Cancer and depression

Which is worse, cancer or depression? The answer is clear. Depression is worse: depression makes you want to die and cancer doesn’t.

I’ve spent all my adult life with depression lurking. I haven’t mentioned it to very many people at all.  For the first ten years I talked about it to nobody at all, for the next decade only Gill and therapists. I have not wanted to be dismissed as a weak and worthless person.  But I have been hugely comforted when other people have talked about depression so this blog is me trying to give back. I was inspired by the Norwegian Prime Minister – Prime minister! – who announced in 1998 that he was ill with depression and needed to take some time off, which he did and then returned to complete a successful term in office.

My depression has taken cyclical form with a nine month bout every three years. I worked this out in the late 1990s. It was then possible to start seeing it as a medical issue rather than a personal failing. Then I talked to Gill, saw my GP and started exploring drug and other treatments (I had already tried counseling methods without fully acknowledging that I was ill).

My experience of depression was debilitating, with me being incapable of making any good decisions or getting anything done or caring for other people or even looking after myself, with no glimmer of appetite or joy in life. Thoughts of death rolled and crashed and banged around the door. I spent hours concocting methods of ending my life and discarding them, concocting and discarding, concocting and discarding.  Since having children, they have always been, in the end, a definitive reason for discarding.

My depression followed a ‘slowly in, quickly out’ pattern. Over the summer I would start feeling gloomy more and more often and this continued through autumn to blackest days of winter. Some time in spring the first the echo of something I scarcely dared hope for or believe in opened up just for a moment. Once it happened on a bike ride in playing fields in Cambridge; once in the cricket field in front of Firle House, a beautiful Sussex country house, on a day with picnic, children’s games, and our family playing with two others.

One surprising fact for me was that people didn’t notice! I continued turning up at work (never high pressure jobs) and nobody shouted at me for not getting the job done or giving a poor lecture. In home life, Gill and others might not have found me exhilarating company but always invited me along and I usually tagged along, with no true enthusiasm but aware that staying at home would probably be worse. Perhaps they did notice but were just too polite to say. But maybe that is just a very English interpretation!

In the 1990s and 2000s I had two bouts of depression truncated by Prozac type drugs, and then a few months after the depression ended I stopped the drugs, but then the depression came back roughly on schedule.  So in 2009 I decided I should be on a drug that was working for me, venlafaxine, for the long term.

After five years depression free, I wanted to see if I’d escaped the cycle and was depression-free without drugs. I didn’t take doctor’s advice. I came off the drugs and within three months the first intimations of gloom appeared. I went back on the drugs but they didn’t help. By last summer I was back in the grips of depression. Also last summer my stomach started hurting persistently which I interpreted as a symptom of the depression, or vice versa. I had a first series of medical check ups in September 2014 but there was no evidence of cancer. It seemed at the time that irritable bowel syndrome was the most likely analysis although it didn’t account for the level or consistency of the stomach pain.

The second set of check ups at the beginning of November included a CT scan and blood tests and it was then that the doctors diagnosed cancer.

And at that point the depression disappeared! Simply evaporated! Was no longer! Apart from terrifying moments in the middle of two dystopian waking dreams following the start of my second chemo a couple of weeks ago, it has not been back (touch wood, fingers crossed).

Depression detached me from the usual trade offs in life: with no appetite for anything, all my choices to do things felt sham. Cancer has returned me to a place where I can take decisions between pleasure and pain, good and bad, in an ordinary way. It has made me more normal and connected with other people. While having cancer I’ve had lots of enjoyable times (like now lazing in a hot deep bath, dictating to Gill in a thoroughly stately manner).

IMG_1296The trade-off is, I die.

Complicated note re responses

I can’t guarantee that I will read anything you write in response because I might die first. But my priority will be to read blog comments (use the button bottom right which appears when you mouse over it). If you want to keep your comment private please send it by email, though I will only read that as second priority.

If you have pictures to attach that would be great, and it would be best if you could attach them to a comment.

Until recently, if you posted a comment, you would not get an alert if there was a response to that comment – so it wasn’t a viable way for me to respond to you.  We think we have fixed that now, though if you don’t get an alert, please let know.

79 thoughts on “Cancer and depression”

  1. Dear Adam, I had know idea of your bouts of depression despite living next door and seeing you fairly regularly over 10 years. You are brave and honest to write about it. Lucy, myself and our daughters, Sofia and Lara just knew you as lovely Adam, a very kind, gentle, intelligent and warm man, who would help us if we needed it, and always be a good friend and neighbour.
    It was lovely to see you yesterday, and hear you chuckle over shared memories….we send you lots of love

  2. Adam, this is extraordinary to read, and also uplifting. I mentioned to you that one of my closest friends had committed suicide. Your surprise that no-one noticed your depression really resonates with me. Close as I thought we were, I never knew that he had been taking drugs for depression. His passing prompted me to write to you:

    “For me a huge lesson is that I know that I want to take much more care of the people I am close to. There are also others—perhaps neighbours, shopkeepers, less close relatives, old teachers and many others— people I may not necessarily be so close to—to whom I want to take the chance to say that I appreciate them and think about them. You are one of those people.”

