Dear Future John,
You have been living in a fleshy husk with some unreliable grey jelly in your head on a wet rock in outer space somewhere in a potentially endless undiscovered universe. More important than that, if you are reading this, you have survived for more than 34 years!
Well done. That’s a good achievement. I don’t know who you are, or where you are now, but I hope you are doing ok. Whether or not they still label you with Schizoaffective Disorder is beside the point. Life is tough and you’re a good way through yours. It’s time for a pat on the back.
Writing to you today, I will begin to steer a course towards you, to put in place the groundwork to become you, the person I will talk about below.
You have helped yourself by letting life flow through you like water down a waterfall. Yes, this sounds like impractical, poetic nonsense, so look at it this way. Water stays to the lowest possible path, a bit like a depressed person seemingly unable to climb to a higher mood, but it feeds plants and replenishes the soil around it, like the empathy and experience of a depressed person. It is completely yielding and weak, yet it lifts up rocks and carries branches down stream. This is you, still achieving survival and self care, even helping those around you. So, put in a more straightforward manner, with an open mind you can adapt to changes. You have learned this. You have conquered episodes of depression with acceptance and flexibility. By letting yourself be low, you can draw upon empathy for others, then help others to improve your self esteem. You have proved this by enjoying being there for your closest friends again and again. By staying to the lowest places you have met people like the heroin addict on the psychiatric ward who taught you about resilience. She taught you against all odds the worst situations are not permanent and can improve. She demonstrated the most immense strength and power to recover and become a loving mother to her child and a dear friend to you and many more. By treating her as an inspiration instead of a lowlife, you have learned from her, you nurtured her and helped her recover. You are the flowing water, John. Continue this practice and you will only grow more comfortable and content.
Learning to listen, to really listen, to focus on only what I can hear at any given time, is a skill I’m working on now. Hopefully if I keep doing it enough you’ll be a master by the time you read this. Sensory experiences are often overwhelming. So let’s try and make it a skill! A rare gift, even. By simplifying experiences into component chunks and being aware of what they are, you can control your responses to them, and tame the irritation caused. First we do noise, sounds, nature’s song, music, and everything the ear likes. Then we can do smells, the residual sweetness of this morning’s aftershave, a slightly damp cat, and the musty warmth of the blankets on my settee. By processing and analysing them one by one we can make these skills transferable. First you must finish off with senses with tastes and physical sensations. Then move on to thought, feelings, and behaviours. I believe if I can control my reaction to one thing; I can improve all of them.
Allowing yourself to be caught up in the moment can make you feel like a monster. It’s ok to feel things. Let life happen! Your best friend and her Emotional Instability Personality Disorder has taught you how to laugh when you want to cry and cry when you want to laugh, and that that is valid and makes for an attractive personality! You have got the gift of an extraordinary imagination and an extreme emotional bandwidth; use these things, enjoy them while they’re there.
Self forgiveness is like taking a shower after a run. It is self care for the mind. I already use what you could pretentiously call ‘a dialectical diplomacy with myself’. I argue and debate ideas, thoughts, and therefore feelings and behaviour with myself to process and accept then return a base of unknowing unexpectation. A happy ignorance of letting things be. I would like to expand these practices to my interactions with others. I hope I’ll be able to feel more comfortable with the things I do and say. One could argue that will happen naturally with ageing and gaining experience. I don’t really know but I hope so. Nevertheless, continue doing your thing.
Only worry about your own thoughts and actions. Everything else is out of your control. Resilience is every bad thing that has happened to me can be flipped to show the other side of the coin. It isn’t just pain, vulnerability, uncomfortable experiences. It is strength, sensitivity, and flexibility. If you are reading this aged 50, remember how I already have this and how much I am growing through all the ups and downs, hour by hour, day by day.
The further back or forward you look the more uncertain life gets. Try to remember this before beating yourself up for something bad you did once twenty years ago or worrying you’ll die alone, decrepit and lonely. It is not possible to see things from every angle when you only have two eyes in your head.
Put others first. As much as your dreams might crave it at times, you are not the most important thing in the world. Practise compassion, love, and kindness. Forgive mistakes by yourself and others who show remorse and love. Practise simplicity in living, prioritise what is essential to you, live with these concepts, ideas, and things and don’t replace them unnecessarily. Humility is important, accept you don’t know it all, you will never know it all, and the biggest delights are in the smallest things. Moving forward try to learn how others see me, but ask for feedback from your most trusted friends and family only, there is no need to entertain bitter jealousy from those who don’t care about you.
Don’t take yourself seriously. You are one of over seven billion humans on this planet, and one of countless more living things, keep that in mind. Don’t let your ego want all the things that aren’t there. There is no point chasing perfection when you could chase something easy and achieve whatever that is. You can achieve more by lacking ambition and finding value in the things you can already do. That said, achievements aren’t everything, if you are happy then surely you have won where others fail every day.
Tomorrow will probably be the same as today so don’t put things off. You might feel unable to get things done but jumping to unhelpful conclusions about everyday problems will just slow you down. Try to make a small start on things right now even though conditions might not be ideal. Encourage yourself to get things done and don’t stall or criticise your motives. You’ve got this, John. Dismiss the excuses. You can do things when you need to and that is worth remembering. Yes, you can feel great anxiety before trying to do something but once you’re doing it, it doesn’t seem as hard. Tolerate discomfort, life is hard and this is a reality, even if you just do a little bit, you are doing well. When you’ve got something done, don’t stop there, do some more and promise yourself a reward for later.
Value yourself and your self care. Please. This is something you find difficult but if you apply value to the things you find difficult you can use truth as a reason for getting it done.
Never stop running. The high you get is great. Getting out of breath, and I mean really out of breath, it’s uncomfortable at first, but it really gets the endorphins flowing and makes you feel unstoppable.
Keep doing things you enjoy. You love making music, painting, walking in nature, writing, reading, cooking, and eating. Use these things to your advantage. There is so much pleasure to be had creating. Don’t focus on the end goal, that is of no significance as long as you enjoy the process, just keep putting that paint on the canvas and express all that pent up emotion. You do these things because they are essential to maintaining your mental health. Think of new ways to do things. Don’t just draw the same old things, make something different every time, be curious enough to experiment without fear. If you get stuck creatively, call a friend, tell some jokes, have a laugh, forget where you are, listen to the sound of someone’s voice and let them inspire you.
Let yourself trust people and trust yourself. Grab the opportunities you have so often missed in the past. Take more risks. Gain confidence, accept compliments, yes, it IS possible for people to see you differently to how you see yourself. Do it all. Live for love. Live for heartbreak. Live for life.
Get a job when you feel ready, maybe be a postman, walking, mostly by yourself, it’d be perfect. Consider getting experience as a support worker, you have been in the mental health system for years, you know the system inside out and have more than enough empathy and love to help others start the journey you are on.
Education is a lifelong pursuit. Until free tuition fees are a thing and you feel like university, don’t forget you can follow your desire for learning right now, read, listen, and learn. Be brave enough to read opinions of people you don’t agree with. Understanding different perspectives is vital for gaining wisdom and creativity.
You might not have achieved all your goals or even shared many of them here but that’s ok. I hope future me looks back and feels ok with the guy writing this letter and myself throughout the past. Whoever you are. Whoever I become. I wish you all the best, lots of hope, much love, and the ability to cope.
If you can, do all of these things. You are well on your way. Stay on that way and I’ll be proud of you. Of me. My future self.