Depression: The Curse of the Strong (Review)

Quite a few months ago I came across a book called Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong by Dr. Tim Cantopher*. Naturally, any book that wants to tell me I’m strong has to be worth a read so I clicked that oh-too-simple-to-spend-my-money 1-click-purchase button. The book then lived idly on my Kindle for several months while my money lived actively in the Amazon bank account. I should probably work on my impulse buying! However, I did eventually get around to reading it and I figured I should share some of my thoughts with you all in a review of sorts. So here goes.

I finished this book in about 3 evenings. It’s really simple to read and does quite a good job of explaining without being patronising (about 90% of the time – in some places I think the author went a little overboard with the “you’re so strong” message). This book has divided me. On the one hand, I think those of us suffering from depression could do with a nice dose of positive energy and reassurance that we do indeed suffer from a physical illness. On the other hand I’m not quite sure that the author has carried through on his attention-grabbing title – I found that I closed the book with a little bit more self-love and a sense of strength but no practical ideas for maintaining that state. The suggestions are the usual: rest, relax, ask your boss to reduce your hours, don’t watch TV before bed….nothing I hadn’t heard before. Perhaps I’m looking for a miracle cure but if you author a book for the Type A personality you can’t really expect them to start spontaneously meditating. In fact, I would argue that we are the very people who should be given activities and exercises instead…something to DO! That’s just how we work.

The best chapter in the book is probably the first chapter: “What is depressive illness”. The author does a good job of explaining some fairly complex biological and psychological concepts. Of course, a neuroscientist would probably criticise the simplified diagrams and “electric circuit” analogies but lets face it, if you have depression any explanation of the brain that contains words with more than 3 syllables just isn’t going to work. Some days I have to read the microwave instructions on my soup twice! If it piques your interest my advice would be to pick up a first year university textbook on neuro-psychology for further reading.

The rest of the chapters were disappointing, however if this is the first book you are reading on depression then you’ll probably find them excellent. The author offers a good review of the history of depression (including some fun “ye old treatments” info) and an overview of the main schools of thought on the ever-present “why do I have depression” question. As a first-time reader I think you could do a lot worse than Dr. Cantopher as your guide. As somebody with a background in the field and who has read extensively on the topic I didn’t find anything new here. I did enjoy the author’s style however and I wish I had found this book when I was first starting out on my journey. In chapter 4 the author does introduce some interesting perspectives on positive thinking and introduced me to the concept of being able to “fail well”, i.e. failing, forgiving yourself & learning from it. This is something that I am particularly bad at therefore it was a section of the book that resonated with me and has led me down a path of further reading. I hope to share my thoughts and findings as I go.

I believe that the key to this book might be in what you are looking to get from it. For me, it was refreshing to read a book based entirely on the premise that I am a strong individual, instead of focusing on my negative traits. Unlike self-help books that encourage you to work on your negative traits with the aim of minimising them, this book focuses on your strengths and understanding how they may have contributed to your illness. Dr Cantopher by no means suggests that we should desire to be weaker, only that we recognise what we are doing to ourselves and quite simply: give ourselves a break! I think that is something that all Type A personalities could do with.

Overall, this is a great book for those new to the topic and an interesting read for those of us already possessing knowledge. Within the pages I found a signpost for further explorations, I hope you will too.

Note: Probably one key thing to mention about this book is that it is based on stress-induced depression and is not aimed at those suffering from Bipolar, postnatal depression, SAD, etc. So if you have one of these disorders this probably isn’t the book for you. This work is aimed at us Type A over-achievers who, in a way, have “stressed” ourselves into depression.

* This is an associate link to Amazon. I’m not looking to monetise this blog, it’s never been my intention. I’m just very technologically inquisitive (I’m learning PHP in my spare time) and wondering how this whole affiliate thing works. If you abhor these practices I apologise for this and if you’ve already clicked the link please clear your cache. If you haven’t clicked yet, you can just go to Amazon and search for the title instead of going through this site. Thanks.