    Somehow I feel very grateful to have been able to say that to you at that time when you were just coming to terms with what is happening. And what you have just written about depression has brought me to a little better understanding of my own life.

    Your honesty will help all of us to appreciate our lives, I am sure. I sense that you are enjoying an extraordinary depth in these precious moments with your loved ones, and with yourself. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

    Your friend,

    Kevin Mark

  3. I’ve had bouts of depression and prozac, and no doubt many more of your blog followers will come out too – no doubt you’ve heard many times than one third of all people suffer from mental illness at some time in their life (or should that be lives? – linguists please advise :-) BUT you are right to say others around you don’t notice; in your case you have always came across as enthusiastic, positive and full of good, happy ideas. Keep it up!

    1. I’m a translator but not a linguist. I vote for ‘their life’ as only cats have more than one. Similarly “the nuns were all shaking their heads” is wrong as the average nun has only one head. There are huge possibilities for ambiguity, of course : “the children all wrote thank you letters for their presents”; did each child receive only one present ? “the children all wrote thank you letters for their present” in that case ? Or does that mean all the children shared one present ?
      In my work, this usually calls for rewriting the sentence (if I can figure out which meaning was intended) but some clients insist on a “literal” translation. If you translate the New Testament in Greek literally the mother of Jesus was not a virgin but a “maiden”. Yeah, all right, I know about maidenhead/maidenhood, but you know what I mean.

      1. I think Adam might prefer the following answer:
        Instead of attempting an analysis of the compositional semantics of the two alternatives, take a look at the relative frequencies:

        Google “their life”: About 57,700,000 results
        Google “their lives”: About 129,000,000 results

        or better still, try SketchEngine – British Academic Written English Corpus BAWE:
        “their life” : 54 (6.48 per million)
        “their lives” : 164 (19.67 per million)

        So I conclude “their lives” is more than twice as good as “their life” .

        1. Hello Eric
          I’m sure Adam would prefer the approach you advocate but these hits reflect usage, do they not ? If nearly everyone says “Less women are underpaid nowadays” instead of “Fewer women are underpaid nowadays” it is still wrong (IMHO).
          However, I do recognise that usage rules OK, for example I see that ‘quality’ is now used as an adjective (a quality solicitor) and you’ll find that use in dictionaries, so I should not angst over it. See ! I just used angst as a verb ! Also (do not start a sentence with ‘and’) I always interpret ‘quality’ when used as an adjective as meaning ‘poor quality’ but then I am just bloody-minded (no blood in the mind, only in the brain).

        2. Hello again, Eric (unless the blog puts up my responses in reverse order).
          Here’s another usage I cannot bear : The distance between each lamp-post is 100 metres.
          Between refers to two things (between a rock and a hard place) and each refers to one thing (each suitcase weighed 50 kg). Nothing can be “between” one thing.
          Shout me down : Google will give you millions of hits of ‘between each’. It’s still wrong !

  4. What a clear description of depression. My GP once described me as a textbook case of chronic depression. I’m not sure many people noticed. Many people have no idea what depression is like. If they read Adam’s description they will get more than an inkling. I tried SSRI drugs. They help but in an unhelpful way. I won’t be taking them again. Two members of my family have successfully used CBT to combat depression. Having talked to them about it I try to use a stripped down version. It often works.
    Everything Adam says about depression here rings true. A person suffering quite severe depression can continue to function, even if perhaps they should take some time out.
    I’m not convinced it is a medical problem, although Adam refers to it as an illness. The Elizabethans subscribed to the idea of what they called humours. In those terms I am a melancholic. I’m not sure I know how to attach an image here so I’ll just draw your attention to a wonderful drawing by Durer titled Melancholy.
    Adam’s courage and dignity in the face of extreme adversity continue to astound me. Many things can steer a depressed person away from thoughts of suicide, not least human qualities like these. Constantly bombarded with images and accounts of terrible things, usually with the aim of selling us something, we can find it difficult to see why we should carry on carrying on.

  5. Dear Adam, thank you once again for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us. I have learned a lot from you during these last months: grace, kindness, honesty, warmth. And I perfectly know what depression means.
    I don’t have any picture to send today, but I would like to remember the mysterious episode of the locked locker at Heidelberg railway station with your suitcase and blue raincoat in it :)
    Thank you for all this, and for what we shared during conferences and workshops in the last years.
    Looking forward to your next post!
    Lots of love,


  6. Dear Adam, what a brave and eloquent post. Having had my own dealings with depression in life, I can attest to what a life-annihilating condition it is. That you have succeeded in not only making a huge contribution to your chosen field of endeavour, but also touching so many people around you, both professional and personal, with your extraordinary positive outlook and all-round brilliance, is testament to a spirit that refused to be beaten.

