Writer Andrew Solomon explores depression in Noon Day Demon: An Atlas of Depression. Recounting his own experience, he weaves a personal and cultural analysis of the illness. His is a sophisticated and deeply human discussion of our vulnerabilities. Solomon rejects distance, embracing personal stories and the wonderful intimate complexities of sufferers and their lives. Solomon also looks at how factors such as poverty and culture enter into diagnoses, something that has been largely unrecognised, even by sufferers themselves. Poverty, too, is a dark place.
Solomon’s insight is profound and has the power of an inside view. When Eric Wilson talks about the need for unease, he is doing so from a position of privilege, one that does not recognise that, for many people, what he could call melancholia or depression (depending on the person), leads to deprivation and loss – not to an ability to challenge injustice. Sometimes it is only treatment enables a sufferer to survive. When Peter Kramer talks about depression it is from a comfortable clinician’s point of view. Solomon, however, brings his light touch and careful nuance to the language and experiences of depression.
He argues that the language used around depression struggles to describe the subtlety or even brutality of the illness. Further, it does not recognise how unique is each person’s experience of illness. And in all his thinking and conversations, he seeks the value of people’s experiences, the things they have taken from depression (there are no gifts here), the precious parts of themselves that they have kept, despite or because of the despair.
For myself, if I am to find a value in the illness, it is that it has forced me to see small things and treasure the minor disorder that gives moments meaning when all is grey – it is the soft thorn of new growth on the holly, or the mist on the hills, or the fact that I managed to step around the dog shit on North Road. It is the black cat asleep on Noon Day Demon where it lies on the pile of manuscripts on the corner of my desk.
And yet, for all the detail and colour and fluidity I am attributing (at least in part) to the drug, I would prefer to be myself. I am no longer sure, however, if I exist in such a pure form – a form of untainted ease, where I could trust the presence of everyday sadness, let alone the profound sadness Le Guin describes in response to those who would fear death:
No darkness lasts forever. And even there, there are stars” (Ursula K. Le Guin, The Farthest Shore).
But what are we losing when we lose a voice to darkness without stars – what might they have said if they were able to keep speaking, what might they have written? What other words have we lost? For some people, Prozac may provide a channel for an otherwise lost voice. The best I can do is to listen to myself: here are my fingers, here is a keyboard, and these, these are my words.
Heather Bauchop is a writer and researcher. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand. This is the final part of a four-part essay on this topic. Read the essay in sequence:
- Part 1 – Pursuing darkness: musing on depression and creativity
- Part 2 – Prozac and creativity
- Part 3 – An obsession with happiness?
- Part 4 – The intimate complexities of sufferers