A writer reflects on her unceasing struggle with clinical depression.
Although Merkin (The Fame Lunches: On Wounded Icons, Money, Sex, the Brontës, and the Importance of Handbags, 2014, etc.) is an undeniably talented writer, this memoir of her depression is as tough to read as it must have been to write. This is “the book about depression that I had been contacted to write by three successive publishing houses over the course of more than a decade,” and the author admits that “my daughter has been dealing with the reality of my depression for so much of her life that I’m convinced it half bores her.” Many readers will feel the same way, no matter how much they empathize with a writer who confesses, “most of all I am tired of myself and my battles.” In the first sentence, Merkin introduces “the allure of suicide,” an option that never goes away. She believes in the benefits of decades of therapy and medication, without which it’s doubtful she would have been able to write this book. The author writes that the “root cause” of her depression is “the nature of the family itself, as rotten at its core as Hamlet’s Denmark,” and she builds a convincing case, particularly in regard to her cold, neglectful parents—though she finds it impossible to extricate herself from the mother who has ruined her. Hospital stays (the last was eight years ago) have provided respite and occasionally companionship, but circumstances have been rarely much better upon her exit. Merkin has deeply ambivalent feelings about electroshock treatment, resisting a doctor’s suggestion of how much she would benefit and then regretting her refusal. Those who have read her incisive and well-crafted pieces as a staff writer for the New Yorker and a frequent contributor to the New York Times and Elle will wonder how she managed to get any work done when she was feeling so bad.
It’s hard to find much solace within the relentless gloom—however insightfully explored—of one writer’s depression.