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Monday 28 November 2011

Sadness Is All Around.

I, like many people across the UK, was shocked to hear of the very sad death of the footballer Gary Speed on Sunday.
It appears from reports that, tragically, Gary Speed took his own life.

It took a while for this to sink in as i'd only seen him on BBC's live Football Focus show the previous lunchtime and he appeared to be his normal self. I had to check to make sure that it was actually the same person. Unfortunately, it was.

This news made me pose the question, how could a man that i'd seen, apparently full of life, decide to end that life, at the very young age of 42, just a few hours later?

A possible clue came from a blog post from another ex footballer, Stan Collymore. In this blog post, which was rather scarily written in the early hours of Saturday morning, Stan Collymore speaks about his own struggles with depression.
I have seen it suggested, although i have no way of verifying this, that depression may have been a factor in Gary Speed's death.

Thankfully, i have never knowingly had any contact with depression myself, or with anyone suffering from it. Therefore, i am completely unqualified to talk about it. You only have to read Stan Collymore's blog post to realise how outward appearences can be deceptive and also how misunderstood the condition can be.
So, i will leave that discussion to those who are far more qualified.

On the radio this morning though, during the sports report, they were talking about an annual sports book prize, that is being awarded today. Coincidently, one of the books shortlisted is a biography of the German footballer, Robert Enke, who also took his own life, due to depression, in 2009.
(Update: The book about Robert Enke, "A Life Too Short" by Ronald Reng, won the William Hill Sports Book Of The Year Award for 2011)

During the course of the conversation it was suggested that sad and tragic events might be easier to write about than happier ones. This was not meant, in any way, to lessen the nature of the stories. But, this reminded me of another discussion i had heard recently about a completely unrelated subject, music.

Some of the best and most effective music you will ever hear, is written around sad circumstances.
The Blues is called that for a very good reason and where would Country music be without sadness and loss? There is that often told joke about playing a Country song backwards and everything becoming right with the world once again.

So often, it is those songs about love, loss and sadness that affect us the most. Possibly because we can all relate to them at some level?
I'm sure that you can think of your own examples. But, i'll give you some of my own.

For example, The Smiths built a whole career around the often bleak lyrics written by Morrissey.
The singer/songwriter John Martyn, who had many issues of his own, often wrote songs about the sad side of life, until his own untimely death in 2009.
A personal favourite musician of mine, Nick Drake also took his own life because of depression, way back in 1974. Nick Drake even wrote a song called "Black Eyed Dog", which contains lyrics all about the so called 'Black Dog', an often used expression used to describe depression.
The song contains the words, "A black eyed dog he called at my door...... A black eyed door he knew my name".
And how can you leave off of this list, possibly the grandaddy of them all, Leonard Cohen?

Winston Churchill, often thought of as the greatest Briton that ever lived, suffered from depression himself and often referred to "his black dog". Here's a quote from Churchill which gives some insight to how he somtimes felt:
"I don't like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train. I don't like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second's action would end everything. A few drops of desperation."

All of this just goes to show that there is often far more sadness in the world than we care to admit exists, or are even aware of.
Depression and sadness may well have inspired some of the greatest art and music in history. But, it may also mask, or hide something far sadder that it is lurking, just below the surface. Even in the most gifted, talented and outwardly confident people.

It sometimes takes the sad and tragic death of a well known and respected sportsman like Gary Speed, or Robert Enke to make us realise that.

NHS - Depression:
Depression Allaince:
Depression UK:
Black Dog Institute:

(I thought long and hard about whether to upload this blog post. As i didn't know whether it was right to link the recent death of a much loved sportsman, with the effect of sadness and depression on music. I would hate anybody to think that i am taking depression lightly. That is the furthest thing from my mind. Hopefully, i have made the correct choice?)


  1. Again, no expert here either, but I'd say that true depression - the sort that leads to suicide - goes well beyond even the greatest sadness to desperation. One can be sad, but still have hope. At least, one hopes so.

    Still, good blog post, and don't worry about offending anybody. It's your blog and you're allowed to post whatever connections your mind comes up with.

  2. Hmm I have one of these things but never post on it. Set it up a year ago almost to the day when I was full of inspiration after returning from Canada. Maybe I should start posting. Who knows where it might lead, and I could do with some Californian T shirts

  3. I have quite a lot of experience with Depression.

    Often people who don't have experience with depression don't quite understand that depression isn't the same thing as feeling blue or sad. People suffering from depression frequently don't present themselves as blue or sad.

    Depression is an illness that distorts ones perceptions (interpretations) and reasoning abilities (Cognitive Distortions). Magnify the negative and minimize the positive is one example of a cognitive distortion; mind reading is another example (assuming that someone is mad at you or doesn't like you etc.). The distorted interpretations and reasoning abilities tend to compound and intensify until they spiral out of control.

    People suffering from depression frequently see themselves as a failure or useless accompanied with thoughts of suicide. The act of suicide is rarely carefully planed out but is usually an impulsive act (your quote from Churchill eludes to that impulsiveness).


  4. Ken: Thanks. You're right of course. We should all do with our blogs etc exactly what we want. After all they are our own personal space & if people don't like it, they can go elsewhere :)

  5. Clyde: Thanks for your comment and thanks also for the explanation. Your point about the lack of understanding is a very valid one. It's very hard for a non sufferer to have any idea what a sufferer is actually going through.
    I'll be honest and say that i wasn't aware of the impulsive suicide acts. But that does make sense and explains a lot. I have dealt with the aftermath of suicides myself in the past and have often wondered why a person would have done it.

  6. Tsimshian Wind: Give it a go, You never know you might like it. T.Shirts always come in handy don't they? ;)

  7. So much to chew on here, Andy. By the way, to me your blog seems respectful and sensitive. Your discussion of music put me in mind of Tolstoy's remark: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

    This morning I was browsing this evening's television schedule and noticed this movie: "Holiday Wishes - A spoiled, wealthy child and a girl in an orphanage magically switch bodies."

    If you were a director and could tell only one of these stories, which would it be? Of course, watching the girl from the orphanage delivered into the lap of luxury might be heartwarming, especially if she was a sympathetic character which I'm pretty sure she would be. But I think eventually you'd have to have a fly in the ointment to make the story interesting. But having the spoiled, wealthy child sprung into the impoverished and circumscribed world of the orphanage, now there's a story you can sink your teeth into.

    Of course, I'm guessing most sad songs aren't written in such a calculated manner. The best ones are inspired by genuine emotions. As a journal keeper of many years, I know I often write an entry when I'm feeling down or confused or angry. It's cathartic to just write down the facts as I seem them, without analysis, though there is often some attempt at that as well. If things are going swimmingly, I'm probably not writing in the journal much. I suspect that's the case with many artists: their suffering is the inspiration for their art.

    If I remember correctly, brain science has something to say about this. Apparently the stress hormone cortisol makes it more likely we'll remember stressful events. Probably an evolutionary benefit there. Some people tend to secrete more cortisol, more readily than others and, as a result—so the hypothesis goes—have a larger, more available store of unpleasant memories on which to draw. I wonder if that might go some way toward explaining the higher incidence of depression/mental illness among artists. Probably too simplistic.

    Incidentally, thanks so much for promoting my video. Yesterday saw the most activity I've had on my YouTube channel in four years!

  8. Dugal: I'm pleased that you felt the tone of this blog was right.
    Interesting point about cortisol and its effects. That may well explain certain aspects of what i was talking about. Also your point about suffering as inspiration for art. That's what i was trying to get at really. Your own experience of writing down more on bad days, than good ones also rings true.
    Good to hear that your video/poem is getting the attention that it deserves :)