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Web of Stories offers you the chance to listen to some of the greatest people of our time telling their life stories.

The butterfly effect

Benoît Mandelbrot


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I had the shotgun in my mouth

Redmond O'Hanlon - Writer

Well, I just thought it was just ordinary depression, which is a bit depressing, but then the wonderful new drugs, Fluoxetine and Prozac and so on, really didn't seem to work. Look, it's only a month ago.

Anyway, Lithium. God, astonishing. I mean, it sort of returns you to yourself. You feel you have a backbone. You feel you're not entirely empty inside. You're not afraid of suddenly having wild enthusiasms: I'll read that, I'll do this, I'll do the other, which apparently, when you get older, that's what happens. You know, early on, it's a fantastic advantage. You have three months up and you pay for that wonderful productivity with three weeks of total misery, that's all.

You just need to keep away from everybody for three weeks. Whereas it became more and more rapid, so in the course of a day you'd feel really fucking miserable, and then... Books of entirely different worlds would seem exciting, one after the other. Well, that stopped all that. The depressions, you feel that your parents were right, that you are completely worthless in every way. And that what you really should do, given that conviction, and every depressive thinks what they're thinking is true, you know, people... ordinary people, normal people, happy people just haven't yet got the truth. That's what's another terrible thing about it: your truth is a hundred times as powerful as anybody who thinks it's a lovely day and they're off to see their girlfriend. You're the only one who knows. And then you think: but this is infectious, this depression, and that's not right. What I must really do is go away, make space for other people to develop, and this would be the most wonderful, charitable, kindest, most loving thing that you could do. By going away, of course, it means blowing your head off, and it means killing yourself as soon as you possibly can. And if you don't do that, you're also a coward, as well as everything else. And this... you know, you wake up day after day and that seems to be it. Yes, I took the shotgun out down to the river and had it in my mouth. It's a long barrel, 36-inch, a wonderful BSA, actually made for the Indian army. But it's perfectly easy to pull the trigger, all that's bullshit. Of course you can.

But I never had the final conviction. So, I mean, sheepishly, I brought it back. And then I told that story on Desert Island Discs, and the Oxford... I mean, it's really impressive, they listen to Radio Four, came around and took my shotgun away. 'Where is it then, lad? We can't have that'.

[Q] The police?

Yes, and I had to give it to the gamekeeper.

Oliver Sacks - Scientist
Philip Roth - Writer
Donald Hall - Poet