Reviews of Angels in the Wilderness

Catholic Times Review

Here is a book which moves from darkness towards the light! Simply look at its cover. A grey and black image of tangled barbed wire, drooping leaves and a blank label are shattered by bright yellow petals, proclaiming that darkness need not be all-consuming. Is this not the message that anybody trapped by depression wants to hear: that it is possible to break free from doom and gloom to find a new beginning? Angels in the Wilderness: Hope and Healing in Depression attempts to offer such hope.

A superficial examination of the book reveals a progression through its images. Barbed wire against a dark brown background makes way for plants showing new growth and full colour, eclipsing the barbed wire which cannot choke and destroy their loveliness. (I am no expert, but I think the flowers are Bird of Paradise plants, a detail which has its own usefulness considering the theme of the book.) There is a similar change in the labels which also appear throughout the book: they change from anonymous grey through to white and from blank to bearing helpful Scripture references.

There is a big difference between ‘feeling depressed’ and ‘depression’, which has clinical symptoms and causes and affects 8-12 percent of the UK population in any given year. Katharine Smith is open and honest about her own battles against the choking snares of depression. The beauty of this book is that, having ‘been there, done that’, she does not trivialise something that can have a devastating effect on the life of an individual. There is a real sense that she is walking with the reader in the same way in which someone accompanied her on her journey to healing. She does not say, “Snap out of it”, because she knows that this is an impossible demand which only generates even more pain and frustration.

The last thing that any depressed person needs is a personal story which says, “I know how you feel because this is how I felt and my story is much harder than yours.” Smith avoids making that mistake by telling just enough of her own tale for the reader to glimpse that she is writing from hard-earned personal experience through which she has learned to empathise with others facing a similar uphill struggle. Thus she knows to keep the paragraphs short, the language simple and the content practical because someone who is suffering from depression is likely to find it difficult to concentrate for long periods and is more than likely to be dismissive of a book which does not touch and soothe the hurt. Thus there is nothing complicated about Angels in the Wilderness and much that is comforting.

Smith’s deep religious faith helped her to continue working towards health and healing. She recognised that God was there for her even if she could not always see God acting in her life. Thus Angels in the Wilderness is permeated with helpful references and quotations from Scripture. Yet she also shows, through using the style of a diary, how it is entirely possible, in a depressed state, to read Scripture and convert it into a tale of personal woe. Courageously, she recognises that some people suffering from depression are also likely to consider suicide and ‘calls a spade a spade’, listing the reasons that an individual might use to justify suicide. Smith is very practical and directs the reader to the compassionate help available, not only through loved ones, but also through the Samaritans, whose contact details she supplies on the same page.

Many people carry a distorted image of Jesus as a result of one or other life experience. Not everybody can relate to the ‘meek and mild’ idea. When suffering from depression, the crucifixion might even make things worse. That is why Smith suggests reflecting on the Gospel stories of Jesus casting out demons and telling the sick “I want you to be healed.” She encourages her reader to hang on to his words, “I am with you” even when it might feel that he is absent. “God longs for us to be well.”

During clinical depression, life can seem out of control and it might be very hard to believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel; that, after crucifixion and the tomb, there is resurrection. Angels in the Wilderness shows that there is no need to expect immediate transformation and perfection. Life will continue to be a struggle, but gradually, things will improve. It might seem as if one step backwards accompanies every two steps forward. Recovery might be slow, but it is also possible: “There are two mornings in one week when we wake up and that wave of hopelessness and dread doesn’t immediately wash over us.”

Angels in the Wilderness is a little gem of a book. It is sensitive, compassionate and practical. It is a gentle support on the road to recovery, beautifully produced and has hope ‘writ large’ on every page.

Review from the GoodBookStall website

Katharine Smith has written this book ‘to bring hope and courage to all those who suffer in the wilderness of depression, and those who live with them and love them’. She has herself suffered from a life time of living in that ‘Wilderness’

She describes the feelings of someone suffering from clinical depression and the effects it can have on every minute of their days. Day after day after day, there is no quick fix for this illness – but there is hope! As we travel the journey with Katherine as our guide she becomes an understanding friend to sufferer and carer alike. She describes the effects on her own life and introduces relevant Bible quotations and then Bible themes and stories which she then interprets for us relating them to the experience of depression. The final chapter ‘The Day of Resurrection’ I found very moving: the joy of others at Eastertide that can make someone with this illness feel even worse; but then comes the hope, the description of slow recovery, showing sufferer and carers alike recovery is possible. Set out in a way that can be read in short pieces for those who cannot manage more, with descriptive yet simple illustrations that express the anguish of those involved, this is a very special book.

Review from the Sign and Home Words

Congratulations to all involved in this book: not only the author, who writes openly about living with depression, but also the editor, designer, and publisher for having the confidence and insight to make this such a striking book. The illustrations – barbed wire, little tie on labels with verses from Mark’s Gospel, and Bird of Paradise flowers – convey the book’s meaning as much as the words. And they tell you about Smith’s life: the intractability of the barbed wire, the fragility of the little labels with which God’s word is attached to the wire, and then finally the flowers, spiky and unexpected and yet beautiful. Smith describes how her hold on life seemed to be severed, how one day she started to cry and couldn’t stop. The depression that followed made work impossible, and she describes something of what that is like. The book then shifts, and she works through passages in St Mark, discussing how Jesus responded to the damaged people he encountered, such as the demoniac found raging among the tombs.

And then, of course, there is Christ’s death and resurrection. A key point Smith makes is that, in the Good Friday of depression, you have no inkling that Easter Day is coming. Her encouragement is that it is possible to make little resurrection steps out of the depths, and that the inevitable steps backwards, discouraging though they are, do not send you back to the bottom. A compassionate and encouraging book.

Review by Sylvia (from RP Books website)

I am not a sufferer of depression myself, but I come from the perspective of a puzzled and saddened family member. As such, I found the book really illuminating. It is so helpful to read in the introduction that the writer, who is a Christian, has herself been through these experiences. From the point of view of a carer, that authenticity is so helpful.

The author makes no false attempt to change the feelings of the sufferer, but offers Jesus’ healing in a clear and simple way. In particular, the image of depression as a journey through the wilderness is such a positive one: it implies movement, travel and progress towards ultimate healing; this in contrast to the stagnant, trapped and hopeless feelings involved in depression.

The presentation of the book is excellent, so in keeping with the theme. The stark use of images is very appropriate, and the layout is clear and uncluttered. The use of short, separate paragraphs, emphasised by changes in colour and font, are most attractive when concentration on regular dense text is difficult or nigh impossible.

I was delighted to have received this book as a gift, and can’t wait to pass it on to my daughter, who is caring for her depressed bipolar husband. I pray that it will bring them both hope and comfort as they journey together.

Commentary on parts of St Mark’s gospel

You don’t need to suffer from depression, or even know someone who does, to benefit from this book. Beautifully presented, it is a meeting with Jesus as described by St Mark. A meeting with God who longs to reach out in sympathy and with healing love. I sent a copy to my sister who suffers from schizophrenia, and she found it helpful. I’ve bought another copy for our oldest son who is a parish priest and school chaplain. A useful tool on the bookshelf.