Published by Brighton-based arts charity Root Experience, Hidden Stories is the result of months of creative workshops, where participants from across the south of England explored and shared the challenges of their day-to-day lives through storytelling, visual arts and soundscapes.
Millions of people worldwide are affected daily by health conditions whose symptoms aren’t easily identifiable or understood by others. Conditions that range from anxiety to autism, diabetes to chronic fatigue syndrome. These people often face the added emotional distress of being isolated, misunderstood or stigmatised by society. Many are therefore discouraged from opening up, and even seeking the support they need, for fear of being judged.
This problem is the focus of Hidden Stories, a powerful, playfully illustrated graphic novel based on the everyday experiences of people living with such conditions.
Hidden Stories is a self-help resource and conversation tool that takes a universal approach to talking about hidden disability. The book doesn’t associate characters or their experiences with specific conditions, and so it avoids reducing people to stigmatising or self-limiting labels.
Simon Magnus, artistic director at Root Experience, said: ‘When taking our initial draft to focus groups, we found that people were able to empathise with characters which bore no specific relation to their own conditions, simply because their emotional realities were so similar regardless of their diagnosis.’
As well as offering a unique window into the lives of people living with hidden conditions, the book includes practical ideas for readers, such as writing a letter to the part of themselves, or condition, they keep hidden. Letter-writing has formed an important part of the project and Hidden Stories itself is interwoven with genuine letters from contributors.
‘Hidden Stories is about helping people to find their voice,’ said Magnus, ‘but also encouraging the compassion needed in others to hear and understand those voices.’
The charity are donating all 8,000 printed copies of the book to communities, with the aim of sparking compassionate conversation around invisible conditions and mental wellbeing in general.
Organisations (such as wellbeing centres, GP surgeries, universities, workplaces, libraries and community groups) can contact Root Experience (rachel[at]rootexperience.org) to secure a number of copies to be either picked up or sent by post. Arrangements are also being made for the venue libraries to stock the book, and a free digital version is available now to download from www.hiddenstories.co.uk.
The free Hidden Stories On Tour events include a photography exhibition by Sarah Hickson and interactive games. Visitors will also be invited to meet some of the contributors, join in conversations and find out more about the journey of the project.
Mon 6 May – St Mary’s Church May Fayre, Portsmouth
Sat 11 May – Reading Central Library
Sat 18 May – Chichester Library
Sat 25 May – Jubilee Library, Brighton
Sat 1 June – Crawley Library
Sat 8 June – Swindon Library
Sat 15 June – Oxfordshire County Library, Oxford
You can follow Hidden Stories on Twitter @rootexperience using the hashtags #HiddenStories and #RewriteNormal.