for better mental health

Pen pals transformed my life

Thursday, 10 December 2020 Amanda

Amanda blogs about how she has made lasting friendships and boosted her mental health through a letter-writing group.

I always get excited when I hear mail being put through my letterbox. Not something you hear often these days, as most mail is usually takeaway leaflets or bills! But my days are brightened by friendship, little goodies and fun chats in colourfully decorated envelopes all in the name of helping my anxiety and mental health.

I have suffered from agoraphobia and GAD (generalised anxiety disorder) since I was 17, and now at the age of 33 I've found something that gives my mental health a great boost - having pen pals. I can't go out to make friends, so this seemed like the perfect solution.

It was a hobby I could do inside, so I didn't have to get anxious about going out or socialising.

I first started pen palling around seven years ago, thinking it would be a great way to make friends. It was a hobby I could do inside, so I didn't have to get anxious about going out or socialising, other than to post letters in the post box.

Over time, I have made lasting friendships with people who enjoy sending and receiving snail mail. Most of my pals have mental health issues such as depression or anxiety so as well as the friendship and getting to know someone, we also learn what helps each other.

I love sensory toys such as plushies, fidget cubes or squishies. They help me to stay chilled out if I'm a bit anxious and I have been sent many sensory toys by my friends. The toys and tips from pen pals have taught me so many coping skills.

We also send each other hand-made positive quotes, jokes, and we play games of noughts and crosses on post-it notes, which we send back and forth with our letters.

It's a great hobby to pick up and put down while you're indoors. You can spend short amounts of time or whole days crafting away decorating paper and envelopes to send to your friends.

I am part of the Positive Pen pals group on Facebook which is a community with over 3,500 members where you can post if you're looking for pen pals or talk about anything pen-pal or craft-related. It's become a much relied on friendship hub for many who suffer with mental health problems and a great place to find out which is the latest website to stock up on cute new stickers or writing paper.

It has really opened up my world. No one in the group is ever judged for their mental health and we really promote positivity around it. I've even learnt to laugh at myself rather than being hard on myself.

I have a love for colouring in and using my colouring in to make envelopes has made my mail look really colourful and cheery.

There is something so exciting about opening up mail from a friend with positive quotes.

There is something so exciting about opening up mail from a friend with positive quotes, being told how amazing you are and fun little questions and games.

My favourite question is probably "What four TV characters would you like to invite to a dinner party?" I can be sitting there feeling anxious and then reading questions like this gives me something fun to think about and write down, and of course I always enjoy reading what answers other people give.

⁣Until I started pen palling I never realised how many people there were out there like me who can relate first hand to what it’s like living with an anxiety disorder. I now enjoy talking to friends each day – some via letter, but also in between letters we will message or video chat or send each other funny messages.

So many people nowadays are so busy, it's great to find people who have time to talk and are genuinely interested in making friends. Some people send short letters, others send ones that are pages and pages long, some include the goodies they know I love – sweets, plushies, games, stickers, colouring books, positive quotes.

Everyone always has ideas for how to deal with anxiety or recommendations for a good Netflix show.

I know on days I can't get motivated to write there's always a friend willing to call me and chat too. Everyone always has ideas for how to deal with anxiety or recommendations for a good Netflix show that we will watch and discuss in our next letters.

I can't remember exactly what it was like before I started pen palling, but I do know that I am never lonely and have found such a fun yet simple hobby with friends I love.

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