by Katherine James
Dealing with depression for most of my life, the dawn of a New Year is not my favourite time. I hate the hype, false optimism and pressure to ‘make it our best year yet’ against the backdrop of a bleak midwinter in the UK, stretching interminably ahead. It’s a painful time, when I feel my brother’s loss, and more recently my mum and my best friend, very poignantly. Some will cheerfully welcome a brand-new year with huge excitement, but many others, locked in depression, feel downcast and excluded. In fact, subconsciously, we can carry an invisible shroud of sadness into Spring, Summer, Autumn and back to Winter again, which holds us back and drags us down.
I certainly used to feel that way, although that’s beginning to change. Brave-faced but heavy-hearted, I felt disconnected, on the outside, looking in. Searching desperately for a book to help me (and others also struggling) to be the hero of my life story, I couldn’t find it. So that was the book I had to write myself, to help others too. A comfort blanket in a book, it’s a gentle journey beyond a lonely, isolated place to one of purpose and of meaning.
Here’s what motivated me to write The Story of Hope.
Locked in the ‘metaphorical’ dark attic of despair
I remember the day clearly. It was 8 years ago and I was staring out from behind a large office window, feeling trapped. On this crisp, sunny afternoon, I saw colleagues outside, laughing and smiling. I wished I could join them. But I was overworked and didn’t have time for a lunch break, nor was I keen to venture out anyway. Previously working with young people with mental health issues, I remembered how they described depression as feeling lost and lonely in a forgotten place, hiding behind a thick blanket. That’s exactly what I was feeling. Previously a business storyteller in a large telco, I was now doing a traditional marketing job I didn’t love. Like many others, I felt stuck, unfulfilled and utterly hopeless.
So, every lunch hour, I crept away from my desk to a bench on the office campus, to write a chapter of the book I felt impelled to write, The Story of Hope. The words flowed out of my pen. It’s a hero’s story all about new beginnings, from a grey, empty existence to a place of colour and confidence. The life we are all destined to lead.
Taking its message to heart, I’m pleased to say I took my life in a far better direction and I hope my book will help anyone feeling trapped to also turn a corner too.
Synopsis of the book
So, what’s the book about? Well, The Story of Hope is an exquisitely illustrated allegorical tale about an unlikely hero called Hope. Locked in her attic room, she feels forgotten by the world. She embarks on a journey to find her true identity, protected by a beautiful cloak. Step by step, through the seasons, Hope navigates a complex kaleidoscope of emotions, each covered by a chapter in the book, matched by a beautiful piece of art. Helped by a mentor and allies, she finally finds the confidence she is seeking, writing what she learns in a diary, shared in the book’s epilogue.
Though a short book, each chapter breaks down the complex topic of depression into a series of manageable steps which guarantee real, sustainable progress, however bad we are feeling. I hope it inspires anyone who has lost hope to find it so they can again go forwards.
Escaping from the attic of despair by writing a happier chapter
Attics feature strongly in the book as well as my own life story. I believe we don’t have to stay locked away in the metaphorical attic of despair forever. We can take back control at any time by choosing to rewrite the next chapter of the story.
I discovered the healing power of storytelling from a young age, in the large attic of the house by the sea in wild Northumberland, UK, where I grew up. Shy and sensitive, I fed my imagination with fairy and fantasy tales like The Wizard of Oz and The Hobbit. I found the heroes and heroines, overcoming trials and tribulations, incredibly inspiring. I thought if they could make sense of the world to get through anything then so could I.
Soon after writing the book, in 2015, I had a nasty accident, also featuring an attic, which I fell out of, breaking my back in two places, hitting my head on a door and blacking out. So, I didn’t publish The Story of Hope until a few years later. As published during lockdown, the fact the hero escaped from being locked in the attic is coincidentally relevant.
Not an ideal way to learn a lesson, that fall and bang on the head landed me back on my feet. I realised I could not go on feeling as miserable as this, so I had to change that. After a year of enforced recuperation, I made some major life changes. I quit my corporate job, went out walking in the countryside, worked less, laughed more and launched a storytelling consultancy to empower business owners to share their own story of hope through their marketing content, so it leads them to the right clients. It is possible to rewrite the story.
An evolving hero’s story where we are the authors
I would love my book’s concise, uplifting message to be a beacon of hope for those facing mental health problems at a very uncertain time when it may feel like there’s little cause to celebrate. To not punish ourselves for personal flaws, failings and past mistakes we all have. We’re still here and can achieve victory through vulnerability as we’ve done before. We can find the courage to rewrite a happier chapter, where we are the author.
The truth is, however bad life may look, there is always hope and help on the journey to find it. It is always darkest before dawn, but our own story of hope lies just over the horizon. We have to write it. If Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz found hers, over the rainbow, then so can we.
Or maybe a new beginning? What changes can you make to get you where you would love to be heading? Let Hope guide the way.
MEET THE AUTHOR
KATHERINE ELIZABETH JAMES runs a business storytelling consultancy from Hampshire, UK. She empowers others to share their own story of hope, where victory through vulnerability is their greatest strength.
On the web
THE STORY OF HOPE: A JOURNEY FROM DESPAIR TO FREEDOM BY KATHERINE ELIZABETH JAMES, published by Storyarc Publishing, illustrated paperback (38 pages).