Written Words Of Life - August 2002
After reading the article about depression by Jonathan
Dollimore (see We Are Not Alone) I decided to purchase the book
The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon (Published in 2002 by Vintage
- ISBN 0 09 927713 1) and, whilst browsing through similar novels,
I also purchased Malignant Sadness by Lewis Wolpert (both available
from Amazon books - see the link on the right hand side of this
Both are personal accounts with the authors battle with depression
coupled with psychological, psychiatric and clinical observations
Whilst reading these two excellent books I started to notice that
there were certain parallels between their experiences and mine.
On this page I hope to address some of these common factors and
will start off by referring to the Solomon book.
Andrew Solomon breaks his book down in to methodical chapters that
deal with his personal experiences, treatments, alternatives, addiction,
suicide, etc, etc. There is no doubt that Solomon suffered a great
deal of mental and physical trauma at the hands of depression and,
whilst I can empathize with the mental side, I have not experienced
the profound physical disabilities to the same degree as the author.
Nevertheless there are still comparisons to be drawn.
Solomon makes an opening statement that "Depression is the
flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who
can despair at what we lose and depression is the mechanism of that
He goes on to say that "Depression degrades one's self and
ultimately eclipses the capacity to give or receive affection, It
is the aloneness within us made manifest, and it destroys not only
connection to others but also the ability to be peacefully alone
I have personally noted that my capacity to love is very deep, almost
limitless. On the down side the opposite is also true, my capacity
to despair is as profound! I disagree in the statement that depression
eclipses the capacity to give or receive affection. In my case I
found that there was a partial eclipse but I still had a strong
need to love and be loved. Unfortunately on a number of occasions
the love I offered was deflected from its intended course and as
a result the payback was not forthcoming. I will deal with this
in more depth later.
Later in the book Solomon observes "People around depressives
expect them to get themselves together: our society has little room
in it for moping. Spouses, parents, children and friends are all
subject to being brought down themselves, and they do not want to
be close to measureless pain."
How many times have I been told, sometimes in indirect ways, to
'pull myself together' or to 'pull my socks up?' How many times
have I seen the dismay or anger in the eyes of those close to me
when I am the numb, incommunicado, miserable hulk that sits in his
usual chair and does nothing all day? I have also seen the erosion
of patience and tolerance of 'well' people around those who are
suffering, not just from depression, but from all manner of physical
illnesses such as (in my personal experience) back pain, rheumatoid
arthritis and Alzheimer's Disease. It lowers the quality of life
for the non-suffers. It can be tiring, angering, depressing in itself.
Sadly this knowledge has only served to add to the despair that
I sometimes feel!
Of depressive breakdowns Solomon states: "You are constantly
told in depression that your judgment is compromised, but part of
depression is that it touches cognition. That you are having a breakdown
does not mean that your life isn't a mess. If there are issues that
you have successfully skirted or avoided for years, they come cropping
back up and stare you full in the face"
How true this is. Every issue, every act of badness or failure in
my life comes rushing back to fill my mind. I have done some terrible
things in my life, made some bad decisions, treated people badly,
committed acts that were illegal even. At the time of occurrence
my conscience deserted me but it now returns with a vengeance. What
is also heartbreaking is that the time for penance has long gone
by. No chance to say sorry, to make amends. It is this feeling of
things undone that serve to banish any positive feelings that my
creep into my mind. How can I atone for my sins? I really wish I
know. Thoughts of self harm or suicide drift through my mind but
the coward in me quickly pushes them into the background.
According to Solomon the chemical effects of depression and stress
can "physically alter the brain in that a sufferer has lesions
to the hippocampus and the amygdala, a loss of neuronal networking
tissue." He goes on to write "The longer you remain in
a depressed state, the more likely you are to have significant lesioning
which can lead to peripheral neuropathy." As if I didn't have
enough to worry about already! Perhaps the book should have a health
warning for depressives on its jacket.
Solomon also quotes George Brown of the University of London, the
founder of the field of life-events research. Brown says, "Our
view is that most depression is antisocial in origin; there is a
disease entity as well, but most people are able to produce major
depression given a particular set of circumstances." Solomon
continues, "According to the exhaustive research Brown has
done over 25 years, severely life threatening events are responsible
for triggering initial depression. These events typically involve
loss - of a valued person, of a role, of an idea about yourself
- and are at their worst when they involve humiliation or a sense
of being trapped. Depression can also be caused by a positive change
such as having a baby, getting a promotion or getting married."
This made interesting reading to me because there have been several
severe events that have happened prior to a bout of deep depression.
Prior to my first major breakdown I had achieved promotion to a
prominent position within the organization where I worked. Unfortunately
the promotion involved me undertaking tasks that I was not trained
to do. This lead to a loss of confidence in myself and a feeling
of failure. As time progressed these negatives steadily increased
in intensity until such a time as I broke down and, as a result,
spent several weeks in a psychiatric hospital. Prior to, and after
this breakdown there had been other instances of depression that
had been triggered by events such as the break up of a relationship,
the death of a relative or the serious injury to my son in a road
The cumulative effect of these knock-back seem to be that I now
have no respite from the blackness in my head. No breaks, no positive
thoughts or emotions.