Shoot the Damn Dog by Sally Brampton

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Shoot the Damn Dog by Sally Brampton

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Category: Lifestyle
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An honest and sometimes painful look at one woman's descent into severe depression and how she found her way out of it. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: February 2009
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing plc
ISBN: 978-0747572459

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There's a stigma attached to mental illness. If you have cancer you can tell the world about it and expect its sympathy. If you have depression it's seen as a character flaw and one about which you had best keep quiet, pull yourself together and get on with things the way that normal people have to. And it's this cloak of shame and secrecy which has the dual effect of pushing people further into depression and dissuading them from seeking the help which they so desperately need. Sally Brampton has set out to blast away this stigma by telling her own story.

She'd been a successful magazine editor, had a wonderful daughter, parents who loved her, lots of friends and derived deep pleasure from gardening. She wasn't just a good writer: she had the ability to communicate with people and publishers were obviously keen for her to write more. So, what was there for her to be depressed about? Depression, and particularly severe depression, doesn't tot up the points and present itself when the threshold has been crossed, but Sally Brampton also had two failed marriages behind her and events had conspired to turn her into a serial house mover. They turned a predisposition into severe depression.

The early signs were there, but more obvious in retrospect than at the time, and then the descent into severe depression was steady and inexorable. It's not so much that Sally spares us nothing of what happens – she doesn't spare herself. At times the book is painfully honest and there were occasions when I was moved to the edge of tears for her. As someone who has suffered in the past I know that she's caught the sense of worthlessness to perfection, the sense that you do not so much want to die as to no longer be here, for it all to be at an end.

She's brutally frank about her attempts at suicide and how she tried to self-medicate with alcohol, which might be an effective painkiller for a few hours but exacerbates depression in the long run. She shares the loss of inhibitions – and the attempts to stay normal for her beloved daughter.

If you're thinking that this sounds like another misery memoir, then forget it. It is anything but. The story is shared (and I hate to think what the writing must have cost her emotionally) because the stigma attached to mental illness has to be removed if the people who suffer from this dreadful illness are to be helped at an early stage and before hospitalisation is necessary.

There's a very positive approach in the book as Sally explores ways to climb out of depression. She's frank that there are some forms of therapy that were counter-productive, some psychiatrists who were at least initially more interested in their growing business than the health of their patients but there's never any sense of scores being settled. She worked her way through most of the anti-depressant drugs on the market and the book is worth reading for the information that some of them make you worse and that some people are simply not suited to them at all – facts which the hard-pressed GP does not always share with their patient.

It's not a road map to show the way out of depression for everyone. It's an exploration of what did and didn't work for Sally Brampton and it goes beyond the therapies and drugs offered by the medical profession and looks at the benefits of AA, exercise and yoga. Far from 'shooting the damn dog' – a reference to the fact that Winston Churchill called his depression 'the black dog' – I found that it was having dogs and the associated need to get out and have a brisk walk twice a day which helped me, but the book is full of suggestions which might help.

Sally has no medical qualification but the book is well-researched and authoritative. For anyone who has suffered from depression, it's remarkably uplifting and it should bring hope and help to anyone who is an onlooker to the illness. It's highly recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For anyone with worries about an alcohol problem, we can recommend Cleaning Up: How I Gave Up Drinking And Lived by Tania Glyde. The Sunlight on the Garden: A Family in Love, War and Madness by Elizabeth Speller looks at a family's history of depression. You might also appreciate There's a Problem With Dad by Carlos Alba.

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