Unparalleled Sorrow: Finding My Way Back from Depression

Barry Dickins

Unparalleled Sorrow: Finding My Way Back from Depression
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Unparalleled Sorrow: Finding My Way Back from Depression

Barry Dickins

I can’t remember going to bed the night before my first ECT. Or giving my permission or my wife giving her consent, but she did and for my part I was so confused I would’ve agreed to be shot at point-blank range by a firing squad. Try as I might I couldn’t get comfortable that night; I remember the physical distress and the floating stomach and wriggling and rubbing and twitching of my feet in bed before they came to collect me at 6 am exactly. Soon I shall be given a shot of electricity to lift my mood, as they keep putting it. What on earth is wrong with sadness? In early 2008, Barry Dickins suffered from insomnia. He went to the doctor, who cited anxiety as the cause and, then, depression. Clinical and severe. He checked in to the Albert Road Clinic, where he was told that he would be there until the joy returned to him. But where was it? The joy eluded Barry for months, so he stayed in the clinic, alongside patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and other traumas, but depression was overriding. Depression that could fell you with a single blow. He took his medication and succumbed to the electro-convulsive therapy, which left him unable to grip a pen and riddled his memory with holes. The experience marked him for good, and is one that more people share than we might like to consider. Written with Barry’s inimitable wit, humour and lyricism - and his ability to find the ridiculous and the jubilant amid the pain - Unparalleled Sorrow charts Barry’s journey from the lows of the clinic to the small joys of a game of tennis with his young son. It follows the path to depression - via his salad days in St Kilda and the murder of his housemate - and the road out of it.

Review

It’s not often you find someone writing with such untrammelled frankness about an illness that still has some degree of stigma. There have been accounts by other writers – such as Lewis Wolpert and William Styron – but Dickens’ guiltlessness and almost childlike naivety make this account very special.

By his own admission, Dickins has been ‘fond of a drink’ and suffered wild mood swings for all his life, and for most of his life he has managed these reasonably well. In 1982, he met and married Sarah Moggridge and fell totally and irretrievably in love with her. After many years of trying, their son Louis was born and Barry fell totally and irretrievably in love with him, too. Then one day, Sarah told Barry she didn’t love him anymore; the drinking, the intense moods, the directionlessness of his life had sucked it out of her. Whether it was the collapse of his marriage or his incessant insomnia that pushed Barry into a complete breakdown is unclear. His decline was so severe that he required radical intervention and let Sarah take him to hospital, where he spent the next six months on massive doses of drugs and in indifferent therapy.

This is a remarkable book, beautifully written, brimming with humour and sadness – and with no small measure of the charming Dickins pathos.

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