Kate Armstrong’s debut novel, The Storyteller, is a compelling, innovative and at times disturbing tale of depression, recovery, and the fragility of the stories we tell ourselves. A young woman wakes up, paralysed by depression, in a psychiatric hospital; we follow her faltering, dreamlike steps back into life, but there’s a twist. Her story is being told by another patient who has her own ideas about what makes a good narrative…
I sat down with Kate in St James’s Park in central London to talk about her book and the experiences which led her to write it. We talked about life, breakdowns, hope, art, love and everything in between. We compared notes on our experiences of depression and how it manifests; how it’s possible to have imposter syndrome even about your own mental health (was I suicidal enough?); why it can actually be a relief to end up in hospital; what ‘asylums’ are all about; and the difficulty of communicating what these experiences are like to people who haven’t experienced them.
The recent explosion of articles in the mainstream media about depression and anxiety can make it seem like a modern epidemic, but the fact is it’s all entirely normal. We talk about the history of ‘melancholy’ and other, older ideas of mental health issues, and wonder whether the medicalisation and endless prescriptions are an improvement on cultures of acceptance of different kinds of behaviour. Being ill, mentally as well as physically, is part of being human. Instead of rejecting these states, we need to find a balance between accepting and treating them.
This is the kind of conversation that needs to happen in the open and be heard by more and more people. Depression isn’t rare and isn’t something to be ashamed of or hidden away. But more than that: we need to talk about how it feels, not only so other sufferers don’t feel alone, but also to help people who’ve never experienced it understand how they can help their loved ones.
This is the third episode of ‘Talking the Walk’, the show that brings you conversations with interesting people doing cool and unusual things. We’ll talk about life, people, philosophy, music, politics… Quality pub conversations with a microphone, in short.
Many thanks to Tom McRae for the beautiful theme music!SUBSCRIBE on iTunes
What we get into:
- The perils of imposter syndrome
- What do we even mean by ‘depression’?
- Dreams and fiction
- Academia, isolation, and mental illness
- Learning when to stop and how to spot your warning signs
- The place of drugs in treating mental illnesses
- The very recent end of asylums in Britain
- Exercise, yoga and mental health
- Would we take depression out of our lives if we had the option?
- The connections between spiritual experiences and different kinds of illness
- Why, given the choice, Kate wouldn’t press a button to get rid of her depression
Mentioned in the Episode:
- The work of Andrew Marvel
- And of John Donne
- Iain Banks’s novel, Complicity
- Barbara Taylor’s book,The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in Our Times
- Matt Haig’s excellent book, Reasons to Stay Alive
- Stephen Fry’s documentary on depression: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, Part 1 and Part 2
- Kate’s most gifted book: William Golding, The Spire