…is the subtitle of a book by Dr Tim Cantopher called “Depressive Illness” (published by Sheldon Press, 2006, 2nd edition). I read this as a result of an “Amazon” recommendation – yes, I know, for once a recommendation that was actually useful. The other books I had been looking for were “I had a black dog” and “Living with a black dog”. These are both picture books for adults. The first one describes what it is like to experience clinical depression and I found it helpful for two reasons. Firstly, it helped me to know that ‘I am not the only one’ and that the symptoms can be many, varied and simply exhausting to cope with. Secondly, it helped to have a way of explaining a little of what it feels like. To be honest, I don’t think you can really know what it is like to have depression (and I don’t mean the Monday morning blues which many of us deal with simply by lasting through to Monday lunchtime) unless you have experienced it – but I wouldn’t wish it on any one.

The second picture book, “Living with a black dog”, is addressed to the carer, the nearest and dearest who have to deal with the brunt of the consequences of living with someone who suffers from depression. In fact, this book I first saw in a local library, borrowed it, read it several times and said to myself: ‘I wish I had known this earlier.’ It begins with a section called ‘Things you may have noticed’ then ‘What not to say’ (and why) followed by ‘Good things to say and do’ and so on. There is plenty of wit and humour in these two books and the content is tactfully put so that these books could usefully be left lying around. The key message of “Living…” to the caregiver/spouse is that while it may be your task to support and accompany your loved one as patiently as you can, it is not your task to try to solve all their problems and you need to allow space in your diary for you to talk with a friend/do something fun. You don’t help someone with depression by acquiring your own black dog.

By the way, the reference to the black dog, is that that is how Sir Winston Churchill used to refer to his depression. Yes, he who led his country to victory in World War II suffered from clinical depression. Others include Abraham Lincoln, Sir Isaac Newton and Ludwig van Beethoven. Dr Cantopher observes that it is strong people who most likely get clinical depression – strong in character, that is, and that says nothing about whether you are rich, poor, in work, homekeeper, married, single or otherwise. Given a lot of stress “Someone who is weak, cynical or lazy will quickly give up” (page 6) so they don’t get ill. A strong person will try to overcome them until symptoms start to appear and then most people say “Hang on, a minute” and ask for help or tell other people they have got to pull their weight. They stop before it is too late. But a sensitive person doesn’t stop for fear of disappointing other people. They keep on going, “on and on and on, until suddenly: BANG! The fuse blows” (page 7). Dr Cantopher’s book covers the causes of depressive illness (that is, stress-induced illness), medication, psychotherapies, and so on. What I found most encouraging was the idea that having depression does not mean you are a weak, lazy or a bad person. It means that, whatever else is going on, you are most likely to be reliable, consciencious and alert to the needs of others.

I am happy to recommend all three of the books mentioned here. If nothing else I have learned that having depression does not mean you are a bad person. That’s a message that everyone needs to hear.

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