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Depression: The Curse of the Strong (Review)

12 thoughts on “Depression: The Curse of the Strong (Review)

  1. Hey, Moany!

    You got my attention on a number of fronts. I have a few questions/comments for ya:

    1. Are depression su2.fferers his target audience? There may be no way to know, but is that the impression you got? I think the POVs of those who read *about* mental illness and those who actually *are* mentally ill, well, they’re very different. So the things you didn’t enjoy in the book may be things that were intended for an entirely different audience.

    2. Having lived with all that I have over my 38 years, I’m quite uneasy about accepting the ‘knowledge’ of those who study people with depression or any other mental illness. I just feel they lack the necessary perspective to really know the troubling/fascinating thoughts/chemically induced feelings/etc. that our brains produce. They can only study the mentally ill and ask them questions and do tests, but they CAN’T *know* what goes on in our minds. So, in all honesty, I think scholars and researchers who study, but don’t have, mental illness will never hit the mark. That DOESN’T mean that every person with mental illness is more of an expert, however. Ideally, a person with mental illness who is also capable of doing the research to a high standard would be closest hitting the bull’s eye. And there are many such people ‘out there’; just surf through the TED Talks.

    3. This ‘stress-induced depression’ concept is new to me, and I find it quite specious. Now that I’ve been exploring the world of pharmaceutical treatment of *whatever-it-is-that-ails-me*, I’m quite convinced that everything I’ve experienced all these years, both the long and frequent down periods and the occasional ups, has been the product of chemical imbalances in my brain and the compounding effect that these have on the mind over time. So, my question for you is: Are you sure your Depression is just a ‘Type A personality’/overachiever-based depression caused by stress? How could you possibly know that? As someone who’s been in the shit just like you, I can no longer believe in the concept that my bouts of Depression could have been avoided if I’d been relaxed. I’m almost certain that the inability to relax has been produced by my brain. My mind/brain has been sabotaging itself. And I’m starting to see the positive results of taking meds that are signs of being able to stop and, quite likely, reverse that process. Acutally, I won’t say it’s simply the meds; it’s the peculiar combination of my far-out-of-the-box nutrition and extensive endurance and strength training, and enough rest/sleep (which I rely on meds to help me regulate).

    4. That brings me to your comment about Type-A people needing things to do. I don’t know about the Type-A thing, but I know I need to be busy, and I’ve been giving myself big lists of things to get done each day, lately. This gives me the sense of satisfaction in getting things done, which has nothing to do with other people; I have a work ethic that few could withstand. I’ve had people ‘under my command’ just fall apart or bitch and complain because I simply set the bar too high for others. However, for me, it’s just right. BUT … when I’m depressed, I’m devoid of the essential energy required to get the things done that I know I could and should be getting done. Recently, for the first time in my life (!), my mind has been set free from that bondage, and I can move and succeed at the pace I’ve always known, secretly, I should be maintaining. That’s *because* I accepted that my mind had a kind of disease. It’s not all a curse, though, the illness. It seems that there may be a strong link between the mental illness I have (whatever it may be) and intelligence, because, unhampered, I’m realizing my ability on multiple levels (physical, mental, intellectual, emotional) is endless, and that’s only because I submitted to the notion that I had an illness that needed treatment. If I had continued to believe that I, or, more aptly put, all the morons around me every day, was/were responsible for my struggle, I’d never have broken out of the cycle.

    I’m expressing all of this because I’ve been treading on brand spanking new ground lately, and I truly believe others could experience similar, remarkable progress by following a similar path (i.e., it’s NOT just the meds; it’s everything I’m doing right now, a part of which is taking a few pills each day).

    Can’t wait to hear what you’ve got to say about this, Moany! 😉 And I’m also a little miffed at the fact that you managed to rob me of time I need to write my OWN posts! This is ridiculous! 😉

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    1. Wow, thanks for your excellent comment. I can only apologise for stealing your blogging time and hope that in the fullness of time you will find some way to forgive me 🙂

      Because I have the memory of a goldfish these days I’ll respond to the numbers you put in your text, so I have some hope of keeping my train of thought.

