Close to Happiness – Daphne Merkin

Close to Happiness is a vividly personal account of what it feels like to suffer from clinical depression. I started reading this book because I wanted to learn more about depression. And, though I did, the book was more about Merkin’s childhood and her experience with her depression. I will preface that despite the title, this is not a happy book. I didn’t expect it to be but I also didn’t expect to take almost two months to finish it because it made me sad. However, some things she wrote, which I’ve highlighted below, did resonate with me as they were things I have felt in my struggles and have wondered if that was just me.

“One of the most intolerable aspects of depression is the way it insinuates itself everywhere in your life, casting a pall not only over the present but the past and the future as well, suggesting nothing but its inevitability. The fact is that the quiet terror of severe depression never entirely passes once you’ve experienced it. It hovers behind the scenes, placated temporarily by medication and a willed effort at functioning, waiting to slither back in. It sits in the space behind your eyes, making its presence felt even in those moments when other, lighter matters are at the forefront of your mind. It tugs at your awareness, keeping you from ever being fully in the present.”

Highlights

  1. You have lost the thread that pulled the circumstances of your life together.
  2. Nothing adds up and all you can think about is the raw nerve of pain that your mind has become – and, once again, how merciful it would be to yourself and others to extinguish this pain.
  3. For surely this is the worst part of being someone who is at the mercy of her own mind the way she is, pickled in the brine of self-hatred: the fact that there is no way out of the reality of being here, no relief. in sight other than through forceful or at least conscientious intervention.
  4. One minute she’s feeling more or less okay, the next like shooting her head off.
  5. The condition that envelops her respects no calendar; it arrives precisely when it feels like it.
  6. Some characterization of depression allows people to see depression as fascinatingly rare and abnormal, rather than as the all too common, unexotically normal psychological albatross it often is.
  7. What I want to know is how I will ever get out from under and whether there is really any other kind of season.
  8. I can’t remember that I’ve ever felt any other way, I need to be reminded that there are reasons in the world to hold on, even if I have forgotten them; I tell myself if I can just hold on I will remember them, these reasons, they will come back to me.
  9. I sway in the wind, ready to be knocked over, prepared to give up. I admire other people’s resourcefulness when their plans go awry – the ones who’ve persuaded themselves that “every bump is a boost,” who pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start over again – but I can’t figure out a way to emulate them.
  10. I know all the arguments about the cowardice and selfishness (not to mentioned rage) involved in committing suicide, but nothing can persuade me that the act doesn’t require some sort of courage, some steely embrace of self-extinction.
  11. SUICIDE: Self-murder, the horrid crime of destroying one’s self.” The word “horrid” seems so supremely condemning; it’s enough to make one feel ashamed of harboring such impulses, must less acting on them.
  12. Monday is the most popular day to kill yourself, whereas Saturday is the least popular.
  13. Catabythismomania: “a morbid impulse to commit suicide by drowning.” So often idealized as a purgation and rebirth after the dissolution of the body.
  14. There is something water – the ongoing flow of it, the tide coming in and then going out again, time and time over – that suggests a joining up with rather than a ceasing to be, a larger lament than one’s own puny keening.
  15. Suicide may be called many things – impulsive, calculated, or even self-serving – but it requires radical daring, a willingness to abandon the known for the completely unknown.
  16. Suicides don’t seem to fret about the possibility of physical pain, or at least I haven’t read much about this aspect of things.
  17. Somewhere, even though we supposedly know better, we persist in believing that money buys happiness – or at least, provides immunity of sorts, warding off true misery.
  18. The thing about depression is that it often starts young – younger than would seem possible.
  19. I am left to my own insufficient devices, staring into the blackness.
  20. I have no power here.
  21. But the symptoms are always the same: the sun is out, the skies are clear, the air is charged with the possibility of happiness, and everyone suddenly seems to be holding hands with someone else. It takes a day like that to make me realize that the way I feel is not natural.
  22. What would it be like as an adult to open my eyes with a feeling of even mild anticipation?
  23. To someone who is depressed, everything is about depression.
  24. For some of us, the sadness running under the skin of things begins as a trickle and ends up a hemorrhage, staining everything.
  25. Only 50% of our temperament can be traced back to our heredity.
  26. Our fate is not in our hands, whatever we do.
  27. You’re a failure. A burden. Useless. Objectionable.
  28. Self-extinction: the black light at the of the tunnel of depression.
  29. It seems to me that we are suspicious of depression’s claim to legitimacy in part because it doesn’t look crazy.
  30. Why, you might wonder, am I thinking about renting a summer house if I’m also thinking about killing myself? Because for a moment I have an image of myself as someone stronger than I am, able to stand on her two feet, do the things grown-ups with advantages like my own do.
  31. Shut the fuck up. There is a big world out there, outside your obsessive little brain, pay attention to it, for a change.
  32. Sometimes I feel valiant, like someone who is determined not to surrender to an enemy most people can’t even see.
  33. I have promised myself suicide the way other people promised themselves a new car, gleaming and spiffy. It is something I think I deserve, a reward for bearing up under what feels like intolerable conditions, the dreary dailiness, and balefulness of existence coming at you again and again.
  34. I understand that taking one’s own lie is not in itself a positive thing, but I also think it is possible to look at it as a kindness, a way of paying utmost attention to one’s own utter bereftness.
  35. Suicides don’t realize they won’t be coming this way again.
  36. If you are depressed enough, it seems to me, you begin to conceive of death as a cradle, rocking you gently back to fresh life, glistening with newness, unsullied by you.
  37. Life is one long process of getting tired. There will always be people who feel that although everyone else is tired, they are too tired, have waited long enough and that it’s time, now, to get going.
  38. I have had to learn the simplest things, last. Which made for difficulties.
Where do you go when you're depressed? That's the heart of the problem isn't it? You can't disappear inside your own skin, although that would be ideal.
*I take no credit for any of these points.

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No horror books, please!!