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.