West Sussex author offers book profits to mental-health charity

Crawley author Maria Alfieri is donating the profits from her new book The Silent Scream to Heads On, the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust’s charity.

Maria Alfieri
Maria Alfieri

Heads On helps people with mental health problems to feel supported, to stay active and to be more involved in their communities.

Maria’s book comes with a powerful message: you are not alone.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

The book, Maria explains, is a collection of raw and honest memoirs, anecdotes, poems and artworks about a variety of mental-heath topics including childhood sexual abuse, eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, PTSD, self-harm, rape, parenting difficulties and generally not feeling good enough in a society demanding perfection.

Independently published by Pontem Publishing, The Silent Scream Anthology (hardback £22.99; paperback £13.99) is available from outlets including Waterstones, Foyles and Amazon.

“I’ve actually been writing for the Sussex NHS safeguarding and mental health team during lockdown and have teamed up with the Sussex partnership charity Heads On, so that profits from The Silent Scream will be donated to them. With lots of people being affected in terms of mental health and safeguarding over the last few months in particular, I feel really proud that The Silent Scream will be benefitting service users of a charity relevant to its content.

“It was always my intention to donate the profits to a charity, so that monies raised would be ploughed back into the community and services relevant to the book.

“Heads On supports people with mental health problems such as psychosis, depression, anxiety, dementia and personality disorder, and people with learning disabilities who are facing mental health challenges.

“The work Heads On do is important because all of their projects are developed in partnership with service users to ensure that they are led first and foremost by the needs of people with real, lived experience of mental health and learning disability services. Their goal is to enhance the care and treatment provided by Sussex Partnership by funding special projects, patient and family support and pioneering research. Projects vary from re-landscaping a hospital ward garden with facilities for patients to grow and tend plants, to providing specialist equipment enabling people with dementia to enjoy meaningful activities together. The true extent of the mental health impact of lockdown is still unfolding, but over the past few months, the charity has provided kit and equipment, such as art materials and radios, to entertain people who were using mental health services and then had to isolate in inpatient units. To complement the services that the NHS provides, Heads On is always seeking to improve the lives of the people Sussex Partnership care for. Just as anyone may need to use the services of the NHS to take care of their physical health, so anyone may need to use the services of the NHS to take care of their mental health.

To make a donation or for more information, visit www.headsoncharity.org As for the book, Maria, aged 37, explains: “I trained as an English teacher and worked in secondary schools teaching before I had my four children. Four years ago, when my youngest started pre-school, I started penning my first YA novel but found that I kept trying to tell my own story through the main protagonist. Around the same time, I had embarked on a journey of self-discovery and had read a lot around the subject of addiction, eating disorders and shame.

“I realised that I needed to stop hiding behind a character and tell my story honestly and vulnerably if I really wanted to step out of shame and shed skins and habits that no longer served me. I wrote a letter which I addressed to my childhood sexual abuser. I shared it with my husband in the hope that it would bring him some understanding as to why despite having a seemingly perfect life, I still lacked self-esteem and would fall in and out of depression and drawn to self-destructive habits. His response gave me the courage to share it with others, in the hope that stepping further out of my shame would help me to finally move forward. I didn’t want to be hiding in a secret anymore. I didn’t want to be trapped in shame and silence. The response was incredible; those people I shared it with all came forward with stories of their own. The ripple of effect of reading part of my story was ‘Hey, me too – not in the same way as you, but…’

“After that I wondered how many other people were out there like me, feeling trapped in shame and silence, isolated in their experiences. And so, I started The Silent Scream Anthology.

“In my vulnerability I found others were willing to do the same. People came forward to speak to me about their own silent screams and quite quickly I found myself amidst a community of courageous people exposing their wounds, not just for their own healing but for that of others too.

“Women and men from all walks of life across the globe reached out, and like one candle lighting another, our stories spread hope. And I guess that is the appeal of the book for many people; to know that normal does not exist, regardless of whom you are or where you are.

“For readers to know that they are not the only ones feeling this way and that there is no shame in speaking up or reaching out for support.

“The collaborators have come together to say to readers: me too. I’ve suffered. Not in the same way as you. But I understand your despair and struggle and I offer you hope.

