Depression – In the (eloquent) words of Andrew Solomon

Before actually reading any part of the article The Anatomy of Melancholy by Andrew Solomon, I had thought the reading assignment was a primary research article.  Needless to say I was very pleasantly surprised by this well-written, gripping description of depression.  For me the article was sad and scary (to say the least) and revealed a world I could never have imagined.  The author’s personal account was neither preaching nor in search of self-pity, but rather an honest, well written account of a very real and misunderstood illness.

I choose a few of my favorite parts of the article to share as I feel that his words are far more eloquent than I could ever write and far more descriptive of the experience of depression than a research article could describe.  (I also want to provide a disclaimer that I had begun this journal entry before our class in which we discussed various lines of the article!)

“Don’t worry, you have a very normal group of symptoms.”

“Once upon a time depression was seen as a purely psychological disturbance; these days, people are likely to think of it as a tidy biological syndrome.”

“As with asthma, predisposition and environment conspire.  Syndrome and symptom cause each other: loneliness is depressing, but depression also causes loneliness.”

“He could just as well have told me that I would soon be able to build a helicopter of cookie dough and fly to Neptune, so clear was it to me that my real life was definitely over.”

“Depression means that you have no point of view.”

“Zoloft made me feel as though I’d had fifty-five cups of coffee.”

“Over-all serotonin function is probably not very different from what it was before-and yet there are important subtle changes.  Indeed the most plausible explanation for the SSRI’s is that they work indirectly.”

“Suicide is a seductress, and those who have sailed near it stay alive only when they stop up their cars and flee from its Siren song.”

“Is it crazy to avoid behaviors that make you crazy?”

“Depression is a disease of self-obsession.”

“’I feel,’ he said, in a flat voice sounding like a slowed-down old record-player, ‘as though I died a few weeks ago but my body hasn’t found out yet.’”

“If I were on crutches they wouldn’t ask me to dance,”

“’So you want inside my head?’ he wrote in a notebook once.  ‘Welcome…Not exactly what you expected?  It’s not what I expected either.”

“Losing your mind, like losing your keys, is a hassle.”

“’I’ll have to cancel Wednesday,’ I said.  ‘I’m afraid of lamb chops again.’”

“Suddenly I fall into my life again, like a vole picked up by a storm then dropped three valleys and two mountains away from home.  I can find my way back.  I know I will recognize the store where I used to buy milk and gas.  I remember the house and barn, the rake, the blue cups and plates, the Russian novels I loved so much, and the black silk nightgown that he once thrust into the toe of my Christmas stocking.”

“You are never the same once you have acquired breakdown knowledge.  We are told to learn self-reliance, but it is tricky if you have no self with which to rely.  Friends, doctors, and my father have helped me, and some chemistry has wrought a readjustment, and I feel O.K. for the moment, but the recurring nightmares are no longer about the things that will happen to me from outside, but about the things that happen in me.”

“I suspect that the most important function of grief is in the formation of attachment.”

“The use of antidepressants is going up as people seek to normalize what used to be deemed normal.”

“The opposite of depression is not happiness but vitality.”

7 thoughts on “Depression – In the (eloquent) words of Andrew Solomon

  1. Thanks for these great quotes Lisa! I definitely agree with you that he was incredibly eloquent with they way he put forth his experiences. I felt so connected to his experiences, and it really helped me to connect to his story. I could see myself in his story, and I could relate to him, but at the same time I could also understand the differences between all depressed individuals.


  2. I definitely agree- his manner of describing his experience evoked feelings and emotions in me that almost made me feel like I knew him personally in some way. I felt his pain in a way that I would only feel on hearing a story of someone I know dearly. very beautiful and eloquent indeed.


  3. That last quote really resinates with me. Depression is viewed as deep saddness, but in accuality it is a disease of lethargy and anhedonia. So vitality truly is its opposite.


  4. These are very poignant passages from the article. Similar to previous memoirs I’ve read before I learned so much from this article that I wouldn’t learn from textbooks.


  5. After reading our article from The New Yorker for tomorrow, the quote “Don’t worry, you have a very normal group of symptoms” jumped out at me. The article mentioned how three psychologists only agreed on a patient’s diagnosis a very small minority of the time, even despite the DSM (which was intended to deal with exactly this problem…apparently it isn’t working too well?)- depression has a set of symptoms that is more widely publicly known, but there are so many sub-types that people are unaware of. I wonder how Solomon felt when his psychologist told him that… I don’t think I would have been able to take him/her seriously (or possibly he was so relieved to be on his way towards recovery?).


  6. The quote that related depression with asthma really stood out from the rest. When he writes “predisposition and environment conspire,” it reminded me of nature vs. nurture and it’s implications on brain development. The way Solomon phrased the sentence made it seem depressing in itself. However, I’m wondering if he’s trying to say that depression is inevitable and impossible to escape?


  7. I agree, Hao! That quote has stood at for me since the beginning and continues to effectively describe another severe mental illness: schizophrenia. With schizophrenia environment and predisposition truly do conspire and it leaves you to wonder whether or not it is preventable. If there is such a strong environmental influence, can these illnesses not be prevented? Twin studies in schizophrenia suggest otherwise for schizophrenia, but what about depression?


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