This collection of letters written by people with experience of depression to people still in the thick of it is available now for pre-order. The reviews here strongly suggest without actually saying so, that this isn’t a sit-down-and-read-all-in-one-go sort of book. It isn’t a novel; it’s real and it’s painful at times because the people who wrote the letters and pulled back the curtains on very personal experiences of their own are real. But its message is hope – everyone who wrote has been there and eventually found a safer place from which to speak. The depressions are different and the recoveries are different because the people are different. There’s probably something there for anyone in that black hole and feeling lost although it may not be the first letter, or any of the first several, or the middle one or the last, but it’s likely to be somewhere there just a page-turn away. And it may not be the same one the next time you look because you will have changed.
To my mind, it’s the complementary twin of Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive, a profoundly moving autobiographical account of his own depression and recovery which can be read like a novel. Have both. Give both. Keep both. On the shelf, by the bed, in the gap between the cushion and the arm of the sofa, Wherever is close to hand.
The Recovery Letters is an online project started by James Withey who invited anyone who had experienced depression to write a letter that might help others. In his words:
The Recovery Letters are all written with the intention to try and alleviate some of the pain of depression, to make the loneliness slightly more bearable and above all to give hope that you can recover. We see recovery as self defined but can include living alongside symptoms or being symptom free, being stable on medication or medication free but most of all living a life with some meaning. [They] are written from people recovering from depression, addressed to those currently suffering.
Depression doesn’t discriminate. It’s not interested in who or what you are, how much you earn, or your professional successes. We know this, or we should, from the numbers of high profile sports and TV personalities beginning to disclose their struggles with the condition, although people still express disbelief – what could he possibly have to worry about? or she’s such a strong person, you’d never think that could happen. It does though, because depression often comes from nowhere and drains all those achievements of value, making them worthless and turning the person who achieved them into a fraud – a burden to everyone around them.
These letters are real; they’re not fictional and they’re not all easy to read. My former boss, past chief executive of a large mental health trust, has a letter there, and so have I, Some of them will be coming out in a print book next year, published by Jessica Kingsley. A companion maybe for people still finding their way through; a primer for those wanting to know more so they can try to understand or help someone who may be drowning while wearing the bravest of faces.
James asks that visitors to the site please read the About page for context before going on to read the letters.