Tag Archives: depression

Book Review: Cheer Up Love by Susan Calman

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cheer up love.jpg

I’m rather fond of Susan Calman; she makes me laugh and has always seemed like a genuinely lovely person. I was a bit surprised by the title of the book ‘Cheer up Love’ when it caught my attention in the corner of my eye, because I absolutely hate that expression. However on getting a bit closer I saw that  the full title of the book is ‘Cheer up Love: Adventures in Depression with the Crab of Hate’, and I immediately forgave her when I realised using that phrase would have a point. I even picked up the copy of the book (and not just because it was a signed copy either) without reading the blurb.

I really like this book. It is an incredibly honest, sometimes hilarious account, of Susan Calman’s ‘adventures’ (the word ‘battle’ is more apt in my experience) with depression, which she calls The Crab of Hate. I have read books by people in the past about depression, but this the first time I’ve ever been able to read a one fully, because let’s be honest they are usually depressing. Somehow, this wonderfully witty woman has managed to write about depression and I’ve been left with a smile on my face.

She has managed to make understanding what it can be like to have depression and anxiety incredibly accessible. It isn’t easy to talk about having depression or any other mental health problem, and I know this from experience. I mention it frequently on this blog, but don’t for a second be fooled into thinking it is easy to do so. I have agonised over posts for days, especially in my Book (Re)Writing series.

To write an entire book is nothing short of heroic, for which I thank Susan Calman a great deal.

It has not been the easiest of times lately for me, and this book came along at a good point. I needed to be reminded that I’m not alone, not only in having mental health issues, but also in being re-assured that others like to arrive in a timely fashion for appointments and trains etc. I call it ‘Departure Anxiety’ and no-one yet has managed to convince me that I’m leaving too much time to get to places; it was nice to hear Susan Calman has a similar attitude.

And that short paragraph near the end of the book, is one of many things that I took away from this book. One small bit of reassurance that I am not the only one. I will admit that on the whole I generally have a different experience with depression than Susan Calman, but that isn’t the point of the book. It is one person’s experience of a mental health condition; it is not a be all and end all description of what it is like for everyone. This is her experience, but what you can take from it is a great deal of empathy, maybe a few points here or there that are the same.

I highly recommend it to any one who has suffered or is suffering, because she understands, and that is an incredibly important notion. She understands and does not dismiss what you are going through. I also recommend it to anyone who hasn’t suffered, because if you do need to understand; it will help you be better at being supportive.

It is not a guide on depression nor a cure, but it is an important book.

 

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Book (Re)Writing – Tougher than I Thought

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i-am-a-writer

Since writing my last post on re-writing a book, Take a Break, I have done exactly that, and I have taken a break from writing. Now while I still support the advice from that post, I will admit, that if you want to be a writer it cannot be a permanent break.

And I will honestly admit that I am on the dangerous path of never going back to writing my book.

I’ve just sat and re-read my posts on re-writing my book, and it brought back all the feelings of absolute and utter anguish of having to essentially start from scratch – none of which I think I have fully admitted to anybody. I’ve used the words heartbroken, but I’ve been heartbroken in the past, and this isn’t what being heartbroken feels like.

I feel bereaved; not the harsh pain felt at first, but the ever ebbing underlying feeling of loss that never goes away and surfaces occasionally, usually out of nowhere, to remind you that life as you once knew cannot ever be the same again.

I feel like that about my writing at the moment – I’m grief stricken that the book I’ve written and the characters I’ve created will never be known to the world in the way that I had originally conceived. And grief for me has always been an underlying cause for my problems with depression, which is not a great realization to have had.

I’ve had a tough year with my writing that started with Admitting the Truth, and has even included me losing my passion for reading after I’d tried to read a book that had completely destroyed any desire I had to read a book.

Admittedly getting married, buying a house and completely changing my job has been stressful (especially because I did all three at the same time), but that has all contributed to my happiness and well-being this year. Events in the wider world haven’t exactly been cheery, but I learnt a long time ago the world is not a perfect place. I have been helped with therapy to develop coping skills for bereavement and have healthy relationships with my memories of the people I have lost. Generally I am very happy at the moment and have been for a good long while – after ten years of recurrent depression I’m relishing it.

