Shoot the Damn Dog, by Sally Brampton

Tearing up the rulebook of the crying game
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The Independent Culture

I always remember, in the Sixties, the fury I'd feel when druggy friends would say, smugly: "Of course you can't know what it's like to take LSD until you've tried it." But since I've got older, I have found myself repeating those irritating words about two other experiences – having children, and depression. It's really impossible to talk about depression except with people who have been there, and Sally Brampton, in her brave and honest memoir, has been there in spades. There's not a hint of "poor me" about her book, though many chapters left me in floods of tears.

Indeed, she constantly re-iterates how, to start with, there was no "reason" for her depression. She was a successful journalist, editor of Elle and then of Red; she jetted around all over the place, hobnobbed with the rich and famous, and even stood up to her boss, Rupert Murdoch.

But once she broke up with her husband, she was stricken with a depression that lasted four years. She wanted to die. She did try to kill herself a couple of times, but mostly she just didn't want to be alive. She couldn't get out of bed, and would cry for days on end.

Crying, she was told, was good for her, but not this sort of crying, that went on for ever. "I cry so much that sometimes I am astonished there is any water left in my body.... If I was an animal, they'd shoot me to put me out of my misery." One of the pleasures of confiding in her depressed friend, Nigel, was that "We both know that each of us is capable of smiling and talking cheerfully while at the same time planning our own deaths."

And yet "I'm fine," she kept telling other people, "I'm fine" – and then she'd tell herself: "I have no right to feel the way that I do. ... I have no right to be the way I am. I have a man, a child, a cat, friends, a successful career...".

Sally was one of the 30 per cent of depressed people who are resistant to medication. She had extraordinary unpleasant reaction to pills and, like me, had disastrous results with therapy, spending thousands of pounds on the talking cure. Eventually, after two stints in a "loony bin" (her words), finding a really good, kind and helpful therapist, and doing yoga, meditation, taking thyroid pills, and going to AA – on top of all her problems she discovered she was completely dependent on alcohol – she has struggled through to find some kind of precarious happiness.

She charts a territory I know so well that at times I often thought she was actually writing my own book. Like myself, she was the child of a repressed marriage and, like all depressives, finds the sense of loneliness overwhelming. One is lonely, partly, because so few people understand what one is going through. So many people say the most incredibly crass things, like: "But how can you be depressed on a day like this?"

It must have been terribly painful to write it. But, golly, am I glad that Sally Brampton did. Her book points up that the crucial cure to depression is connection. Connection is, in fact, all. Just reading her book provides a healing connection for those of us who share the curse of the "damn dog", about which she writes so eloquently.

Bloomsbury £15.99 (326pp) £14.39 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

Virginia Ironside's novel 'No! I Don't want to Join a Bookclub' is published by Penguin

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