This is one of the most touching, frank, poetic and pragmatic books about depression you will find. You are likely to find it in the self-help section of most bookshops, which is ironic because the author has some strong and very sensible advice about self-help: ‘The last thing you need as a depressive is any of your own bright ideas because they are what got you into trouble in the first place.’
You will be relieved to know then that this book does not fall into the dangerously unrealistic ‘I can change your life in 7 days’ category. In fact, it doesn’t promise anything. It is much more of a ‘take heart’ book than a self-help manual. It is the kind of book the author wanted to find when she herself was depressed. Written in short, manageable sections interspersed with beautiful and striking quotations from writers, philosophers and religious thinkers, it aims to comfort and encourage those suffering from such an ‘agonizing’ and ‘perplexing’ experience.
Aware that ‘writing about depression is like trying to nail down fog’, Lewis remains undaunted by the task. Her success can be attributed to her unique poetic eye which makes the book eminently readable, and conjures up the most powerful images to enlighten such a complex and painful state of being. The following will give you a taste: ‘Every serious episode of depression is a murder mystery . . . you become a body bag’ or ‘Under the duvet, an internal ice age had set in. I had permafrost around my heart…It was as if I was pinned down by an irresistible wind. I curled up like a frozen prawn.’
Throughout the book, the author shows great courage in opening up some of the most vulnerable parts of her life, past and present. She writes with great sensitivity about her mother’s depression, the relationship between her own depression and her creativity, her struggles with alcoholism and, as the years go by, her acceptance and management of the illness, and the feeling of ‘coming back into her senses’ as she learns about living in the present.
During her own experience of depression, the author is particularly drawn to Zen meditation and describes going on retreats as both liberating and challenging: ‘Somehow I sensed that, in its infinite self-tolerance, I might have found a long term solution in Zen to depression. If daily dying was what it took, then I was ready to do it.’
Mixed in with this practical and sensitive guide to living with depression, are passages which have you laughing out loud. There is Lewis’s lovely idea, for example, of a ‘depression tent’ modelled on the native American menstruation tent, which can be easily assembled in any room to provide refuge from interfering relatives and an ‘emotional decompression chamber’ for the sufferer. The author would like to market these as a commercial idea in black, burgundy and lilac. ‘We could make a fortune,’ she says. I like her style.
She is also keen to steer the depressive away from reading the famous tome by Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy. In response to Burton’s catalogue of gathered wisdoms on methods for curing melancholy, including the application of a ram’s lung applied to the forehead or hare’s blood rubbed into the face at night, she writes, ‘I’ll stick to Nivea’.
The author has plenty of useful and manageable advice such as reading Hello! magazine, painting your toenails, ironing, dressing better than you feel and, encouraging you to live in the present, not comparing yourself to anyone else, not thinking about how you’re feeling, and not tolerating other people who pull you down.
For both the sufferer and their family, Lewis’s book opens up the experience of depression and gives it a fresh, yes, more cheerful perspective. It offers a different way of perceiving depression from the outside and a different way of living it. It challenges some of the stereotypes and stigmas associated with mental health as a whole, and, most importantly, it gives a genuine sense of hope: ‘Who says that sitting in blazing light is the only way of sunbathing? Try the luxury of rain, I recommend it.’ ‘Whoever said we needed light to see?’
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgement should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddio’r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.