Book Review

The Depression Army Book Review -- your source for the best reads on depression and mental health.

Review: The Upside of Your Dark Side

The Book:  The Upside of Your Dark Side

 WHAT IS THIS BOOK?

 The Upside of Your Dark Side is a fresh examination of the usefulness of our darkest emotions. It presents the scientific case for hidden benefits of states like anxiety and anger. The implications are massive. Rather than our foe, negative emotions can be our friend, a part of the human arsenal we need to use wisely to be our whole self and live a fulfilling life.

WHY SHOULD YOU READ IT?

People who struggle with depression know full well about the dark side of unwelcome, painful emotions.  Our reflexive response is to try to kill the pain

  • We do everything we can to distract ourselves.

  • We try to drown out the pain with alcohol,  or worse.

  • We reach for the latest book that will tell us “how to be happy”

Why is our first, second, and third action to try to kill these states?   Authors Todd Kashan and Robert Biswas-Diener observe that this is what we do because this is what we know. We live in a culture that is so obsessed with happiness as the be-all and end-all that we don't even recognize that we have assumptions about negative emotions, let alone that these assumptions might be wrong.

USOYDS uses great anecdotes and research illustrations to help us see negative emotion in a new light. When we try to kill our negatives – whether it’s anger, sadness, or anxiety – we end up killing off vital parts of our self. The authors do not make this argument lightly, or take an extreme position that negative emotions are always good, or ask us to be masochists. Instead, they lead us on a curious exploration of negative emotions and behaviors and their implications.  USOYDS is an easy-to-read, often humorous guide to the dark side, that details how and why we're often better off with anger, sadness, shame, guilt, anxiety, disappointment, and remorse than we would be without them.

The authors view emotions (including negative ones) as a sort of superpower. This is a good analogy because if you've ever read a comic book you know that superpowers can be misused, and such powers can do good only if we understand and appreciate how and when it is useful to have X-ray vision or to spin a web any size. Kashdan says of anxiety, "If an airline pilot has to de-ice a plane, it would be great if anxiety arises, reminding the pilot that this is a time to be particularly cautious and careful." So, too, anger can be a source for positive social change if the recognition of injustice motivates us to do charitable work or champion causes.  Guilt can be a vital signal that you've violated your moral code if it leads you to adjust your actions or your code. They summarize, "Rather than steering you to a single feeling state [like happiness], then, we urge you to consider the usefulness of many--especially the ones we turn away from--and to develop the ability to navigate every one." If we use them wisely, negative emotions can help us endure the challenges dished out by life and find our place among other humans. To truly make it in the world, we need to engage the full range of psychological states we've inherited, including negative emotions.

The authors understand that being happy will always be desirable. But they point out the paradox at the heart of this desire: Intensely desiring to be happy can actually interfere with becoming happy.  USOYDS is obviously not a happiness guide but it offers clues to an alternative path to a happy life. You'll need to read the book because the details matter, but basically this path resembles John Lennon's famous observation that "life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."  Happiness is what happens when you put your focus elsewhere. This quote (a favorite of the authors) illustrates:

If you observe a really happy man, you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under a radiator. —Bernan Wolfe

There is, then, an unexpected payoff of USOYDS: Learning how to tolerate, explore, and productively engage negative emotions —somewhat ironically—puts us on a more sustainable long-term path to feeling good.

ANY NEGATIVES?

USOYDS is a science book.  While it is humorous and easy to read, it references a wide range of research findings. You will have to engage your mind to benefit from reading it.

OVERALL:

A breezy and wise guide to human emotions, when they help, when they hurt – and how to know the difference.

USOYDS joins the ranks of important books to correct the excesses of the positive psychology movement, including Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America and Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

HOW TO GET IT

Links to buy the book in the USA, UK,  Canada, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.


Depression Army participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In practical terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, Depression Army will get a small percentage of its price. That helps support Depression Army and helps us cover the expenses of maintaining this site. We very much appreciate your support:

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Review: This Close to Happy

The Book:  This Close To Happy

WHAT IS THIS BOOK?

TCTH is a memoir written by Daphne Merkin, who is a former New Yorker film critic and essayist. She recounts a life journey that has been afflicted by decades of depression, tracing back to a difficult childhood, through three psychiatric hospitalizations, as well as periods of functioning as a hard-working writer. This is a tale of survival – of a difficult childhood, of depression, of often inadequate, and sometimes harmful psychiatric care.

WHY SHOULD YOU READ IT?

If you want to read a memoir that's extraordinarily blunt, open, and clear-eyed about a life lived with depression, TCTH is your book. Merkin narrates what happened and how it felt to her. She does not ask you to like her – and she does not romanticize depression. Depression can make people (including Merkin) self-absorbed, self-pitying, even narcissistic. But you will probably end up liking her for her honesty.

