There’s no doubt that I was broken in September 2014. My mind had been shattered, taken to the very brink of death. But I survived. Unexpectedly. Perhaps fortuitously. For in that survival I had the opportunity to learn, about myself, my illness, and my innate resilience.
It took time to come to terms with my survival. More time to flesh out what might be wrong. Time taken to rebuild me.
In that rebuilding, I shared, far and wide, perhaps naively. I still lacked a full grasp of what was wrong. Some answers had been found, but they were incomplete. Nonetheless, I continued to share, revealing what I’d learned as I was learning it. I continue to do that to this day.
One tool that I stumbled upon was transactional writing: the act of writing a letter to oneself to promote healing. At that same time, I was approached by The Recovery Letters to write a piece for that site. The stars now aligned, I wrote my first piece of transactional writing. I’d like to share what I wrote then with you today. Please note that it was written many years before my diagnosis was clarified to become Bipolar II Disorder. Please enjoy.
My Recovery Letter
My name is John and I suffer from depressive episodes. They began in my early teens and continued,
untreated, until I was 51. I’m now 53 and have been in treatment for two years. I believe that I’ll remain
in treatment for many years to come, and that’s okay. It took many years to get as ill as I became, so it’s no surprise to me that it’ll take many years to heal.
In the beginning, the depressive episodes were fleeting, a mere day-long visit of a bleak mood. Over the
years, the depth of bleakness and its duration both grew in intensity. By the time I was 51 the episode I
was experiencing had lasted years and was very bleak.
I could go on and describe the worthlessness I felt, the fatigue, the weight of the depressive episode and more. You already know this from your own experience. Know then that while I can’t know your pain, it’s unique to you, I can certainly understand.
I begin by making a confession. On September 2, 2014, when I was 51, I attempted to take my own life. I make this confession to you so that you know just how distraught I was, how lacking in self-worth I was.
On September 3, I was a very different person than just the day before. I was still broken, but I’d realized that I needed to find out what was wrong. If you’re reading this letter, you’ve come to that same realization and for that I commend you.
My recovery has been slow yet steady. It has, to be honest, been anything but linear. It’s been filled with
ups and downs, steps forward and steps back and the occasional wrong turn. Nonetheless, I’m now in a much better place.
My recovery began when I asked for help. That’s all it took, that simple request. But it was a request
that was beyond my ability to voice for far too long. For too long I was ashamed of myself. But you
already know that feeling. That shame kept me silent.
Once I found that voice, that inner strength to seek help, things changed for the better. I learned that I
was ill, that my illness had a name and that it also had known methods of treatment. Naming it took
away much of the power of the darkness I’d lived in for so long. Naming it revealed its weaknesses.
For example, major depressive disorder, the name, tries to instill a pervasive feeling of unworthiness,
the lie. It places a filter on our thoughts and emotions where rational thought is unwelcome and
emotion is incomplete. The emotion that we experience leaves out all the positives that exist around us. You know what I mean, that world that you see where people laugh and love and find enjoyment that’s just that little bit beyond your reach.
The filter of major depressive disorder lies to us. It’s the action of this filter that tells us we are poor at
this and poor at that, while the reality is that we are no worse nor no better than everyone else. We are,
as you know yourself, ill. Once you see this filter for the manipulative tool it is, you can begin to see
through its deceit. And recovery can happen.
The first success in my recovery was to ask my parents for help.
The second was to make a simple phone call, connect with the Canadian Mental Health Association, and again ask for help. To my continuing good fortune, they listened and accepted my request, although, like any bureaucracy, it wasn’t immediate. I mention this so you won’t be surprised at the inevitable delays in treatment that you’ll face.
Such simple acts: a decision to seek help and a phone call to initiate it. These acts are within your ability. They’re no harder than your effort to get out of bed, and I know you can do that, on some days. So on one of those better days, and they do come, I encourage you to make this same phone call to the mental health agency in your area.
In this, I’ll bring to your attention “The Four Agreements” of Don Miguel Ruiz and especially the fourth
agreement which is to “Always Do Your Best”. On September 3, my best, all I was able to do, was ask for help. No more, no less. On September 4, my best was to locate a telephone number and call it. On some days, my best was to stay in bed. But each day I did my best, whatever that best may have been. And in so doing I propelled my recovery. I’ve no doubt that you can do this as well.
Remember when I mentioned that major depressive disorder is deceitful? You can challenge that deceit by keeping a list of your successes. Each day, write what you accomplished that day, write what your best was. Your illness will tell you that there was none, but your own words will show the truth and
break through the deceit. Once again, this is such a simple thing to do, a simple thing within your
My final request of you: please maintain a Gratitude Journal. Each night, before you go to bed, write
down what you are grateful for that day. Contemplate upon it allowing the feeling of gratitude to fill
you. If you can, write three things. If you cannot, write the same thing three times. Maintain that feeling
of gratitude as you slip away into sleep. As with everything else I ask of you, I know this to be within
your abilities. I know this, because it was within mine. I can’t express to you how very beneficial
maintaining a Gratitude Journal has been to me, but I do know that I began to look forward to the
coming morning and saw it for the opportunity it truly was.
I must close now. After reading this you are undoubtedly tired and overwhelmed. I know I am from
writing it. I wish you well and success in your journey.
It’s been many years since I read this letter and I’m surprised at how well it’s held up. In it, I offer ecouragement, highlight beneficial coping strategies, and speak with compassion and empathy, all elements that transactional writing benefits from. And while I concede that all three are strategies I’ve had mixed success in maintaining, they remain strategies that I continue to use to this day. After all, for me they work!
I hope you enjoyed reading my recovery letter, my first piece of transactional writing. Please know that I enjoyed sharing it with you!
For more pieces of transactional writing, you can read The Recovery Letters, the book based on the website. I’m grateful that my letter is included.
Image by jarmoluk via Pixabay