Sally Brampton, suicide and her fucking black dog

 

Last year, I began reading ‘Shoot the Damn Dog’ by Sally Brampton, a reference to Winston Churchill’s ‘black dog’ analogy of depression. ‘It’s the black dog’, ‘she hasn’t left her room in days.’

It was an unnerving read, for the most part that throughout Brampton’s poignant 2008 memoir, I was aware she killed herself only eight years after its publication. On the 10th May, 2016, Brampton walked into the waves of St. Leonards on Sea, a place I had spent much of my youth.

The book covers her treatment-resistant depression. Her alcoholism, multiple suicide attempts and subsequent recovery ring hollow in my ears with the knowledge that she drowned herself on the beach my 17 year old self bathed under the moonlight, made pagan gestures to the moon I smoked drugs beneath until the early hours.

Sally wrote of her ‘anaesthetic’, her cocktail of benzodiazapenes and alcohol, only too familiar to me, that got her through her days.

It has been said that Churchill himself was a manic depressive. Without such manic exuberance, his ferociousness, would we have won the war?

Some days I count myself fortunate to suffer from a disease of such transience. For me, depression comes and goes as quickly as euthymia and mania present themselves. For me, depression never  wields its grasp for more than six months at a time. For Sally, it lasted years upon years with no relief, no remission. I slip into sleepiness as fast as I do sleeplessness. Months spent bed-ridden precede months spent unable to sit still but for the ecstasy and whirlwind of my mind.

In the beginning I saw no end; I did not know how this illness would pan out. I only saw the bleak darkness that followed the manic heights of my being. I had no concept of the transience of bipolar disorder; I only saw blackness and no white, no metallic sparkle. Now I’m older and I know that things change. Six months of psychotic depression, six months of euthymia, six months of believing I’m invincible and could fly from a roof top. It is cyclical. A broken body clock, they say.

I can only imagine the year after year of depression Sally Brampton endured. And I cannot stop myself from admiring her bravery for walking into those waves, for that takes guts. I only wish that such a disease had not enveloped her. Depression is not a state of mind; it is not merely mind over matter. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45, with 75% of males accounting for all UK suicides in 2015. In the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men and women aged 20-34. It is an epidemic that we so rarely speak of.

I grew up with the notion that suicide was selfish, suicide was weak. But suicidal ideation is a disease like any other. Like a fault in DNA that has got out of hand – a cell gone bad, multiplying and accelerating into a tumour so malignant, it cannot be blasted with therapy nor medication. It lies dormant but never truly dissipates, as with Sally Brampton. So think about suicide, about this disease and its epidemic. Acknowledge it, and fight its grasp, for one in 15 of us has made an attempt on our life at some point.*

Killing oneself is, anyway, a misnomer. We don’t kill ourselves. We are simply defeated by the long, hard struggle to stay alive. When somebody dies after a long illness, people are apt to say, with a note of approval, “He fought so hard.” And they are inclined to think, about a suicide, that no fight was involved, that somebody simply gave up. This is quite wrong.
― Sally Brampton, Shoot the Damn Dog

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