Blue…..a foggy lullaby…

“Dear Sir,

With reference to your advertisement, I beg to state that I am 22 years of age, and have received a course of commercial training at Woods’ College, Hull. I am really fond of office work, and you would find I always try to do everything thoroughly and accurately.”[1]

‘The stuffy rigidity of office hours, clock watching and hierarchy was a shock after the freedom of three years at university.

Her office skills were inadequate and she constantly faced the humiliation of having to ask her boss to supply the missing words when she could not read back her shorthand.

At the end of September she fainted in the office and was sent home. In later years she described her collapse as a nervous breakdown…’[2]

Dearest Amy,

From what I remember of mine, a first ‘real’ job can be a shock – something you feel is a necessary next move in life can often feel like you’ve been thrown into the deep end of a giant pool with no way out. Certain people suit certain careers. We all have a path to follow; you just don’t know which way yours goes right now. Sometimes, problems just pile up and up on top of you. And eventually, you fall down.

“…but I don’t know exactly what will happen to me. I can’t even cry – ‘Am I crying and what for? Oh no, it’s a cold I’ve got.’”[3]

There are times when the darkness can creep upon us all – a difficult day, the loss of a job, a friend, or a family member. But when that darkness falls and the daylight doesn’t seem to return, that’s when our bodies begin to turn this darkness into something more. What others may see as ‘a little upset’ begins to turn into a physical illness. And the illness is very real.

“ When I’m lying in bed, darling, or leaning back in a chair, and I move my head round, when it gets in a certain position (left side of the back) everything swims just as tho’ I were going to faint. It is a weird feeling and not at all nice. Makes me feel a bit frightened.”[4]

Being sent to Bournemouth for your recuperation probably doesn’t feel very peaceful, living with a large family. Away from the work that was making you ill, but away from your family and away from your Hans.

“I really don’t know what was the matter with me – the mood’s passed now and I feel almost alright – you did understand that I wasn’t being deliberately nasty, didn’t you darling? I couldn’t help the silly mood…”[5]

“I’ve had very little sleep these last two or three nights – had awfully restless nights – and during the day I had headache and pains in my body… I’ve been awfully bad tempered and irritable. You wouldn’t have loved me a bit if you’d been anywhere near me. And all for nothing – I can’t think of anything to attribute it to, except the vile weather.”[6]

You know those grey days, Amy, where you think the rain will never stop and your mind will never feel happy again, and your body aches from the illness that has seeped into your being? They will get brighter. You will feel better.

“I do feel miserable and irritable and fed up with life. It’s ‘cos I’m so beastly selfish, I suppose – not trying to make anybody happy but myself, and it can’t be done. Please tell me how I can begin to make somebody else happy. Am sick to death of this existence – that’s all it is – existence – there’s no life in it.”[7]

You may not become ‘cured’, but something (or perhaps someone?) will make you smile and some days, you’ll begin to see a little bit of blue sky peeking in behind those clouds.

In our modern world, society is working on trying to accept mental illness. Unfortunately, by a lot of people it is still seen as a ‘made up ’ illness, or something you can ‘snap out of’, or even something that shouldn’t be discussed due to embarrassment or inconvenience to others. We need to end this stigma – mental illness is as real as any other illness.

You get through this, Amy. You find a brighter day and you go on to achieve such wonderful things.

Finding a pathway out of the darkness will never be easy. Follow that distant light.

Amy Johnson letters used with kind permission of Hull Local Studies Library, Hull History Centre


Personal stories about mental health:

5 simple ways to help end the stigma around mental illness:

Young minds mental health statistics:


[1] Johnson, communication with Hall [Letter]. 20 July 1925

[2] Gillies, Queen of the Air, 34

[3] Johnson, communication with Arregger [Letter]. 7 October 1925

[4] Johnson, communication with Arregger [Letter]. 14 October 1925

[5] Johnson, communication with Arregger [Letter]. 22 October 1925

[6] Johnson, communication with Arregger [Letter]. 22 October 1925

[7] Johnson, communication with Arregger [Letter]. 25 October 1925

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