“With the wide-ranging topics being covered and the mixed media content, there is something for everyone and actually, readers so far have found that they resonate with more of the stories, or at least elements of them, than they anticipated. The positive feedback has been overwhelming and has made the entire process so worthwhile.”

Maria added: “I came to write the anthology based on my own experiences of struggling silently in dealing with my childhood sexual abuse.

“I developed anorexia aged 11 for which I was eventually hospitalised aged 12-13. Anorexia was a physical demonstration of a trauma I could not vocalise.

“I spent my teenage years starving myself and self-harming. My anorexia developed into bulimia. All my reckless and self- destructive behaviours were a way of me yelling to the world ‘I am not okay!”

“But of course these cries were completely misunderstood, especially back in the 1990s and at the turn of the millennium. Despite gaining some control over my eating disorders I still struggled, sometimes daily, with that inner dialogue which told me that I wasn’t worthy. That I needed to starve myself out of life. That I needed to harm myself because I was a complete loser.

“My mind would sometimes take me to dark places and I would have to talk myself back from the edge. I found a way to heal through reading, as this was the first step on the ladder to connection with others- something I’d run away from most of my life. I’d self-isolated much of my life, as many of us do when struggling emotionally, mostly because of a deep sense of shame and a belief that I wasn’t worthy of belonging.

“But reading about stories similar to mine, or stories in general which demonstrated struggle made me realise that I wasn’t broken and that I wasn’t ‘the only one’ feeling this way. “Through stories, either fiction or non-fiction, we share empathetic connections, reaffirming our humanity. They remind us that we are part of a collective, connecting us to universal truths about ourselves and our world.

“Through reading, and then writing, I came to understand myself better. I guess reading and writing are part of the process of connection; firstly connection with ourselves and then connection with others.

“And connection is vital for healing, growth and change. Reading and writing helped me to understand myself better; writing about my past in particular was an extremely cathartic process.

“Ultimately for me, reading and writing were the tools through which I recovered the person I want to be; reading and writing saved my life. They brought me into this shared community that we created through The Silent Scream Anthology – a community of courageous and inspirational people who empowered me in so many ways and helped me to unravel further the depths of my own unhelpful conditioning.

“It is my greatest wish that The Silent Scream Anthology is the passing of the torch for its readers – the light which sparks hope in moments of darkness and a stepping stone on the path of connection, healing, growth and change.

“As a collection of raw, honest and inspirational memoirs, anecdotes, poems, photography and art work about a variety of topics including; eating disorders, self-harm, childhood sexual abuse, rape, addiction, anxiety, depression, PTSD and generally feeling worthless in a society demanding perfection, The Silent Scream Anthology is aimed at anyone who has ever struggled silently, felt trapped by shame and alone in their experiences, no matter what those experiences are.

“As human beings we are all subject to fear, shame, pain and suffering which are only heightened by our feelings of isolation.

“The Silent Scream will pull you out of that isolation and into the community offered to you by this anthology, creating a sense of belonging and connection in a world in which we are so disconnected from each other. The Silent Scream is a friend, a hold in the hand companion ready to reassure that normal does not exist. As collaborators we make our mess our message: you are not alone.

“I started writing (about mental and emotional wellbeing) when I realised that reading was only part of the solution.

“Reading helped me to feel connected, helped me to feel less alone in my experiences and through reading scientific research I was able to better understand the complexities driving my unwanted thinking, patterns and behaviours.

“Writing was the active part of on-going recovery – or should I say proactive.

“Writing can help us bring to the surface unconscious aspects of ourselves that we need to purge in order to change. Having read the literature used by both Alcoholics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous, I discovered that writing a searching, fearless and moral inventory of ourselves (step 4 out of the 12 step programme) can be highly empowering for anyone, not just those who are alcoholics or struggling with food addictions. And then of course step 5 requires a person to admit that inventory to God, ourselves and another human being. I think this is where sometimes we fail to make those connections with others when we need it the most- this is where shame causes us to self- isolate.

“After writing my own inventory, it took me a long time to be vulnerable enough to share with another human being my own wrong doings, my resentments and my past pain.

“Community and peer support are such an essential part of anyone’s on-going mental and emotional wellbeing- overcoming our shame therefore is crucial as part of our collective wellbeing. I write to inspire others to feel less ashamed of their experiences and to help them be courageous enough to step into their vulnerability and reach out, rather than to continue to struggle in silence.”