Between the tweets about Brexit and Trump, the Twitter algorithm likes to show me snippets of people’s love lives. From self-deprecating jokes inspired by heartbreak and sassy memes about your cheating ex to inspiring quotes with handclap emojis about not faking orgasms and #RelationshipGoals. Even those not looking for love seem compelled to tell everyone just how happy they are in their independent singleness. I mean, there is a lot more bed to go around when you don’t have to share the sheets, am I right? Love: it’s either the inescapable ruler of our daily lives or it’s waiting on the sidelines for its chance to assert dominion over us. But what’s so great about love?
a BoJack Horseman inspired post
In the second episode of season 5, “The Dog Days Are Over”, writer and blogger Diane Nguyen takes an impulsive trip to Vietnam to get in touch with her cultural roots. This is her means of escape from the present challenges in her life. Pressured by her job, she turns her adventure into a listicle, transforming her emotional turmoil into “clickable content.”
So considering my own big life change and returning to my own roots, albeit without any real cultural difference, it seemed like a fun thing to emulate for this blog. So let’s get started with . . .
Reason 1: To break the routine
You graduated and decided trading independence for your old room wasn’t what you wanted, so followed in the footsteps of past graduates and found a full-time job locally. After moving in with your friends and starting your 9-5, it almost feels like the uni days haven’t ended. But then reality creeps up on you.
No more getting drunk on weeknights because you can’t skip your 9am start tomorrow. You try to stick to your old routines and attempt to keep the same social life. But instead you programme a new autopilot: cycling through the same meals, meet with the same people and are never short of excuses for why this comfort zone is a prison. It’s a circle of stagnation. And only one solution presents itself.
My name is August.
I won’t describe what I look like.
Whatever you’re thinking,
it’s probably worse
It was this blurb that kept me coming back to this book every time I passed it in Tesco. If I had known the first time I picked it up that this was a story that would make me cry so hard I’d have to stop reading several times, it wouldn’t have ended up back on the shelf. But for many weeks Wonder would avoid the trolley, my brain prioritising food over the non-existent space for another addition to my TBR pile. Until one day, curiosity got the better of me, and Palacio’s novel got through self-checkout and found its way to my bookshelf.
CW: depression, suicide
No-one’s experience with “the black dog” can be a carbon copy of someone else’s, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from or find comfort in hearing other people’s stories. Today, I want to talk about Sally Brampton’s experience that she beautifully details in her eye-opening and brutal memoir, Shoot the Damn Dog.
Sally Brampton, founding editor of Elle magazine, is by no means an expert on mental illness. But she is an expert on her own journey with depression, and in the beginning she didn’t really understand what that meant. Back then, and even today, the idea that depression is an illness can be hard to understand for some, especially for those who’ve never experienced it. This is the perfect starting point, allowing the reader to learn just as Brampton does as she walks us through her long long road to recovery. On this road she will try every antidepressant at their highest dosages, check in to psychiatric wards and AA meetings, and open up to us about her two suicide attempts.
Just as Brampton cannot speak for anyone else’s unique experience of mental illness, I cannot speak for anyone else’s reading experience but my own. There’s no holding back in this book and this can understandably be distressing for those who may have had similar experiences, and some may learn nothing new.
I, however, found her story helped me better understand myself. For example, one section describes the dangers of abandoning oneself: “If somebody hurts you and you pretend that you are fine, you abandon yourself.” She goes on to list several other scenarios where someone with depression might abandon themselves, as described to her by a therapist. I could relate to almost every single one , and it reminded me of my own counselling. The familiarity was comforting, only for an epiphany to then follow with a passage on the next page. She goes on to describe a state of detachment defined as being “wantless and needless”:
If you adopt the position of not wanting or needing anything emotionally, you are unlikely to get hurt. To sustain that entirely, you withdraw emotionally and even physically from others, although you may show a perfectly sociable exterior when you are out in the world. It is the interior that is fiercely defended. Some people (as I did) adopt this as a solution to emotional pain, forgetting that we are communal animals, biologically and genetically determined to interact with others. The solution then becomes the problem.
I recognised myself in Brampton’s words, and I genuinely believe it’s had an impact on how I think about myself in relation to the world around me. I can be quite an apathetic person, and I had never considered it might be a coping mechanism. It was precisely this revelation that made me want to recommend this book. I truly believe you can learn a lot about depression from her memoir. It’s informative whilst also telling an honest and compelling story.
Sadly, in 2016, Sally Brampton died by suicide. But without hope and recovery, she might never have found a stage in her life when she could have written this book. The fact this memoir exists shows that recovery is possible. Her daughter’s afterword is a heartfelt message that emphasises that Brampton’s suicide does not rob the book of its power.