Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On Depression

I actually wrote this post in March and waffled a lot about whether to post it. In the end, I chose not to. But then now--this week--it seemed like maybe it was time to post it anyway. Robin Williams, I am thinking of you and your family, and wishing things were different...

I've been thinking about Ned Vizzini a lot lately.

I never met him, but we had many things in common. Ned was the same age as me. He grew up in the neighborhood I now live in and I would see his name on workshop posters at my local Barnes & Noble a lot. We had friends in common. We both wrote MG and YA books (though he did it a lot more successfully and prolifically).

Something else we had in common: suffering from clinical depression. I unfortunately have to use the past tense here not because I no longer suffer from depression, but because Ned lost his battle with his in December. He died just a few blocks away from where I live.

Somehow, all the clichés you hear about depression are true. Though, I guess, that tends to be the thing about clichés, doesn't it? That it's like a fog. That it's like drowning. It's not sadness, not really. Everyone experience sadness, grief, bad feelings. But those things usually have a source; they are feelings that can be linked to events. Long-term depression is like churning magma, always there, just waiting to be prodded into roaring life by sometimes the slightest disturbance. It's not terribly logical. It lurks like a thief, in the unexpected corners of your mind, popping up when you're not looking and pilfering away your joy slowly. So that you don't even notice it ebbing away until suddenly you feel completely hollow. By then, sometimes it's too late.

The way J.K. Rowling wrote about it, disguising it as how dementors make you feel, I always thought was entirely accurate. Two of my favorite (and, incidentally, funniest) pieces of writing on it come from the immensely talented Allie Brosh and can be found here and here. There are so many talented people who have written so eloquently about it, actually. I don't think it's much of a coincidence that a lot of writers, and creative people in general, suffer from it. I think the same neurons that nurture imagination and creativity, that have one foot in a made-up world, are the ones that are most inclined to turn on you in this way.

I've never written publicly about my depression before. In fact, I rarely ever talk about it. I can probably count on one hand the number of people who even know, empirically, that I've been diagnosed with it. I can list the reasons I've been so quiet about it, even though it's been a through-line of much of my life: I've been embarrassed and ashamed. I didn't want to be perceived as weak. I didn't want it to define me. It didn't really seem like anybody's business... I can list lots of reasons, actually. And very few to be writing this blog post.

Except, I think of people like Ned and like L'Wren Scott...and now Robin. Also people like David Foster Wallace, Kurt Cobain, Sylvia Plath, John Kennedy Toole, Nick Drake...such a long list of people who have battled and, just one day, were not able to win. Countless more whose names I don't know but who suffered just as much. And I think...maybe it's time we talk about it more. Maybe it's time I talk about it more, as a real illness, not as a weakness or a character defect.

So there it is. Me, coming clean. I know I'm not alone. And if you, reading this, suffer from depression too, I just want you to know that you aren't either.


  1. Very eloquently put. I've also struggled with depression and can relate to you wanting to keep quiet about it. I feel so much better since I admitted what I was going through to friends and family and even started writing about it on my blog. I think it's true that there's a correlation between creativity and depression. Creative people tend to explore deep issues such as the meaning of life and the expression of human suffering. They perceive both the beauty and the pain of life more clearly than others and are often a vessel for ideas and feelings that seem to come from beyond themselves. I like J K Rowling's dementor metaphor too. It's definitely time we talked about depression more and erased the stigma.

    1. Thank you for your comment and for sharing your story, Tizzy.

  2. Hi Sarv, just saw this and I commend you for sharing. I think your last line in the post sums it up beautifully. xo