Drug companies would fund huge numbers of studies and then only release the ones that showed success
Well-known author and journalist, Johann Hari, suffered from depression as a teen, taking anti-depressants from a tender age. Told, like so many others, his depression was the cause of a chemical imbalance in his brain, he later studied social sciences and embarked on a quest to discover the truth about the cause of his depression. He swallowed antidepressants like millions of others, and after 13 years of pills, without much change, and a broad investigation into the true causes of depression, he is calling for a different approach.
He says that between 65% and 80% of people on antidepressants are depressed again within a year. There is a tickbox list on the DSM Website which is used to diagnose someone as mentally ill and suffering from chronic depression.
WE’VE BEEN TELLING OURSELVES THIS CHEMICAL STORY FOR 35 YEARS AND EVERY YEAR DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY GETS WORSE.
Trigger warning: scenes contain suicide, thoughts of self-harm and detailed thoughts on depression.
I have never read such a good introspective work musing on the nature of life, lack of purpose, sinking into depression, analysis of psychological treatments of mental disorders in the middle of the 20th century and such detailed thoughts of suicide that would put Cuelho’s Veronica decides to die to shame. What makes the book 10 times worse is knowing that Eshter – six letters – is actually Sylvia – six letters – and what you see in the book is Sylvia’s actual thoughts on suicide.
She “graduates” the asylum she was committed in the book as a whole new person, but in real life she decided she could not go on anymore, fed her kids breakfast and then put her head in the oven. “Selbstmord” – suicide. She left a grieving husband behind and two little girls. What makes it worse, I read somewhere that the dad (Ted Hughes) married eventually one of Sylvia’s old friends who also committed suicide (after killing one of the girls).
Ted Hughes’ affair with Assia Wevill
In May of 1962 Assia Wevill and her third husband, Canadian poet David Wevill, were invited to spend a weekend with Plath and Hughes, who were then living in the village of North Tawton in Devon, England. It was then, as Hughes later wrote in a poem, that “The dreamer in me fell in love with her,” and a few short weeks later he embarked on his affair with Assia Wevill.
A few months after meeting Assia, Plath and Hughes took a holiday in Ireland. On the fourth day, Hughes disappeared to London to meet Wevill, with whom he embarked on a 10 day trip through Spain, the same place where Plath and Hughes had honeymooned.
Upon his arrival back home, the marriage unraveled when he refused to end his affair with Wevill. Plath and Hughes separated in July of 1962. Just before and several times after, Plath attempted to end her life.
Plath lived in a flat with her children during the gloomy winter of 1962 – 1963, basically functioning as a single parent to her baby son and toddler daughter. As is well known, she committed suicide by gassing herself in her kitchen while her children slept soundly in a room nearby.
The months between her discovery of Hughes’ affair and her death were remarkably productive, and much of the poetry she produced during this period was published posthumously.
In March 1969, Assia Wevill dragged a bed into the kitchen of her Clapham flat, dissolved sleeping tablets in a glass of water and gave the drink to her daughter (generally believed to be Hughes’ child) before finishing the rest herself. Mirroring Plath’s suicide method, she then turned on the gas stove and got into bed with her daughter; they never woke up.
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath’s only novel, follows a year in the life of Esther Greenwood as she descends into mental illness, resulting in suicide attempts. On the surface, Esther has everything- a successful internship at a fashion magazine in New York, a great social life with many friends- and yet she can’t stop depression overwhelming her. The poignancy of the novel is that Plath herself committed suicide just a month after it was published.
Set in the glitz and glam of 1950s New York City, our heroine Esther is the somewhat reluctant member of a group of interns for a top fashion magazine editor. She has one best friend called Doreen, a sexy extrovert who likes to be with as many men as possible and is normally described either drunk or in the process of getting drunk. Esther is a bit quieter than Doreen but not as quiet as another South girl they call rudely Cow Polyanna. Esther does not know quite yet who she is. She knows who she was, a straight A student, thinker and winner of writing awards. She does not know though where her life is going and upon returning home to the suburbs, Esther is devastated to learn she has not been accepted into the writing course she had her heart set on.
Suddenly without something to fill her time and occupy her thoughts, she starts falling into depression. She sulks in bed, refuses to learn shorthand from her mother in order to become a typist and she meditates upon the role of women in society – especially the ones who are not yet ready to marry. They can either become waitresses or secretaries.
