Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Being Depressed

The cover of yesterday's New York Times Magazine in jangled hand-printing reads "I have sat in shrinks' offices going on four decades now and talked about my wish to die the way other people might talk about their wish to find a lover." These words surround a small dark snapshot of a woman's face looking at the camera in utter despair.

I know that face, just as I know something about the feeling those words describe. A quarter of a century ago, the writer, Daphne Merkin, fresh out of college, worked for me at McCalls, a gifted young woman, more serious than most but glowing with ambition for the literary career that stretched ahead of her.

Now, in painful detail, she tells of a life since then in a black cloud of chronic depression punctuated by constant psychiatry and mounds of medication, ending in a hospital stay anguishing over whether or not to submit to ECT, electro-shock therapy.

Her thousands of words evoke the extreme of a condition I have lived with since childhood, suffered with in loved ones and anguished over with friends and colleagues. Her account will resonate with the afflicted and baffle those lucky enough to find it exotic, perhaps even self-indulgent.

Yet it is at the heart of modern life, as painful, debilitating and destructive as cancer. Psychiatry and pharmacology almost randomly seem to help some victims but fail those who are most directly connected to life and most vulnerable, as I once wrote about Marilyn Monroe and my best friend, the photographer Ed Feingersh, both of whom died in their thirties, unable to keep living with it.

Like them, Daphne Merkin seems to have suffered from that gift and used it to connect with other human beings as a writer, perhaps never more so than in this account of her struggles.

Even those who can't understand what she is going through may find something of themselves in her and wish her well for the future.

1 comment:

Joe said...

I also read her story (the first time I have read a Sunday Times piece, in its entirety, in a long time). I found it chilling, brilliant and heart-breaking.

After I finished the piece, I found myself randomly recalling a line from Tony Kushner's Angels in America: Peristroika. The evil Roy Cohn, in the hospital dying of AIDS in in mid 1980's, says ruefully, "America has no use for sick people. Once you're sick, you're out of the parade."

It's still true.