Last Friday.

I’m not especially sure why, but I’ve always had a personality that is a little closed off from the world.

Growing up, my privacy was my holy grail, my ability to keep my stress and my sadness and my troubles to myself the ultimate badge of honour.

I was desperate to be the uncomplicated friend; so determined was I to evade burden-status that I rarely told anyone anything. My worries were my own, my fears, my friends at night.

A couple of years ago, when the building blocks of my short life began to shake, I had a choice: keep bottling and self-combust, or open my mouth and begin to breathe again. For the first time ever, I started letting my friends in. I told them about my stress and my sadness and the first-world worries that plagued my mind.

I thought - in the case of being open and letting people in - the job was done, I had it sorted.

I was so, so wrong.

You see, I never factored in the idea that one day this would be my job, and that in order to be good at my job, I’d have to open up and let you all in, too.

I’d always had this incredibly misguided sense that being open was self-indulgent. Who’s to say the story matters? Who’s to say my story matters? Who’s to say people even care?

About eight weeks ago, I sat down with Michelle to record Friday’s episode of Love etc. We don’t usually record anything that far in advance unless the subject matter is particularly terrifying. After all, if either of us are going to feel necessarily naked or exposed, we might as well give ourselves the opportunity to process the story before the content belongs to the world rather than the workings of our minds.

The last two months have been the sharpest, deepest, most confronting learning curve in vulnerability. I mean sure, I thought, vulnerability can’t be a bad thing. Letting people into your orbit and your mind can’t be a bad thing. Choosing to open up a conversation about something that isolated you, that nearly broke you, can’t be an objectively bad thing.

I didn’t expect vulnerability to start easing my pain.

I didn’t expect, that afternoon I went running and decided through shards of public tears I should finally talk, that every corner of my mind would start to relax. That in forcing myself to talk to you, I would be forcing myself to finally talk to my parents, my girlfriends and my new friends. That in opening up, I would finally be letting myself breathe.

The minute I left that record, the blanket of self-loathing and guilt and shame I had buried myself under began to dissipate. I felt scared but I felt lighter.

I felt a form of free.

I’m not saying everything is perfect; that the vaginismus has disappeared or the pain won’t visit in its sharp, indiscriminate fury some days.

All I’m saying is the minute I felt exposed was the minute things got better.

Discomfort is terrifying. Telling people how and why you feel the things you do is intimidating. Sharing parts of your soul you barely acknowledge as your own is petrifying.

For so long, that blanket isolation - the one that enveloped me in shame and self-punishment, embarrassment and anger - began to eat at my psyche. It began to suffocate my mind and tinker with my self-confidence.

It nearly swallowed me whole.

If there’s one thing I have learned from the last two months, it’s that you absolutely don’t need to be as silly as me or as masochistic as I grew to become. That opening up about your pain - about whatever pain swallows you, too - won’t expose you.

It’ll simply let people in.

It’ll allow you to be enveloped by their empathy and their kindness and not your own self-loathing and guilt. It’ll wrap you up in a different kind of blanket.

So many of you have reached out to me, and I’ve struggled, so much, to get back to you all. I will do my absolute best to do so, but in the meantime, know this: There are few spaces I’d feel so safe baring myself so completely. There are few communities I would trust with my stories. Thanks for being the best one, the kindest one, the most empathetic one. Thank you for being the ones to envelop me in your own empathy and your kindness, your sweet words and your support.

Thank you for wrapping me up in that very different kind of blanket: one that feels warm and safe and beyond the reach of the shame that shrouded my spirit for so long.

Zara x

Emma Hackett