The social expectation for Esther was to get married, have a few children, renounce her dreams and her education and become like her mother – educated but house-bound.
Imagery is used with her thinking of many figs on different branches, all representing various choices in her life, future paths that may be taken. Esther sees these all withering before her fingers even get a chance to grasp them.
She decides to write a book but stops after the first page stuck with the realisation that you would have had to experience something in order to write about it and the thing she hasn’t done is lose her virginity. She sees the world split into two types: virgins and non-virgins. She sleeps more, does not eat, does not sleep, does not wash.
After three weeks, her concerned mother recommends her going to a doctor. She is then further recommended to a psychologist – who does not do much (in my opinion) and suggests electric shocks way too early. After that went horribly wrong, Esther refuses further sessions and her mother is happy she had returned to her senses. But depression does not simply go away and she’s back in the deep black waters once again.
From the halfway point on, her descent from inaction to depression is very well described. She decides she wants to die and spends some time thinking of ways to do it. She wants to hang herself with a bathrobe cord but the house beams are built too low. She wants to slash her wrists but only cuts a surface cut on her legs and spends some time watching blood run. She wants to drown herself in the sea but can’t go that far due to a kid that was sitting on the beach. She finally takes some of her mother’s sleeping pills but they manage to bring her back. The pills do leave her with some sort of a disfigurement as she throws the mirror she begged the nurse to have. I assumed that the disfigurement came from her falling down: “Then a great, hard weight smashed against my cheek like a stone wall” which is presumable some rubble, and then “A chisel cracked down on my eye, and a slit of light opened.”
She is committed to an asylum, goes to therapy, meets other clinically depressed people including Joan- who we don’t actually know whether is a real person or a person she had materialised in order to make thoughts of her deep desire to die.
And although the final lines of the book are open-ended, I felt that it was positive and that Esther was on the right track. Her actions in the closing chapters had been self-directed and about achieving things for herself – the opposite of the frozen inertia that defined the slump into depression.
The Loss of Virginity
Esther’s status as a woman is always placed in doubt as she never had sex. She tried to have sex with her first boyfriend, Buddy, but felt that his experienced past compared to her inexperience was too much to handle and she felt betrayed by his initial gentleman’s appearance when she felt that he was despoiled by a waitress he had intercourse with.
The other boyfriends she had did not last very long and Doreen’s attempts to set her up with various men were usually discounted by Esther. The men were too short, to stubby, too eager to take and not give and one instance ends with a near-rape situation. She obsesses over her virginity, sees it as a burden, and considers a ritualistic and tribal removal of her vestigial innocence. The only risk that she can foresee is a situation where she would be pregnant after a casual encounter. That’s when she decides she no longer wants to live with that risk and on a day out from the hospital, she goes and has one of the old-style diaphragms set up. She then meets a perfectly handsome and intelligent maths teacher and she has sex with him (he could have been anyone off the street as her intent was to seduce and disappear after the act).
The issue that dumbfounded me was the result of the first sexual experience. She bled a lot. So much that she had to be taken to an emergency room where the doctor only explained that he has seen this before and knows how to fix it. The heavy hemorrhage is not explained but is treated as a symbolic pass to womanhood where all the evils within have been washed out.
She then proceeds to be released from the ward as a healed woman. (No longer hysterical and depressed).
What happened afterwards, when she began to hemorrhage, is much more important (in my opinion). She understood that she was losing too much blood and needed medical attention, but rather than using her injury as a catalyst for ending her life as she most likely would have done if the situation would have occurred a couple months prior, she chose to seek out help. This moment gives us conformation that Esther has regained her will to live and symbolizes the light at the end of an obstacle rich, suicide inducing tunnel.
The book can stand as an accurate description of clinical depression. When depressed, you can’t find the energy or will to do the most simple things like take a shower. Focusing on tasks such as reading or watching TV become impossible because you just don’t seem to have the ability to keep your mind on them for long enough. Morbid or dark thoughts are on repeat in your brain and you just don’t care enough to form any attachments or relationships with people. It seems her depression started with the death of her father at age 9 (she states she hasn’t been truly happy since) and slowly progressed until her return home from New York where she has a full on mental break down. This is the part that would seem fast, but that is how break down’s are. They come on suddenly and are quite debilitating. If you can relate to depression then it is easier to see the signs and symptoms in her earlier experiences in the story.
