Living With Depression: A Reading List

Photo: JìD

The holiday season isn’t easy. Even the most well-adjusted person has to deal with stressful family members, strained finances, and travel logistics. Mental illness exacerbate these stressors even more. Not every story here is about depression during the holidays, specifically; I’ve interspersed my own experiences with depression, anxiety and panic disorders. I made this list for you who might be struggling with the gloom of winter (hello, seasonal affective disorder!), and for me. I took notes—in an actual notebook!—on these stories, on definitions and symptoms and experiences. “We read to know that we are not alone,” so sayeth C.S. Lewis, via William Nicholson. I want you to know that this holiday season, you are not alone.

1. “Winter is Coming,” “Game Over” and “The Gift of Asking.” (Heather Hogan, Autostraddle, November-December 2015)

At Autostraddle, Heather Hogan presents “Diary of a SAD Girl,” chronicling her life with Seasonal Affective Disorder. I’ve linked the first three installments. Check Autostraddle every two weeks to read more.

2. “How I Got Depressed, Forgave Myself, and Grew Up in the Process.” (Ashley C. Ford, Elle, December 2015)

How to walk the line between self-love and self-discipline. How to take responsibility for yourself when your self feels like a burden or a mistake. These are things I think about every day. Ashley C. Ford thinks about these things, too.

3. “The Night My Daughter Discovered My Family’s Legacy of Depression.” (Marry Knobbe, Narratively, December 2015)

I’m the one that caused this. I’m the reason behind Leah’s pain. I’m the defect in her genetic code. The starving serotonin pump that’s been torturing me for the last twenty years has finally found its most exquisite form of agony. No longer am I the sole victim. My beautiful, perfect child is now the new target of my broken brain. A brain so hungry that it coded itself into the DNA of yet another prey.

4. “The Saddest Homecoming Queen in Ohio.” (Allison Pohle, Archipelago,  October 2014)

My parents couldn’t care less if I won homecoming queen. They had much bigger concerns about me, none of which involved whether I would wear a crown to my last high school homecoming dance. I’m sure they weren’t crazy about me running. And in hindsight, it wasn’t the best idea for a self-conscious, depressed teenager to take part in a school-wide popularity contest. But at the time, my 17-year-old brain was convinced that winning homecoming queen would be a way for me to bring happiness to myself and to the people I loved. Today, this doesn’t make any sense. Then again, neither does anything about depression.

5. “The Night I Spoke Up About My #BlackSuicide.” (Terrell J. Starr, BuzzFeed, March 2015)

After pondering suicide, opening up about depression on Twitter gave reporter Terrell J. Starr a life-saving support system.

6. “My Prescribed Life.” (Emily Landau, The Walrus, March 2015)

About me: It took years for me to gather the courage to ask for help—first, to admit I needed a therapist and then, medication. I did not want to admit anything was wrong and I did not want to admit I couldn’t fix the problem with willpower alone. At a certain point, I didn’t want to get better. I didn’t feel like I deserved to feel good. During one session, my counselor asked me to rate my desire to feel better on a scale of one to ten. I said seven. Really, it was more like four. I needed the edge that medication gave me. I could live without it, but without it, I didn’t really live. I barely existed.

I thought of taking medication as surrender. I was terrified that essential facets of my personality would change or disappear completely. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that I’d still be clever and make people laugh, and now, I’d be able to get out of bed and look people in the eye, too.

I’m not alone in this existential angst. Many, many adolescents find it difficult to distinguish between the effects of their medication and their essential personalities—especially if they started to take medication during adolescence. From her earliest years, Landau dealt with extreme anxiety. Here, she writes about her relationship with her illness and its medicated relief, weaving in history, religion and philosophy. To survive, Landau has to find a way to make peace with the search for identity.

7. “Black Girls Don’t Get to Be Depressed.” (Samantha Irby, Cosmopolitan, December 2015)

Samantha Irby has a voice like no other—she’s hilarious, dark and irreverent. She doesn’t have all the answers, and she’s honest about that: “I was sure I was letting Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman down by talking about my silly little feelings.”