      1) The book is definitely aimed at sufferers. The blurb on the back says “If you have depression, it’s important to remember first that you are not alone, and second that you are much stronger than you think.” However reading the reviews on Amazon today it seems as if a lot of people got a lot from the book – so perhaps I was just looking for something a little *more*. I mentioned in the post that I felt it would be a good book for anyone new to reading about it. I may actually amend this review and add to it. Now that I’ve engaged in this discussion with you I feel that perhaps my dismissing most of the book was not because it’s not a great resource but because it confirmed all my own thoughts on the topic, so it didn’t seem very ground breaking. This is probably why I’m not a literature critic and just a hobby blogger 🙂

      2) This is super interesting – I’d love to get your recommendations on who to start with on TED? It’s similar to a comment swap Sistasertraline and I had her blog about despressives and their suitability to the helping profession. (http://bit.ly/16h6b1T) The idea that a sufferer is both best placed to understand and worst suited to helping is very interesting to me and is something I’m currently pondering.

      3) I think I may have oversimplified or miscommunicatd the stress-based depression idea. Dr. Cantopher is very clear that depression is a physical illness that can be treated. He devotes an entire chapter to it in fact and it’s very positive to read if you are at all in doubt as to if you’ll ever “feel better”. What he suggests is that those of us with Type A personalities or just strong people, if you don’t subscribe to the Types concept, are more likely to be depressed because in the face of adversity we are more likely to keep pushing on. It takes more for us to lie down and admit there is a problem. And by then we are already deep in our illness. A “weaker” person might have given up much earlier and thus have prevented full blown depression from developing biologically. The relaxation is suggested as a method after diagnosis and a preventive measure for recurring bouts.

      4) You sound just like me! And your point about being devoid of the essential energy – amen to that my friend. Those evenings I sit in front of mindless TV with my sewing machine in my eyeline yet I “can’t be bothered” to set it up, though the week before I was fully immersed in my new hobby. The days I can’t even get myself out of bed. I wish there was a magic cure for the energy lows that come with this illness! Believe it or not I’ve had a post percolating in my mind since I started the blog about why I like having depression. And some of the comments you made in no. 4 mirror my own notes. Lately I’ve been trying to address this with some self-driven-cbt. When I realise I’m low on energy and not doing anything, instead of saying “I should pick up my sewing project and not waste tonight” I try to say “I would like to pick up my sewing project and not waste tonight”. It’s much kinder to myself and doesn’t come with all the guilt of the first statement. “Should” is the most evil word in the English language sometimes.

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      1. Great responses, Moany! Thanks so much. And so QUICKLY! Wow!

        Re: #4: I’m convinced now that there *is* a cure for the lows, but it can’t be found in pills alone. They are only part of the solution. The foods one ingests, the effort made to build up physical and mental endurance through regular, intense exercise (perhaps at a higher level if you suffer from Depression or another mood disorder/mental illness), and regular rest/sleep combined with the developed capacity to known when you’re done accomplishing shit for a day (i.e., knowing when you’ve done enough doing and need to relax).

        Hold out hope, my friend! I can no longer believe I’m helpless and beyond being able to enjoy life. I’ve even had moments of legitimate ‘happiness’ in the past two days, as a direct result of being relieved of the incredible weight that had been holding my mind back. I can connect with human beings again (even the tiresome bores that comprise the great majority), and I can go all day, from 5:30 a.m. to 11 or midnight, pretty much non-stop.

        If this continues, then my greatest of wishes has actually come to fruition in this lifetime: the chance to let my mind go wherever it needs to go. If I’m given that opportunity from here on out, the fucking sky’s the limit!

        OH! And don’t sit in front of the tube! I never let that junk invade my mind. I might watch some highly intelligent content on my PC, but not TV. Kill your TV set!

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        1. I’m so glad that’s everything seems to be turning around for you. You sound very positive these days – it’s great. Hopefully I will follow suit and perk up in the coming days. I’m just in a mini slump I think!

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      2. Looking at #4 again, I realized … you’re brilliant! I don’t mean that in a narcissistic way, of course. 😉 You just articulate your thoughts so well, every time. I SOOO hope you find what I’ve been experiencing in the past week or so. You shouldn’t have to (I think the use of the should negative is pretty tame) resort to doing self-cbt. I’d like you to have the same chance to let that mind you’ve got feel free, with the sole aim of doing everything that comes to … well, your mind.

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        1. Aww! I really enjoyed that exchange with you – good to debate a topic with someone who both knows something about it and is invested in it enough to really think about their replies.

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