If you’ve had a difficult family life yourself, you may identify with Merkin's story. Family dynamics are at the core of her memoir –  bad family dynamics feed into depression and depression feeds bad family dynamics. The family in question is a complicated brew, but it is the mother who stirs the pot. Merkin is by turns, attached to, and repelled by, a mother who is a figure of stunning narcissism and, at times, psychopathic cruelty. 

TCTH is also the story of how depression can strike hard at someone who has so much, at least on paper – Merkin has money; she has education; she has social position.  Knowing full well her life is charmed by some metrics, Merkin struggles to make sense of her severe depression (does it flow from a tortured childhood?  bad genes? personality foibles? what?). While she has insights about this paradox, her most profound one may be that depression doesn't always make sense.  

THERE ARE SO MANY GOOD PASSAGES IN THIS MEMOIR

Perhaps the best reason of all to read this memoir of depression is that it is so darned well written.

On telling the story of her family...

Sometimes I feel doomed to tell the story of my family over and over again, like the injunction at the annual Passover seder to narrate the story of the Jews’ liberation from Pharaoh’s cruel dominion and the subsequent departure from Egypt.

On her mother...

Love or money, money or love, my mother scrimped on both, had always done so, and at some point I had begun confusing the two.

On how depression haunts…

One of the most intolerable aspects of depression is the way it insinuates itself everywhere in your life, casting a pall not only over the present but the past and the future as well, suggesting nothing but its own inevitability. For the fact is that the quiet terror of severe depression never entirely passes once you’ve experienced it. It hovers behind the scenes, placated temporarily by medication and a willed effort at functioning, waiting to slither back in. It sits in the space behind your eyes, making its presence felt even in those moments when other, lighter matters are at the forefront of your mind. It tugs at your awareness, keeping you from ever being fully at ease in the present.

On the conundrum of what to do when depressed...

Always, for me, it comes back to this question: Where do you go when you’re depressed? That’s the heart of the problem, isn’t it? You can’t disappear inside your own skin, although that would be ideal. Nor can you lie low and hole up in your room forever, like Henry James’s sister, Alice. Once upon a time people went on months-long ocean voyages for just such reasons—or at least they did in movies and novels—but nowadays the only form of legitimate convalescence on offer is by way of psychiatric hospitals, which, as I’ve learned, come with their own horrors and limitations.

ANY NEGATIVES?

This is a bold and often brutal book. Some readers may find the honesty about depression to be too punishing. The memoir is also a deep exploration about the enduring consequences of a difficult childhood. Don’t read it if you don’t want to read about childhood!

OVERALL

The best memoir about chronic depression ever written.  

It joins the first rank of other classic memoirs, such as Andrew Solomon’s, The Noonday Demon, or William Styron’s, Darkness Visible.

HOW TO GET IT

Links to buy the book in the USA, Canada, UK, France, GermanyItaly, and Spain.


Depression Army participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In practical terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, Depression Army will get a small percentage of its price. That helps support Depression Army and helps us cover the expenses of maintaining this site. We very much appreciate your support:

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Review: The Happiness Trap

The Book:  The Happiness Trap by Dr. Russ Harris

WHAT IS THIS BOOK?

The most typical way we struggle with anxiety, depression, and pain is to try to fight, change, and resist these states. The Happiness Trap explains why our “fighting” strategies actually make us much worse off and it presents a radical alternative: No more fighting. The book is not about making happy thoughts. It gives the reader a set of simple exercises that enable us to become more aware of our harshest thoughts and feelings, more able to defang and defuse these thoughts and feelings, and ultimately to even accept these thoughts and feelings, so we can ultimately break free of them and take valued action in the world.

HT is an easy-to-read presentation of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (which has been carefully studied by scientists). The book is full of practical exercises and can be read in a day.

WHY SHOULD YOU READ IT?

Dr. Harris is a brilliant and patient teacher. He knows you are skeptical and he knows you have probably struggled for a long time. He knows it is hard and he believes in baby steps.

As you read on, HT will give you new tools to live with depression, anxiety, and pain. One of the best things about the book is that will always be relevant. You can use these tools throughout your life, no matter where you are in your recovery.

Examples of what is covered:

You will learn techniques to create diffusion --> you become a better observer of your mental life, so that you better see when negative thoughts and feelings are trapping you.

You will learn how to “turn off the struggle switch” --> and slowly but surely you find the trap of your thoughts and feelings is no longer closed so tightly. You can move again.

You will learn techniques to identify your core values --> how to identify what's most important to you and how to take small acts that are consistent with your core values.

There is a good reason HT has been translated into 30 languages, with over half a million copies sold: It's probably the best self-help book ever written.

STILL SKEPTICAL?

You have every right to be skeptical given the lameness of most self-help books. Depression Army is not a big believer in self-help books. But this one is different.

