Daphne Merkin: A Journey through Darkness

Daphne Merkin

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.
Daphne Merkin 2

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

15 thoughts on “Daphne Merkin: A Journey through Darkness

    1. Hi Laurence,
      I too am eager to get thru to her. I did send her something thru the Times but have my doubts as to whether it made its way to her.
      What’s your story?
      Thanks for any help.

  1. Daphne: I would like you to email me. I am very familiar with the disease of depression since two family members suffer from it. After going to doctor after doctor in NYC, where we lived until we moved to Chapel Hill, NC, we finally found “the doctors’ doctor” who is a Columbia professor. I will not leave his name on your site, but if you would like his name, please get in touch. We, I must say, are very particular about and very knowledgeable about our medical care and have helped friends to get the proper care. I am quite sure you are too, but you may not have met this psychopharmacologist. Of course, he does not take new patients, but he probably would make an exception for you.
    Hope to hear from you.
    Susan Rosenberg

    1. Susan

      I have tried everything, being in a severe depression since I was a child, literally. I am now turning 45. I have done everything on the psychpharm front but maybe your person could help me/see me? Would you be willing to give me his name?

  2. My 39 year old daughter could have written the article (if she was a writer). Though I went through one severe depression in my 20,s and have been mildly depressed all my life, my daughter goes through what you do. She is now in a severe depression, managing to work, considering ECT and the new magnetic therapy, or DBT. Sometimes my younger daughter and I get frustrated and angry, thinking she ought to “pull herself up,” etc. Reading your article made me change my view on that. I sent them both a copy. I was really blown away by my level of recognition and my renewed pledge to stay understanding and supportive. Thanks.

  3. I have just finished reading Daphne Merkin’s article on chronic depression and wanted to thank her for her outstanding and courageous article. I have not dealt with chronic depression, but I have dealt with a chronic panic disorder since I was 11 (I am now 39) that has left me debilitated and unable to leave the house unless I am on a cocktail of medicines, many that Daphne has mentioned in her article. I am writing to tell others who read this post that I was diagnosed with something called Pyroluria this past January. It is too soon to tell if this diagnosis will prove to be long lasting, reliable, and helpful. However, after reading Daphne’s article, I feel compelled to say more about Pyroluria for those who wish to research it further. Since January (with my psychiatrist’s approval — she did her own reading on Pyroluria and said the research she looked at was medically and scientifically sound), I have been going down on my medications slowly and steadily with no ill effects, while gradually going up on my dosage of pyroluria supplements just as slowly and steadily. Pyroluria supplements contain Zinc, Vitamin B6, Manganese, and Magnesium. My panic and anxiety have eased off gradually these past 5 months since following this protocol.

    The symptoms that people with Pyroluria exhibit are: chronic depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and panic disorders, and schizophrenia. Pyroluria has something to do with Zinc and Vitamin B6 not being properly absorbed in the body. I am cautious about writing this because I know many who will be reading this will have already tried everything on the planet (and then some) to relieve their symptoms. This is the only thing that I have tried beside standard medications (and I too have tried everything under the sun), that has supported my health and well being for such a sustained and consistent amount of time. I thought some of you might be interested in researching this as a possible support and salve to what can be a horrible and debilitating illness. If you do wish to look this up further on the web, go to drkaslow.com, or just look up Pyroluria.

    I am grateful this article was published in such a prestigious and widely read magazine. Thank you Daphen Merkin for your honest account of your experience. And thank you to the New York Times magazine for publishing it.

  4. I too, am diagnosed with pyroluria, which only became a problem for me from about age 30, after some very stressful life events. I could never relax again, and a few years later became severely depressed. I used to wish that I had cancer, because then I would either die or recover, and to people who have or have had cancer, this must sound insane. I am now recovered and will be eternally grateful to the doctor who diagnosed me. I also had high histamine and copper overload, either of which on their own can also cause depression. Daphne, I hope you read this and find your way out of that very dark tunnel. Thank you for sharing, I could really relate to the “bloody Wound part’. Lots of love and kind wishes.

  5. Suicide is not preventable more widely for the same reasons that alcoholism/addiction are not successfully treated. In the United States we “patch you up and send you on your way” without effectively addressing attendant emotional trauma. As a sideways speaking culture that “spins” what offends, the physical hurt is all we understand. You’ll have to get your act together on your own. Good parents help this process. But any untreated family trauma renders individuals lacking the kiler instinct to survive our competitive economic system which favors 20% of the population with 85% of the wealth. Yes, 155 of the wealth is sprinkled over 80% of the people. Work your self to death, or kill yourself, is the result. Fox news has to talk alot to keep us believing this is the way it has to be.

  6. I was sufferring from depression, too, several years ago. I don’t know if I’ve recovered or not now. Anyway, at least I gave up committing suicide in my life plan any more. In China, even in such a big city like Shanghai which I live in, people can’t find an active therapist. I remembered I was brought to a so-called famous doctor, at the first time diagnosis, he just asked me several questions in a very fast pace, then he began to write the dose of medicine. I was forced to eat the disgusting pills and seperated from the society, getting fatter and fatter. Few people will talk with me in a normal way, I mean, bias towards a mental disease patient is very tough. Guess, what did I do? I refused to get the medicines. The therapist never means to talk with me, they just gave me medicines and bills. Cheats!!! And then, I went to fitness club and do what I like to do, keep seperating from the surrounding environment, because as I said, few people will handle me in a normal way. Then, I think I recovered. Because I built a world just for myself in my mind, just existing for myself. Daphne, you are much more lucky than me, cause you are living in an environment without so many prejudice like mine. So leave the therapist, once you mean to depend on them, you will lose the hope to recover. To build up a world just for yourself and I think finally you will find a way to save yourself. Cut the hope from the outside world and just believe yourself.

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