Dave Burt is a successful businessman who lives in Auckland and Lengthening the Shadow is his first book. This is an insightful and invaluable account of fighting back against depression. Dave talks to NZ Booklovers.
Tell us a little about your Lengthening the Shadow.
After five years of health issues and seventeen surgeries, depression slid into my life. Slowly at first so you don’t really know it’s there. Then it became so big it affected not only me but the ones I care the most about. During that five year period I also started to get fat. A food baby started growing. A bit like depression, slowly at first so you kind of get used to it. When I was physically well again I signed up for a ten week “Ultimate Body Transformation Challenge” at a local gym. The book is set to the backdrop of the ten weeks. I was 55, unfit and taking on a tough regime that included cross fit. I’m a guy that can barely co-ordinate walking and chewing gum at the same time so I knew it would be tough. The book follows the ten week journey to getting fit and also becoming mentally well – and having hope and belief my world would get better. It did get better. Despite the subject matter I don’t take myself too seriously!
What inspired you to write this book?
I spent the best part of five years consumed with hiding my depression. I was concerned what others might think. Essentially I was part of the problem. When I thought about it, I’d really want to know if a mate or someone close to me was doing it tough. As blokes, we are particularly bad at talking about real stuff. I think that is borne out in the statistics. I decided that I wanted to change that, and maybe it’s just we need the tools to be able to look out for our mates. I think that’s where having a phrase such as, “What’s happening in your world?” that could be like a password to let people know that they can be real with you – that you won’t judge them or try to fix them. I thought if what helped me, could make a difference for others then why not. I also had the view if the book could let those who had no idea what depression was really like understand a bit more, it may make it easier for them to be able to help others should the situation arise.
What research was involved?
Very little. It’s not like writing a novel where there is copious amounts of research and character development. This was just whatever was in my head each day. I suppose that’s why book wanders from subject to subject. It’s quite surprising where your mind will take you when you give it time gallop free.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
Definitely the first morning of the gym challenge was a three kilometre run. When I got home there was a bunch of stuff rattling around in my head so I wrote them down in a note book by my bed. The next morning the same thing happened. Wednesday was a six k run, so there was a lot more to go in the note book. That night I read the notes from the past few days. I opened my laptop and started writing. I did that every day for a week. At the end of the week when I read what I had written I guess some of it started to make sense of what had occurred over the past few years. I decided I’d write every day and see where it would lead. I think I probably wrote 62 out of the 70 days of the gym challenge. There was a period of about eight days where the depression bit back – it does that sometimes. In the quiet of the night someone, or something unlocks the cage and lets it out and I just have to deal with that. The difference is now, I have belief that I can deal with it and it will get better. I’d like to think everyone who experiences depression could have that hope.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
Certainly nothing that included gym Music! Probably, I can see clearly now.
What do you hope people will take away from reading the book?
That those who experience depression might have hope that their world will get better. That those who haven’t, understand a bit more about it and what it is like, and that they possess the power to give hope.
I’ve had a lot of feedback from people that they can relate to much of what I’ve written. It’s natural to want to hide stuff away, we all worry what others might think of us. I’d like to think that in some ways the book normalises dealing with the tough situations. Although normal is not a word I’m fond of. We are all unique. If we all got that bit better at looking out for those we care for, and our mates. And, that everyone dealing with depression and anxiety had belief that that their world will get better.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
Funny thing, I guess I haven’t. In some ways I was a bit nervous because a bunch of people are now finding out something they hadn’t expected from me. I was pretty good at masking my depression. Note to self – celebrate finishing the book.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt kid, by Bill Bryson. I know it’s not a new book but I hadn’t read it. I love his writing style and the way he expresses his view of the world. Laugh out loud stuff that in some ways we can all relate to.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I completed a novel last year. It took me over eight years to write. It’s edited and ready to go so I will do something about that. I have two more on the go and plan to have at least one finished by the years end. My day job does tend to get in the way.