I have to read a book.
I fold back the spine a bit, look out of the window, take a deep breath and then look at the words. Nothing. OK, I used to do this all the time, I tell myself, I can do this, look at the words, take them in and keep going.
I flick through the 400 pages and sigh. I look at the back cover. I try again, they're just words, nothing to be frightened about. But again, nothing, I can't read. Now I start getting cross with myself. "For goodness sake James...", (actually slightly stronger words than that) "...read the frigging book."
This 'frigging' book has been recommended by my G.P and was called something like '500 Easy Peasy Ways to Heal Your Depression in 15 Minutes' but my concentration is so bad that after a few lines I stop.
I throw the book out of the window, which considering the flat is at the top of a huge Georgian building is definitely going to hurt it. "Try healing yourself" I shout to it as it falls. Then I remember, it's a library book.
Depression has taken me hostage, I can't see how I am ever going to get better and the pain is relentless. I miss being able to read books and go to my book group, I miss being able to smile at a joke and not having panic attacks in the supermarket. I miss going to work and going out with friends and most of all, I miss myself.
It's clear reading is not going to be an option, my coping mechanism has deserted me at the time I need it the most and I feel betrayed. With all the guff going on in my head, the intrusive thoughts, the suicidal ideation and the constant berating of myself, there is no room to take anything else in.
Things get worse, I am assigned to the psychiatric crisis team who come and visit every day and I go and stay in Maytree Suicide Respite Centre in London which really helps me. A few months later I am admitted to a psychiatric hospital where I sit on the bed and think that last year I was delivering suicide prevention training to social care staff in a large charity and now I'm on 15 minutes suicide watch.
Being in hospital gives me time to think, I head to the small library and wonder why there isn't a book of stories about recovering from depression, maybe letters from the other side to make you see that there's hope, that you can come through the pain. Where is that book?
Later in the year and still not able to read, I try instead to write something, I write a letter. This letter is addressed to 'Dear You' and is written to all the people who were in the same place that I was and I try and gently say that it gets better, because it has; depression hasn't gone, it's just not as bad as it was.
I write that depression convinces you that it will never go, that it's a blanket of nails smothering you with heaviness and inconceivable pain. I upload it onto a website and called it 'The Recovery Letters' and ask other people to write similar letters, and they do, in droves and the project is born.
The letters seem to help people and the feedback is humbling and extraordinary; people e-mail me to say the letters have saved their lives.I knew about the power of compassion from my time as a counsellor, but the power of letters to heal and give hope is something quite new. Then the letter writers also tell me they gain as much as the readers. Writing is so powerful because we can control what we say, we can edit it, cross it out and let out our pain; we get control back when depression has taken it away. We fight back and give back.
A book of The Recovery Letters is coming out on the 21st July in the UK and the US published by Jessica Kingsley. We have gathered letters written by people from across the world with all types of depression. the website has helped so many people I can't wait to see the impact of the book.
When depression strikes and overtakes my mind, I read the letters too. I look at them and remember that I'm not alone, there are millions of us. I look at the letters and they give me back a shot of hope that depression has temporarily removed and then I carry on and keep reading.
You can get in touch with Recovery Letters or submit your own letter via their website
James lives in Brighton & Hove in the UK, he runs The Recovery Letters Project and he works part time in a library. He speaks publically about depression and is an advocate for increased awareness, compassion and hope in mental illness.