However, the desire to write has just been utterly destroyed, with the occasional harsh reminder when people I’ve known for years, but don’t see often, ask me how it’s going, knowing writing is something I have been keenly passionate about. It only to a few though I admit I’m not at the moment, but never the entire truth as to why.

I know from experience that learning what the problem is helps me to resolve it, but I started this blog series (Book (Re)Writing) with a lot more enthusiasm than I have at the moment.

This blog series is about making myself accountable in rewriting my book and sharing my experience of having to do it and what I’ve learnt is that it is a lot tougher to do that I had originally envisioned.

If anyone tells you that writing is an easy job, direct them here, because I’ve worked my way through office jobs with depression. I’m not depressed at the moment, but having some pretty tough feelings to deal with at the moment has made writing through them harder than I had imagined.

Book Review – Off The Map by Prof Alastair Bonnett

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off-the-map

I absolutely loved this non-fiction book, ‘Off the Map – Lost Spaces, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Islands, Feral Places and What they tell us about the World’, by Prof Alastair Bonnett. As an alumni of Newcastle University where Bonnett works, I’m now rather put out with myself that I had never considered looking at what social geography I could have studied as a student. This book more than made up for that though because I found this book hard to put down and I have had an incredible journey of my own reading it.

Quite a lot of my identity has been tied up to place, probably because I have moved around a lot in my life. I picked up this interesting book because the idea of different types of place peaked my interest. It also interested me that Bonnett lives and works in Newcastle, where I live and have developed an understanding of much of my own identity.

I have a very strong connection to the North East of England; I was born here, but I haven’t lived most of my life here. I’ve been here for nearly ten years now as an adult because I have chosen to stay here.  As a child though I lived elsewhere, ranging from Yorkshire to Virginia in the USA. I always identified back to the North East. I call myself a Northumbrian, and I call myself British.

I get a little prickly about calling myself English though, and that comes from having lived in America. I tried to say British, but the children I knew understood English better and then I got constantly teased and bullied for it, because in history we were always taught about how the English were the enemies and in one very painful lesson in history, talking about clothing about how the English didn’t wear underwear. Looking back now as an adult, no wonder lots of people in America claim Scottish and Irish descent, but you hear little about those of English descent.

On reading ‘Off the Map’ though and reflecting quite a lot on my own associations with place, I find myself quite lucky that my identity in terms of nationality is quite simple really. I’d heard of Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog, the village of enclaves in Northern Europe; a quaint little place of many borders made obsolete by European Union regulations. A quirk I believed I learned about on QI, the popular interesting fact-based British quiz show, which very much sugar-coated the idea of enclaves. Compare it to Chitmahals in Indian and Bangladesh, and all the quaintness disappears and transformed into being horror-struck at the abandonment they suffer.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, there are some very interesting little snippets of history in here as well. The Underground Cities of Cappadocia is fascinating, to the point that I now want to include something similar in a book. North Sentinel Island also appeals to my love of the history of exploration, by being one of those islands that are still isolated from the wider world. For all the claims and counterclaims, and territorial disputes I’ve learnt about when I studied trade routes and colonialism hearing of a place unaffected by all that is enlightening. The world is not as global connected as the media would have you believe.

There were also three other very similar places that were thought provoking for me. Gutterspaces in New York were fascinating to me and how little spaces, the cracks between developments can become something to people, when otherwise they would be abandoned nothing-spaces. The other two are local to me, Fox Den and Traffic Island, while I suspect would not be the most interesting parts of the book to the majority were incredibly thought provoking for me, because I have one of those spaces near me that I have a very deep emotional connection towards.

At the back of the train platform where I commute from each morning, there is a line of trees planted into an embankment, which are there to help muffle the noise of the trains. There is a variety of species and lots of tiny birds, none of which I know the proper names of, that I love to watch whenever I get the chance. I’ve also observed the trees as they change seasons and I photograph them when the light is particularly good or if the fog has made them eerie. And without them I quite genuinely don’t know where I would be today in terms of my mental health.

