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December 1956-January 1957, the novelist Patrick Hamilton writes a fifty-page letter to his brother, Bruce. It is not only the longest letter he ever wrote, but also a moving and revealing description of depression, as this extract shows:

What I should, though, have mentioned, was the hopelessness which went with it all. In almost any ordinary illness one hopes either to get better or die. With this one had neither of these consolations, and that, really, was what made it so terrible.

You know how one reads in the papers about suicides who have been “depressed for a long while”. I now wonder whether this famous “depression” in any way resembles mine. I contemplated suicide incessantly, but discovered how bloody difficult, and doubtful a business the attempt is. I stood at countless high windows but knew that, in spite of all my agony, I simply physically funked it! And then suppose one miraculously survived the jump! I similarly funked trains. I had what should be a safe Medinal dose (100 tablets) but I didn’t have any confidence in its safety, and where and how do you take it?

So one was reduced to the ridiculous hope that one might be run over accidentally in the street (but of course it was no use being purposely careless, because it might not be fatal, and simply being horribly damaged would, if such a thing were possible, only makes matters worse).

Of course, nobody who has not been through this illness can possibly understand it fully. Nor can anybody who has been through it possibly explain it fully. To talk of “depression” or “hideous depression” or “unspeakable depression” all sound so tame! People can only think of the most ghastly depression they themselves have ever been through, and imagine that this sort of thing is going on all the time in the case of a sufferer from this illness. But to think this is not really to touch even the fringe of the real horror which, although indescribable, I must nevertheless attempt, feebly, to describe to you. Imagine, then, that you have read in the papers about a small boy who has been made by his parents to stand in the corner of a locked and empty room all day and all night for a year – the only relief he gets being in the few hours of sleep which he takes on his feet (still conscious, in the moments of his waking from this coma, of the torture which awaits him next day). You have, of course, to imagine that this is physically possible.

Now imagine that you are yourself this small boy. Go, if you like, into the corner of a deserted room now! And stand up in it for only twenty minutes! Or two minutes! Try it now! And, having endured the twenty minutes, think of the next twenty minutes after that, and then all the hours after hours after that, before you get your next coma! And then the days after that, and the months, and the years!

Think of the counting of every minute, and the watching of every hour, while waiting for the brief coma, which is so brief and useless!

Is this not a fair description of hell? One might say eternal hell!

But this, really, is not all. If you or I were put in such a corner we might work out some scheme for coping with it – let’s say writing a novel in one’s mind and, as a daily task, memorising what one has written.

But such pleasures are denied one – for one simply can’t take the faintest interest in anything to do with the mind …

(Source: Through a Glass Darkly: The Life of Patrick Hamilton, by Nigel Jones)

If you have heard of Patrick Hamilton’s novel Hangover Square, I recommend that you read it … don’t see the film, it’s shit.


Patrick Hamilton gets blue plaque
Unhappy hour: Patrick Hamilton’s novel The Midnight Bell

The Black Dog

Time to get this off my chest. This will take two posts, one today and one tomorrow.

You know you are depressed if you are experiencing all of the following:

Increase in tension
Wanting to cry for no reason
Inability to concentrate
Very itchy eyes, even though you have no known allergies
Zero sex drive
Severe increase in irritability
Feeling someone is always watching you
Feeling someone is laughing at you every time you hear someone whispering or laughing
Each little noise completely distracts you and affects your focus
Cannot stand any human being

I experience several of them on a regular basis, but I carry on, on the basis that some depression is a natural part of life. I could be drugged out of my mind and probably solve many of the problems, but I’d rather not. Some of them may just be symptoms of mild anxiety and not full blown depression. Anxiety can actually be constructive, from my experience.

The worst symptom of all is the fear of dying. I’ve suffered from depression for years, and I’ve had my share of moments where I contemplated suicide, but this is different. It actually feels like you are about to die. It’s the worst feeling in the world, and it stays with you for days, and nothing I do seems to help. I usually just wait, trying constantly to convince myself the world isn’t falling apart, then I’m OK again.

A few years ago I had persistent panic attacks on top of depression during which I had the (completely imaginary) feeling that I was going to suffer a heart failure instantly. After proper medication, I was cured, but it took time and those moments were truly awful.

Though I have been known to live my life like Max von Sydow in Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf, I always try to anchor my depression in something concrete: bad weather, government lies, lack of CD money.

More on this tomorrow.

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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