    I feel honoured to have known you, and enjoyed some great times in your company at various conferences over the years. Kate and I are thinking of you and your family much and send all our very best wishes.

  7. Dear Adam,
    What you’ve written is a sign of personal strength and courage. Surely there are many persons who have faced similar problems silently or who have relatives and close friends that have suffered similar problems. Reading a message like yours can be helpful for them.

  8. When I was with you a couple of weeks ago you talked about writing about this and I am so glad you did. Obviously tears are pouring down my face. As I said to you I have really appreciated your blog and I welcome this new addition. May be it will help other people. Love to you – Polly

  9. Dear Adam
    Powerfully true
    Puts depression down in its rightful place as the lowest of all.
    This comparison of cancer and depression needs to be very widely read. Guardian? Buzz feed? (I know nothing, anyone know better?)
    Can’t see how to attach photos so will email you and Gill pix of yesterday’s walk in bluebell woods where we thought of you.
    Duncs xxx and Maria xxx

  10. Dear Adam,

    What a beautifully-written, clear and courageous blog you’ve given us. What impresses me most is your desire to help others by talking openly about your experience of depression. The more those of us who spend some of our life in the shadows are willing to share our experiences, the sooner the understandable, but wholly unacceptable, stigma of depression will be cast into oblivion.

    If you feel up to it – which I imagine you don’t – I’d love to pop round and see you for a brief visit!

    Martin xx

  11. Dear Adam,

    I had no idea you suffered from depression. You have always seemed upbeat to me. On Friday when Pete and I visited you, you commented on how many people had written to you recently and used the word enthusiastic to describe you. That goes for me too. In fact the three adjectives I’d choose to describe you are enthusiastic (about life, work, linguistics, family, computing, travel….), busy (because when you stayed with us you were always en route from or to somewhere else such as a conference or seminar!) and intellectual (as you managed to combine writing academic papers with developing SketchEngine and keeping up-to-date with the world of corpus and computational linguistics).

    It was good to talk to you and I enjoyed meeting your family. Your kids are an absolute credit to you! And we got some useful advice from Gill on coping with a late addition to the family :)

    With love, Maria Leedham

  12. Adam, Gill and all of you – thanks you Adam for writing this, so moving and so clearly expressed. It’s so generous of you and Gill to go to the trouble of sharing with us all what is happening for you. It feels like a gift: you are enabling me to feel close to you, and with you, in a way that would otherwise be impossible I think.

    I know a bit about ‘the horrors’ (as I call them), from my own recurring experiences (though I am very grateful that mine have not been so savage), and I am truly sorry that it is so hard for most of us to find a way to communicate our need, and to seek and find comfort when we are in their grip. Somehow finding that balance between believing we have agency, but not feeling we are to blame…tricky for both the sufferer and those around them.

    I have been tidying up outside in the spring wet this morning, and thinking about you. You are all very much in my thoughts and I send you all, all my love.


  13. You have done some great work in your life, Adam, for which you will be remembered–and for me, this blog post is part of that great work, however different it is from a Word Sketch! You have talked about something I would never have known about you, and your determination to live your life so fully in the face of obstacles is a testament to your courage. Thanks.

  14. Adam,
    I am amazed by your will to carry on with words and thoughts at this huge time for you and Gill and the family. Thank you for sharing, it helps us hugely.

    This morning I have cheered on Robert and Raddon in the Crediton Crunch 10k run. And I thought of you and your running, and you talking about your father doing long distance runs quite late on his life.
    Here’s a pic; do you remember when a hot air balloon landed in our neighbour’s garden. Here you are, with B.

    As ever, we are thinking of you lots and send you our love.
    Serena and Robert x x

    1. How lovely to hear about Crediton. As a child I had relatives there. There was a famous confection that came in a blue and white box. I used to climb the church tower with my Uncle Dick to wind the clock. I don’t know how he did it because he had either a wooden leg or a real leg that would not bend. My family used to travel to Exeter on a train pulled by a steam locomotive. I don’t remember how we got to Crediton. Uncle Dick’s wife Daisy (Aunt Dais) was the sister of my grandmother Lily, who (believe it or not) lived in Langtree. I inherited my surname from Lily’s first husband. When she remarried as a young widow she became Lily Vanstone. My sister still keeps in touch with that side of the family.

