I bought this for Kindle as it kept popping up on my Facebook feed with some quite interesting articles. It is really four books in one. The first book is an autobiographical account of the author’s depression. Danny is growing up in Australia from a privileged family. He is attending university and writing his first novel. He seems to have everything going for him yet he becomes suicidally depressed. His depression becomes so bad he has to be hospitalised at one point. Through medication and therapy he gets better and we learn the causes of his depression.
The second, third and fourth books in the series are self-help manuals to help you overcome depression with lots of practical advice.
I particularly enjoyed the first book where Danny so honestly describes how he felt during his depression. Such openness is refreshing and depression seems to be becoming less of a taboo subject now. The self-help books are clearly written and contain much that is useful. The big message is to get help. Do not suffer in silence. He advocates medication if necessary, therapy, healthy eating and exercise, lots of sleep, sunshine and removing toxic people from your life. There is a lot about retraining your mind to think more positively. The author has apparently made a full recovery and is now healthy and happy so this is a hopeful book.
I think this book could really help people. My only caveat is that it sometimes reads as a little glib. Do this and you will be fine. I know from my own experience that depression is not as simple as this. I can go for months with the whole healthy thing and then have a relapse. For some people, managing their depression is more tricky. However, I am willing to give the advice in the book a go and see if I can finally like myself into shape. You never know. I feel better already.
This year I decided to take Lent seriously. Usually I just give up chocolate or alcohol or something but I decided to have a change and go the whole hog. I read up about how seriously religious people fast. Anglicans are typically woolly about the whole thing but I like this about them. The instruction seems to be no meat on Fridays and generally eat less than usual. The Roman Catholic Church typically goes further and suggests no meat throughout Lent. This wasn’t really enough for me as I don’t eat much meat anyway. I delved a little further and found out that monks and nuns would go full on in Lent and give up eggs, all dairy, meat and of course alcohol. This sounded severe enough for me to give it a try. I also decided to give up TV and to severely limit my use of social media. I intended to also do things I hadn’t done before. I decided to read a chapter of the Bible every day and to pray and meditate. I wanted to have a quiet, spiritual time of reflection.
I am not a good Christian. In fact I am absolutely terrible. I have probably committed every sin in the book. Ok not quite. I haven’t murdered anyone to my knowledge. But I try. I try to be a good person and fail. I am also drawn to Buddhism. I find meditation therapeutic. I don’t go to Church as I have never found one I feel comfortable in but I follow the woolly liturgical year of the Anglican Church. I find its rhythms comforting. I am a kind of sole practitioner.
The diet was quite restrictive. I was living mostly on fish and vegetables. I decided to cut out all processed food. I experimented with fasting. I found this really hard. I didn’t manage more than one day at a time. I would feel light headed and spacey. My energy level was low. I had quite bad food cravings on some days where I would dream about chips and bread and butter. I didn’t have any craving for sweet things, only heavy carbs and dairy.
I really enjoyed reading the Bible. I have a lovely leather bound King James version and the poetry of the language is beautiful. I read two gospels in the time: Matthew and Mark. I was fascinated by what Jesus had to say and was struck at points by how close it is to Buddhism. I loved some of the teachings, particularly the famous “Consider the lilies” speech. They do not plough or sow and yet God looks after them. He clothes them beautifully and provides them with food and water. They do nothing for it. The essence of this is like a kind of don’t worry, be happy mantra. It made me think about how in Britain we are obsessed with the work hard culture and strive all day achieving in the end not very much. We do not need all this stuff that we think we need. It’s just stuff. Again and again people ask Jesus how they can attain the Kingdom of Heaven and he always says give up eveything you own and follow me. I found myself wishing he was still alive and I could just go and follow him to find some meaning in my life like a kind of low rent Mary Magdalene. The task of course is how to interpret this in the modern era. How to follow Jesus? I am not sure I have the answer but I am trying. I decided to be more like a lily of the field and I decluttered. I gave away endless amounts of clothes and things I never use to charity shops. I even managed to part with some of my books. I realised one day when I had absolutely nothing to put on to cover my bottom half as everything I owned was in the wash that I may have gone too far. I am a worrier so I decided to be lily like and not worry about work or money.
I prayed. I prayed the Lord’s Prayer and then also my own. I am not sure my prayers have been answered, well not yet anyway but I live in hope. It had a calming, serene effect on me. I bashed on with the meditation. I am very bad at it but I keep trying.. I think I improved. I did not have a spiritual experience or a great epiphany. This saddened me but hey ho. I did have a spiritual experience as a child which was very powerful. I might save that for another blog. I realised I have a long way to go in my spiritual practice. I did gain clarity on aspects of my life and I knew what I had to do to change them. I learned things about myself, some good, some not so good. I only came baby steps but it is a beginning.
I have far to go.
There are many things I don’t understand.
I am trying and I am learning. Each day is a chance to improve. I felt a greater sense of well being. The weight is starting to lift.
I was really looking forward to this book as I love things about the Second World War and the world of espionage is endlessly fascinating. The book is vast and well researched. It covers the work of spies in Britain, the US, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and Japan. Hastings is at pains to play down the glamour of spy work and describes how dull most of it was. He seems to have a predudice against the Soviet Union which he regards as a greater evil than Nazism. Many people at the time did not share this view. The upshot of Hastings’ argument is that spy work did not contribute a great deal to winning the war and has been over-glamourised since.
In spite of this there is a vast array of flamboyant and eccentric characters who are described in snippets. I found this intensely annoying as I was reading as I wanted to know more about each person, have their tales fleshed out. It became like reading the telephone book and I started to lose interest about half way through. Perhaps the fault is within me as I usually read fiction. I could so easily have been enthralled but I just wasn’t.
History nerds will probably enjoy this but for me it needed more skill in the writing and I found Hastings’ patrician, condescending tone irritating.
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