Book Review: Down, Not Out

Down, Not Out Chris Cipollone Book Review

This is a very honest, very helpful book.

From near the end of the book, a paragraph that hit me like a sack of bricks, but in a good way.

If you break your leg, you can expect to be on crutches for 6-8 weeks. After that, you’ll probably be back to walking and running as before. But if you’re living with depression or anxiety, you don’t get a specific timeframe. You don’t know how long it’s going to impact your life. It could ease after a few weeks or months – but it may not

As someone who’s been wrestling with depression and some related issues for a few years in a row now, and on and off for my entire ‘adult’ life before that, this book has been a restorative read. It is a book that takes seriously both the importance and skill (not to mention the fact it is a beautiful example of God’s goodness to us) of the medical profession, medication and psychiatry, and the radical truth that God can and does heal today. This is a practical book – but not one that makes you feel guilty for not doing anything, or doing ‘enough’. It is a good book for ‘sufferers’ and for those who suffer/care with and alongside us.

Despite the modern packaging, cool young author, and thoroughly sensible set of endorsements and recommendations, this is perhaps one of the most practically helpful books I’ve read about/around Christianity and Mental health. There are four reasons:

  • It is painfully honest – Chris, the author, starts the book on a hospital floor. Not your local A and E/ER, but a psychiatric hospital. As someone who has flirted with a range of medical options and treatments, just reading that this author was in that place (a place I’ve never been and hope never to be) was powerfully cathartic. The book is littered with relevant personal stories – not to drum up sympathy, but to underline what he is saying.
  • It is practically readable – as well as being written in an accessible and engaging style, the structure of this book is also helpful. As in, really helpful. On my worst days with depression or anxiety, I find it incredibly hard to read a long chapter, or follow a line of argument through a book. This book knows that, and so each of the chapters is short, clear, and practical. The titles are clear – if you want to, you can just pick the thing you want to read about (Suicide, community, medication, healing, prayer, whatever) and go straight there. The book is designed to be read all the way through – but it is also readable enough for those of us who forget something, or want to think about one particular thing.
  • It is biblically biblical – I’ve written before about what it might actually mean to be ‘biblical’. I think this book does this – by avoiding taking verse out of context, by wrestling with some of the stranger prayers of heroes of the faith like Jeremiah and Job – and does this well. Down, Not Out reads well – the Bible is the soundtrack that is quoted from, as well as the underlying authority, rather than a random invader or distant reference point. Chris is really good at tying each reference he makes to what what he’s actually talking about.
  • It is rooted in Gospel identity – whilst it can (as I’ve alluded to above) be read in chunks, Down, Not Out has a consistent theme running through it – are you leaning into your Gospel identity? This underpins the book powerfully, and the constant reminder is a balm to a troubled mind.

Let me close with an extended quotation from the last few pages of the book, where Chris closes with this powerful meditation on Mark 12:v41-44, where Jesus is talking about the widow’s mite:

Jesus’ observations are both shocking and stunning. Shocking, because everyone else is justifying themselves by exterior performance. And stunning, because once again we’re reminded of God’s compassionate, loving heart.

Emotionally speaking, you may have just two copper coins to give on any given day. To everyone else, your life may look unimpressive. Others may wonder what’s happened to you. They may even pass judgement. But consider the message of the widow – Christ has such compassion on his children. Honour him with what you have, whether it’s much or little. 

You may spend your two coins by getting out of bed tomorrow morning and having a shower. You could spend them in five minutes of prayer. Or perhaps it’s making an appointment with a psychologist for the very first time. But know that even with two coins – especially with two coins – your opportunities to worship the one who loves you are significant. Slowly and surely, your reserves will build, and with that increased currency your purpose remains the same – to love and worship the one who has given you everything, not least of all life itself.

You are loved.

You can probably tell I liked this book.

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