I dislike referring to depression with its correct term. Depression is such an ugly word, it’s one that people are scared of despite some being quick to use it. I’ve suffered from depression or, as I prefer to call it, “the black dog” for years now (You can also add Anxiety disorder and OCD too). It was intensified to monumental proportions in 2007 when my three year old daughter passed away after a car accident. Things happen in life that test us, we all know that, but I never expected my life to take such a turn.
For me it was an ordinary day at work when a phone call came out of the blue to tell me my family had been in a car accident. The car was t-boned, my father in law was pronounced dead at the scene and my daughter was rushed to a local hospital with head injuries. Later that day she was sent to Great Ormond Street Hospital where she stayed for five days before we needed to turn off her life support after finding that 80% of her brain had died.
For a 24 year old couple (now 30), my wife and I were devastated and left reeling from something no parent could expect. Of course it didn’t take long for the black dog to arrive and it has stayed with me ever since. He comes and goes but predominantly he follows me through life making everyday actions awkward and difficult. I hit the bottom on a specific dark day of my life (the less said, the better) and now I find myself on the up.
So, why am I writing about this? Well, depression has appeared a lot in my Twitter timeline recently including mentions of suicide. Depression is such a secret illness and unless the sufferer speaks out most will never know until it is too late – Nobody wants to suffer a breakdown or find their solution at the end of a rope or razorblade.
I wanted to share my experience to say that there is no need to hide how you feel from the world. There is no shame in finding someone to talk to or going to the doctor and taking a pill to help with the everyday. Find a friend to tell, write it in a journal… Just get it out. One thing that helped me greatly was finding people to chat with through Twitter. Sometimes I’d find myself chatting endlessly and even found some others with their own black dogs in tow.
I generally fight with my black dog on a daily basis, most of the time I’m winning through support from various places. But, and the main reason I’m talking about this here, books are the thing that saved me. If it wasn’t for the ability to sit and immerse myself in different worlds, I’d constantly stew in my own. However it isn’t just escapism from my problems where books helped, some even helped to understand the illness and allowed me to realise I wasn’t alone. It was reading certain fiction titles that gave me the boost that I needed to face the lingering darkness. Most cleared my vision and let me see myself how others saw me.
Books that have helped me have ranged from fiction such as ‘Mr Chartwell’ or ‘Archipelago’ to Self help books like ‘I had a Black Dog’ which is a picture book for adults dealing with depression. They all helped in various ways and even though I still suffer, reading books is a very rewarding exercise.
Take The Bell Jar as an example. Sylvia Plath will always be known for her semi autobiographical novel about a young cosmopolitan woman who is suddenly struck with depression. Plath’s depictions are realistic to the point of terror and yet it can help the depressed person immensely. One of the biggest issues regarding mental health is the stigma that is often attached to it. Books such as Plath’s allows sufferers to know that there are people out there just like them. Depression is such an isolating disorder and many sufferers don’t want to reach out to others, sometimes in fear of embarrassment or sometimes because they don’t want to be judged.
Rebecca Hunt’s take on depression is one of the more approachable. In her novel, Mr Chartwell, she tells the story of Winston Churchill’s notorious fight with the disorder. She uses an actual black dog to depict the depression that weighs down an individual. In one scene we see Churchill sitting in his study as the black dog crunches on rocks, slobbers on the rug and badmouths Churchill. While the scene itself is relatively surreal and outlandish the actual act of frustration and the feeling of being downtrodden by something external is awfully similar to how many feel on a “bad day”.
I also wanted to write this to explain why the blog is rather sporadic at times. Sometimes it takes a lot of strength just to get out of bed, let alone get my brain in gear to write about books. It feels great to have written this. Over the last five years I’ve suffered so much in life, depression knocked my confidence for six and I never wanted to be around people or talk to anyone. Now, that is changing. Feel free to suggest other books or your own stories of depression in the comments.
NOTE: I’m not writing this to say “this is the best way to cure depression” or “that will help most” – I just wanted to tell my story. I know of people who found help in exercise, some who get by with baking and of course there are plenty of people writing. Books do it for me, as did finding help from friends and family. One day I hope to find that my black dog has run away from home.
The best website I ever found to help with my problems was Dancing With The Black Dog.