that it was a facet of my depression, the side of it that told me everything was a waste of time because nothing would ever change.

With the help of my excellent psychologist I did things I was afraid to do. Simple things, like going to a shop. Or sitting in a café, having a coffee. Simply walking down town. I found it all terrifying at first, but following the CBT instructions, I learned to question the fears, and ask them, is it reasonable that what I am doing right now should make me feel afraid? I learned eventually to differentiate between whether feeling fear was reasonable or the result of me expecting bad things to happen.

I had learned to feel the way I had felt and had felt it so long I had forgotten how to feel any other way. So, I had to learn to imagine it was possible to feel different things and it wasn’t easy.  I had to learn to live more in the moment, rather than reliving the pain of past events and that being my benchmark for how the world is and how my life would be. And testing the boundaries of my comfort zone was the way forward. Small challenges. Then slightly bigger ones. Each challenge tackled with fear and trepidation, but with the growing and regularly applied experience of facing a fear and even though afraid, finding nothing bad happened and then feeling relieved. 

And I continued to challenge myself. I talked of maybe trying to read something at an open mic and my psychologist encouraged me to try. The worst that could happen was embarrassment and I was learning that it passes, the worst thing I could do was try to avoid ever having those feelings because that would mean never doing anything. So, I did it. I was terrified, and I went alone, knowing nobody and not speaking to anyone except to ask to read and when reading the words from quivering paper held in my shaking, nervous hand.

That was eight years ago and now people are amazed if they find out how I and my life used to be.

I still get shy, nervous, tongue tied sometimes. I still get embarrassed sometimes. But these feelings don’t stop me anymore because I know how far they once made me retreat into myself. I had it in me to do all I have done but would never have known it eight years ago. Not everybody wants to do the sort of things I have done and can now do. But someone can move their mind from ingrained ways of thinking, beliefs about the world or how life is, they should do if they can. And if they can’t do a thing to shift their mind from where it is at, maybe taking moments on better days to imagine doing things that make them smile is a good first step.

If there is something you enjoy, as long as it isn’t something that makes matters worse, or impacts badly on others, you should do it, the best you can, as often as you can. Feeling freed from the shackles of the past that depression often comes from is amazing. And the more often you can do it, the better and stronger you can get. There will be setbacks, but whatever it is you want to enjoy doing, don’t give up on it. 

Life and love and friendship and fun don’t have to be things that happen to other people while you watch from the side lines. Friends tried to tell me I was wrong to feel like that and I pushed them away because I refused to believe anything was possible for me. But it was possible for me and it is possible for you. You might think I don’t know your story so I couldn’t possibly understand and you don’t know my story either. You don’t know how I ended up as I did. You only know I managed to learn to manage. I might not have believed a letter like this back in the day either. 

I hope you will eventually learn to be able to imagine a better life for yourself. Everything comes from believing change is possible. Keep saying that, even if you don’t believe it. Change IS possible. Keep saying it. One day you WILL believe it. And things will change.