It is a sparkling day in mid-June, the sun out in full force, the sky a limpid blue. I am lying on my back on the grass, listening to the intermittent chirping of nearby birds; my eyes are closed, the better to savor the warmth on my face. As I soak up the rays I think about summers past, the squawking of seagulls on the beach and walking along the water with my daughter, picking out enticing seashells, arguing over their various merits. My mind floats away into a space where chronology doesn’t count…
So opens Daphne Merkin’s recounting of her life with severe depression. A Journey through Darkness is the feature article in this week’s New York Times Magazine. On that sparkling day in mid-June, Daphne was on a “fresh air” break in The Patients’ Park & Garden, the all-concrete highlight of her latest clinic.
Merkin recounts her life, an intractable life, in this moving essay. She mixes in recounting her latest stay in a clinic with reflections on depression and how this illness has shaped her life in such fundamental ways. Here are two pieces that spoke to me.
This is the worst part of being at the mercy of your own mind, especially when that mind lists toward the despondent at the first sign of gray: the fact that there is no way out of the reality of being you, a person who is forever noticing the grime on the bricks, the flaws in the friends — the sadness that runs under the skin of things, like blood, beginning as a trickle and ending up as a hemorrhage, staining everything. It is a sadness that no one seems to want to talk about in public, at cocktail-party sorts of places, not even in this Age of Indiscretion.
This was enraging in and of itself — the fact that severe depression, much as it might be treated as an illness, didn’t send out clear signals for others to pick up on; it did its deadly dismantling work under cover of normalcy. The psychological pain was agonizing, but there was no way of proving it, no bleeding wounds to point to. How much simpler it would be all around if you could put your mind in a cast, like a broken ankle, and elicit murmurings of sympathy from other people instead of skepticism.
Link to A Journey through Darkness