17. The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic – Jonathan Rottenberg
One of the most important sentiments that I found in this book is that humans “are not wired for bliss.” Rottenberg makes the argument that it isn’t normal to constantly be happy; it’s actually an evolutionary detriment to be happy all the time. And we as a species would totally not survive if we were constantly happy. Somebody has to notice the cliff instead of just happily whistling as they walk right off it.
The Depths presents its discussion of mood science with equal helpings of scientific detail and patient anecdotes and it was immensely useful to me. I love that Rottenberg is discussing mood. It seems like a really obvious aspect of depression to discuss, but it hasn’t been that prevalent in my own readings. I’ve often felt like whatever I was experiencing wasn’t “enough” to be considered depression because I’m otherwise pretty functional. I’ve even been told I’m “high functioning” by a counseling professional. I have had those weird days where I can’t stop crying and I don’t know why, but I’ve never gotten to the stage where I literally could not get out of bed, not even in acute grief-based depressive periods. When you aren’t similar enough to some of the narratives or symptom descriptions, and you feel like you just don’t fit in anywhere in the spectrum…it’s a strange situation. In The Depths, I see more of myself (and someone else I know, that was weird, seeing someone else in a depression narrative more clearly than I saw myself) and the trajectories that I face that I know are depression and involve consistent low mood. I also saw a lot of my own coping mechanisms and of course that makes one feel a little better about the path they’re taking. It meant a lot to me to see these experiences and to be able to characterize these situations in more logical terms. I’m not the most dramatic person, I like practicality, and I enjoyed The Depths.
Ozy and Danger are not trapped in a prison of their own minds, I stuck them in a laundry basket. They coped by gnawing and whistling at me until their cages were clean. Use those rootless teeth! It’s evolutionarily advantageous and a laundry basket is no Château d’If.
54. Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So – Mark Vonnegut
If you went to undergrad where I went to undergrad, you could be essentially excommunicated from the English department if you didn’t love Kurt Vonnegut Jr. The unwavering adoration for his literary genius seems like the kind of thing he wouldn’t have appreciated, but it was the status quo. I never got into any deadly pretentious conversations about Vonnegut, thankfully, and I do love his work, but I do not love most of the people who love his work enough to be important in the English department social scene. And I had no idea until I read this memoir by his son Mark that he couldn’t write for long periods of time (I…didn’t do the supplemental reading…sometimes…) because of depressive bouts. Woo!
One of the major things going for this memoir is that it doesn’t really offer any perfect solutions. There are a lot of mental illness-based memoirs where you read through certain situations and then suddenly the person writing is “fine” because they got married or are in a new relationship and I just can’t really stand those bits. They’re not that helpful. Mark Vonnegut’s strategy involves trying to find a balance that will help him avoid severe episodes and it’s not just “being married” or “working too much,” it’s obvious that many aspects go into recovering and trying to stay functional. He also demonstrates how easy it is for a psychotic break to happen to a successful person – see, you can be successful or creative or both or also a pediatrician or not and bad shit can still take you down, it’s not a personal failure to have mental illness. Vonnegut also makes sure to make it clear that being perfectly mentally well is not really a thing either, and I like that. It takes that whole “aspire to happiness” bullshit down; in my opinion, taking that down is half the battle for maintaining levels of functionality.
“Life is no way to treat an animal, not even a [guinea pig].” – Kurt Vonnegut, “I Love You, Madame Librarian” (inthesetimes.com/article/903)
13. Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression – Nell Casey, ed.
To an extent, shorter essays can help make the symptoms, the coping mechanisms, and the general feeling of depression much more comprehensible. When reading longer memoirs I’ve had a harder time finding pieces of what I experience and part of that is just the lack of differing viewpoints. A first person story is never going to have the thoughts of the person watching the one with depression, the friend or significant other trying to understand what they’re going through or helping them, and that’s not enough when trying to root through all the possible rabbit holes of information on the disease. It’s not enough to know the pain of one person, even if there are bits of that pain in all persons with depression. I’m very glad the Unholy Ghost collection was put together because of all of the viewpoints represented.
