Songs and Sonnets's Reviews > Depressive Illness: The Curse Of The Strong

Depressive Illness by Tim Cantopher
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Oct 08, 11

bookshelves: mental-health, depression
Read in January, 2006

This book has revolutionised the way I view myself and my depression.

It’s not a self-help book as such. It provides information on stress-related depression, with occasional bits of advice. There are no exercises to complete. Intead, Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong helps you to understand how your illness developed, why you need to be gentle with yourself and what you need to do to get better.

I first developed severe depression after pushing myself too hard during my final year at university. For years, I thought of myself as weak. I struggled to cope with everyday life, was often too depressed to work, and I hated myself for not being able to function like a “normal” human being. Tim Cantopher turned that view of myself on its head. He argues that those who develop stress-related depression are actually hard-working, perfectionistic people with a strong work ethic who burn themselves out. This was very true of me but in the mire of negative thoughts that’s part and parcel of depression, I hadn’t been able to see it until someone else pointed it out.

Before reading this book, I’d tried many CBT-based self-help books with practical exercises to complete. These were very helpful on one level – challenging negative thoughts makes a huge difference – but on another level they just fed into my perfectionism issues. I always felt like I should be doing more to fight against my depression. I pushed myself too hard and it was a vicious circle. Since reading this book I’ve completely changed my approach to depression.

Cantopher advocates rest as an essential part of depression treatment. He actually recommends a wall-to-wall diet of Australian soap operas as a distraction from how you feel (not my thing, but hey). As you start to feel better and to want to get things done, he suggests leaving tasks half-finished as soon as you find yourself becoming tired. If you push yourself too far, he says, you’ll end up feeling much worse for the next 36-72 hours. Apparently a pattern of good days and bad days is normal in depression recovery, but if you overdo it on the good days, the pattern becomes exaggerated, you’ll have more bad days and take longer to recover. It literally can be a case of one step forward, four steps back.

The book is not without its flaws. Firstly, Cantopher makes a lot of assumptions about the depressed reader. One of the reasons I found The Curse of the Strong so helpful is that they all applied to me, but if they don’t apply to you, you’re likely to feel pissed off, not to mention disturbed that he “almost never bother[s]” to make enquiries as to his patients’ personality because he knows it all already. Secondly, he states his own theories and beliefs about the biological side of depression as though they were undisputed scientific fact. Although this sort of thing is common within the medical model, I don’t believe there is sufficient evidence to claim that depression is a physical rather than a mental illness; nor do I believe that in almost all cases it could be diagnosed with a lumbar puncture showing reduced levels of serotonin and noradrenaline. (Surely if that were the case, LPs would be performed in cases of diagnostic doubt. I realise it’s an unpleasant and risky procedure, but then severe depression is just as unpleasant and life-threatening.) I think this is all part of Cantopher’s rhetoric to convince the reader that they are not weak or to blame for their illness, but frankly, any scientific “facts” that you come across in his book I would check elsewhere.

Anyway, despite these problems, Cantopher’s theories on how stress-related depression develops and how to recover from it make a lot of sense to me and have probably been instrumental in helping me cope with and recover from my depressive episodes.
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