When I got my first full-time job there was so much I didn’t understand and was not prepared for. Having now had over a year’s experience of full-time work, there’s still a lot I never learnt or fully understood. And I know there are many my age or younger who are in a similar position.
Lucy Clayton and Steven Haines recognised this disconnect between young people leaving education and the world of work, and they wrote the instruction manual on beginning your career. Whether you’ve never had a job before or if you’re still in the early years of your career, How To Go To Work is a helpful read.
Post-introduction, the books kicks off with busting some myths about careers advice. By starting with dispelling the common myths we’ve all heard, it’s clear from the get-go that pragmatic optimism is the intended takeaway from the book. You will be successful and you can find the job you want. It’s a feeling that radiates with every section and is precisely what I felt when I turned the final page.
Going to work is an enormous, life-changing thing. You’ll never be the same again. You begin knowing nothing and then, very quickly, you can never unknow what it’s like to be bone tired from a fourteen-hour shift or the exhilaration of receiving your first pay slip. The experiences you are about to have will change you forever. And yet, no one is really preparing you for them.
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?
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.
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.