One of the biggest obstacles in my mental health journey has been dealing with overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame that can cause me to spiral into depression. I find it very difficult to look back at my life and not focus on the times that I have made the wrong decision or failed at something important. I get stuck in thoughts of what I “should” or “could” have done to avoid making mistakes, even though I cannot change the past. Rumination over these perceived failures from my past has caused me a great deal of emotional pain in the present, and I sometimes feel like I cannot stop going over these events in my head.
In order to address these feelings of guilt and shame, my therapist asked me to complete a writing exercise for our next appointment. She wanted me to write a letter to my current self from the perspective of myself in 10 years. In the letter, my future self would discuss all of things I have been able to accomplish and experience in my life after overcoming these feelings of guilt and shame. She also wanted me to write about how I will feel in my future once I have been able to accept the things I have done wrong in my past.
At first, writing the letter was difficult for me because I am not super comfortable with self-reflection, but after a while, I found a groove and the words came pouring out of me. There are so many things that I want to accomplish in my life, and it felt comforting to write from the perspective of my future self when I have been able to do all of these things without my depression holding me back. I wrote about traveling to interesting places around the world, starting a career in the field that I am passionate about, and starting my own family.
Although these life events seem far away to me now, I know that 10 years can pass by quickly. Writing the letter made me realize that in order to achieve my goals in the future, I need to start laying the important groundwork now, such as improving my physical health, repairing relationships with my family, and becoming more independent. Thinking about my goals from the perspective of myself 10 years from now made me realize that these experiences won’t magically happen to me one day. I need to work towards them every day, starting now. If I don’t, they might never happen.
Writing this letter was not an easy process. But even though I found the writing process difficult and emotional at times, I came away with clarity and motivation about my future. I would recommend this writing exercise to anyone else who is struggling to move on from painful events in their past.
Have your feelings about past events affect how you go about things today? Have you ever tried a writing activity for your mental health? Have you ever written letters to your past or future self? What was that experience like?