May is mental health awareness month, and I thought I’d post something about this book I read a while back, because I think that pointing people to resources is also a way to raise awareness. This is a book about depression, and it covers pretty much everything on the topic you might want to know, find out, debate or are simply curious about.
We’re in 2015 and I still read online people saying you don’t need to take anything for depression because you can manage it naturally. I witnessed my mother going into an almost catatonic state due to depression and I can guarantee there was no herbal tea, meditation or yoga that could have taken her out of it.
I thought about suicide for the first time as a child. I remember going into the kitchen at night, lights off, picking up a knife, looking at my wrists and thinking “what if”. I didn’t want to do it, but I wondered what would happen. I didn’t feel like I belonged in my family, so obliterating myself seemed like something natural to think about.
At 13, when my father divorced his second wife, I experienced some signs of depression. It wasn’t the divorce itself, but the fact that I never saw my step-sister again despite being close to her. My sister also distanced herself from me, and I couldn’t understand why something that was between two adults was affecting the children’s dynamics so much.
At 14, for the first time in my life, the majority of my classes were in the afternoon. On those days when I didn’t start classes early, I’d spend the mornings just crying. Crying for hours, for no reason that I could put my finger on, until it was time to go to school. I realized then that unless I turn the autopilot on as soon as I wake up, things look gloomy. Very gloomy.
From that year on, depression came in cycles, sometimes with the help of external circumstances, sometimes not. I developed insomnia a year after that, and it became chronic. The reason it became chronic is because I refused to see a doctor until I was 28. I didn’t want to be hooked on pills for the rest of my life, and decided I could try every “natural” option there was out there instead. That was one of the biggest mistakes I made in my entire life. Of course some of the things I tried helped my life become more manageable, and I recommend them in that way, but they did not cure anything. When problems are so ingrained and they go as far back as when you were a toddler, you’re going to need professional help.
To me depression has a lot to do with powerlessness and hopelessness. When I look around and I can’t see any possible way things might get better, that’s when I know. But depression has many faces, and that’s where this book really comes to life. Andrew Solomon draws from his own experience battling depression and from dozens of interviews he conducted with people all over the world, including remote places such as Greenland and Cambodia. He approaches depression from several different perspectives, including evolutionary, historical, cultural, and even political. He covers all the treatments, both conventional and alternative. He himself tried most of them and goes through each one detailing his experiences. The chapters are simply titled Depression, Breakdowns, Treatments, Alternatives, Populations, Addiction, Suicide, History, Poverty, Politics, Evolution, and Hope, but each one is thoroughly and extensively researched, bringing you several different views in order to create a panoramic look into this condition many people are still afraid to disclose. This “atlas of depression” really becomes an insightful journey that will probably change the way you think about mental illness and the people who suffer from it.
I think this book is a must for people who are living or have lived with depression, but probably even more for people who have witnessed a loved one struggling with it. It raises awareness, and it gets you thinking. Andrew Solomon doesn’t answer all the questions. Most topics concerning depression are still puzzling researchers all around the world. But he does give you all the pieces for you to put together your own puzzle and find hope and strength.
I am going to wrap this post with a few links you might want to check:
Andrew Solomon’s TED Talk on depression: here
An article he wrote for The Guardian: here
My personal favorite, The Huffington Post published earlier this year an article titled 50 Sufferers Describe Depression For People Who’ve Never Been Depressed. Some of the descriptions are mind blowing.
Thank you for reading.