Elizabeth Gilbert made everyone cry and Stephen Fry wrote me a letter

I'm in a Quaker church trying not to feel weird about standing up and sharing silence with a thousand strangers. I'd been to a hippie festival just the other weekend, so I'm primed. A tiny bell pings the end of the silence and she's welcomed to the stage – Elizabeth Gilbert! Author of Eat, Pray, Love and inspirational goddess to all thirty-, forty-, fifty- and anything-something women around the world. Here we are, all congregating to hear her Big Magic.

Okay, stop. This is about last Saturday when I went to a workshop. I can hear my Dad rolling his eyes from here and – what ho! – is that a Guardian commissioning editor sniffing me up and down? Get off.

Here's how I'll tell it. My family got me the workshop as a gift. I'd already bought it for myself after asking for it as a present. I'd assumed they'd think it was stupid and get me something else. But they came through, so I took my boyfriend with the second ticket. He was one of the six men in the room of one thousand (I don't know if this is an exaggeration, I'm awful at estimating numbers). 

The day went like this: we wrote letters to ourselves from aspects of our personality. And sometimes we wrote back to them. Eighty-five quid well spent, I think you'll agree! 

Except it was. Those letters revealed and healed more than hours of therapy I've been through. And look, here I am sharing my personal work publicly for the first time in too long.

One such letter was a 'permission slip' from our headteacher, for whatever it was we wanted to do but felt we couldn't. But the problem for me was that I don't give two dicks what my headteacher thinks (sorry, Mr Spear). So I wrote a permission letter to myself, an invitation to join the creative community, a permission slip – from Stephen Fry. I'm probably going to write some more permission slips from people I admire for different aspects of my life. I might get a note from RuPaul saying I can wear bright red lipstick if I want, or permission to clown about and make poo jokes from Lauren Lapkus.

Some brave people – well, it would maybe have been braver to refuse! – shared their letters aloud with the room. Boy, did they resonate. (Girl, yes they did). We were moved to tears, cheers, 'yaas queen's and fingerclicks of agreement. What did I learn?

We all have the same fears, problems, hopes and dreams. 

In the last week I've been messaged by strangers I handed my email address to (we were prompted to do so). Among the GDPR privacy policy updates, job notifications and calendar reminders, there were kind words for me (just me, not my demographic) from a real-life person. A person I picked out from a crowd because I liked their 'something'. It might be something they said, the sequins they were wearing or just that they were cute. It's pretty awesome and I've almost got over the fact that no one chose to give me their email address.

If you get the chance to go to a workshop with Elizabeth Gilbert, go. If you get the chance to go to a hippie festival, go. You might cringe sometimes and feel weird, but you'll look inwards and start to figure out maybe why it is you cry whenever someone on TV achieves something. "Urgh, looking inwards, no thanks!" < You especially need to.

I'm aware this blog makes me sound like a wanker. But people sharing their story of self-improvement always sound like wankers at least a little bit. We sound like wankers not because of the way we write, or the way we live our lives, but because we care about ourselves and want to make improvements. Which to us Brits deserves an insult. Wanker.