  15. Adam, your words are also appreciated by those of us who love someone with depression and who simply want to understand better . Bless you for sharing. X

  16. Hope Raffie liked the book, Adam. “Put a feather in your knickers”! Keep going as long as you can for the kids; we’re all enjoying the blogs, so while you’re still able, keep them coming too!
    Take care,

    1. Thank you Denise, and for making me look a real hard man!
      All: on this lexicom there was a group outing to the mountain pass, and some of us went onwards through the grey and mist to a mountain hut where I drank a most delicious glühwein. Also most of the blog portrays me a a touchie-feely type so it’s refreshing to see -in 2011, my ‘year of the beard’ – that I can be a tough guy too!

      1. Ah, right – ‘year of the beard’, was it really 2011? I recall our company meeting in Brighton at Bloomsbury place as usually when you and me met in the door and started laughing immediately — both of us stopped shaving at that time and were a bit shocked ;)

        I have found a photo from spring 2011 (2nd Sketch Engine workshop, Brighton; attached), probably before we launched our ‘year of the beard’ as we are both shaved there.

        Anyway, Adam — thank your finding energy and courage to write this post. And yes, people don’t notice.

  17. Hi Adam – remember your birthday party in 2010 where you made us all where wigs? I thought we looked rather fetching. Think I’ve attached the photo. Thinking of you and sending you Love and Light

  18. Dear Adam,

    The stencil in the picture up on your wall looks like a barcode. I almost scanned it with my smartphone but was afraid that even more truth I’m not ready for will be revealed.

    I’m not sure cancer per se is a cure for depression (I’ll discuss it with my shrink in a few minutes), but I can only imagine it can bring you in full contact with life again. You look very happy in the these waters.

    Sending you all my love from Haifa,

  19. Dear Adam,

    You’re extremely generous to have kept on sharing your wisdom with us. Thank you.

    It’s a strange fact that most of us don’t discuss our psychological challenges. This makes us feel that we’re alone, different. Yet they are so normal, so integral to being human. Most people don’t know that one in two people at some point seriously consider suicide.

    After my Ph.D., I stayed longer in a very challenging circumstance, thinking I could just ride it out. I was a naive stoic. That is, I tried to be stoic without the conceptual and practical tools of stoicism or Buddhism. It didn’t work. By my mid-30s, the struggle triggered severe insomnia and the process dragged me down. (That’s when I realized that insomnia is not just an effect but a cause of psychological woes.)

    After that inflection, I returned my R&D focus to “emotion”, trying to develop practical ways of harnessing affective mechanisms. (For the benefit of the other readers, I’ll mention that when you and I were Ph.D. students at Sussex (COGS) 25 years ago, I was researching the intersection of cognition, motivation and emotion.)

    Last year, I wrote a Unitarian service on romantic grief. (I think romantic grief and mortal grief are essentially the same, and of course involve depressed mood.) I interleaved a couple of stories, translations of songs from Jacques Brel, and some reflections. You probably won’t have the energy to listen to it, but there’s a recording of it on my blog. (Modern Unitarianism here in North America is a creed-less fellowship mainly of agnostics and downright atheists like me.)

    I’m also attaching a picture that my fiancée took of me this morning in what we call our “Emily Carr Woods” in Pitt Meadows, British Columbia. (I should have taken a picture of her instead, she’s much more pleasant to look at!) Your family is welcome to visit us. Thanks again for sharing, Adam. It helps and will help many people.

    1. Luc, under POST COMMENT it should now say SELECT AN IMAGE FOR YOUR COMMENT. I clicked on Browse and then clicked on the image file I downloaded from wikipedia or wherever.

      1. Luc
        If this is the correct Luc B you refer in your blog to “boring imagery distraction”. We used to call that “counting sheep” when I was a kid.
        If mySleepButton is an app you have to use it on a smartphone or tablet ? Are we not now supposed not to use LED screens shortly before we want to sleep ? Millions of Kindle users are devastated!

        1. Hi John. It’s probably better to have the conversation on the via email ( ) or the mySleepButton blog (you could reply to a post there and I’ll gladly answer). In a nutshell: no research to my knowledge shows that _briefly_ viewing displays is an issue; also, you can control the app with headset buttons or use the DIY version of the cognitive shuffle if you want to totally avoid the screen. The boring imagery technique I referred to on the mySleepButton blog actually has empirical support, whereas counting sheep is ineffective.

  20. I think sketch engine support answered my plea about uploading images so here’s an attempt at the Durer drawing :

  21. Hi Adam – sent you a pic and comment but seem not to be able to get past your moderator – so am trying again without the picture from your wig party and sending you much love

  22. What does it feel like when depression leaves your body? (lifelong depression sufferer directed to your blog by a mutual aquaintance)

  23. Thank you once again for your inspiring and courageous sharing, Adam. Your description of depression is great – those of us who’ve had this illness can really identify with it, and those who haven’t can learn more about what it’s really like, for those who have it and for their families. I found antidepressants a life-saver, myself (literally). In my experience, it was only when they kicked that the brain seemed able to process CBT and other therapies. Thank goodness for modern medicine. And it’s great that people are starting to be more open about this illness now. And about cancer. I don’t think it’s that long ago that both the ‘C’ word and the ‘D’ word couldn’t be discussed openly.

