Multi-Faith and Belief Chaplaincy, For All Faiths and None

Letter to Yourself

This week's blog has been written by Head of Listening Service, Nicola James.

Since lockdown I’ve been turning the radio dial away from the news – either to the left for music or to the right where BBC Radio 4 Extra offers comedy, drama and podcasts - all wholly uninterrupted by adverts.  Bliss.

Recently, when I tuned to Radio 4 Extra, the novelist Julie Myerson was the guest on My Teenage Diaries.[1] After reading diary extracts, the programme ends neatly with the question, What would you say to the younger you and what would the younger you say back?’

Julie Myerson, age 59 at the time of this broadcast, began by describing the family setting of her 16 year old diaries.

My parents weren’t happy together…we’d hear them arguing. I heard my father hit my mother… my mother packed a removal van with half the furniture and our pets and moved to a house in the city which she’d bought secretly and decorated and came and collected us and took us there and left him and he was furious as you can imagine… my mum was a very strong inspiring character…looking back he was quite a depressed man whose depression came out as anger…we weren’t allowed to mention our stepfather by name.  I wanted things to be ok for everyone…there was a knot in my stomach...I felt sorry for him...he didn’t feed us properly, but let us stay up late at night watching which is partly how I learnt to write I’m sure. Years later I took my new-born son and we simply surprised him…and he had us in…and he was not unpleasant and he killed himself a few years later the night our daughter was born.

Photograph of a teenage girl writing in a book at a desk.

Teenage Diary (extract) 1976 age 16

Cried myself to sleep, but I do see mum’s point of view…at dad’s house I have really settled in a chest of drawers…feeling depressed...why don’t they live together anymore…I suppose I’m rather selfish… the sun was so beautiful today...that I nearly cried. I feel ashamed to confess it, but my dad is a liar and I hate him … for 1976 I’m going to finish my novel and get it published…pass my O’levels, sleep out in the open air...I revised history, laid the table, made a bran loaf, painted and watched tele.

What would you say to the younger you and what would the younger you say back?

Dear 16 year old Julie

The good news is you’re definitely going to be a writer, but it sounds as if you already know that don’t you - that feeling of loosing yourself when you’re writing will become one of your life’s driving forces…the less good news is your career won’t be quite like Daphne’s [du Maurier]. I’m afraid you’re going to write yourself in and out of trouble over the years, but it will have been worth it and I’m also afraid that the family you’re living in right now will collapse almost completely - you’ll look back on those days both affectionately and with a certain amount of bewilderment and I feel sad to tell you that it is not going to end well with any of your parents - you seem to have knack for upsetting the people you love and both your father and your mother will end up disowning you in their different and differently painful ways.  Even your beloved stepfather will not be around for much longer. He’ll leave your mother in just a few years time and decades later you’ll still be feeling his loss and wondering how he is.  On the upside though you’ll make a family of your own and, though you’ll never be sure that you’ve entirely conquered the art of being good mother, you’ll love them all so completely they’ll bring you more happiness than you can possibly imagine.  Meanwhile that feeling that the sun is smiling at you - hold on to it – it’s real - possibly the realist thing you have right now. And you have no idea what a gift it is. Hang on to it, because whatever happens to you, even in life’s most challenging moments, you’ll never loose that feeling of being grateful for that pink blossom and it will sustain you ’til you are at least fifty nine and a half Julie

This idea of a ‘Letter to Yourself’ (sometimes called ‘letter from your higher self’) is suggested by some therapists as a useful way of gaining perspective on problems. It’s a way of thinking high when things are going low.

In order to do this exercise it’s best to take yourself somewhere quiet and write down the situation from the heart, as if confiding in a wiser, older beloved relative or friend, imaginary or otherwise. Often people write the question with their dominant hand and then write the answer with their non-dominant hand. If you are right handed, write the answer with your left hand, and if left handed, write it with your right hand. It won’t look very tidy, but it’s private and this method may well release some advice previously locked away in you underneath the ‘right’ or dominant way of thinking.  It’s a way of accessing perspective, lateral thinking and internal wisdom that usually might not be so readily available.

Always begin with an empathic response in reply to your question. And, as with Julie’s letter, at the end of the exchange people might thank the ‘responder’, whoever you conceive it to be. Perhaps this warm wise answer might be seen as what Quakers call the ‘inner Light’-  a steady, loving voice that comes clearer in the stillness.  Always forgiving, it brings a sense of peace and maybe something that had never occurred to you as significant before.

Try it!  What letter would you write to your younger self?

What letter would you write to yourself now?  What would your inner Light say? 


My Teenage Diary:Julie Myerson

BBC Radio 4 Extra