I was playing with my filters one morning and I took this photo.

Tree noir filter

The minute I saw it I realised what the hell was wrong with me; I had depression. This realisation of what was wrong with me and has been wrong with me on and off for years has been a massive realisation and relief for me. I honestly thought I was just going crazy. You might not think it looking at the photo – it’s just a dreary noir photo. Except you weren’t there with me on the day; the sun was shining brightly and it just didn’t register. I could relate more strongly with the black and white then I could with the sunlight. Part of my problems with depression include symptoms of Anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure in normally pleasurable activities. This was what I realised on looking at the photo.

Until I read ‘Off the Map’ I hadn’t really realised I had such a strong connection to that small strip of trees, which I’ll dub The Platform Trees. I maybe should have done because I have a print copy of the photo in my desk drawer to remind myself how far I’d come after seeking help, but now I have, I smile a little bit more each morning as I take my place on the platform to commute to work, as I understand my connection to this place even better.

You might not end up having as thought provoking an experience with the book as I did, but it will provoke your thought and make you re-think what you think you know about geography. Highly recommended to anyone interested in world-building for fiction and for anyone who likes a book to filter into all the nooks and crevies of your mind and prd at the thoughts lurking there.

Notes on Life – No. 22 : Depression

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butterfly noir

I re-read an old post of mine recently Depression – Life through a Noir Filter and I was trying to decide whether it was worse being on a downward spiral and not realising what was wrong, or whether it was worst being aware that your were heading that way.

Having experienced both I came to the conclusion just being on a downward spiral is bad enough; self awareness of the fact doesn’t change how awful depression can be.

Depression – Life through a Noir Filter

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butterfly noir

I’ve been suffering from depression for the last few months. I’m someone who is normally inclined to being less than happy, but in all fairness the vast majority of the time, I am content and that is more than enough for me. I have quite a lot of good stuff in my life and very little to complain about. But life is also about dealing with death and grief, which I’m terrible at coping with: I was dreadfully ill after my grandmother died and this time it started before my grandfather passed away at the beginning of last month.

Depression is a very odd experience, and I know it will be different for everyone, but as a writer I do try and make note of how I’m feeling so that I can then portray this experience for any characters I create. For the last few months in trying to figure this out I’ve been at a complete loss. Sometimes I’m angry; sometimes I’m sad and not sure what triggered it; other times I’m anxious; and then other times I’m completely numb and empty, and it this experience that troubles me the most.

Normally I’m so full of ideas, feelings, creativity and wonder of the world around me; feeling nothing, having no drive to create anything is what makes me feel less than human. I haven’t had the desire to read, to write, to crochet, to listen to music, to learn from the online courses I’ve signed up for, to do my job well, to get myself out of bed in the morning.

The only interests I’ve had is in going swimming and taking photographs on my phone camera. I’m obsessed with swimming because once I’ve been to the pool I feel normal, which I crave, even if that doesn’t spark any desires to do other things, it has got me through the day and helped my waistline a bit.

Taking photographs though became a bit of an obsession. There is a tree on my commute that I have been photographing since the spring, and it has become a habit to capture it. And then I discovered the noir filter on my phone camera, and I gained a great deal of satisfaction one morning when it was foggy and got some great photos. So the next day when it was sunny I took the following picture of my favourite tree with the noir filter.

Tree noir filter

It was a bright sunny morning, and I suddenly realised that this was how I was seeing the world. There was no colour, no texture, no substance to anything. I just wasn’t registering it anymore. It was a massive revelation for me, as I had never properly realised before just how much attention I pay to the world around me. This was the empty feeling I was experiencing and I now had a way of explaining it to myself neither mind to any one else.

And once I realised this it made being mindful and finding joy in the world a lot easier. I still have depression, but it’s a lot less of an uphill struggle now. Knowing what I was missing has made recovering easier, and while I will miss my grandfather for the rest of my life, like I do my grandmother, I know in my heart they would much prefer me to be full of life. Wish it was that easy though.