The bell jar is a metaphor for her depression. It covers her, keeps her isolated from the world and distorts her view of life. She also says “stewing in my own sour air” under the jar meaning she is trapped in her depressive thoughts.
The Hate for the Mother
Over and over we see Esther interact with her mother. We see Esther going to a psychiatrist and then we see the mother go in as well and come out crying. She obviously has been blamed for Esther’s condition by her primary doctor. We see Esther throwing away roses she got on her birthday from her mother. Nobody really visits her and she likes the isolation. I couldn’t understand why she hated her mother so badly. I felt like her mother showed genuine signs of concern and I was confused as to why Esther threw away her flowers.
Sometimes it’s easiest to say you hate someone rather than explain why what they are doing or saying is hurtful to you. Every symptom or problem Esther claims to have, her mother immediately dismisses it with a “that’s impossible” or “there’s no way that happened” or “it’s probably not as bad as all that.” Even when a doctor verifies Esther’s claims and says she must go to a hospital to get treatments, her mother acts as if it’s not happening and refuses to talk to Esther about the issue at hand. She calls the other residents of Doctor Gordon’s hospital “Those awful dead people at that hospital” and follows that up with “I knew you’d decide to be all right again” as if Esther was just acting up and as soon as she decided to feel better, all of the problems would go away. She constantly does this throughout the book and every time she visits Esther or talks about Esther’s illness, she somehow brings it back to herself, at one point asking if it’s her “fault” that Esther is like this. The way she dismisses, avoids, or blames herself only makes Esther’s condition worse because she never really accepts Esther’s problems and would rather hide them than actually help.
Here we’ll explore quotes from The Bell Jar, an influential modern novel that took mental illness head on in a chronicle both terrifying and tender.
The Bell Jar wasn’t published in the U.S. until 1971, in accordance with the wishes of Ted Hughes, to whom she had been married at the time of her death (though they were separated at the time). From the 1971 Harper and Row edition:
“This extraordinary work chronicles the crackup of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, successful — but slowly going under, and maybe for the last time.
Step by careful step, Sylvia Plath takes us with Esther through a painful month in New York as a contest-winning junior editor on a magazine, her increasingly strained relationships with her mother and the boy she dated in college, and eventually, devastatingly, into the madness itself.”
The reader is drawn into her breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes completely real and completely rational, as probably and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration in the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is far in any novel.”
Rosie Thomas brings forward an interesting novel of the complexities of family and the sacrifices we make for the ones we love. Sadie’s life is calm and complete. She is a mother, a good friend, and the robust survivor of a marriage she deliberately left behind. She has come to believe that she has everything she wants and deserves. But now her father is dying—the elusive man who spent his life creating exquisite perfumes for other women is slipping away from her, and Sadie must try to make her peace with him before it’s too late.
As Sadie confronts the truth about her father, who often ignored her as he pursued his separate life, her relationship with her son Jack also appears to be breaking down. Intent on salvaging her relationships with both son and father, her seemingly perfect life unravels from both ends. Then the arrival of an ephemeral woman from her father’s past sets off a chain reaction of events that even Sadie cannot control.
For Cinnamon, dreaming of imaginary worlds and characters is her only escape from her mother’s breakdowns. Her grandmother’s overbearing control. Her family’s turmoil. But Cinnamon is discovering something special about herself, a gift from deep within that sets her apart: a talent for the theater that would finally give her a chance…to truly escape.
I wonder if there is anyone left in the world that can be objective about John Green. And if there is, can they be objective about a John Green book about teens dying of cancer?
“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”
I didn’t want to read it as I’m not usually into sob-stories and this one was a sob-fest (I knew it after watching the movie). I’m not going to lie to you, the book is terribly sad. I suggest you don’t read it if you are unwell or depressed, but it raises some very deep philosophical issues about life, death, the universe and everything. It gives me a bit of hope that our young adults might not be scrambling their brains with screens all the time, but engaging with a beautifully written story with some challenging themes
I got stuck reading Margaret Atwood again. And there is a passage in Moral Disorder which seems to talk clearly about existential depression.
Story is called The Other Place and this woman is analysing her life so far in comparison with her parent’s. No mate, no solid place to live in, always on the move.