    I don’t have any photos of you, but I’m really grateful for the help you’ve given me with SketchEngine, especially at the Asialex conference in Bali and at the Europhras conference in Paris last year. Here’s my photo of a brooding poet (Victor Hugo) at the Sorbonne to remind everyone of a beautiful city and a thought-provoking conference.

    All best wishes to you and Gill and all your family.

  24. Dear Adam

    Interesting you coming out about your depression. I too have suffered since about 2003 or so. For me it is seasonal, got to do with what mother nature puts into the air at certain times. But it is very real all the same. Was out on Hong Kong waters a few days back on a birding trip, and although I was with friends, and out in nature, and birding, and the weather was lovely, I just couldn’t get any good out of it. It’s hard to put into words, but I’m sure you know what I mean.
    Anyhow, I am attaching a picture of a Crimson Rosella, as I remember you inspecting a particularly confiding specimen at length in the bushland behind Macquarie Uni when I took you on a bushwalk all those years ago.

  25. Thank you Adam for this powerful and important post – when the veil of depression lifts we can start to hope and believe that we are loved even though we were all along. “All love surround you” Adam and all your family at this time.

    I don’t have any photos of shared moments but thought you might like this one on Lake Victoria (Uganda) in the early 60s. I am sitting on the deck and my brother Chris Warren is holding up his catch. Probably taken by my dad who was Fisheries Officer there at the time.

  26. Thank you, Adam, for Sketch Engine, and for SKELL, for always answering emails quickly, helpfully and generously, for giving really useful presentations, for writing excellent papers, for being both an academic and a businessman with a heart. That was all I knew of Adam Kilgarriff, until this blog. So thank you also to cancer and depression, horrible things in themselves, but which sometimes reveal how wonderful human beings can be. Finally, thanks to you and your family, for being yourselves, and sharing so much. Peace be with you all.

  27. Hi Adam – remember your birthday party in 2010 where you made us all where wigs? I thought we looked rather fetching. Thinking of you and sending you Love and Light
    Hazel xx
    (sending again as I seem to have got stuck by the moderator – may be now I’ve subscribed it’ll come througb)

  28. Hi Adam.. Hazel can’t seem to post her comment and photo so I’m doing it for her.. This is your 50th birthday ‘wig’ party in 2010..she sens her love and says how fetching you both looked! Xx

  29. Thinking of you and yours lots. Your light will always shine bright (picture taken by young Eliza).

  30. Another sunny spring morning in Duluth. I found myself searching through some old photos and came upon our friendly bear sometime last summer. I don’t know if it is the same one that has been visiting us this spring, but it very well could be – the pattern of destruction is similar. :)

    This is, btw, the view from our back door – there’s a deck there and then a small grassy area – the feeders are in and around the crabapple tree you see there, and so the bear was perhaps 30 feet from our back door. They tend not to get any closer than that, and as long as you don’t disturb them they are peaceful enough.

    I sometimes wonder what would happen if we stopped with the bird feeding, would we hear claws scraping on the back door? But, we have plenty of seed for the birds, bears, deers, racoons, squirrels, chipmunks, …

  31. Dear Adam, the only photo I can find is a rather dim one of a rather good meal in Brno, at the start of the Foras na Gaeilge project in June 2008. It was a great time and a great project. But I really just wanted to say thank you for your grace, courage and openness. You are inspiring. Love to you all.

  32. Dear Adam,

    I have only met you in the course of the services you provided to us at WIPO (Patent translation Service) with SketchEngine but I must say that your courage and honesty are truly remarkable.
    You are a beautiful soul.


    “Something lives within you that lives longer than the suns. It abides at the place in the heart.”
    —Chandogya Upanishad

  33. Hey Adam

    You have no idea how brilliant it was, albeit briefly, to see you on your walk today, and to give you a kiss and a hug. Love you mate. Nuff said!

    Cap’n xxx

  34. Dear Adam,
    You’ve been a great inspiration and a source of professional encouragement and support, directly and indirectly, to me for an awfully long time. Memories of last time I saw you include a heated infinity pool, clear blue skies and waters, energy and light. Rowing Raymond across a choppy fjord with you was an adventure I’ll never forget! Inspired by the silver birches outside the window, you once cut off a heavy closing conference presentation you were giving on the meaning of ‘open access’ and learner corpora to recite Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’. All these things – light, energy, openness and a sense of adventure, professional and personal, and being able to see and signpost the trees – are things I associate with you.
    With many thanks
    (I hope the photos work!)

