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Alastair Campbell

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Alastair Campbell is a writer, communicator and strategist. He is best known for his role as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman, press secretary and director of c...

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What is depression?

I think my definition of depression is mine. I'm not an expert on depression. I'm an expert on my depression, and so all I can really say is that for me, depression is the state of mind. You get into when things that normally have meaning and things that normally give pleasure and things that normally give hope and optimism don't. That's why I would say it goes way beyond being sad or miserable or fed up. And the way I assess whether I am depressed as opposed to just feeling a bit low and a bit fed up is, am I feeling it physically? I think there are physical manifestations to depression and the sense of being hollowed out inside. And then also, is my work being affected? Are my relationships being affected? Is my sleep being affected? So that's my depression. Other people will have their own.

What does it feel like to have depression?

When I'm fine. When I'm feeling fine, I would still argue that I'm a depressive. So I can be feeling absolutely wonderful, but I can still say to myself, you are a depressive. You get depression. When I'm depressed. In a state of active depression, it doesn't always feel the same, but there are certain patterns that I recognise, that sense of emptiness, the feeling literally that you've been hollowed out and that makes you feel not just physically empty but empty. You've got no energy, you've got no drive, things that are normally of interest, you just can't be bothered with them. And there's an intensity to that that is very, very, very hard to describe. And I would say the other thing I'd say about my depression is that it has a feel, it has a look, it has a texture. Often comes to me when I wake up, so I'll wake up possibly after a bit of a troubled night sleep, but I wake up and I am conscious of a physical presence up there, up towards the ceiling. It is like a little cloud, and it is not as amorphous as a cloud. It is usually shaped like a quite large rugby ball, but its texture is very kind of nebulous and cloudy. And for years I used to fight it and talk to it and tell it to fuck off and leave me alone and go away and die. And I'd talk to it in recent years. When it happens, I just say, okay, come on. Then when you come on in, and I know that I'm going to go into depressed state probably for a few days, and it then feels like this cloud is coming down and it enters my head and it sort of works its way right down through my body and my legs feel heavy and my arms feel heavy and my head feels heavy, and I have no desire to get out of bed. Now I do tend to get out of bed. It's very rare that I'll just stay there all day. It sometimes happens, but I tend to force myself to get out of bed. And then it's just like something that you are carrying with you all day. It's heavy weight. You, the cloud's gone now the cloud's kind of inside, so there's nothing you can feel or pick up. But if you imagine in the days before wheelie bags, when If you were travelling, you had those really big heavy suitcases. Imagine carrying a couple of them and you've got a huge, great backpack and it's full of weight. That's how it feels. And there's a sort of desolation and desperation to it because even though your rational mind knows, and I know I've been through this before, I've seen it off before. I've come through it before. When you are in it each time, you feel like it's going to be like this forever. So that's roughly how it feels. It's not always the same though.

How long have you suffered with depression?

I honestly don't know the answer to the question how long I've had depression. And I think it's difficult sometimes to differentiate between sadness and something that is in danger of becoming an illness that might require treatment, might require medication, might require going to see a specialist to talk about it. And I don't imagine there's a child anywhere in the world who hasn't got some sort of memories of sadness and of feeling pain. So I don't know if, when I think back to some of those memories that I might have, whether that was depression or just the normal ups and downs of childhood, the first time I was conscious of having something that other people called depression, IE doctors was probably in my late twenties, early thirties. And that was after I had a breakdown and I had a psychotic breakdown and was hospitalised and advised to stop drinking. And I did stop drinking for 13 years. I didn't touch it. And of course when you've had that identified as the problem, the problem is that you drink too much. You have a drink problem. And when you focus on that problem and you crack that problem, I am not drinking. And after a while, even the urge to drink disappeared, then it doesn't mean that you've necessarily addressed the problems that led to the problem. So the question that I didn't maybe address when I was recovering from a drink problem was why did I develop it in the first place? And what I now think, I don't know this, but what I now think is that maybe I was drinking to deal with depression, that I was denying the thing about alcohol. A lot of people turn to alcohol when they're feeling down and it gives you a momentary feeling of feeling better. And it can also help you to blot out everything else that's going on. So that might've been depression, but I certainly, both myself and medical people that I spoke to at the time, we basically treated it as an alcohol problem. And after the breakdown and feeling very kind of proud of myself that I've stopped drinking, I've managed to rebuild my career, I've, my partner, Fiona has stayed with me. She then got pregnant, had her first child, and I'm starting to think, oh, I've cracked all this and I'm on the mend. I'm big time on the mend. But then these quite dark moods, they still came. And that made me really pissed off that I've done what I thought was the hard work. But the depressions kept coming. But I was still in denial though I didn't actually, apart from the psychiatrist I saw in hospital and in 1986, and another psychiatrist that I saw at the Mosley, to whom I took an instant dislike and I walked out halfway through the first session. I didn't see another psychiatrist until 2005. So during that period, I was going through depressive episodes, but basically being in denial of them.

Is depression with you all the time?

What caused your depression?