Wednesday 17 August 2022

With Love: A Curated List of Open Letters

In the first of a series of themed posts, I’ve compiled a selection of my open letters, plus two letters and a poem written to me by other people. The open letter format can be useful, not merely to share what we’d like to say — or have said — to someone, but also as a novel approach for presenting other content. I’ve provided a brief introduction and quoted from each letter, but I encourage you to read them in full.

An Open Letter to My Father

My father died when I was eighteen. This open letter to him was the first time I’d written publicly about my childhood and family life. It was first published in June 2016 by The Good Men Project.

I grew up accepting disability and illness as things you put up with without making a fuss about them.

But Dad, that wasn’t enough. I didn’t learn how much it fucking hurts to live in chronic pain. I didn’t learn how someone can rail against the injustice of it all, scream at the universe — and then move past that and take the next step. You never let me see it’s okay to cry and be weak sometimes, and share how you’re feeling when life is really shitty. I have no idea how you felt about your life. Or your death.

It took fifty years and some major fuckups on my part before I started to get it. Before I stopped running away from those unable to bear their illnesses and problems as stoically as you bore yours.

Read the letter in full here.

An Open Letter to My Mother

This open letter to my mother was written in response to a writing prompt by Stigma Fighters. The brief was to write “a letter to someone who stopped talking to me.” I thought immediately of my mother who had died in a Liverpool nursing home six months earlier. The letter was published by Stigma Fighters in September 2018.

I own my share of the blame. The depth of your need terrified me and I left you to get on with it all. I wasn’t there when you needed me to be. It was easier to pretend I didn’t notice. To visit occasionally and then not at all. To phone occasionally and then not at all. To write letters, and then postcards, that said very little and needed no reply. I’ve learned a lot about being there these past years but too late for you and me. There is no going back but I would do better by you now.

Read the letter in full here.

An Open Letter to Fran

I’ve written two open letters to my best friend Fran. The first was published here on our blog in May 2016 as An Open Letter to My Bipolar Best Friend. We’d been friends for five years.

I used to sit in coffee shops wishing I had someone to meet up with. Now, this place is my social hub. With friends online and friends face to face I meet and chat and share and talk and laugh here, regardless of geographic distance. What changed? You entered my life! In the five years since we became friends I have opened up enormously. Opened to you, opened into our friendship, but also opened to let others in, opened to let myself out. Our friendship has been and is transformative for both of us. This relationship between a well one (me) and an ill one (you) has turned both our lives inside out, and its impact ripples out into the world.

Read the letter in full here.

Another Open Letter to Fran

Five years later I published It’s Not Boring! An Open Letter to My Best Friend on Our 10 Year Anniversary.

Our blog. Our two books. Our online presence on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere. I’m deeply committed to them all. But they are not us. They share our story and our message of hope, but we know the stories, tips, strategies, and techniques we write about because we have lived them. Day in. Day out. Ten years. 3,653 days. (And yes, I looked it up, to be sure I had the leap years right!)

I’ve loved it all, Fran. Not always liked it or found it easy — we’ve had our share of hurt and darkness, some of it our doing, some of it not — but I’ve always loved being with you. I told you once “I never don’t want to be here,” and that’s still true, no matter what is going on for you or for me. That commitment has kept our friendship strong and endlessly reinventing itself. The dark times and the light, the low and the high, the well and the unwell; they are all part of what we’ve shared and continue to share. As I’m sure I’ve said once or twice along the way, it’s not boring, being your best friend!

Read the letter in full here.

An Open Letter to Myself

I’ve never felt moved to write a letter to my younger self, but in 2021 I wrote to myself from the perspective of a caring and concerned friend. It was an interesting experience and gave me fresh insights into different aspects of my life, character, and behaviour.

The book you wrote with Fran is about how you’re the “well one” in your friendship, with her as the “ill one.” But those terms are relative, aren’t they? “Well ones” like us struggle too. And sometimes the line between the “well ones” and the “ill ones” becomes blurred, to say the least. I’m not sure you realise how important what you’re sharing is. That “Boys Get Sad Too” piece felt like a turning point for you. Would you agree? I recognised myself in what you wrote there, for sure. It was a bit of a wake up call, to be honest.