  35. Dear Adam

    Firle is a very special place for me as well. Will pop by and say a hello to it from you. All love from R and J to all of you

  36. I hope this photo from the conference in Bergen works. If not, I will send by email. x

  37. Dear Adam
    A great blog .. thank you for sharing! You may not remember me (Longman about 1995/6) but I remember you well as the calm, sensible one and just wanted to send warm thoughts to you and your family at what must be a testing time.
    I have been lucky enough to escape depression so far in my life bu have several friends and family members who have suffered badly and I know they will appreciate your open musings on the subject.
    With love
    Glennis (Pye)

  38. Dear Adam
    I don’t have the words to express my admiration for the courage and dignity with which you’ve faced this devastating situation and shared your experiences and thoughts. I just wanted to say that it has been such a privilege to know you and that my thoughts are with you and with Gill and your children.
    With love
    Sara x

  39. I didn’t think I’d have any photos, but something made me have a look anyway – and look what I found! Presume this is in the kitchen at that classy establishment on John Campbell Road!

    Apologies in advance if it takes me a couple of goes to get the pics uploaded.

  40. PS sorry about the white space, I did think I had cropped that out…

  41. Dear Adam,

    Many thanks for such a wonderful blog again and Gill for taking the dictation. I feel priveleged you have shared your private thoughts with such unsparing honest. Your blogs have grown in confidence and I sincerely I hope there will be time and energy for more. They are both moving and uplifting.

    I’ve known you through our mens book group which has been going for about 20 years. You have always been such a committed member. Your regular travels gave you time to read widely and I certainly feel grateful for the books you introduced which I would never have thought to have read (I can’t recall any duds). There was also similar variety in your dinners – I always felt so much love in your cooking.

    Your blogs and intellectual life reveal somebody who takes rigorous thinking seriously. But there is nothing arrid here. What has been so striking since we learnt about your illness how the group has found a deeper level of authenticity and close companionship. Our meeting as you know can be robust and passionate allbeit tainted by the odd cantankerous moments! (I use exclamation mark a little self conciously as we were discussing last meeting whether new forms of writing in texts, email etc has led to its overuse….). The way in which you have been dealing with your cancer has drawn the best out of us.

    You asked for a picture. I’ve looked for as many book group books as I can find and rearranged my bookshelf to put them together. Here is a picture of them. Many recent books are not there as I was an early adopter of e-readers so no picture of them (and that was no invitation to debate virtues of paper over digital!).

    Books resonate for different reasons. Right now, thinking about you there is the obvious The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. However the one that keeps coming back to me is The Schopenhauer Cure by Irvin D. Yalom. This is not because it is fine literature. On that front I think we most found it unremarkable but it did introduce a philosopher who I only knew by name. There is something about his epic courage to stay true to his invidual insights against the prevaling fashion of more the idealist philosopy of Hegel et al. Through his philosophical rigour he glimpsed psychological insights about the drive of the will. It is your honesty and will power in face of such pain not just of the cancer but as you have just revealed (and thanks for sharing this at our last meeting) your depression.

    I can see how depression can be worse than cancer. The optimist in me hopes that the depression which forced you to contemplate the boundaries of life and death was not totally in vain and did something to help prepare you with the life shortening impact of the cancer.

    Enough seriousness! You will at least be free of our interminable rescheduling of meetings. Thanks for introducing Doodle poll for our next meeting. This may prove our saviour.

    We are a mix of theists, agnostics and atheists. As one of the theists you and your family remain in my prayers. I hope you continue to find even deeper levels of peace.

    My warmest love,


  42. Dear Adam,
    Three things you wrote struck me
    1. “It was then possible to start seeing it as a medical issue rather than a personal failing.” For me emotionally, mental illness=mental failure.
    2, “Since having children, they have always been, in the end, a defininitive reason for discarding.” While my discarding is not to that serious level, my 3 young ones have had a curative effect
    3. “I went back on the drugs but they didn’t help.” Wow, 5 years on it and off briefly – then nothing – so complicated, huh?

    Introduced to you through your “salmon” article (loved that). A few years ago, I was going to enlist your help with how a leading pharmaceutical scientist got the definition of drug wrong (lexical pragmatics and cognitive dissoance), but put it off. And you were so assiduous with email.

