It does get better

I was in a really dark place for a couple months. My childhood trauma, which I thought I had processed completely, suddenly arose again, causing me to become depressed. I couldn’t handle my dark past still haunting me, and my future seemed hopeless as a result. After weeks of therapy I finally feel able to let go of the past. Ever since these last few days, I can finally smile and be genuinely happy again. I enjoy being alive again.

The two texts below show my coping process. I wrote the first text before starting therapy, the second one was written right before my final session. The contrast between the two is remarkable. May this be a source of hope for anyone who is struggling emotionally and wondering what the point is, too. Because you are loved, you having a really difficult time is not a sign of weakness, and it does get better.

Smile

Smile. Even if you’ve lost all hope and those rose-coloured glasses of yours suddenly seem colourless, making the world appear gloomy and grey, smile. Because if the people around you saw you unhappy, they’d say the same thing: smile. Your unhappiness comes as an inconvenience to them, and you don’t want to be a bother to more people besides yourself, do you? So smile.

I’ve been trying to smile, I really have. These last few weeks, I have really done my best to put everyone around me at ease with my fake happiness, but it was just so exhausting. So exhausting that every last bit of energy I had left seems to have abandoned my body, that it has become extremely challenging to force myself out of bed in the late afternoon, that I’d rather burst out in tears than to forcefully lift the corners of my mouth, because the first option requires less effort. I’ve tried to understand why I have been feeling this way and every route my train of thought takes leads to the same person: the Bogeyman that plagued me my whole childhood. I genuinely thought that I had got rid of him and that I had moved on, but I have recently discovered that he has been watching me from a distance. Sometimes I feel his presence. When I see someone wandering the streets in a fashion typical of him, or when I’m at a party and his scent fills the room. I feel the impact he has left on me like a scar whenever I’m confronted with aggression or when I have to write my birth name, which is the same as his. At moments like these, I realise the Bogeyman will never leave me alone entirely, and I’ll just have to learn to live with that. I have always fought hard against him and so far I’ve won every battle. I just don’t know if I’ll survive the war, too.

I have walked a fourth of my path of life now, so I still have a lot of ground to cover. The Bogeyman has given me a great deal of baggage to carry around. Since I’ve been used to hauling such a heavy backpack from a young age, my shoulders support quite a lot of weight. But even the strongest among us need someone to take over now and then. I’ve encountered a considerable number of people on my path. Some of them walk along with me for a while, others quickly go a different route. The wanderers choosing to accompany me are often oblivious to the amount of weight on my back. However, a few among them do notice the size of my backpack as well as the drops of sweat dripping from my forehead. If they’re willing to have it, I’ll get some things off my chest and give them a fraction of my baggage. But I have to be careful every time as to how much I can give to whom, because it’s quite impossible to estimate when someone is no longer willing to carry extra weight, and takes the first turn they see afterwards.

A number of new wanderers have recently accompanied me on my path of life, while many others have walked away from me. To some of them I had to say goodbye myself, because they were just adding more weight to my backpack. I can’t share the newly obtained weight with many other new wanderers either, because I don’t know yet how much they can carry. That’s one of the reasons I’m wandering with such great difficulty, I think. This dark, depressing tunnel I’m walking through doesn’t help much, either. They always say there’s light at the end, but if it’s pitch black outside as well, you don’t even realise when you’ve reached the end and obliviously walk right into the next tunnel. And yet, even if it’s the middle of the night and I can’t see anything because of the dark clouds and the thick fog, I do realise there will always be stars above me illuminating the surface. I may not see them right now, but I know those clouds will eventually drift away. I have no clue how long that will take. What I do know, is that without these patches of light I would have long stopped walking.

All the best to you, Hugo Nyssens

You’ll probably never read this. It’s very unlikely that I’ll ever show this to anyone, let alone publish it for the whole world to read. So you may wonder why I have still made the effort to write this, because this letter will never reach you and at the same time I don’t think you’re worth it. On the other hand I do feel the need to express my feelings towards you, so I can finally find peace.

As you’ll probably already know, those feelings aren’t exactly positive. When I was about eight years old, I even literally told you that I hated you in front of your own mother. Just so you know, I still have those deep-rooted feelings of hatred towards you to this day. After all, it’s because of you that I was raised without a father figure, that I allow barely anyone in my life, that I freeze completely when confronted with aggression. It’s because of you that I have lived my whole life in fear. But I’ll no longer allow that.

I constantly feared that you’d show up at my door one day to hurt me, my brother or my mother. I saw you as this serious threat that could destroy us all in a heartbeat. But now that I think about it, you’re just a pathetic, worthless little man who has made terrible life choices. I’m not afraid anymore. A couple of months ago I was still unsure whether I’d survive this war, but I realise now that you lost a long time ago.

My feeling pain and sadness from time to time is not a sign of weakness like I used to think; it’s a sign of humanity. I am not going to repress my emotions anymore, because if I did, I would allow you to hurt me again after all those years. The cliché goes ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. Well, neither you nor my memories of you have managed to make me lose hope. It’s time for me to make peace with what you’ve made us go through, because I will only come out stronger if I do.

For months, I have loathed the impact you still had on me after all this time, but now I realise that very same impact has made me the person I am today. A person who stands by what he believes in, a person who respects those around him, a person who would never deliberately or unjustly hurt someone. A person who is the complete opposite of you.

I now know that that impact, which I have always renounced so strongly, has been there my whole life. I simply didn’t want to admit that all the harm you’d caused us might also have had its positive effects. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate you and condemn all the horrible choices you’ve made, but because of your unforgivable crimes I now know how it must not be done. All the misery you’ve caused has made me want to lead a good life, raise my future children as a loving father, and not take acts of kindness and love for granted.

I have every reason to despise you and feel nothing but disgust towards you, and I do. Yet, I can only hope that you’ll get on the right path again soon. I’ll never forgive you and you’ll never have me back in your life, but you don’t have to lead a better life just for me. Acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them, so that you won’t harm the people around you like you harmed us ever again. So however strong my feelings of hate and reproach towards you may be, I still sincerely hope you are doing well.

All the best to you, Hugo Nyssens.

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