As we celebrate Pride Month 2021, we revisit an interview with Dr Leo Whyte, author of two books, “Reliving the Past to Release the Present – traumatic memories and letters to my younger self” and “Life Satisfaction – a scientist’s guide to achieving health, happiness and harmony”. In an exclusive, candid conversation, J.Allan Longshadow spoke to Leo about the incredible story behind these titles. Here is the first part.
J.Allan Longshadow: Leo, thank you ever so much for joining me today. I’ve got in my hand the book “Reliving the Past to Release the Present”, a collection of traumatic memories and letters written to you as your younger self. Leo, I’ve had a read of this book and it’s not just a really deep, powerful and moving book but also an extremely brave book to put out into the world. Could you tell me a bit about the background of how this book came into being?
Leo Whyte: Well, without talking about the whole book in one go, I’d say that the best way to talk about it is that that book saved my life in a lot of ways. It came out of a therapy exercise. I had a mental health crisis in 2017 and when I was going through the crisis, I initially thought it was because of work pressure. I thought I had just got overloaded with stress and I was having a bad reaction. But when I went to a therapist, as we dug deeper into it, that explanation made no sense as to how I was reacting.
“…that book saved my life in a lot of ways”
My therapist – a very talented therapist who I was very lucky to meet – worked various techniques with me to help me unlock that. One of the things she suggested was going back and writing about my past, writing down what I could remember and then writing a letter to myself. So I tried that, but it didn’t work at first because I was too close to it. I actually had to change all the names in the memory so that it was like a story and then come back to it a day or two later and write the letter to the person with the other name, because it was the only way I could get the perspective I needed. When I spoke about this to my therapist, after we had done a series of these, she said she really wished there was a resource like this out there. She explained that when she had been training as a therapist, they simply didn’t see things like this. There were so many people who thought they are alone with memories like these and she wished there was a resource that people could refer to. It was a throwaway comment for me at the time and it wasn’t until a little bit later that I thought, “well, there is – I could make it a resource – I could publish it”. I was desperately looking for something positive to come out of that dark time in my life. Publishing it was not an easy decision, but it was a way for me to bring some light from the incredible darkness of that time.
J.A.L: I know people who have used letter writing as a technique for counselling and therapy, but very often the mantra is to write the letter and burn it, for example, whereas you’ve basically done the opposite – you’ve taken the letter and preserved it for posterity. How do you feel about that approach – do you feel that it has the same cathartic effect for you?
L.W: Yes. It is still very much that burn it and release it idea. In my mind, there was, of course, a worry, particularly with some of the earlier memories in the book such as the Red Shed, for example, which was something I had suppressed for my entire life. For a long time, I convinced myself I’d imagined it and I convinced myself that it wasn’t real. But it was; deep down I knew it was. So my worry was, if I had burnt it, then it would have been easy for me to go back to pretending. And so by publishing it, it made it solid and stopped me from backtracking. I suppose it was another way of releasing it – I kind of released it out into the open. I think burning it or ripping it up or whatever is a great cathartic tool, but I think sometimes it also keeps these things in the dark. I think if we were to do more and share more and talk more freely about these things then a lot of people would get a benefit. A lot of people would see that they are not alone and there are people out there who can help them.
Listen to the Interview:
Both titles are available in paperback and electronic format from Wednesday 1st of June.
If you have been affected by any of the topics discussed in this interview, help and support is available.
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