Like just about everyone, I was saddened to hear of Robin Williams’s death.
As someone who has been treated for chronic depression, I wanted to share a quick list of some of the books that have helped me. Reading about, and studying depression has given me solace at times when talking with people about my challenges has been too humiliating or difficult.
There’s been an outpouring on social media of tweets and Facebook posts about the help that is available. I wish it were always that simple. Depression collapses reality, as does most pain. You might tell yourself help is available, and you might believe it, and you might know it’s true, but it might not seem relevant.
Yes, there is help. But if you can’t get out of bed, you can’t get to the doctor. If you can’t reach for your phone, you can’t always make the call.
When you are depressed, the big things become overwhelming, and the small things become big. Everything takes too much effort. The tiniest choices become agonizing and appear to have high stakes.
I say this as someone who hates whining, and I hate it in myself more than in anyone else. But I do it, because depression is a distortion of reality. What you know in your head will be completely at odds with what you feel inside, and that is one of the causes of the most acute psychic trauma.
This list is for anyone who is suffering from depression, or for family and friends of the depressed. These books have given me the best understanding of what it is that I go through chemically, and how to empathize with the suicidal brain.
One quick caveat: if you have depression and reading about depression is one of your triggers, please consider carefully before opening these. Just be honest with yourself. They go into great depth and turn over all the proverbial stones. If you’re in a place where you can be helped by a book, these have my highest recommendation. If you fear that an in-depth examination of depression might not be a good thing for you, please trust your intuition.
But if you’re one of the family members, I think these could be invaluable to you.
The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon.
National Book Award Winner. If it is possible to have a pleasurable read about a devastating subject, Noonday Demon is it. Solomon covers every facet of the disorder, with some of the most wrenching personal stories I’ve read. This is a hard one to describe. You’ll know within a few page whether it’s for you.
Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide by Kay Redfield Jamison
I read Night Falls Fast while working as part of a Suicide Prevention Research Team. How could someone possibly want to end their own life? Can anything be done to save those who are considering suicide? This is a thoughtful, meticulous book that helped me ask better questions, and to see that I wasn’t nearly as low as the people in the cases described here.
Darkness Visible by William Styron
Styron wrote Sophie’s Choice. This slim memoir of his depression is every bit as elegant, and possibly even sadder.
I was speaking in Leesburg, Virginia, and was invited to the James Monroe house (fifth president of the USA). The host told me about a dinner party they held for William Styron. She said most people who asked Mr. Styron about his writing wanted to talk about Darkness Visible.
“Did you know you were helping anyone?” she apparently asked him.
“I was just trying to help myself understand,” he said.
Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life by Melody Moezzi
And at last, something lively and irreverent.
From the Amazon page: With candor and humor, a manic-depressive Iranian-American Muslim woman chronicles her experiences with both clinical and cultural bipolarity.
As a friend of Melody’s, I can say that this description is insufficient.
She’s even more complicated than that blurb makes it sound like she is, and there’s no way to convey how intelligent she is outside of actually conversing with her. But this book is a great start.
I am recommitting today to treat everyone with greater gentleness and love. Things are hard enough, without us making them harder on each other. I hope you’ll do the same.
You just never know what someone’s going through.
Good luck to us all!