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I always really enjoy hearing Susan Calman on Radio 4, so when a friend mentioned that she'd written a memoir about her experience of depression I promptly added it to my Amazon wishlist, and then forgot all about it so that it came as a complete surprise when it turned out to be what one of my brothers had bought me for Christmas. And, as Christmas is generally a pretty low time of year for me anyway, I thought I might as well read it straight away.

Calman writes pretty much the way she speaks; I could hear a lot of the book in her voice. Like her radio shows, it's very funny, if perhaps more wry-smile-of-recognition funny than rolling-on-the-floor-in-hysterics funny, and it was nice, as someone who is pretty much the same age as her and has spent a similarly long time struggling with mental health issues, to read another person's story that had so many points of similarity with my own. The bit about how no-one in the 80s talked about mental health resonated particularly; I had no words to describe what was going on in my head for a long, long time, because I didn't even know there were words for it, and I'm sure that's part of why I still struggle to articulate what I'm feeling. Also, the bit about Clause 28, and just what that said to LGBT teenagers in the 80s about where we belonged in society. It's an excellent read for anyone who's suffering from mental health issues and wants to feel a bit less alone.

As well as being a memoir, this is also in some ways a self-help book, as Calman talks through the various strategies she's developed over the years for managing her depression. This part of the book felt quite basic to me, probably because I've spent as long living with my depression as she has with hers, although there was still some interesting stuff in there, particularly the identification of the different ways depression can manifest and different strategies for coping with each; this may well be something I do, but it's not something I've ever tried to taxonomise in that way, and maybe it would be helpful to do so. It was also really helpful and positive to read about someone else who was trying to live with depression through simple, straightforward actions, and not medication or therapy (I have found NHS therapy unhelpful at best, can't afford private and don't believe in it anyway, and while I occasionally wonder whether giving up the medication was really sensible I genuinely do feel that I'm better off without it*). However, I suspect the advice would be more use to someone who is suffering from depression for the first time, or perhaps to someone whose friend/significant other/child/parent is suffering and who wants to understand a bit more about what they're going through and how to help (and, indeed, how not to help).

*there's a lot to be said for not needing 10 hours of sleep a night and being able to lose myself in a good book again. Especially the book thing. I missed reading so much, and am not prepared to risk losing it again.


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