Bi-Polar, Depression

Depressive Illness – The curse of the strong

IMG_5311Depressive Illness (The curse of the strong)   Dr Tim Cantopher   Sheldon Press 2003

I picked this book up at our local support group and from the very first page I knew that this was the best book on Depression that I have read over the years.


His introduction starts with typical Monday morning blues after a restful weekend as he explores all the feelings this brings. The point he makes is that those who feel down on Monday mornings or dip into low mood occasionally, for example when they are tired or getting over a virus, are not what the medical profession would call ‘depressed’ although many people do use this expression to describe their moods. He cites those who say ‘oh I get like that and I just pull myself together and get over it’. They don’t ‘get it’ and he comes down heavily against people who make such comments to those with depressive illness. It is not helpful.


This book is not as heavy as some I have ploughed through. It is accessible and an easy read. Cantopher has an engaging tone and he certainly knows what he is talking about. He describes what happens to the brain when people fall into the depths of. In depression, the levels of the chemicals in the synapses of the limbic system plummet and the nerves get less sensitive to the chemicals too. This is usually brought on by stress or other triggers. Basically if the limbic system is taken beyond its design limits it will malfunction and a gap will appear between the end of one nerve and the other (the synapse)


His list of symptoms is the most comprehensive I have seen. Most symptoms involve ‘loss’.

Loss of sleep, appetite, energy, enthusiasm, concentration, memory, self-esteem, sex drive, drive, enjoyment, patience, feelings, hope and love. However, loss of memory, according to the author is caused by the loss of concentration and does not mean the memory is impaired.


Chapter 5 is What to do when you get ill and he devotes three pages to ‘rest’, likening it to a thermostat which has got too hot and has to be switched off. While he accepts that sufferers initially spend long periods in bed, he advocates a preference for plonking yourself on the settee and watching mindless day time tv or romantic films ie nothing too taxing.


His chapter on Staying Well is excellent. If nothing changes and the same choices continue to be made in your life then the depression will come back to hit you again and again. He equates ‘crisis’ with a ‘time of opportunity’ as it allows you to switch off, cancel your busyness and all those activities which led you to ignore your self-care. This is the opportunity to make changes. If nothing changes, everything remains the same.


Once recovery has begun the author describes a stage when he visits a patient and finds the hoover in the middle of the room. We feel better and the mess is at last irritating us and making us want to ‘clear up’. However, we get the hoover out and start hoovering only to find that within 5-10 minutes we are exhausted and abandon it. We can’t even put it away.


When I recounted this stage to my partner he immediately recognised it. The spirit is willing but the body has not recovered enough. The lack of exercise over even two or three weeks will take its toll. Also lethargy is one of the symptoms. Rather than hoovering the whole house and leaving ourselves exhausted and back ‘down the hole’, he advocates increasing such activity slowly. For example, rather than push yourself to go to the supermarket and feel drained, make your first outing a trip to the shop on the corner. Oh yes, I have found myself there a few times since Christmas.


There is much more in the book to explore. As the author says, if you are reading it when you are first unwell just read the first five pages in two or three efforts. Even the most avid reader cannot concentrate on a complicated novel when they are depressed.


I have to return the book in ten days time so I intend getting my own copy.


Do try it and see if it makes a difference to you. I did it for me!



Today on Saturday Live (Radio 4, 9am) Professor Paul Dolan from the London School of Economics, spoke about his research into happiness. According to Professor Dolan, big cities are the least happy places to live despite the fact that there is more to do there than in smaller towns and rural areas. Capital cities apparently make us least happy. Everything is harder to do. Travelling takes longer and is more uncertain. The mind does not like uncertainty and travelling by public transport can be unpredictable with late or cancelled buses or underground trains.

Professor Dolan believes that living in quieter areas makes our travelling time more predictable. I am not so sure about that as living in Dorset we find a car accident or the Sandbanks toll ferry breaking down can throw our travel plans out by hours but I have to agree that in smaller towns it is easier to get about. Here we only have two or three Pelican crossings and traffic flows well except at the height of season, the irritations of which warrant a whole new blog post!

In cities, there are also more stresses particularly in capital cities where you have to do more, at more speed and are subjected to competition. Professor Dolan says that big cities draw attention to the rich among us and London draws attention to the rich/poor divide more than in other rural areas. Life, according to the Professor, goes slower outside of cities and urban areas. I have to agree with this for, after twenty-five years living in an outer London Borough I downshifted to a seaside town in Dorset where life is definitely slower. There is also much around us in the form of a beautiful environment, lovely places to visit and fun activities such as rowing races, festivals, carnivals and air shows viewed from the beach which make free entertainment and fun. I could go on.

Personally, I think Paul Dolan speaks a lot sense. He suggests we should design our environment to make life easier and make it easier to be happier. Here I concur as, after a spell of decluttering, life does become much less complicated and can lead to a state of calm. How many of us believe it is necessary to buy more and more ‘stuff’ to fill our homes – and our tummies – in order to be happy? In fact, less is more in this regard. I have a few friends who have very little in the way of material possessions save for the family photographs and nick nacks, the mementoes from happy holidays or events. When I return to my chaotic study, reams of novel drafts, the writing books, novels, memoirs – all waiting to be read – scattered cuttings from this week’s newspapers and magazines, I think, albeit briefly, that my life would be much simpler if I did not write or read.

This engaging LSE academic – the 46 year-old is known in the gym as The Prof – also talks about repetition providing some ease with life. One key strategy to combat, avoid and cope with depression is to have a routine. Doing the same thing each day provides comfort and knowledge. We can anticipate what is going to happen and plan for it. Happiness, he says, is also about ease and making things easier for ourselves rather than difficult.

One other participant on this morning’s programme commented that choice does not always make for happiness, citing deprived overseas countries where the population lives hand to mouth. Where people have fewer choices, life tends to be happier. Crazy as this may seem, I can see the value of this. In our small town we have two supermarkets stocking all the basics and everything we need. We have our favourite items and sometimes choose something different, so shopping is uncomplicated. However, when I visit a store in a larger town I am overwhelmed with the number of goods, the brands and price ranges and find myself getting quite anxious at the choices I may have to make.
I enjoyed the interview with Paul Dolan so much I listened again on iplayer and felt I must share his wisdom on this blog. I do hope it helps those of you struggling at the moment.

Professor Dolan’s book Happiness by Design is now on my reading list. And I think I may follow him on Twitter.
Enjoy it and Be Happy!