“Like most ambitious English majors, I hoped I would find work in either teaching or writing after graduation. Long story short, I ended up graduating magna cum laude, won my department’s award, and learned that no one really wants to talk about E.M. Forster while playing beer pong.”
In the wake of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s recent suicides, the New York Times published a piece with the headline,“What to Do When a Loved One Is Severely Depressed.” The writer, Heather Murphy, noticed that the people commenting on these stories were struggling with the same question: “What do you do when a friend is depressed for such a long time that you’ve started to feel that nothing you can do will make a difference, and your empathy reserves are tapped out?”
Here is a difficult truth: If your loved one has not yet come to terms with accepting help from a professional, there is very little you can do for their sickness.
But I phrased that carefully for a reason. There is very little you can do for their sickness. There is plenty you can do for them — without exhausting yourself. The Times story leads with one of the most effective options: “Don’t underestimate the power of showing up.”
“Sleep, routine and daylight. It’s a simple formula, and easy to take for granted. But imagine if it really could reduce the incidence of depression and help people to recover from it more quickly.” At Mosaic, Linda Geddes investigates whether monitored sleep deprivation and chronotherapy can succeed where pharmaceutical antidepressants fail.
In the introduction to her story on deep-brain stimulation for Pacific Standard, Sarah Scoles tells the story of Liss Murphy, a woman with treatment-resistant depression—in her words, a “sepsis of the soul”—who saw deep-brain stimulation as her last opportunity to live a normal life. The moment doctors turned on the stimulating current was a life-changer. But then they had to turn it off.
The doctors installed the electrodes and turned them on.
For Murphy, the moment was astonishing. A warmth surged through her. Everything felt lighter, clearer. But then those sensations stopped. The doctors had cut the current so that they could finish wiring the circuit, close her cranium back up, and insert the permanent pulse generator into her chest
After the surgery, Murphy spent a few days in recovery, and then the doctors sent her home. She would need to heal for three weeks, they told her, before they could turn her device back on. Back at home, returned to the gray world of her depression, Murphy remembered that warm, light, clear feeling. I wish that could be forever, she thought.
At GQ, Justin Heckert profiles Paul Mason, who ballooned to 980 lbs. eating to forget childhood abuse and horrific loneliness. Mason lost 700 lbs. after bariatric surgery and discovers that, despite the experiences now available to him with newfound mobility, happiness remains elusive; dramatic weight loss does nothing to treat the underlying depression and emotional trauma that caused him to eat to excess in the first place.
His father, Roy, was overweight and contracted diabetes at age 29. “I remember one Sunday mum cooking salad,” Mason said. “Mum had prepared a salad for all of us with some cold meat. We weren’t allowed to sit at the table until dad sat down. He sat down and looked at the plate, and said, ‘What’s this rabbit food?’ She said, ‘I thought we’d have a change.’ He slammed his plate across the table and said, ‘I want my roast. Now go in the kitchen and cook it.’ She just started crying. He would force us to eat the same size plates as he did. He was quite barbaric.”
That’s when he began to indulge in the comforts of food, which briefly lifted his spirits every time he tasted it. “It hit the back of your throat, and you’ve got that endorphin that’s released in your brain and that makes you feel good. I began to be just like a drunk. I didn’t realize what I was doing to myself.”
His new life was full of wonder, and yet defined by all his old burdens. He still needed huge amounts of medical care. He didn’t have a car. He didn’t have a driver’s license. He didn’t have a social security number. He didn’t have a job. He said that he received $197 a week in pension from the U.K., which is how he afforded his $125 a week rent and the money he spent on groceries from Walmart, where he zipped around on a scooter. When I asked him what he did with himself, how he spent his days, he said “Walmart.” When I asked him how he got around, he said he waited on the bus sometimes, out there on the concrete stoop near the road, and other times he asked either neighbors or worshippers at his local Salvation Army church to take him where he needed to go. When I asked if he had friends, he demurred and then said, “Yeah, a couple.”
