Speaking of Sadness

Depression, Disconnection, and the Meanings of Illness

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For most of us, a case of the midwinter blues -- fairly epidemic during the bleak months of January and February -- can be conquered with a little post-holiday bargain shopping or, for those more fortunate, a quick trip to warmer climes. Unfortunately, there are a growing number of Americans -- studies estimate between ten and fifteen million -- for whom such a cure is neither quick nor easy to define. For these individuals, depression is far more than a temporary case of the blues: it is a devastating illness that can lead to family breakups, loss of employment, even suicide. Although the subject of depression has been explored at length via self-help books and the talk-show circuit, and despite the prevalence in our society of this debilitating condition, few of us really know what depression is like. David Karp aims to tell the story of what it's like to live with depression from the point of view of the sufferer.

Based on a series of interviews with fifty depressed men and women, as well as the author's personal experience of depression for nearly twenty years, Speaking of Sadness will help the reader learn what depression really feels like.

As a sociologist, Karp brings to light the myriad ways society contributes to widespread alienation and emotional exhaustion. Karp believes that, in our fragmented, post-modern society, an increase in the number of individuals suffering from depression is to be expected and will, unfortunately, continue until we 'rediscover community as the very best medicine for the sadness of depression.'

What follows are excerpts and ideas from Speaking of Sadness:

From The Author:

In greater or lesser degree I have grappled with depression for almost 20 years. I suppose that even as a child my experience of life was as much characterized by anxiety as by joy and pleasure. And as I look back on it, there were lots of tip-offs along the way that things weren't right. I find it difficult to remember much of my early years, but throughout high school and college I felt uncertain of myself, feared that I could not accomplish what was expected of me, and had plenty of sleepless nights. During college one of my roommates nicknamed me 'weak heart,' after a character-type in Dostoyevsky novels, because I often seemed a bit of a lost soul. During all those years, though, I had no real baseline for evaluating the 'normalcy' of my feelings. At most, I had defined myself as more anxious than other people and as a 'worrier.' None of this seemed to warrant treatment of any sort. Even though I was sort of muddling along emotionally, probably like having a low-grade fever all the time, I was achieving well enough in school to presume that underneath it all I was okay. It wasn't until my early thirties that I was forced to conclude that something was 'really wrong' with me.

People who have lived with depression can often vividly remember the situations that forced them to have a new consciousness as a troubled person. One such occasion for me was a professional meeting of sociologists in Montreal in 1974. I should have been feeling pretty good by any objective standards. I had a solid academic job at Boston College, I had just signed my first book contract, and I had a great wife, a beautiful son, and a new baby daughter at home. From the outside my life looked pretty good.

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