    Amazing how emotions well-up when I see your blog posts – not knowing if it’s the last.

    thank you for doing this,

  43. Dear Adam
    Thank you for your hugely courageous, honest account of your depression. It has given me and I’m sure many others much pause for thought.
    I have very happy memories of great conferences, workshops, etc. at which you were a regular and friendly presence, if not the person actually at the helm (eg, Herstmonceux)! Like Liz, I’d like to thank you especially for the Foras na Gaeilge memories – a hugely enjoyable, stimulating project and a great privilege to work on. I never fully appreciated the semantic richness of “feck” until then! You may have been behind the camera for the only photo I have from our training at IDM in Paris in 2006 (?) – if so, you got us all smiling!
    Sending warmest wishes to you and your family

  44. Dear Adam
    Amazing post and wonderful comments. I have been thinking about you and your family a lot the last few days.
    By the way, you don’t need a strange motorbike to make you seem tough! This blog in its combination of vulnerability and science is testament to your mental toughness, more than any bike could ever do.
    :) Megan

  45. Dear Adam,

    I’m so glad I got to meet you last summer at Lexicom. I remember, in particular, that pleasant afternoon that you and Michael and I walked through the gardens (including the weirdly psychedelic Magic Garden). Thank you for keeping this blog. I’ll be thinking about you.


  46. Dear Adam,

    I haven’t had the opportunity to get to know you well, but I just wanted to say how much I have been moved and inspired by your writing. Thank you for sharing your experiences – none of us reading your blog will be able to forget your honesty, dignity and strength. I’m honoured to have met you.


  47. Hey Adam

    What John said above….+ you and I shared some moments that were unique to us. When we walked to and from the book club houses we always chatted about life, families and our various entrepreneurial efforts. Those were our moments and in the circumstances will remain special to me.


    Cap’n xx

  48. Oh adam ,you are a brave and lovely man. there are fond memories to cherish, kids covered in cherry juice in the swiss mountains, escaping from ‘Geneva’ to your tent in Padstow etc.
    your openness of your illness, the bastard that will consume you is a lesson for us all to learn. My kids were so sad to know you are so ill and all said how much they like you. words words words, getting nowhere. love and thought of you always when you are flying the white sky line. xxxxxxxxxxxxx for ever

  49. Dear Adam,
    thank you for sharing these precious moments.
    I’ve been reading your blog, as I’ve always liked to read your inspiring papers and your always sensible posts on the corpora-list, and I was very sorry to read the last updates, but I just wanted to say thank you for all the great work you have done, and thank you for sharing your thoughts.
    I had the privilege of talking to you a few times, and was surprised at the 2003 Asialex when you said you delivered your plenary speech (Us Precision, Them Recall) in soaking sneakers, because rain had caught you during your jogging before the conference. The speech was as clear and engaging as your papers and certainly no one guessed your feet were squishy. But it seems we do not notice so many things.
    Thank you again for all you have shared and inspired.

    Kristina Hmeljak

  50. Dear Adam,

    I have been hesitant to write a post here, as we only met a couple of times. But I decided to do so, as I have a nice memory connected to you. We were in Cambridge (sept. 2011). It was my very first conference talk, and after it we spent the entire coffee break talking, and, besides giving me good advice and feedback, you literally flooded me with your energy, enthusiasm and passion. That was very encouraging, and it meant a lot to me.
    Your passion and drive have always been an example, even more now that we witness you dealing with the extreme point of your life, exactly in the same way: you don’t spare your energy, and keep on sharing with us. Thank you, Adam.


  51. Hi Adam, talking of families …

    I’m Kerry Maxwell – am sure you probably don’t remember me – we met years ago at a research conference, early 90s I think, in Utrecht. After all the day’s ramblings on lexicography, comp/corpus lings and all that kind of noble stuff, I remember having a chat with you over a glass of beer about … parenthood. I think you’d recently become a dad to Boris and I was expressing my anxiety about whether to ‘go for it’. Well we did, and the first result is illustrated here (Tom is 20 now and a creative writing student in Bath). There’s even a younger brother to boot. Needless to say it’s the best thing we ever did!

    Lucy H and I get together occasionally and your name came up in conversation – she mentioned your blog. Hope you don’t mind me gatecrashing but thought you might like to know that our wee natter that day had a very positive result!

    all the best to you and your family


    Ps: when we met I was working at the U of Essex with Tim Nicolas – don’t suppose you know anything of him these days?

  52. Dear Adam.
    I’m sorry to hear that your illness turned out to be so severe. But thank you for sharing these aspects of your life. Your thoughts on depression are thought-provoking, and I’m sure there are many others, too, who suffer from this terrible illness.

    I’m glad to hear that the then Norwegian Prime Minister Bondevik could make a difference for you. Yes, I agree it was a brave thing to do, to actually take a sick leave during his active job as prime minister, and to be open about the cause. Before that, the Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland gave a public talk about the suicide of one of her sons (who was in his twenties), which was also a brave thing to do. Your blog also makes an impression on me, for its openness.

    I’m very sorry that we’ll not bump into eachother again at conferences and not have the chance to work in more projects. The Kelly project was fun, and you did a great job in it.

    Best wishes to you and your family
    from Janne.

