I have on occasion written posts about my occasional struggles with depression. I don’t do this very often, but when I do they tend to be very personal and hard to write. Why I write them is because it is my firm belief that issues around mental health and depression in particular need talking about, experiences need to be shared to encourage a greater understanding, and there is a taboo about such subjects which is detrimental to society as a whole. But as I say I don’t do this often, and I am happy with that because while I may occasionally be moved to write on the subject of my own struggles, most of the time I prefer not to. I would not, for example, write a whole book on the subject, I’m not that brave…
Which brings me neatly to someone who clearly is and has done just that. Craig Hallam, an author whom’s fiction I have venerated before on numerous occasions. He’s also a warm, friendly, welcoming, chap, always ready with a smile, a joke and a bit of friendly encouragement for other ‘young’ authors even if those ‘young’ authors are a fair few years older than him. he is, simply put, a nice guy.
He also suffers from clinical depression. Down Days is a book he wrote on the subject of his depression, which started out as a blog, and probably as an exercise in self therapy as well. When that blog had to close, he wondered what to do, but his publishers, and a fair few fans of both Hallam himself and his blog suggested he make it into an actual book. Which is what he decided to do. And again, just to be clear, that’s an incredibly brave thing to do. Done with nothing but good intentions, and the hope that it might help someone else out there in the big bad world. And so he laid his depression, and to an extent his whole life, bare to the world…. Brave, as I said.
To clarify here, I write fiction, and occasionally lay a little of my soul bare on my blog, a little… True if you look deep enough into Hannibal Smyth, Richard the piano-player, Sonny Burbanks, Colin from in Cider lane or even ‘Bringer Of Things’ who if you don’t know is a cat in Passing Place (most of the time at least) , or any of my other characters you will see snippets of there writers soul. Though I am none of those people, bits of me leak through. I also am sometimes very honest in this blog on several subjects. What I don’t do however is bare my soul for all to see. To do such I, who has build a multitude of masks to hide behind, would find terrifying. yet to a greater or lesser extent that is what Craig does in Down Days, at least as far as his depression is concerned.
This could have easily been a hard read. A dark and ‘depressing’ read. It could indeed have all too easily been a case of starring into the void and letting it stare back at you, certainly for anyone who had brushes with the old ‘black dog’ themselves. Reading about depression is after all not something you expect to be a barrel of laughs, and in fairness, it isn’t, not a whole barrel at any rate. If it was then it would be less than it is and poorer for it. But what there is humour, considered, well placed, mindful humour that helps you along as you read, and offers as much of an insight into Craig as anything else contained within these pages. As well as offering out the most important of maxims in my view, that being ‘just because someone doesn’t seem depressed, doesn’t mean they arn’t.’ And also it is the humour in which we find the humanity, as is so often the case.
Another of my favourite authors is Jon Ronson, he of ‘The Men Who Stare At Goats’, ‘The Psychopath Test’ and others. There is a similar level of humour applied to a serious subject at play here. Though Mr Ronson has never dealt with a subject quite as close to home or quite as personal as Craig does in Down Days. But it is that humour and the warmth of Craig himself, that carries you through this journey. It is also where I found echos of my own experience, through being able to relate to the bits that made me smile, the little references to pop culture and geeky things, offer a shared experience beyond the Black Dog itself. They offer perspective, they also counter point the dreadful nature of depression, and inspire a little hope.
In the end it becomes and uplifting story. For all Craig’s own Dark Days are far from behind him, it say that no matter how dark the day, there is always a light. Even if that light is a reference to a 1960’s TV show, or a shared sense of empathy, of humanity, of knowing that while there are Dark Days, there are also good ones.
This is a brave book, a book I could never have written and I am thankful that Craig did. it offers a perspective on my own struggles, and gave me more than a smile or two along the way.
Bravo, Mr Hallam.
Read it yourself. No please do, if you suffer form depression yourself, or know someone who does ( and you do even if you don’t realise it I can almost grantee that.)