In Susan Calman’s new book, Cheer Up Love, she talks candidly about her depression, via stories, humour and a bit of the serious stuff.
Many people compare their depression to an animal and one of the most common is, as Churchill expressed it, a black dog. Although he self-medicated in a way I wouldn’t necessarily recommend:
“My rule of life prescribed as an absolutely sacred rite, smoking cigars and also the drinking of alcohol before, after and if need be during all meals and in the intervals between them.”
I have a similar animal-based description of my depression. One which sums up, in the best way possible, how I feel when I’m in the middle of my own personal episode of Bleak House. I call it my ‘Crab of Hate’, which I know sounds like a really ineffective Pokémon. Out of the blue, and without expecting it, the Crab of Hate climbs up my back, pinches both of my earlobes and whispers gently to me. He always whispers in English, by the way, not crab language. That would be difficult to understand. The Crab of Hate tells me all the things I don’t want to hear, the things that make me doubt myself and hate myself.
“No one likes you. No one would miss you if you weren’t here. Why do you even bother? Everyone laughs at you when you leave the room. You’re useless. And you smell.”
It might sound a little silly or childlike to make up these kinds of characters but for me it makes the whole thing easier to explain. I told my wife about him (and it is a him) and now all I need to say to her is that ‘the Crab is about’ and she knows what I’m going through.
It helps me to visualise my enemy, so that I can picture what’s happening to me. All I need to do is shake the Crab off and I’ll be better. Sometimes all it takes is a shake of the head to be rid of him. Sometimes his grip is quite firm and I need the help of others to throw him back into the sea. He is my constant crustacean companion and he’s as much a part of my life now as the rest of my family.
It can be quite positive to find a way of trying to give a personality to the way that you feel, if only so you can have a sliding scale for your own reference of how you’re feeling. It can be helpful to use existing frames of reference. Perhaps
‘I’m feeling a bit Kathy Bates in Misery.’
‘I have a cloud following me round, I’m Perkin the Flump.’
Perkin the Flump was the first depressed character I ever encountered. Apart from Orville the Duck.
You might think it’s a slightly foolish endeavour to create a character around your own particular feelings, but give it a go. It can help create shorthand for reference that, as with my wife, can make things easier to explain to people. Then your nearest and dearest can more easily understand what’s going on.
The Crab of Hate is as much part of me as my genetic code, or my love of cats, or my hatred of warm weather. He’s been sitting on my shoulders for my whole life. You can’t see him in photographs, because he always scuttles away, but you can see the effect he has on me. We are connected. He is me and I am him. A double act contracted for a summer season at the end of the pier, and the season never ends. The trick is not to let him take the spotlight by himself.
Extracted with permission from Cheer up Love: Adventures in Depression with the Crab of Hate, by Susan Calman, hardback £16.99. Available now.
“Perkin the Flump was the first depressed character I ever encountered. Apart from Orville the Duck.”
Standard Issue: Did you consider leaving anything out of Cheer Up Love, or is there something you left out that you really didn’t want to?
Susan Calman: I have been sparing with some details, mostly to protect my family who don’t need to know just how horrifically down I’ve been in the past. Mostly though, the book is a warts and all story of my depression. All the gory details are written down for the reader to digest and enjoy.
Is there anything you regret leaving in?
Nothing. I wrote it, sent it to my publisher and tried not to have any regrets. It is what it is and what it is needs no excusing. And I don’t use names so I won’t be sued.
What did you enjoy most about writing a book?
I loved sitting down every day and just writing. Not worrying about travel or hotels, just worrying about what was going on the page. It was a wonderful feeling to have a single thing to focus on. Writing the book has been one of the best experiences of my life.
I haven’t thought about some of the incidents in the book for many years, often decades, so it did resurrect some emotions that I’d kept hidden for some time. Admitting my faults and seeing my behaviour laid bare on a page was quite stark and upsetting at times.
There are a lot of references to old TV programmes: which is your all-time favourite and why?
Cagney & Lacey naturally. I also loved Prime Suspect, The Gentle Touch and Juliet Bravo. I seem to have a thing for women in uniform. Or with a gun.
You have four cats. Can you pick a favourite?
All of my cats are my favourites. I couldn’t choose one of them. My cats are my children and I would run into a burning building to save them. Oscar, Pickle, Daisy Fay Harper and DCI Jen Tennison are the best friends a mad cat lady could have.6229 Views