What to Expect...
Well... where do I start with this book? I guess I could start by describing the emotions I experienced throughout the reading process. Emotions like; sadness, anger, happiness, guilt, and joy. These are some of the ways this book made me feel, the rest is difficult to articulate. Difficult not because it was a bad experience, in fact, it’s far from that. Instead, it is because the experience was very subjective. This book will stir something different up for each reader.
A Look at the Content...
This memoir follows David from December 1999 to May 2007. It begins with David describing his time at University, specifically, University of Utah.
Originally from Gothenburg, Sweden, David moved to America to pursue higher level education. He lived in student accommodation with his wife Kersti, and two boys, Andreas, and Alex.
This particular time in his life was full of stress, anxiety, and monumental uncertainty. As a result, this manifested in physical sensations, such as; sharp pains in his ribs and chest, numbness in his left arm, an inability to breathe, nausea, and being sick. All of which are indicative of a panic attack.
'To put bluntly: this book was outstanding. Very few people can convey feelings like Mr Sandum does'
However, David was unaware of this, and instead internalised the idea of impending doom, more often than not believing he had something seriously wrong with him. Many of these issues were brought on by his circumstances at the time: David worked full-time, studied full-time, experienced little to no sleep, and had exam finals and graduation, all on top of providing for his family.
It was at this point David began to experience the crippling effects of anxiety. Originally assumed to be a result of overworking - David was clueless to the grips of depression and anxiety - even going as far as denying their very existence. The line between sadness and mental health was a tough one for David to walk.
The aforementioned insight is a snippet into, what was, David Sandum's world. Over the course of eight years David takes you on a journey filled with irrefutable darkness, wisdom, and inspiration.
To put bluntly: this book was outstanding. Very few people can convey feelings like Mr Sandum does. The combination of a well-written narrative joined with visual depictions, allows the reader a unique sense of immersion. His ability to express such subjective and abstract concepts into a written narrative is nothing short of extraordinary.
While reading this book - you feel! You feel everything. You feel the elation he experiences when the depression lifts enough for him to enjoy being with his two boys. You feel the catharsis he experienced when painting: a desire that consumed him and acted as an outlet to cope with his depression and anxiety. You feel the pain he felt when he lost those close to him. You feel the overwhelming darkness caused by the depression and anxiety that infected him to his very core, leading to intense suicidal thoughts and one suicide attempt.
"The combination of a well-written narrative joined with visual depictions, allows the reader a unique sense of immersion."
From a personal perspective, paintings have never been something that instilled any sense of enjoyment within me. However, after reading this book, I have a new found appreciation towards artistic expression. I have caught myself looking at paintings and wondering what David would see, or what others would see. I think that's the unique thing about art that has taken me this long to understand - the same piece of artwork can stimulate a different experience dependent on the person viewing it.
"Depression had to be the only illness that stripped its victims of any desire to get better."
Many believe depression to be a 'state of mind'. However, David's quote is an example of how debilitating it can be. So much so that the lethargy accompanied with depression sabotages any motivation you have.
"A diagnosis labels you just as much as your race, gender, or religion does. A wrong diagnosis by the right people can have dire consequences. Yet by the same token, a diagnosis can provide answers, construct a framework, and help establish self-identity. As such, it can be both a terrible wrong and a huge blessing."
This quote highlights the precarious nature of diagnosing people. Much like David illustrates: on the one hand, a wrong diagnosis can not only become a self-fulfilling prophecy, it can carry a stigma with it too. However on the other hand, an accurate diagnoses can demystify what you're going through and provide some justification for what you are feeling.
Take home message...
Light… that is how I conceptualise this book. The idea that light that can appear at the end of a tunnel, no matter how dark that tunnel may be.
"Having a book that translates the tangled web of thoughts that disturb those with anxiety and depression into something more tangible, is the beginning of a movement that will chip away at the stigma surrounding mental health."
This book can relate to both those with and without mental health issues. It can inspire those who are struggling, finding comfort in knowing they are not alone – and that things can get better. And as for those who don’t struggle with mental illness, it acts as a platform, a platform that can educate and help one to reach a higher level of compassion. Having a book that translates the tangled web of thoughts that disturb those with anxiety and depression into something more tangible, is the beginning of a movement that will chip away at the stigma surrounding mental health.
David Sandum is an inspiration. He overcame the challenges that life threw at him and achieved his dream: that is - to become an artist. David has accumulated a large virtual audience through Twitter and founded a charity fundraiser called 'TwitterArtExhibit', it's a fantastic cause and I encourage anyone reading this to go and take a look.
You can purchase the book here
Craig has a degree in psychology and is studying a Doctorate in Counselling Psychology and Psychotherapy. He also works as a Therapeutic Mental Health Worker and is an accredited Group Facilitator. Craig enjoys engaging in psychological topics and shares them on here in his website. You can get in touch with Craig via Twitter