By James Withey
Because it’s not like anything else.
It’s not ‘like’ the blues, or ‘like’ an extended bad-hair day, or ‘like’ sadness, or ‘like’ feeling low. Sometimes you feel everything and sometimes nothing.
Because when you have depression, you lose the ability to talk.
You won’t be describing it, or expressing it, or even thinking about it ‘in words’ and so it is the great ‘silent’ illness. Writing about it is one thing that people have managed to do, in The Recovery Letters and in books, poems, in blogs and in articles. When I was first unwell I couldn't read a page but I could write, things have to come out somehow.
Because people with depression hide away.
Either physically or by closing themselves off behind a wall that exists between themselves and the world. Depressed people are not hanging out in a social space saying ‘hey, this is what I feel like’.
It’s not like the flu, where you can exchange hot toddy remedies; it’s not like having an operation, where people can visit you in hospital; it’s not like a relationship breakup, where you can commiserate with ‘fish in the sea’ narratives with your mates. It is silent, private, claustrophobic, and, when you’re in it, you cannot imagine being out of it.
Because depression is still stigmatised.
Despite everything we ‘know’ about depression, and everything we ‘understand’ about depression – it’s still something that tars and scars you. When you tell people you have depression it feels like revealing a dark secret; the illness makes you feel ashamed and you think others will judge you; now that's quite a combination.
Because with depression the smallest things are huge.
You know you should get out of bed, have a shower, eat something, put clothes on but it feels like climbing a glacier with broken flip-flops and it's impossible to explain this feeling to your loved ones who do this automatically.
James Withey is a trained counsellor who worked in social care for 20 years. In 2011, James was diagnosed with clinical depression, attempted suicide and spent time in psychiatric hospital and crisis services where he developed the idea for The Recovery Letters. After blogging about his own experience, he invited readers to share their own stories of depression and their journeys towards recovery. Collated into an anthology for the first time, alongside motivational words from the editors, these personal letters will continue to provide hope and courage to the many people who are currently experiencing depression.
James writes and speaks publicly about depression and has twice featured on BBC Radio 4's 'All in the Mind' programme.
The Recovery Letters is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers on 21st July.