  53. Thank you Adam for these wonderful blogs – they’ve opened my eyes to so many things, and now your brave and revealing words on depression. I’ve been lucky so far but am grateful for the insight they have given me. Needless to say in all the years we’ve worked quite closely together I’d not noticed that you were depressed – oh dear that probably says as much about me as about you.

    I’m very very sad to think we probably won’t meet again. Of course I’ve got lots of photos with you in them (mainly surrounded by enthusiastic Sketch Engine users) but thought you might prefer my Very Favourite Cartoon. It turned up on a wall in Collins Reference Department, Glasgow, in 1976, and gave me much comfort in my lexicographic years. Now that like you I’m fighting off my marching orders from cancer, it seems quite appropriate to share it.

    Love to you and Gill and the family, and thank you for being my friend – as well as teaching me so much, not only about computational linguistics.


  54. Dearest Adam, it has been such a pleasure sharing conversations with you over the last few years, and a real inspiration to see how brave and stoic and kind you continue to stand in the face of this onslaught.
    Seeking a picture to share with you, I remembered that last time we spoke you mentioned how much you loved living here on the South coast, and walking in the Downs, and how fortunate we were to have all this on our doorstep, so I thought you might like this one, taken at the end of last summer, up behind Coombes Church in Lancing.

  55. I am sorry for speaking outside the topic.

    Maybe you could try a diet that is low in methionine. Methionine restriction seems to be efficient way of treating cancer. Just try to take up vegan diet (essentially, no eggs, diary products, meat) BUT also without seeds and nuts that are rich in methionine (in other words, you should not eat any seeds and nuts). Then I would try to stimulate the imunity – however, this method is not scientifically proven. So try to use e. g. Wobenzym and other products with enzymes, loads of fruit, zinc, selenium (but NOT in form of “selenomethionine”), vitamin C (not more than 500 mg per one day). On the other hand, you should refrain from using vitamins B (niacin etc.), which increase the tumor growth. You could also try so-called fever therapy (try to look it up in Google), but you should be cautious as loads of frauds do not provide this fever therapy in a proper manner.

    Don´t give it up yet!

    I wish you all the best.


  56. Dear Adam,

    Thank you for so generously and movingly sharing your experiences. I too have experienced depression for all of my adult life; thank you for being so open about your struggle and inspiring others to do the same.

    I have always thought about you in terms of your generosity in your intellectual insights, your warmth and your kindness. I met you at my very first academic conference and remember us almost being defeated by Birmingham’s ring road! I wish that you could have spent more time creating things and thinking about things, and perhaps selfishly, I wish that I could have got to know you better and shared many more conference drinks with you.

    I’ve attached a photo of the bluebell woods near my parents’ house, a place of tranquility and birdsong.

  57. Dear Adam,

    just wanted to let you know that you’re in my thoughts. I understand what you are going through and have been following your blog during the past months.

    Perhaps this picture from Bozen – not so long ago – is as happy a memory for you as it is for me!

    With warmth,

  58. Dear Adam,
    Your blogs are always so powerful they will keep we awake long into the night hours. You are so young, and have already accomplished and went though so much… It puts our life (I mean mine) into perspective. I guess you are the kind of researcher Richard Hamming is talking about in his talk “You and your research” (google it, you will like it).
    Anyway, I have been thinking that one cannot achieve what you have done without being passionately in love with your work. But this causes one to have a “double love affair” since most of us love our families as well. We end up making promises at both fronts (or to ourselves) that we cannot keep, and we tend to suffer from that. And surely it ends up in psychological or physical troubles.
    So – am I right when I say that it is risky to love your job?

    Lots of love, and looking forward to reading more of your blogs.

  59. We sort of met at last year LREC and you’ve asked me some very interesting questions about my presentation. And during the break, I very much wanted to talk to you but I was still in the awe-ing phrase of a fanboy, thinking, “OMG, that’s Adam Kilgarriff. What am I going to say to him? Can I say ‘hi, big fan’. I tried to control myself since it wasn’t comic-con. I was planning to say something like a tacky pick-up line for linguists, ‘Language is never, ever, ever random, right?'”. By the time, I get my nerves right, people were already flocking to you to pick your brains, I continue to stand in awe, knowing that I met one of my linguistics hero. BTW, it’s really a fan-boy syndrome, my master thesis was on Word Sense Disambiguation and I literally carry the paper ‘I don’t believe in word senses’ almost everywhere when I write, to remind me that Word Senses are nice conceptually but they are only useful as a layer of annotation for a task. And also so that I don’t get delusional and totally dive into the fact that Word Senses resolves everything because linguists have hated the ambiguity monster since the dawn of time. I just want to say, Adam, if I may call you with the first name, or Mr Kilgarriff. Thank you for being the inspiration to my linguistics career. To re-render Bruce Lee, “I trust not the linguist who process 10 billion words once but the linguist who process one word 10 billion times, especially if the linguist is a lexicographer =)”.

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