Underneath the Lemon Tree: A Memoir of Depression and Recovery, By Mark Rice-Oxley

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The Independent Culture

To an outsider, Mark Rice-Oxley looked lucky, with his job at a national broadsheet, happy marriage and three children. But in 2009, he suffered a major episode of depression which necessitated months off work, medication and professional help.

His moving memoir covers the horrors of that time, explores his life before the illness for clues, and surveys his slow and relapse-ridden recovery. He details with clarity and cogency his experience, the professionals he saw, the effects on him and his family, and his treatment, which included medications and sessions with eminent experts. The descriptions of his desperation, anxiety and insomnia are powerfully evocative.

Despite an increase in the diagnosis of depression (which could be due to higher incidence or better detection), NHS facilities are basic, and many therapeutic options such as group and behavioural therapy are virtually only available privately. Rice-Oxley learns through schema therapy (to tackle maladaptive behaviour) that he has a tendency to put the needs of others before his own, helping to explain why he drove himself so relentlessly before his breakdown, juggling demanding work with childcare.

Like Rachel Cusk, he found the noise and loss of identity of parenting difficult. His standards for himself were also extremely high; he considered himself not as brilliant as others. A result was his former resentment of colleagues who succeeded. But, to an onlooker, it's apparent that although he may not, as he professes, be best in any field, he is good in many - writing, sports, music, parenting, being a husband. Most people who attain the exceptional success he craved do so at the expense of other areas; moreover, much of success is down to doggedness, determination and practice.

His psychotherapist urged him to seek to be compassionate rather than competitive. This was good advice. Early on, some attempts at humour seem insensitive - the "frightening dentistry" of women in war-ravaged Bosnia; the Russian farmer with "a face like tree bark". There is occasional fabrication for effect: a train passenger is "a violently tattooed sociopath"; a dad in the park "couldn't... remember his child's name. Actually, that's a lie, but he was just about as bad as that... All the kid wanted to do was sit in the dirt and eat stones next to mine." Rice-Oxley doesn't need to be a clown. This is a thorough and informative handbook on depression, as well as a raw exploration of one man's personal journey through it.

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