As some of our loyal readers may know, I’ve only been in a relationship for a few short months. This relationship happens to be my first and only experience of romantic love. There are a few reasons for this, the main one being that for a very long time I was too terrified to approach new people, let alone allow myself to imagine beginning a romantic relationship with them. My social circle was small and close, and although I loved my friends dearly, the situation was slowly killing me. If I had gone to a psychologist at the time, they might have diagnosed me with Social Anxiety Disorder, a fairly common mental health issue that plagues 1 in 20 Australians.
For a few excruciating years of my life, I rarely looked a stranger in the eye. I felt crushing guilt for not being able to say “good morning” and “thank you” to the bus driver. Sometimes, when I saw someone walking towards me in public, I would cross the street just to avoid them. It was a severe and terrible phobia that seemed to deprive me of my capacity for love.
What changed? And why?
It took a series of painful yet necessary steps to transform myself, like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. First, I poured my emotions into my creative work, writing a suite of poems about my inner turmoil. Then, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone - gently at first, until the things I previously found difficult became slightly easier. I literally wrote down goals like “say hello to at least 1 stranger every day”, and even if I failed on most occasions, at least I had a strong sense of direction for how I wanted to grow as a human being.
Finally, as my mental health came to a crisis point, I had some startling revelations. What if, instead of the world being a scary and evil place, it was in fact inherently good and loving? Could I make myself believe this new truth? I looked for evidence to confirm the hypothesis, and I found it. I found it in my family, my slowly-widening circle of friends, the people I went on dates with, and even perfect strangers. Most importantly, I found it in myself. I looked in the mirror and saw myself as the person I’d always wanted to be: free, open, loving, and loved. Changing my perception was the key that changed my reality.
Getting better was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but when I look back, every moment was worthwhile. Today, I am in love not only with my amazing boyfriend, but also with the world around me. I greet people with a smile on my face, and I am more than willing to make the first move, whether it’s to invite a new friend out for lunch, or to offer someone a hug when they look like they need it. The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far in my 23 years on this planet is that love comes from within. The way you see the world is a reflection of your past experiences and the way they have moulded your identity. If you find it difficult to love, take some time to think about the person you are, and the kind of life you’d like to live. Answering these big questions is the first step to finding true love and peace within yourself - something that no one else can ever take away.