Authors, Mental Illness, and Suicide

September 25, 2008 at 3:42 pm | Posted in Books, LIfe, Reading | 17 Comments
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I just read an article from Globe and Mail revealing for the first time apparently, that L.M. Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables, committed suicide at the age of 67 through a drug overdose.  The author suffered through a great deal of depression during her life.  Reading this made me very sad.  She created a novel that has been an adolescent staple for close to 100 years now, yet she was unable to fully enjoy her life or her success because of the depression from which she suffered. This news also comes close on the heals of the recent suicide of David Foster Wallace, who has now joined the company of Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Hunter S. Thompson, Richard Brautigan, and Virginia Woolf.

I know that authors are not alone in their connection with mental illness and suicide.  Artists and other highly creative people also seem more likely than the general population to suffer from depression or other forms of mental illness and ultimately commit suicide.  It wonder if it is true that creative people are more likely to have these types of issues or if it only seems that way because of their fame and noteriety?  Is what drove these authors and artists to write or create also responsible for their mental anguish?  Could any of those people have been saved while keeping their talent alive and flourishing?

When I started this blog, I was trying to find some way to fight my way out of the depression and anxiety that was strangling me after my beautiful and beloved daughter Allison was born.  She was two at the time, but everywhere I turned I smacked into the same wall.  I was hoping that making a goal for myself that had nothing to do with being a wife (I love you, Danny!) and a mother (you too, Em -n- Em and Ally McBeal!) could help me.  I decided to read 52 books in 2007.  After I got started, I wanted to document what I read in some way.  That was the beginnings of what is now The Literate Housewife Review.  It has been the combination of reading and the creative outlet of writing my blog that has helped me feel more like myself.  I could not imagine what it would be like if this made no difference or if it made me feel worse.

I have had the wonderful opportunity to correspond with and, in some cases, talk with several authors who have written novels and memoirs that I have really enjoyed.  I am also eagerly anticipating my trip to D.C. this weekend to listen to Neil Gaiman, Philippa Gregory, Salmon Rushdie (great way to kick of Banned Books Week!) and James McBride and hopefully get my books signed.  I do not know any of their personal circumstances, but it would be devestating to me if any one of them were to be in such a situation.

While I know that the appreciation of millions can do nothing if someone is so dark inside, I want to express my appreciation for authors and other artists.  As you reflect the human experience, you enhance it and make it beautiful.  You provide a context through which to speak, discuss and think about that which is without words and I will forever be grateful.

#23 ~ I Am Charlotte Simmons

May 18, 2007 at 6:31 pm | Posted in Books, College Life, LIfe, Post-Partum Depression, Reading | Leave a comment
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I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe

Have you ever read a book like mad just to get the darn thing over with? That’s what I’m doing right now. It’s not that I Am Charlotte Simmons is a bad book. It’s not. Tom Wolfe is a wonderful author. Reading this book is like getting a second hand look at the thought processes I had when I was in the midst of the worst two years of my life suffering from PPD. Charlotte’s situation and neurosis are very different from mine, but it all stems from “perfection anxiety” that is entirely focused on the body. I recognized this pretty quickly after the first time I found myself yelling inside my head, “If she thinks about that again I’m going to throw this book against the wall.” If Tom Wolfe were to write a novel about me, Charlotte would do the same thing. “Get over it already!”

While I’m determined to finish every book I start this year, it is tempting to skip over some of those page and a half long paragraphs. I just can’t wait to finish this book. It’s painful to get such a close-up look at how crazy things were in my head while I thought I was thinking and reacting in a perfectly rational way.

Tom Wolfe accurately paints a portrait of someone whose unrealistic expectations for herself and her body morph into a deep depression and anxiety when experiences related to those expectations head south. That isn’t all that is included in this book. It’s a pretty interesting look at modern college life. I Am Charlotte Simmons is different from anything I’ve read thus far. I don’t regret reading the book, but I’ll be very happy when Charlotte and my experiences with PPD are put someplace on a shelf and get lost in the dust.

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