Read the letter in full here.

An Open Letter Book Review

In 2021 I was offered the chance to review the latest novel by author Anne Goodwin. I found the book fascinating but was stuck for a way of presenting my review until I had the idea to frame it as an open letter to my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson. Published as Warehousing Society’s Estranged: A Review of Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home I feel the approach worked well. The author has shared my review several times on her social media, suggesting she agrees.

I’ve rambled on longer than I meant to, but before I finish I want to mention how the book explores the origins or causes of mental illness. Genetics, trauma, and the environment are all suggested as potential factors, but it’s the last of those which receives the most attention. At one point, Janice the social worker seems to think removing someone from their hospital environment into the community will restore their humanity. “Detached from the hospital,” she imagines, “her passengers were transformed from patients to people.” To me, this says more about Janice’s attitudes than the patients. They always were people, whether inside or outside the hospital and regardless of their diagnoses or how long they’ve been there. I think you would agree.

Janice’s naivety is challenged by events. It would give too much away to talk about what led to Matilda’s incarceration, but by the end of the book, “[Janice had] learned a painful lesson about environmental influence: put a woman in a madhouse and she’d behave as a madwoman, but putting her in an ordinary house wouldn’t necessarily reverse the process.” In other words, we are affected, often deeply and irrevocably, by our circumstances and by those around us.

Read the full book review here.

An Open Letter From Aimee Wilson

Early 2019 found me struggling a good deal with self-doubt in a number of areas of my life, including my role within the wider mental health community. Some of these concerns were shared in a post titled Impostor Syndrome, Self-Doubt, and Legitimacy in the Mental Health Arena. In response to that piece and others, Aimee published a letter to me on her blog I’m NOT Disordered: “I know that you’ve been feeling sort of lost recently and have been questioning your place in the mental health world so I thought that perhaps this letter might motivate you through these doubts and struggles.” Her words and support — and the support of other friends too — helped me through what was a difficult time.

I fully believe that you can’t get through a mental health illness alone; and that support can come from anyone… a professional, a family member, or a friend... The difficulty comes in allowing yourself to lean on another person or even to just admit that you need to lean on them! But people like you, make it so much easier because your support is unconditional and, whilst you’re unable to identify with some aspects of mental health, you have an unmeasurable willingness to learn and develop an understanding in order to better support a person. I love that you ask me questions when I’m struggling because it’s much more helpful than you just sitting there and nodding along, pretending to understand.

Read the letter in full here.

An Open Letter From Brynn McCann

Another close friend, Brynn McCann, wrote me an open letter in December 2021. Titled The Miracle of Light: An Open Letter to My Friend Marty, it is one of the most read posts on our blog.

We are kindred spirits and even though we’ve never met in person, we really work hard at truly seeing the other, and we succeed at that more than we fail.

I truly have learned how to be a better person because of you. I treat people better and love them more fully because you taught me and are still teaching me how to do just that.

And isn’t that what real friendship is about? Mutual respect, being present, not judging. I can tell you anything and you support me right through. That is true friendship. That is a miracle.

Read the letter in full here.

An Open Poem From Sarah Fader

The final piece I’m choosing to present is a poem, written to me in 2018 by another friend, Sarah Fader. As it’s relatively short, I’ll include it in full. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as understood and seen by anyone before. I’m glad Sarah felt that too.

Poem for Marty

Everyone has their own darkness
Mine is outside of my skin at times
Creeping slowly around
the confines of my mouth
not allowing me to speak
only telling me to feel
what I don’t want to feel.

You see my dark and
also the light even when
it’s hard to find
even when
it’s invisible to everyone around me.

That is your power
That is your gift
You sit quietly
as she talks
she cries
she needs you
and you’re not afraid
in fact you embrace the raw feelings.

I’m relieved to know that there are people
like you in the world
Thank you for loving without question
and embracing us without fear.

Don’t change who you are
Keep listening
It matters.

Read the original post here.

Over to You

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these open letters as much as I’ve enjoyed bringing them together. Have you written an open letter to someone before, or had one written to you? What are your thoughts about the format? I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments section below or through our contact page.


Photo by Calum MacAulay at Unsplash.


No comments:

Post a Comment