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. Read more…
But one white female privilege had always been withheld from the girls of Negroland. Aside from the privilege of actually being white, they had been denied the privilege of freely yielding to depression, of flaunting neurosis as a mark of social and psychic complexity. A privilege that was glorified in the literature of white female suffering and resistance. A privilege Good Negro Girls had been denied by our history of duty, obligation, and discipline. Because our people had endured horrors and prevailed, even triumphed, their descendants should be too strong and too proud for such behavior. We were to be ladies, responsible Negro women, and indomitable Black Women. We were not to be depressed or unduly high-strung; we were not to have nervous collapses. We had a legacy. We were too strong for that.
I craved the right to turn my face to the wall, to create a death commensurate with bourgeois achievement, political awareness, and aesthetically compelling feminine despair. My first forays in this direction were petty. I conducted my own small battle of the books, purging my library of stalwart, valorous titles by black women and replacing them, whenever possible, with morbid, truculent ones by my sisters. Out with This Child’s Gonna Live, up with There’s Nothing I Own That I Want. Good-bye, My Lord, What a Morning, by Marian Anderson; hello, Everything and Nothing by Dorothy Dandridge. As for Mari Evans’s iconic sixties poem: I am a black woman…I tore it out of my black poets’ anthology and set fire to it in the bathroom sink.
I found literary idols in Adrienne Kennedy, Nella Larsen, and Ntozake Shange, writers who’d dared to locate a sanctioned, forbidden space between white vulnerability and black invincibility.
-From The Cut‘s excerpt of Negroland, Pulitzer Prize winner Margo Jefferson’s new memoir, about the expectations imposed upon her while growing up in what she calls “Negro America, where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty.”
The day after Madison jumped, Jim walked to the top of the parking garage. He read the phrase, She had wings on. He spoke with Madison’s friends. He compiled clues.
Then he stopped. He could spend his life trying, in vain, to make his child whole again, he thought. Or he could work to keep others from breaking apart.
The Hollerans are trying now to deliver a new message: It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to show people you’re not OK.
–Kate Fagan, at ESPN, on Madison Holleran, a University of Pennsylvania student who committed suicide in 2014 at the age of 19.
Halberstadt meets Dr. Vint Virga and explores the scientific research into the feelings of animals. “He has treated severely depressed snow leopards, brown bears with obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobic zebras. ‘Scientists often say that we don’t know what animals feel because they can’t speak to us and can’t report their inner states,’ Virga told me. ‘But the thing is, they are reporting their inner states. We’re just not listening.'”
Zoos contact Virga when animals develop difficulties that vets and keepers cannot address, and he is expected to produce tangible, observable results. Often, the animals suffer from afflictions that haven’t been documented in the wild and appear uncomfortably close to our own: He has treated severely depressed snow leopards, brown bears with obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobic zebras. “Scientists often say that we don’t know what animals feel because they can’t speak to us and can’t report their inner states,” Virga told me. “But the thing is, they are reporting their inner states. We’re just not listening.” …
Virga believed that BaHee, an 11-year-old gibbon, was clinically depressed. The cause was grief, which is the reason Virga didn’t pursue an aggressive course of treatment for the gibbon’s symptoms, instead prescribing “concern, patience and understanding” and advising BaHee’s keepers to not overreact. The worst of the depression lasted three or four months, a span similar to the acute phase of human grief after the sudden death of a family member. By the summer of the next year, BaHee’s symptoms had mostly disappeared. When I asked Kim Warren, another of his keepers, about the episode, she said: “BaHee was grieving. You could see it on his face.” Then she reconsidered. “I shouldn’t say that,” she said, choosing her words carefully, “because that’s anthropomorphism. I should say instead that BaHee was displaying withdrawal behaviors.”
-Alex Halberstadt, in the New York Times Magazine, on the work of Dr. Vint Virga.
Photo: jameslaing, Flickr
Every week, Syracuse University professor Aileen Gallagher helps Longreads highlight the best of college journalism. Here’s this week’s pick.
Mental health issues have lost much of their stigma on college campuses, as they have in the rest of the world. Today’s college students self-medicate just as much as they always did, but they also seek professional help in a much more public way than you might remember from your own school days. You’ll find evidence of this openness in this week’s College Longreads pick, from the University of North Carolina. Every one of Claire McNeill’s sources went on the record about their pain, fear, and suicide attempts. But what makes the story stand out, in addition to thorough reporting, is a thoughtful angle.
The University of North Carolina, the story posits, is a college campus known for its positivity and student satisfaction. “From its radiant azaleas to its basketball fever, from its 700 student organizations to its ranking as Best Public Value School in the nation, from the University’s favored buzzwords — inclusivity, diversity, collaboration — to its unofficial motto in ‘The Carolina Way,’ it seems from a distance that UNC’s 18,500 undergraduate students are living the life of a college brochure,” McNeill writes. How do you live with depression in a place that keeps telling you how happy you ought to be? The angle is what makes an otherwise well-trod story compelling. Journalists rely on this no-duh skill of finding fresh angles so much that they forget it’s something they had to learn, to refine, over time.
Claire McNeill | Synapse Magazine | February 10, 2014 | 15 minutes (3,807 words)
Alan Shapiro published two books in January 2012: Broadway Baby, a novel, from Algonquin Books, and Night of the Republic, poetry, from Houghton Mifflin/Harcourt. This essay first appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review (subscribe here). Our thanks to Shapiro for allowing us to reprint it here, and for sharing an update on Nat’s life.
Alan Shapiro | Virginia Quarterly Review| Fall 2006 | 20 minutes (4,928 words)
Alan Shapiro published two books in January 2012: Broadway Baby, a novel, from Algonquin Books, and Night of the Republic, poetry, from Houghton Mifflin/Harcourt. This essay first appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review (subscribe here). Our thanks to Shapiro for allowing us to reprint it here, and for sharing an update on Nat’s life (see the postscript below).
I haven’t always had depression. I talked to a few of my friends who knew me when I was in high school, and it was sort of this tragic/hilarious thing to explain to them. They were like, “But you were so happy,” and I’d be like, “That person’s dead, I’m sorry.”