Wednesday, 9 March 2011

20/111 - Shoot the Damn Dog by Sally Brampton

I have wanted to read this book for a couple of years, but I never bought it until recently. I had come to the faulty conclusion that since my ongoing mental health issues seemed to be at bay, then it would be best to ignore them for now. But in the words of the Stephen King short story; Sometimes They Come Back.

Depression makes me boring and stupid. I’m not saying that out of meanness, or out of low self-esteem. It just is. I know it, the people around me know it, and worst of all, the people who care about me know it. So I decided to finally read Sally Brampton’s memoir of her experience with serious depression and see if it would successfully put into words the way depression can feel.

To be clear: Sally Brampton’s memoir is not boring, or stupid. It’s very good, and she writes with clarity and candour about the experience of being depressed. There are parts which are incredibly hard to read, parts which are funny, and parts which are hopeful. I was interested in reading this mostly because she is a novelist and newspaper columnist, and I was curious to see how she would write about her illness in light of these things. I wanted to see what parallels there were between her illness and my own, being that she was a white, British, educated woman. Obviously there are differences (for one, she is an alcoholic; I am not) but there are also vast stretches of all-too-familiar landscape.

In particular I was interested in the idea that when she was at her most unwell, she found it impossible to read and write, down to the most basic level of being to understand words on a page (not to mention side effects from medication which caused her to tremble so badly that she could not even sign her name). At one point her psychiatrist even suggests that if she were to take an IQ test at her most unwell, it would probably be about 30 points below what she would normally expect to score. This interested me because it was not something I associated with as a symptom of depression. When I was at my most unwell I thought I was literally becoming stupider by the day, so it was very comforting to touch upon this shared experience.

It’s quite a personal book for to have written. It’s halfway between memoir and self-help. In Waterstone’s it's kept in the health section with the other mental health books, rather than the ‘touchy-feely’ crap. I would say that my only criticisms are that this could potentially appeal to quite a narrow audience: Brampton writes from a position of privilege as a white, relatively well-off writer, and this could be a little alienating for the average reader, especially those under the care of the dreamy NHS. I can’t really fault her for that, though. She can only write from her own experience.

I felt like her main aim with this book was to talk about her illness in a completely open way, in order to remove some of the stigma that is associated with depression. She tries to work round and through some of the prejudices people still have about mental health problems, and how difficult it is to care for someone with those problems. She doesn’t offer any concrete solutions; there are none.

It’s very well written and there is some great information in there, too. I don’t have much else to say about this title without it getting too personal, which is not what I want. So I’ll end things here.

Next: The Best American Comics 2010 edited by Neil Gaiman

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