'Love' is an odd word to describe a book that is as utterly heart-wrenching as 'Shoot the Damn Dog.' Sally Brampton's experience of severe depression is raw, agonising and, in parts, pessimistic. It's not an easy read, but I did love it. Her experiences are refreshingly honest and, in the pits of depression, honesty is not only something you need, but it is something rarely given.
Since venturing on this road of Major Depressive Disorder, I have asked questions many times, and have been given vague, well intentioned answers. 'How long does a breakdown last?', 'how do I know it's actually a breakdown and not just me being a drama queen', 'is it normal to feel rage?', 'how will I know I am getting better' - and so on - none of them are met with real answers; a patronising smile and, a 'how long is a piece of string?' type answer is the best I seem to get. Sally's portrayal of her own breakdown was a reference point and that, in itself, is helpful. I am the first to admit a sample of two people is hardly conclusive proof of the norm, but to know that someone else spends whole weeks avoiding the phone, for example, or they "cannot write" (like me) is helpful.
Like 'The Bell Jar', there is no easy conclusion to the depression. I like that. It's good to know that there's no happy ever after I am passively waiting for. Ironically, Sally's path to recovery started with a failed suicide - the second failed suicide. She gave up hope that death was a solution to the pain, and that's when things started to get better. That was a lightbulb moment for me. For some reason, I assumed death came quickly, tempted by the merest hint of chancing fate - in much the same way that until I was 30 I assumed I would get pregnant the first time I had unprotected sex. Discovering one's chances of conception each month was around 25% was quite a shock. Likewise, realising death wouldn't necessarily come when I called was also a shock. And a good shock.
The vast majority of the book is about the illness rather than the solution. Some may find this disheartening. However, I felt such empathy for Sally I was quite happy to hear about her daily struggles, and especially the way she balanced her depression with her parental responsibilities. I am not sure there were any answers, but it was helpful to understand that there are others in the same situation as me.
'Shoot The Damn Dog' is pretty brutal; I would advise some introspection before you read it if you are suffering from depression. There were times when it made me feel far worse normal - but there were also things that I found deeply thought provoking. I often think about her argument that people feel depression has a "moral tone." She argues it is an illness, like all other physical illnesses. Of course we all subscribe to that, on paper at least, but it's a viewpoint I try to bear in mind when I feel guilty that things are piling up around me.
I think the thing I appreciate most of all is that Sally Brampton really helps you to understand how depression actually feels. Amongst many other things, she talks of her throat monster. I don't have that, but I do often feel as though I have been slapped around the face. I found a sense of the depressive experience that has been lacking elsewhere. I had in mind something similar when I started this blog. Sometimes you just need to 'sit next to' someone who has experienced the same as you, whether in a physical sense or metaphorical. If that's what you're looking for, then I would certainly recommend that you give 'Shoot The Damn Dog' a go.