Six feet tall, lean and intimidating. That was my first impression of John. Then he smiled, and a much nicer persona broke free.
John is a former drug user and dealer. Depression and panic attacks forced him to reconsider the direction of his life. John stopped using illicit mind-bending substances...and started to use the legal ones. When I met him, he had got over the worst days, and now believed that a drug free life was possible in the not too distant future.
Marie met John in a cyberspace and he became one of her online circle of friends, all of whom have suffered from or are still suffering from anxiety disorders. After a while, learning that John lived in the south west, Marie invited him to visit our home. He accepted.
Sitting in my living room and chatting freely, John appeared friendly and open. He was intelligent, articulate and soft-spoken. He had a good, well paid, responsible job now. When he gave up illegal drugs, he also gave up all his drug using cronies, so he didn't really have any friends at the moment (except those in cyberspace). I liked him. He spoke to me about his mental health problems. He had been dangerously depressed, he told me, but therapy had given him a life-line.
"Do you do everything the therapist tells you to do?" I asked.
"Yes, I try to," he replied. "When I do, I feel better. I know that it's working for me. I have mostly got over my anxiety. I know I can get over the rest of my problems." John went on to tell me that, on advice from his therapist, he had changed his diet and had joined a gym. He had now embarked on a healthy lifestyle and felt that this had significantly contributed to his recovery.
Later, when John had departed on his homeward journey, Marie and I chatted about him. She felt really pleased that John had overcome the worst of his depression. We spoke of his positive attitude, healthy lifestyle and his attitude to therapy.
Why, I asked Marie, didn't she embrace a healthy lifestyle and follow her therapists' advice?
She replied that she didn't know. But she's trying to change that.
And she is trying to change. She's really trying. She's trying to reinvent herself, to be the woman that she would like to be. But the scale of the change is daunting her, and her lack of belief in herself is her biggest handicap.
I cannot help Marie to change. That can only come from within herself. All I can do is provide security, encouragement and support when required.