Chrissy Teigan of MTV's "Snack Off" seen at the 2014 MTV Upfront Press Junket at the Beacon Hotel Lower Level on Thursday, April 24, 2014 in New York, New York. (Photo by Scott Gries/ Invision for MTV/AP Images)
Model, television host, and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen wrote a personal essay for Glamour, in which she confesses to having postpartum depression. For many months after giving birth last year to Luna, her daughter with husband John Legend, Teigen was incredibly unhappy despite have what she recognizes to be a great life. She was also nauseated, and had terrible physical pain. She was relieved when her doctor diagnosed her with postpartum depression, but it took her a while to get far enough past the stigma to come out about it and, well, help dispel the stigma.
I remember being so exhausted but happy to know that we could finally get on the path of getting better. John had that same excitement. I started taking an antidepressant, which helped. And I started sharing the news with friends and family—I felt like everyone deserved an explanation, and I didn’t know how else to say it other than the only way I know: just saying it. It got easier and easier to say it aloud every time. (I still don’t really like to say, “I have postpartum depression,” because the word depression scares a lot of people. I often just call it “postpartum.” Maybe I should say it, though. Maybe it will lessen the stigma a bit.)
I wanted to write an open letter to friends and employers to explain why I had been so unhappy. The mental pain of knowing I let so many people down at once was worse than the physical pain. To have people that you respect, who are the best in the business, witness you at your worst is tough. Even though this was something I shouldn’t have to apologize for, I did want to apologize. Because on a set, people depend on you. A lot of people are coming together and all you have to do, Christine, is put on a unicorn head and shoot a money gun. Editors are wondering what the f-ck happened to the girl they gave a book deal to. This shit was flying through my head and I felt horrible.
A confessional personal essay by Chrissy Teigen. The model, television host, and cookbook author comes out about the postpartum depression she’s been living with since Luna, her daughter with husband John Legend, was born last year.
“…during our call, we agree that life is bad. It’s clear from her own case that money can’t buy happiness—it can only buy the stints in psychiatry units, or therapy sessions, or however you take your self-care. Wanting to die while living among the rich and being one them, perhaps, makes the emptiness of our current setup and its values all the more pronounced.
“There’s a lot that’s terrible about life. I think some people have a guard up against it. They overlook it,” she says. “I think that people who suffer from depression are sort of finely tuned to it. I write somewhere in my book that depression is the loss of necessary illusions. You need a certain amount of illusion to live.” She adds, “Depression can be very humanizing. I’ve thought to myself, If [Donald] Trump suffered from some type of depression, he’d be a different person.”
However, until we change the world, which might be more possible now than ever, we need to take care of ourselves and continue living. Merkin recognizes that life is all she has: “I think [suicide] affords a kind of—this is putting it strangely—a paradoxical relief to a very depressed person, to think there’s one way out of it,” she tells me over the phone. “I would somehow think if I commit suicide then I’ll be happy, but where am I going to be happy?”
The theater and lit worlds suffered a great loss this week with the passing, Tuesday, of Elizabeth Swados, 64, a prolific writer and composer of groundbreaking, socially conscious musicals like “Runaways” and a collaboration with Garry Trudeau on a production of “Doonesbury.” She was the author several novels, memoirs and children’s books.
But long before she wrote about her own mental illness, Swados wrote about her brother’s. In an excerpt from her memoir, The Four of Us: The Story of a Family, which appeared in The New York Times Magazine in August 1991, she told the story of her brother, Lincoln, who suffered from schizophrenia, and died homeless in New York City in the late eighties.
Several months before my brother’s housing crisis reached its peak, I was walking down Broadway on my way to a Korean deli. I saw two derelicts seated in the middle of the sidewalk. They were dressed in layers of rags and having a heated argument about Jesus Christ. One of them had paraphernalia spread around him in a semicircle, as if to sell his wares. But none of his rags or rusty pieces of metal or torn papers was a recognizable item. He wore a jaunty cap pulled to one side, and there was tinsel in his filthy hair. His face was smeared black. A few steps farther along, I realized the “derelict” was my brother. I leaned down next to him, softly said his name and waited. He stared at me for several moments and didn’t recognize me at first. When he finally saw that it was me, he let out a cry like a man who’d had a stroke and couldn’t express his joyous thoughts. We embraced for a long, long time. His smell meant nothing to me.