It's a long, long journey out of the trap of anxiety and not believing in yourself. When you're used to hiding away, making yourself smaller, and never speaking up, a bold change is needed for things to be different.
When I was living at home, I didn't have the motivation nor the opportunities to leap out of my comfort zone and I feared what people might say if I were suddenly not shy. I had to go travelling to test drive a more confident version of myself. And when I had experienced what it felt like to not hide in the corner, I decided to move abroad and keep challenging myself.
Even when you have shed the most unwelcome and crippling parts of anxiety, the kind that stops you from going out and experiencing the world like everyone else, sometimes it can still suck. A niggling feeling threatens to take you back to where you were before. The world can feel too much and you just want to get back into bed. At those times, it can feel as if you haven't progressed at all.
While this doesn't happen to me so much these days, it's more likely when I visit home and I'm surrounded by the people who knew what I was like growing up. Then I can revert back to my young-and-painfully-shy setting and my achievements in work and life seem utterly implausible to everyone in the room.
But I've grown so much and I know that these are momentary blips. My confidence bounces back. I go back to my job and jump into my habitual I'm confident and got my shit together persona. I remember that I don't have to be shy and nervous and that it's much easier and less stressful if I'm not.
I wasn't sure I'd get here, but it happened – with the help of a whole lot of brilliant books, a few people who really left a mark on my life, and a bit of professional intervention. Of those things, there are some I can't share with you, but I can definitely share books. Here are those that come to mind first.
|Livraria Lello Porto, Portugal – an influence for Harry Potter and probably the most beautiful (and busiest) bookshop I've been to. Image from Local Porto.|
This is the book I reread to... Learn by heart how to approach life with more resilience than I thought possible.
How to make your head the best possible place to spend time in (featuring Stoicism, Sherlock, and mindfulness)
To make sure I keep reading and talking about books.
To remember life is "an enormous privilege and adventure".
To spend more time in nature and living simply.
To learn how to really focus.
To think about the true value of a sunset.
To fiercely defend my creative time at the crack of dawn.
The first book I ever wrote about on Tolstoy Therapy.
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Fiction and verse
To offer dreams of coffee, whisky, mountains and libraries.
To imagine life and love, war and peace.
To be strong when I think of the past.
Exploring the world with Tennyson to overcome anxiety: "for my purpose holds to sail beyond the sunset"
To imagine escaping abroad.
To think about what’s enough.
To contemplate how small a place we occupy in the world.
To think back to my first role model in fiction.
To learn how humans have kept going since the beginning.
To realise that quiet can mean power.
To create a garden in my mind.
To remember that spring is the best season "for plans and proposals".
To never forget my family and where I came from.
To just set off.
To be conscious of the repercussions of changing myself.
To marvel at a mind filled with poetry, language, and facts.
To seek refuge in bookshops.