When you’re in the darkest moments of depression it can be difficult to imagine a day when you’ll feel happy again.
But a touching project is allowing people who have survived these feelings to tell others “things will get better”.
The project, titled ‘The Recovery Letters’, allows people who are recovering from depression help those who are currently suffering and possibly considering suicide.
The letters are filled with personal anecdotes and moving words of support, such as: “You’re not bad or unlovable, just ill. I’m holding your hand, I’ll walk with you.”
The project was started by James Withey, who first thought of the idea in 2011 while staying at Maytree, a London-based “sanctuary for the suicidal”.
He developed ‘The Recovery Letters’ a few months later, after spending time in a psychiatric hospital.
“During a lot of my crisis care I hadn’t been told that recovery from depression was possible and it seemed impossible that I could ever recover,” he tells The Huffington Post UK.
“People would suggest I read huge self-help books on depression and I couldn’t read a sentence. What I wanted was to be able to read that recovery was possible from people who had experienced what I was going through.”
Today, Withey posts submissions from survivors onto ‘The Recovery Letters’ website, which now receives more than 60,000 hits each year from people all over the world.
All letters are free to submit and access, as the aim is to help the most amount of people possible.
“The intention is to try and alleviate the all encompassing feelings of hopelessness that depression brings,” Withey explains.
“Depression tells you that you will never get better, never smile again, never see the point of living and I wanted an antidote to the lies depression tells you. The letters are small shots of hope.”
Withey is currently calling for ‘Recovery Letter’ submissions to be featured in a book, which is due out in 2017 with Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
He describes the response he’s received to the letters as “incredible and overwhelming” and says he often receives emails from people who have been helped by the project.
“People have said the letters have helped them survive through the night, it’s humbling and amazing,” he says.
Read two of the letters below, or visit The Recovery Letters website to see more of the submissions.
In the dark treacle of this illness it may seem impossible that you will ever be well. You may want to end your life, or hurt yourself or just stop feeling the unbearable pain of whatever has caused this. It seems impossible that you will ever feel normal again, to feel like you did, to laugh or not think about the pain.
The loneliness of this illness is impossibly cruel, it may feel that no one understands how awful it is. Whereas no other person can completely follow the feelings and emotions you have, there are many others who have felt this dark and have come out again and live full lives. It is possible. With patience, care, rest and love you will get better, your body is telling you to stop, to climb off the horse and sit in the stable a while.
Get help, push for help, you are important even if you don’t feel it, remember people care and want you around, people love you and want you to live. Hope is the one thing that is in short supply with depression and it is the one thing that we need when unwell. I hope you continue to live, I hope you recover.
My name is Jon, I’m a carpenter with a wife and two young children.
Two years ago I had depression, I don’t know how long it lasted maybe two years, but for the last year at least I thought about killing myself constantly (like, almost every waking minute of the day).
I got so good at hiding it and “coping” I used to play with the children while I had an image of myself hanging in front of my eyes.
I only realise now how ill I was. Recovery took a while and a lot of the time it felt like a lot of effort. Sometimes (while I was recovering) even feeling happier was too much to bear.
Two years down the line I can’t actually remember much about it, it’s just gone. I look at my kids every night and feel so blessed for the time I have with them, I’m enjoying my work again and my partner and I rarely go through a day without sharing a laugh. It’s all very different.
I remember thinking “why can’t anybody see how much I’m suffering” but I’m afraid they can’t, you need to tell the people (even if the only person you can tell is your GP or Samaritans).
I went to my GP first and then was given a place on a group CBT course, I found this hard to cope with and was given one-to-one CBT and also started on antidepressants, both of which really worked for me.
I have just finished reading ‘Stop Thinking and Start Living’ by Richard Carlson. I am 100% convinced by his approach to depression, his “treatment” feels like cheating or a quick fix but it really has worked for me. If you understand the principles behind CBT I think Carlson’s approach could really work for you.
Most importantly of all it requires a fraction of the effort and hard work that CBT demands. I don’t believe I was badly depressed when I read the book but I believe anybody could understand and absorb the central message of this book (regardless of your state of mind).
I’m still on antidepressants and I had a CBT group refresher last year. One day I’ll come off the antidepressants but right here, right now, I’m happy.
I’m happy to be writing to you, I’m happy to be thinking of you and sending you my love.
You’re not bad or unlovable, just ill. I’m holding your hand, I’ll walk with you.
Useful websites and helplines:
Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41.
Maytree is a sanctuary for the suicidal in north London in a non-medical setting. For help or to enquire about a stay, call 020 7263 7070.