Daphne Merkin wrestles with the albatross of depression

Cover00Minna Zallman Proctor at Bookforum:

In a fascinating moment toward the end of Daphne Merkin's new memoir, This Close to Happy, she observes from her seat in the cafeteria of a psychiatric hospital that she feels jealous of the anorexics. "They were clearly and poignantly victims of a culture that said you were too fat if you weren't too thin . . . . No one could blame them for their condition or view it as a moral failure, which was what I suspected even the nurses of doing about us depressed patients." The depressives "were suffering from being intractably and disconsolately—and some might say self-indulgently—ourselves." The anorexics were victims and their disease expressed itself as conspicuous self-denial. Depressives, meanwhile, exhibited self-indulgence, and self-indulgence is both unappealing and impossible to share.

There are at least half a dozen thought exercises at play in Merkin's memoir. Probably the most prominent of those, though, is the challenge: how to make a depression memoir that's an enjoyable read, one that describes "what it feels like to suffer from clinical depression from the inside"? The question relies on a hugely relativistic understanding of enjoyable. It's hard to like books that make you feel as if you're slowly drowning in a Crock-Pot of simmering oil, or that make you want to take a knife to your own heart. A reasonable person might expect a depression memoir to be just that kind of book. Clinical depression is, after all, a paralyzing, unrelenting, frequently boring stew.

more here.