I couldn’t keep up my transient existence forever. I would have to end up with someone, sometime, someplace. Wouldn’t I?
But what if I missed a turn somewhere- missed my own future? That would be frighteningly easy to do. I’d make one hesitation or one departure too many and then I’d have run out of choices. I’d be standing all alone.
Existential depression is a depression that arises when an individual confronts certain basic issues of existence. Yalom (1980) describes four such issues (or “ultimate concerns”)–death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness. Death is an inevitable occurrence. Freedom, in an existential sense, refers to the absence of external structure. That is, humans do not enter a world which is inherently structured. We must give the world a structure which we ourselves create. Isolation recognizes that no matter how close we become to another person, a gap always remains, and we are nonetheless alone. Meaninglessness stems from the first three. If we must die, if we construct our own world, and if each of us is ultimately alone, then what meaning does life have?
Mama Cass – she would have made a great friend if she were still alive.
A proud and large woman with a wonderful voice to rival Whitney and Amy Winehouse. And brought down by the same monster that haunted the other two women: drugs and booze and an unhealthy lifestyle. So when I put my hands on this piece of non-fiction, I decided to give it a read. I mean, I liked Amy Poehler’s biography,
this should be more fun!
Boy was I wrong. This book depressed me. I knew she struggled with weight but I had no idea she put on weight to stand out, to be a woman that people talked about, to be the last one to be picked at the gym, to use it as a shield. Like “yes, I’m fat, whatcha gonna do!”
Eating disorder aside, she struggled with depression which ran in her family from both her mom and her dad’s side. She would get the highs that come from the diet pills and the drugs and afterwards she would slump down in the dark places where the demons whispered. A human balloon, she swelled to as much as 294 pounds before pursuing crash diets. In a single weekend of diuretic treatment at L.A.’s Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, she could shed 20 pounds.
She was pretty, she had talent and she threw kick ass parties. She knew how to make an entrance – she would wait until the party was in full swing and then she would enter and people always knew when she came in. The life of the party.
“You gotta make your own kind of music,
sing your own special song,
make your own kind of music,
even if nobody else sings along.”
Cass Elliot was born Ellen Naomi Cohen on September 19, 1941, in Baltimore, Maryland. She grew up in the Washington D.C. environs and in her senior year of high school, performed in a summer stock production of “The Boyfriend” at the Owings Mills Playhouse, where she played the French nurse who sings “It’s Nicer, Much Nicer in Nice.” After this experience, even though her family anticipated her seeking a college education in pursuit of a career, Cass forged ahead in the performing arts. She made a splash in New York and began an acting career, competing with Barbra Streisand for the Miss Marmelstein part in “I Can Get It for You Wholesale” in 1962.
I would say the world’s in terrible shape, but I’m afraid the world would say, ‘Look who’s talking!’
Elliot had two prime-time television specials of her own in 1969 and 1973, but most people remember her scores of television appearances throughout the early 1970s with Mike Douglas, Julie Andrews, Andy Williams, Johnny Cash, Red Skelton, Ed Sullivan, Tom Jones, Carol Burnett and others. She guest-hosted “The Tonight Show”, had successful stints in Las Vegas and continued to record for RCA during these years, too. Cass had one daughter, Owen Vanessa, in April 1967 and she was married twice, first (1963-68) to fellow Big Three and Mugwumps member Jim Hendricks and second to Baron Donald von Wiedenman (1971). In 1974, she traveled to London where she had a two-week engagement at the London Palladium. After performing to sellout crowds and basking in repeated ovations, Cass tragically succumbed to a heart attack on July 29, 1974 in London, following this successful concert tour (and NOT, as is commonly believed, from choking on a sandwich).
In 1998, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Cass Elliot and her fellow band-mates from The Mamas and The Papas into that institution. Her daughter Owen represented her mother and accepted her award.
My advice is precisely the advice my mother gave me. If you believe you have talent, the next thing you must have is determination. If you keep working, keep striving, and try always to move forward a little bit with every job you do, you’ll eventually make it. And I believe that!
I say, Look, I’m here now. There must be a reason I’m here. If that’s fatalistic, be that as it may. Where my work is, is where my life is, and if we’re falling in the ocean, we’re falling into the ocean.
If you truly dig what you are doing, if you lay it out that way, nobody can not respond. That’s what rock and roll is; it’s relentless.