In the first essay, “A Delicious Placebo” by Virginia Heffernan, I found the description of her endlessly trying to get to the root of her depression incredibly jarring. It hadn’t occurred to me that finding more and more information about Why wouldn’t fix the situation or stop much of anything. I’m used to research, I’m used to figuring things out as a method for solving problems, I am not used to simply accepting that there is a problem to be coped with instead of fixed. Another essay I found incredibly useful was Meri Nana-Amah Danquah’s “Writing the Wrongs of Identity,” in which she mentions that “For every twelve joys, I had twenty-five sorrows… So much wasted time.” I can relate to that way more than I like.
Another aspect of depression that came up for me when reading these essays was class. There are certain classes of people who are not allowed to admit to themselves or say to others that they have depression. They don’t have money or time to deal with it the way someone of a different class would. They basically have to pretend that there’s nothing wrong with them and if that becomes impossible, they feel weak and are presumably seen by others of the same class as weak. And there is a lot of class warfare in this country that goes under the radar because people don’t even realize they’re being classist. I am sort of in between classes for a few reasons and I’ve found through dealing with my depression that those class barriers when you can’t “perform” are as solid as a steel door. If we want people to be able to get the help they really need, we as a country need to admit that healthcare is a right and that all illnesses are illnesses, not personal failings. No one asked to have their brain broken. No one.
Ozma displays extraordinary self-care and also owner-care skills by grooming on top of a pumpkin mid-photoshoot.
16. Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig
A common problem amongst depressed persons and persons with depressive tendencies is isolation. Some people are truly isolated and some are just mentally isolating themselves, both have valid situations, but this conceptually is one of the reasons that Reasons to Stay Alive was not particularly useful for me. When I was finished reading this I wanted to read a memoir of depression that didn’t end with the person happily married. Why is that the end? It doesn’t seem like it should really be the end, based on my recent experience listening to several married persons talking about how much they hate being around other people. I didn’t want to be insulting, but I did feel the urge to remind them that a quick way to get rid of all those people they know is to get divorced and move alone to a place they’ve never been. It’s entirely possible to get to a location where no one knows you and then you won’t have to worry about anyone asking how you are or being interested in your existence.
I have yet to find any books related to depression that don’t emphasize connection with other people as a “way out” and yet I’ve noticed that consistently finding connection in person is one of the things that is dwindling as technology addiction continues to manipulate peoples’ ability to communicate and muddles the line between the figurative desire for isolation (“Ugh, I hate being invited to do things.”/”Why isn’t anyone liking my latest instagram!?”) and what it really means. I’m glad that Matt Haig was able to maintain a meaningful connection throughout the episodes that he relates in Reasons to Stay Alive and that he found his reasons. And I know that in some cases, it doesn’t matter that someone has connections or support, they’re still not going to cope; but I still want to see the other side of that explored in print. I think that this era of technological disassociation and nutball governance requires new kinds of reasoning for hope. For the most part, mine’s finding the absurdity in small things. Mostly words and cavies.
Mortemer and Murderface in their dotage, napping. They are unable to like any of my posts to this very day.
61. Daring Greatly – Brene Brown
In a world where many people are constantly being asked to complete the workload of three people without complaint and it seems clear that the only people who truly matter are people with money, it can be hard to find solid ground mentally.
I have seen many articles about persons in my age group that maintain the sentiment that there is something wrong with my generation because we’re not all thriving. We’re not buying what we’re supposed to. We’re not behaving as our predecessors behaved. We’re finding, at a higher rate than the past few previous generations, that we will not be making more in our lifetimes than our parents did and so what monetary class we were born into is likely to be the monetary class we die in, or we can always go lower, that’s an option too. We’re not quite “daring greatly” after being saddled with large amounts of debt in order to try greatly to find gainful, full time employment.
There are some examples of people who have done really well, who are anomalies amongst the BA-having, underemployed masses. And it’s fun to have those examples pointed out to you as though because you are smart, you should be just like those examples, when that’s very unlikely to happen for you. Paring down your goals to basically just survival feels embarrassing when you graduated from college with hope, got as Master’s degree with hope, went for a Ph.D. in your research field with hope. It’s humiliating to know that even though you made serious efforts to better yourself and pursue something you found truly worthwhile, the opportunities aren’t there after you graduated and you will be greeted with comments like “You should’ve gone into engineering,” when you have no aptitude for that and there are certainly unemployed STEM graduates feeling just as embarrassed for hoping as you are.