 So if you’re not convinced quite yet...please go ahead and read some of the 468 Amazon.com reviews (74% are 5 stars) from real life people. If you don't feel like wading through all those, here are a few examples of what people say after reading this book:  

I am not kidding when I say this book had more impact on me, more quickly, than any other self help book I've read.”  Briochegal on July 7, 2011
“I am a little sheepish to admit this, but this is the best book I have ever read. I don't mean that it outdances the prose of Tolstoy (etc.). I mean in terms of pure impact on my life.” Bonk on June 20, 2012
“You really need to try (and inevitably fail) in other therapies (esp. CBT) before you can fully appreciate this book. Rather than encouraging you to control your thoughts, argue with them, or attempt to suppress them, this book shows you how to accept them and move on.

The author's key points are that thoughts, emotions, and images in our head are just that: thoughts, emotions, and images. We don't need to fuse with them if doing so would be unhelpful and counterproductive to us reaching our goals in life. The author describes several "de-fusion" exercises to help us learn not to bond with unhelpful or unpleasant mind processes.

Take your time with this book and really do the exercises - don't rush through it. For the small price of this book, you can save yourself not only hundreds of dollars in dysfunctional cognitive behavioral therapy and psychoanalysis but also the heart-ache of seeing another treatment fail and the time spent wondering what is wrong with you.” Walt on February 8, 2010

ANY NEGATIVES?

Just reading HT is not enough. You have to be willing to practice the exercises for the book to have a transformative effect.

OVERALL 

If you’ve been trapped in awful thoughts and feelings, this book can be your lifeline.  

HOW TO GET IT 

Links to buy the book in the USA, Canada, UK, GermanyFrance, Italy, and Spain.


Depression Army participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In practical terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, Depression Army will get a small percentage of its price. That helps support Depression Army and helps us cover the expenses of maintaining this site. We very much appreciate your support.

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Review: Manufacturing Depression
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The Book:  Manufacturing Depression: The Secret History of a Modern Disease

WHAT IS THIS BOOK?

How did it become common, if not mandatory, to think of our unhappiness as a disease? Manufacturing Depression tells the story of how advertising, pharmaceutical companies, and psychiatrists packaged unhappiness as a medical disease to be treated with antidepressants. If you want to understand how thirty million Americans came to take antidepressants at an annual cost of 10 billion dollars, this is the book for you.

MD mixes together personal memoir, case histories (Greenberg’s a practicing therapist), intellectual and business history, and guerilla journalism (he shows up as a mischievous patient in a clinical trial).

WHY SHOULD YOU READ IT?

Greenberg’s attack on the disease model is blistering, rambling and often funny.

With its interlocking narratives, it almost like you get 4 books for the price of one.

Historical case. The disease model was not foreordained or inevitable, but represents the coming together of big pharma and the cultural needs of the late 20th century. Greenberg delights in the irony that discredited treatments in the early 20th century such as insulin coma therapy and lobotomy set the stage for the magic pharmaceutical bullets.

Science case. Greenberg hammers home the differences between depression and bona fide diseases like cancer, diabetes, or flu. Unlike the latter, there remains no reliable biological marker of depression, or a validated theory of the biology that produces its symptoms. He covers the sad history of failed attempts to establish a biological basis of depression, from black bile to serotonin.

Clinical case. Greenberg points out that medications don't work well enough to be considered magic bullets. For example, the antidepressants beat placebo in only about half of clinical trials.

Humanist case. Greenberg objects to DSM's one-size-fits-all checklist - how the diagnoses rendered with this system stunt the experience and expression of psychological suffering. Where is the place for experience in the biomedical model that treats consciousness as "merely the steam rising offthe amino-acid-rich neurochemical soup that roils in dumb silence in your head?" As a practicing psychotherapist, he objects to how the disease model preempts the potentially redemptive power of self-exploration. He worries that if we call our misery a disease, we won't bother to try to fashion our past and present troubles into a coherent narrative. He worries that calling pessimism the symptom of an illness leads us to turn over our discontents to the medical industry and to surrender perhaps the most important portion of our autonomy, especially if our feelings of pessimism are"an ally at a time of crisis?"

ANY NEGATIVES?

MD is entertaining but it's not light reading. It's a real intellectual history.  The story jumps around from germ theory, the transformation of German synthetic dye companies into pharmaceutical industry titans, and the numerous turf wars between psychiatrists, psychologists, and neurologists who fight about what is mental illness and who gets to diagnose and treat it. Some readers might find the range of topics to be dazzling. Other readers might find this approach to be a bit dizzying.

Greenberg’s book is more about demolishing an idea than creating one. It leaves unresolved a big question: If depression isn't a disease, then what is it?

OVERALL 

One of the most thoughtful books on depression ever written. Mind expanding. 

HOW TO GET IT 

Links to buy the book in the USA, Canada, UK, GermanyFrance, Italy, and Spain.


Depression Army participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In practical terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, Depression Army will get a small percentage of its price. That helps support Depression Army and helps us cover the expenses of maintaining this site. We very much appreciate your support.

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