A Journey Through Postpartum Depression
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A beautifully crafted, unflinching account of a young Englishwoman’s battle with the demons in her psyche. Less than two weeks after the birth of her second daughter, Shaw begins a dismaying, inexorable slide into deep depression. She starts a journal to record what is happening to her mind and body. Paralyzing fear drives her to her bed, which becomes her prison; intense feelings of self-loathing are expressed in self-inflicted bites, burns, and scratches to her face and hands. She starves herself and drinks only enough fluids to breastfeed her baby. It is inevitable that Shaw is confined to a psychiatric unit, where she is diagnosed as suffering from postpartum depression. There she is given, over time, 16 electroshock treatments (ECT), the therapy of choice when psychotic depression will not yield to drugs. Shaw finds it humiliating. It leaves her “stunned and disoriented,” with no memory of what has happened. When doctors cannot tell her why she is depressed, and refuse her pleas for psychoanalysis, Shaw begins to read everything she can find on depression. The psychiatric textbooks she first consults reduce patients to cases, symptoms, and disease processes. But Shaw is convinced her depression is more than physical, that in fact it lies deep within herself. Seeking confirmation, Shaw reads William Styron’s retrospective Darkness Visible, an account of his own depression which Styron characterizes as an “aberrant biochemical process.” Shaw is heartened however, by his concession that it might have grown out of a feeling of great loss. Marie Cardinal’s book The Words To Say It inspires Shaw to continue her journey of self-revelation through her writing and in psychoanalysis. Composing Myself both charts Shaw’s reclamation of her life and bears witness to her courage in the face of a recalcitrant mind-altering disorder.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 1-883642-97-3
Page count: 209pp
Publisher: Steerforth
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1998


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