I had a black dog Matthew Johnstone

Not ready to die – a letter to my former self

Paul Ryken Last Updated: Friday 13 March 2020 Discover Minimalism Leave a Comment

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Sunday 07 May 2017 – Today marks the tenth anniversary since two policemen came, collected me from my workplace and, under the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992, took me to Middlemore Hospital in Auckland where I stayed for nineteen nights.

At the time, I was running my sports timing business, and I was so burnt out and stressed from trying to making a success of it that I was diagnosed as a manic depressant, and my desire to continue living was non-existent. My enforced stay at the hospital, including being on iris watch (24-hour personal monitoring with a guard no more than five metres away from me at any one time) was in response to a rapidly downward spiral after I had decided to sell or close the business down. I had booked a flight to go overseas six days later to check out on my terms. The problem was that I was to leave behind two teenage boys and people who loved me. Not that I cared about any of them at the time. I was mentally sick and needed help.

So here I am ten years later, still alive and with a very different outlook on life. Given this landmark and the life I have lived in those ten years, I thought it would be appropriate to write a letter to my old self – to the man who was in so much pain at the time that nothing and no one else mattered… to that person who luckily now, I don’t recognise.

***

Dear Paul

I know you are in a lot of mental pain right now. You are so angry with your family and friends. I can assure you though that your mother, your sister, your girlfriend, your ex-wife, your work colleague and your friends all care about you enough to do what’s right for you in this time of need.

As hard as it may seem right now, accept this time and be kind to your mind and body. What you are going through is an important process, a process of cleansing and of growing up. You will see, accept and then remove the demons that are hanging over you. It won’t happen straight away, and it will take a few years to recover. But you will be a different, a better, a nicer person 10 years from now, and you can be proud of that.

You will acknowledge many of those habits that have held you back. You will not care what other people think of you. You will learn to communicate better. Your views on what matters in life will change. You will no longer be interested in buying things that give you no value. You will lead a life without a lot of material things you thought necessary to make you content. Personal values will become extremely important to you as if you never had them before. You will change countries, careers and companies. Ten years on, you will have achieved many life goals and ticked off many bucket list items.

Your children will become responsible adults with dreams and goals of their own. You will have a direct influence on their lives, even if you don’t live in the same country. Matt will come and live with you for some time, Ben will get married and even run a marathon with you. You can be proud of them. They are a major reason why you live a better, healthy life.

Your mother will pass away in the next decade. Earlier than you would have wished for, but she will be able to see you changing and appreciate it. Her bad habits will be a reminder for you to stay fit and healthy for as long as possible. And you will not take your loved ones for granted and check in with them regularly.

You will visit your biological father… not any time soon but eventually. You will talk to him for the first time since your teenage years. You won’t forgive him nor will you try to make him acknowledge you as his son. But you will make peace with yourself. You will no longer need to prove yourself to him.

A couple who were close to you always said that a person enters your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Some of the people you called friends won’t be there in the future, but they will have had an impact on you. You will continue to have a few close friends, but the ones you have will have your back. Good friends will forgive you and stand by you. Appreciate them and protect these relationships.

Take it from a wiser, older you: underneath all your anger, your fears, your insecurities and mental health issues, you have a heart of gold and great personality. Women will find you attractive, and you will continue to date and have relationships… until you find the right one. It’s hard to believe, but you will marry again, despite years of publicly stating you wouldn’t. Cherish that relationship like no other. Be faithful, kind and generous with your time. Treat her as you want to be treated.

You will be entering a time in your life when your body changes (you are no longer a spring chicken), and you will start feeling and acting older (going to bed by 10 pm will become the norm). Accept some aspects and resist others. You will learn new skills and rekindle old (good) habits. You will dance like there is no tomorrow, and you will run like the wind (maybe a gentle, but short-lived gust).

Above all, become healthy – mentally and physically – and enjoy life again. Don’t take it for granted. Life is incredibly short.

I’ll see you in ten years.

Cheers, Paul

The Black Dog feature image graciously provided by Matthew JOHNSTON.

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If you or someone you know needs help right now, call Lifeline:

  • In New Zealand – 0800 543 354.
  • In Australia – 13 11 14.
  • In other countries, check your local number on the Internet.

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