Reading Daring Greatly was an interesting experience for me because it came at a time when I thought I was on my way to, well, daring greatly. I’d shrugged off what I thought was the baggage I needed to shrug off, surely now was the time for some minimal self-help and then lots of happy times would follow instantly. I, of course, forgot that I’m a human with depression who works in public service full time. Oops. Even still, I appreciate what Dr. Brown has to say. I think there is a lot of validity to her views on vulnerability and I was happy she showed her work because I honestly have a lot of trouble reading material that could be considered “self help” without a nice level of bitter detached cynicism. One thing though, being courageously willing to put yourself out there in some scenarios can also lead to you becoming the non-vulnerability-interested’s scapegoat, so, it also pays to remember that not everyone can face the truth of some situations.
Duncan, daring blurrily to show her sweet little giraffe nose.
Filed under Books, Review
3. An Unquiet Mind – Kay Redfield Jamison
“A Memoir of Moods and Madness” and a stone cold classic for anyone interested in mental health, An Unquiet Mind is also an engaging read. Jamison’s experience with manic behavior was extremely interesting to me – her description of running rather endlessly around a parking lot during the process of earning her degree and using “we’re psych students” as the reason when questioned stood out in particular. It sort of suits the trope of going into psychiatry because one has psychological issues, but, that doesn’t have to be true. It’s very possible to ignore your own symptoms regardless of what you’re learning about or what level of professional development you’ve achieved. Brains are tricksy.
One thing to remember while reading An Unquiet Mind is that, especially if you don’t have anyone to catch you or clean up the giant mess you may have made while manic, this is definitely not an instructional manual for what to do if you are also experiencing manic or depressive episodes. It’s a memoir, and it has helpful examples, but it is not a self-help manual. You may recognize yourself, you may end up being a little envious of some of the things Jamison has gotten to do, you may not even care about getting to stay in England for long periods of time to write (I miss it). It always amuses me that I know the struggle to publish as an academic writer exists, but when you read material from people who have ended up with published work, when they discuss writing their proposals it’s just like a given that it’s going to happen- of course it did, but, somebody should write in one of their failed projects too, give the folks at home something to relate to on the other side because there’s a lot of failed academics out there who probably assumed their work was going to get published too… (Full disclosure, I am not an academic writer. I’ve just seen a lot of stressed out academics as a librarian and I’m guessing not all of them had a streamlined path to publish their research. And I’ve read or skimmed a crapload of extremely dry articles, so I wonder if the academic writers with stronger writing voices are getting shafted.)
Twiglet, a stone cold classic anchor pig.
I am not looking forward to the future. It’s hard to have your viewpoint as a depressive person validated so clearly- how am I supposed to tell myself that my brain is tricking me into thinking the future’s not worth it when my country elected someone who insists on trampling everything – Everything (Who needs clean air? Or to be considered a person? Or to be paid properly? Or to have any nature left? Or PBS? Or to get an education? I saw someone mentioning their public library will probably be turned into a taco bowl dispensary, I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if that started happening.) – I care about? Who has done such awful things to women? Who thinks the Violence Against Women Act doesn’t matter? What exactly am I supposed to hope for? Oh right, time travel slash reincarnation so I can go back in time and be born rich and powerful so I don’t have to worry constantly about these things. But that’s not right. And if no one showed up at the inauguration from the past to swipe those Bibles away and yell “Psyche, this can’t happen!”, we’re totally not getting time travel. Damnit.
As always, The Onion is on point
However, I am also inspired by seeing so many women in Washington, DC (Hi, Evelyn!) and so many sister marches. Agitate the fuck out of that illegitimate idiot. Remind him that he and his administration are the worthless ones because they aren’t capable of actually performing any public service. It’s hard to serve the public. It forces you to think that the rest of the country are people too. It forces you to confront our shared humanity and can teach people how to be kind. Elected officials, though, are not kings, are not dictators, are not truly “in charge,” their job is to serve us. Our job is to make them.
Miss Peregrine can look forward and she’s one of few reasons I try to.
Miss Ozma, about to take down some patriarchal bullshit. As usual.
I also wanted to announce that since the only things I can contemplate writing about as of yesterday are horror and mental illness, that’s what I’ll be covering for the rest of the year. I’ve read many a horror novel, and I’ve managed to not already “review” some of the books on mental illness that I’ve read. I want to be useful, it’s always been one of my goals. I know that I have been before, so I’ll continue to bring the bitter but usually also funny viewpoint I have as a member of the lost generation until I’m rounded up as Obsolete, along with the satisfyingly calming guinea pig photos.