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January 1, 2018

What to read during a major depression

No black

My most recent episode (of four total since #1 in 1977) lasted 21 months, pretty much incapacitating me from January 2014 through September 2015.

It lasted longer than the first three combined.

Functionally, it took every bit of willpower I had just to keep my cat's litter box clean.

Not an exaggeration.

But I digress.

For a while I was simply unable to read anything, which was doubly depressing since reading is the thing I like most to do of all things, such being the case since I was a small boy.

Lots of things have changed over the years but that's one that has remained constant.

Yet I see I have digressed yet again.

I was unable to read anything at the beginning of the dark period because I couldn't concentrate or follow things on paper.

Nevertheless I kept trying and trying and finally achieved traction with Patrick O'Brian's "Master and Commander" Aubrey/Maturin series, suggested to me by a longtime friend when we were going back and forth about what might be doable for me at the time.

Luckily for me, not only was I able to follow the plot of O'Brian's first such book, "Master and Commander," but also there turned out to be a total of 20 books in the series, which I was able to stretch out over months, though I was increasingly apprehensive as I watched the number remaining on my shelf not yet read slowly diminish.


    Saved by "The Goldfinch"


I happened on Donna Tartt's 2013 bestseller next and found I could lose myself in it quite as well as I had in O'Brian's books.

Lucky for me, "The Goldfinch" is 784 pages long with small type so I had a nice vista of distraction to look forward to.

As I neared the end, I turned to her first book, "The Secret History," and found it to be suitable for my needs.

With 576 pages of small type, it too lasted a good long time.

I'm sure there were others after those but I honestly can't remember them, so I'll have to leave off here.

I do realize that each person and their experience of depression is a unique amalgam of nature and experience in the world, which inevitably makes a given book or author of possible interest to one individual yet of no use to another.

Perhaps the greater lesson learned by me and perhaps useful to you is that it's worth the effort to try to find something, anything, — book, activity, person, what have you — to grasp onto to help pull you back ashore to the vital world.

Oh, yeah, one last thing: I've since gone back and reread the beginning's of both "Master and Commander" and "The Goldfinch," but neither seemed to have the magic or power or whatever it was that summoned me out of the depths back in 2014-15, though the words were identical.

On the other hand, I didn't need or want anything this time around, so perhaps I simply don't have the right key for those metaphorical locks when I'm feeling OK.

January 1, 2018 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


Dr. Joe,

Your story is an inspiration. I have suffered from major depression for over 30 years, plus I became a librarian as a second career about 10 years ago.

Reading is one activity that has ALWAYS got me through my hardest times, although as you mentioned, it was difficult at first to get back into concentrating on a book!

Best of Luck and Regards - I enjoy your blog!

Posted by: Brian McFerron | Jan 4, 2018 12:23:06 PM

"Perhaps the greater lesson learned by me and perhaps useful to you . . . "

I have a friend who calls unshared learning "Content Scrap."

(She lives in the world of small-business marketing, where everything today is about uncovering and sharing "content.")

She's very correct. It's important to share knowledge and learning; one never knows where it might be useful. To lose it is tragic and, of course, wasteful.

Posted by: JohnM | Jan 3, 2018 10:09:01 AM

"But I digress"

Keep digressing please.

Posted by: Matt Penning | Jan 1, 2018 8:26:26 PM

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