James Withey: what recovery means to me

23rd August 2017

James Withey, founder of The Recovery Letters project, tells us what recovery means to him.

After my lastest episode of depression, I lurched between being convinced that I could never recover at all, to being determined that I had to recover completely. The truth, as the saying goes, lay somewhere in the middle. I am in recovery but have not fully recovered and whereas I would love to be completely ‘better’, I know this isn’t going to happen.

My definition of recovery changes, sometimes on a daily basis. One day it means that I’ve got to the gym whilst depression is screaming at me not to go and I’ve told it to ‘bugger off’ (usually more explicit language than that). Or that I have simply got out of bed when depression has pinned me to the duvet or not gone to pieces when the cat has delivered in a dead bird and feathers are scattered across the kitchen floor.

Always when I go to work this feels like a huge achievement, especially after a year of being too ill to even consider it. I don’t work full time as a trainer anymore as the stress would be too much, instead I work part time in a library and I love it. Sometimes I wish that I could go back and return to the salary and role that I used to have but I know this isn’t possible.

Sometimes I feel depression has won and I curl up on the sofa staring into space; my husband calls this my ‘Goldfish Bowl’ look. He can see me but he can’t get at me. But then I manage to put the washing out or laugh at something on the TV and I can see that recovery is in the small moments as much as the big achievements.

I am hugely proud of the a project I run called The Recovery Letters, where people recovering from depression write a letter to other people suffering, saying that it gets better. People write and tell me how the letters have helped them, they can see that if other people have recovered that they might be able to do the same, some people tell me the letters have saved their life. It’s astonishing, beautiful and massively humbling. Running the project for the last 5 years and getting a book of the letters published this year has given me proof that I am able to achieve things, despite the bile that depression spouts.

For me using the word acceptance in relation to my recovery, has helped. I try and accept I am not going to be completely free from depression, I try and accept I can’t do the job that I once did, I try and accept that the cat wants to kill birds and I try and accept that I am not the hideous person depression tells me I am.

Acceptance is not admitting defeat, it doesn’t mean depression has won, it just means that to move forward I have to choose my goals carefully and try and not judge myself by the standards of others. If chopping mushrooms for dinner, when I really don’t want to, feels like an achievement then it goes on the list too.


Read other contributions to the ‘what recovery means to me’ series