Unholy Ghost: writers on depression

I just finished this amazing collection of personal stories of depression by professional writers. Some were siblings or spouses of those suffering, but most of the writings were by people who have suffered a great deal.

When you are depressed, you don’t write. But these people, after the fact, sometimes with help from family and journals, recount their lowest points and what they learned.

One chapter is a woman in her thirties who talks about being pregnant while on medication. An African-American woman talks about how depression is viewed by the black community. A man survives overdosing on 65 pills then finds another pill in a jacket pocket and wonders if that would have finished him off.

They write about suicide attempts, long hospitalizations, and many more sad events. Grab a used copy at McKays or Amazon.

Unholy Ghost: writers on depression edited by Nell Casey, includes excerpt from Styron’s Darkness Visible; Styron’s wife, Rose; Larry McMurtry (western author, Brokeback Mountain); Susanna Keyson (Girl,Interrupted); Jane Kenyon’s Husband; Nell and Maud Casey, sisters, both giving an account of Maud’s struggle.

I highly recommend reading it. It provides a great balance to some of the textbooks I have for school.

Here are some of the quotes that struck me:

“I think depression and despair are reasonable reactions to the nature of life.”   -Susanan Kaysen

“The raw nub of my soul bobbed up to the surface, ugly and ungainly, and I was suddenly pierced with panicky malaise.” -Darcy Steinke

“my own view….is that depression arises out of an enormously complicated, constantly shifting, elusive concatenation of circumstance, temperament, and biochemistry.”   -David Karp

“You do not cheer up depressives; the worst thing you can do is to count their blessings for them.”  -Donald Hall (husband of Jane Kenyon)

“My failure was not in perceiving reality; I perceived it full well, and despised it.”  “I was nearly paralyzed by dread of my inadequacy.”  -Nancy Mairs

“My heart pumped dread. It was an actual substance I could feel coursing through my bloodstream–some days a barely-there awareness, other days a carbonated liquid that seemed to have replaced my blood.” -Lesley Dormen

“Depression is a place that teems with nightmarish activity. It’s a one-industry town, a psychic megalopolis devoted to a single twenty-four-hour-we-never-close product. You work misery as a teeth-grinding muscle-straining job (is that why it’s so physically exhausting?), proving your shameful failures to yourself over and over again.”  -Lesley Dormen

“I don’t know where depression comes from or where it goes. I do know that it was the crucible, the rite of passage, that allowed me to create my life.”  -Lesley Dormen

“…one thing people always say about depression is that stubborn, consistent support helps even when it seems like it doesn’t..” -Nell Casey

“…to be depressed is not to have words to describe it, is not to have words at all, but to live in the gray world of the inarticulate, where nothing takes shape, nothing has edges or clarity.”   “Being depressed felt like living in a corpse, so being dead seemed like ‘a better place to live.'”  -Maud Casey


Dark Emotions have Value

“We have lost our connection to the dark side of the sacred. We prize status, power, consumerism, and distraction, and there is no room for darkness in any of that. Americans tend to have a naivete about life, always expecting it to be rosy. When something painful happens, we feel that we are no good, that we have failed at achieving a good life. We have no myths to guide us through the painful and perilous journeys of the dark emotions, and yet we all suffer these journeys at some point. We have high rates of depression, anxiety and addiction in this country, but we have no sense of the sacred possibilities of our so-called illnesses. Instead we have a medical culture. Suffering is considered pathology, and the answer to suffering is pharmacology.”

Miriam Greenspan, author of Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair, in an interview

can’t wait to get this book! Could the “American Idol” of optimism be a source of some of our problems?

Rohr on Addiction and 1st World Problems

“Our suffering in developed countries is primary psychological, relational, and addictive: the suffering of people who are comfortable on the outside but oppressed and empty within. It is a crisis of meaninglessness, which leads us to try to find meaning in possessions, perks, prestige, and power, which are always outside of the self. It doesn’t work. So we turn to ingesting food, drink, or drugs, and we become addictive consumers to fill the empty hole within us.”

Afraid of Bad News?


Unfortunately, yes.

Sometimes, I am.

Every time I read Psalm 112:7 I love it, but then….I don’t.

In speaking of the person who fears the Lord, is righteous, generous, etc…the Psalmist says

“They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD.”

It’s the usual wisdom lit principle that is often true: be good and you get good, and don’t get bad–be bad and you get bad. Santa Clausology. But try telling that to Job.  His friends wrongly deduced that all the bad news Job received was connected to his sin, that he wasn’t righteous, generous, that he didn’t fear God.  And God was displeased with Job’s friends for preaching this cause and effect mentality (which is in the bible from Deuteronomy to Galatians).

Try telling that to my internet friends Les, Keith, and John.

As one who has received bad news, I continue to expect it. Occasionally get caught up in obsessing: thinking, expecting, preparing emotionally for that phone call or knock at the door. “What will I do? How will I handle it? What next?”

Foolishly trying to prepare for that which you cannot prepare. Like Hugh Jackman’s character in “Prisoners,” you can have a basement prepped for the end times, but some lunatic might still kidnap your little girl.

For me, the hardest part is that God hasn’t promised and doesn’t promise it won’t happen again.  People still die and sometimes in unexpected and tragic ways. Bad things still happen to the good and the bad. Families still fall apart as long as Satan is “little g” god of this world.

Trying to convince myself “it probably won’t happen” doesn’t help.  Math was never a favorite subject and I am not good at percentages.  It might or it might not.  Tragedy will or won’t happen. 50/50.

Maybe this Psalm could be interpreted to say that while bad news may come, the godly man or woman doesn’t have to fear it. Sounds good.  Maybe. I don’t know.

I guess I prefer to endure simply with the comfort that while bad news is likely, good news is certain.  Already here.  And HE will help us get through the dark days of loss and grief.

“And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…”

Merry Christmas! And if it’s not merry, that’s okay, too. Don’t let anyone try to force “Merry” on you.

May God be with you.

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).