Day 14: What would you say to your younger self if you could?
Dear Younger Addy,
So where are we? If this letter has been delivered to you at the exact time and date I specified the postal service, you’re currently sitting in a backpacker hostel on the Isle of Skye. You’ve just had an encounter with the SLWCB – don’t worry about screwing up, only Meadhbh will hold it against you – and you’re about to embark on a bicycling adventure to the castle that is known as Eilean Donan. At this precise moment in time you’re just being your shy, elusive self. You’re sitting in your dorm room, nonchalantly writing adult fiction, wishing you weren’t so introverted and anxious so you’d be able to talk to some of the people you’re sharing your space with. And that’s why I’m writing to you; to impart some words of wisdom when it comes to friendship and relationships.
Given that I’m you, I know how much having friends means to you. I also know how mind-shatteringly difficult it is for you to communicate with people. Most of the time you’d rather gouge out your own eyeball with a wooden spoon than settle down to have a conversation with a complete stranger. I know how much your anxiety controls your actions. Preventing you from opening up in case people laugh at you, in case they criticize your words, your actions, your everything. You hate being the center of attention and spend much of your life believing people are going to do their utmost to humiliate you in public for just being you. So you do whatever it takes to protect yourself from such humiliation, even if that means never talking to people, even if that means spending your life alone.
And we need to do something about it now, otherwise you are going to experience a loneliness that you couldn’t possibly comprehend at this point of your life. To give you a glimpse into the future, I am currently running on eight years of being alone, I don’t have any friends, I don’t have any acquaintances, I have no-one and will probably have no-one for the remainder of my life. Sometimes I accept that. Sometimes I believe I don’t deserve to have anyone in my life. Sometimes I think I’ve got what I deserve. That this is my punishment for past indiscretions. But then there are the times I think the opposite; that no-one deserves to not have friends in the life. After all, if serial killers and rapists can have friends – which they do – why can’t I? Because I’ve never done anything in my life even bordering on the nastiness of such crimes. You know that, Andrew, because you are me; only younger, more naive and open to change.
And it is this openness to change that we need to tap into. There is little I can do now to change my life. My anxiety is too entrenched. My PTSD too controlling. It is doubtful I can foster the change that I need to make in order to open up to people and allow them into my life. But you? We can change you. So listen well, my dear friend, and take heed of my words otherwise you will end up as lonely and isolated as I am.
Firstly, in a few weeks time, you are going to decide to long-term at a backpacker hostel in Inverness. This decision will change your life, because it will see several important people enter it. People who will come to mean the world to you; not just in Inverness, but for the remainder of your life. But you will allow your anxiety to control you; you won’t open up to them, you won’t trust them with your inner-most personal intricacies, and you will share almost nothing about your life with them. By doing this you are ruining a major opportunity to make friends. They won’t care that you’re a virgin. They won’t care that you battle anxiety and depression. They won’t care that you’re shy and introverted. These people are good people, they will accept you no matter what, so you need to trust in that and allow yourself to open up to them. It’s going to be hard, I know that, but these people have the potential to be life-long friends, so the more you trust in them, the easier things will be.
This is the fundamental lesson you need to learn. It is your anxiety that is stopping you from opening up. But opening up to people is the only way to make friends, so you need to find ways to overcome your anxiety and allow yourself the opportunity to trust people with who you are. I can’t help you with that. I can only impart advice and tell you what you need to do. But from someone who has been there, someone who has felt the pain you have, I can tell you that it isn’t going to kill you. Quite the opposite. You will feel more alive than ever before when you finally open up to people.
There are going to be opportunities. One person in particular is going to give you opportunities to open up. They are going to ask you questions. They are going to give you moments. They are going to take an interest. So show it back. Answer their questions. Seize every moment. And take an interest in her. It will be worth you while, trust me.
Although it is just a glimmer of a possibility for you right now, in six months time you are going to venture to Canada to continue your backpacking journey. Much like in Inverness, you are going to stay in hostels, and you are going to meet people you like, and who like you in return. The same advice I advised above needs to be heeded; don’t be afraid to open up to these people, don’t be afraid to share your life with them, they are worth it.
It is not going to kill you to share more of your life with these people. And remember, if they have issues with your anxiety, if they can’t deal with your depression, if they hold these things against you, then they are not worth knowing. The people you are to meet are trustworthy. I can speak with the ease of hindsight. These people will not hold your conditions against you. I assure you.
But once you’ve opened up to these people, once you have allowed them entry into your life, you are going to need to do some work. All friendship, no matter how serious or intimate, requires work. No friendships exist without it, for like everything in life, there will be ebbs and flows, and the people you meet whilst traveling are not always going to be around. They will be overseas. They will be away from you. So write to them. Email them. Find the time and energy to phone them. Work on keeping the friendship alive. And don’t let anyone tell you that it isn’t worth it; don’t let anyone get in the way of the importance of these friendships.
And they will. I assure you. You’re going to meet people who want you to stop talking to your friends. Who give you ultimatums on who you’re allowed to communicate with. These are the people who you need to jettison from your life, as they are being selfish, they are not caring about you, only themselves. They don’t care that your friendships are important to you. They don’t care what they mean to you. So ignore them and stay in contact!
You’re also going to meet people who you think are friends, but are not. They are lying to you, manipulating your goodwill, and you need to be wary of this. These people don’t deserve to be let in, these people don’t deserve to see the real you lying beneath the shell of anxiety and introversion. They will do their best to convince you they are worthy, but you need to see through the lies for what they are. I could give you names, I could tell you who these people are, but I won’t, for you need to work this out for yourself. I’m just saying it because you need to be cautious about who you let in.
But in much the same respect as keeping in contact with your traveling friends, you need to understand that once you have let someone in, you’re going to need to work on the friendship. You will need to stay in touch; don’t let them always call you, seize the initiative and contact them. Make sure you are there for them when they need someone; for remember, a friendship is not defined by the happy times you share, but by the times you share when things are shit. And don’t allow your mental illness to convince you that the friendship isn’t deserved; no-one deserves to be alone.
For if you don’t heed these words, then you are going to end up like me; alone, forgotten and unloved. And I know you don’t want that.
Hopefully these words will have given you something to think about. Hopefully these words have not scared you further into your shell. Together, Andrew, we can work on your anxiety and create the social network of caring, wonderful individuals you deserve to have in your life. Together, we can achieve the impossible; you just have to want it enough.
Love and hugs,
Older Addy xox