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It's about depression, but it's also funny and exhilarating, for it shows how to find a Way Out that isn't suicide
on January 11, 2010
When I knew I was going to be writing about her book, I sent a Facebook message to Therese Borchard.
"Review on the way," I told her. "Don't kill yourself this weekend."
It felt good to write that cheeky message, because Therese Borchard wasn't likely to kill herself over the weekend. And I think it's a good bet she won't do herself in this week, or anytime soon. And not because she has two kids who need her or a husband who loves her, but because she had the courage to go beyond seven inferior therapists and well-meaning but addled New Age healers and --- at last --- found caring, talented professionals who actually helped her.
This is not quite the same thing as dreaming of a killer dress and trying every store in town until you find it.
As she writes, by way of introduction, at the start of Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes:
"I'm a manic-depressive, an alcoholic, and an adult child of an alcoholic; a codependent, a boundaries violator and a stage-four people-pleaser; an information hoarder or a clutter magnet; an Internet abuser; and an obsessive-compulsive or ritual-performing weirdo; a sugar addict; a caffeine junkie; a reformed binge smoker, and an exercise fanatic; a hormonally unbalanced female, a PMS-prone time bomb, and a sexually dysfunctional or neutered creature, a workaholic; an HSP (highly sensitive person); and, of course, I'm Catholic."
In clinical terms: suicidal for almost two years, endured 22 failed medication combinations, twice committed to a psych ward.
In laymen's terms: a full-blown trainwreck, barely holding on to life.
And, now, obviously, better. Much better. That is, realistically better --- she has good days and bad days. Which she chronicles in her blog on Beliefnet. And in videos that pierce the heart.
"Beyond Blue" is the best first-person account I've read about the experience of manic depression. It's not that Therese Borchard is a great writer, like William Styron, who produced a great writer's account of depression in Darkness Visible. Her gifts are clarity, honesty and humor. That is, it amazes her that she spends weeks on end wishing she were dead, but can write about it....
"I remember sitting in the car after I drove home from the last day of my intensive outpatient program-after the nurses basically told me I was out of luck --- if you weren't fixed in eight weeks, they couldn't do anything else for you. I had tried absolutely everything, but I still wanted to die."
"So I issued God an ultimatum in the car. I sat there, with a bag of about 20 bottles of prescription drugs next to me (which was my exit out of this life), and told him I was getting the hell out of this place because I had tried everything, EVERYTHING, and nothing was working. Obviously He didn't give a damn. I shouted, "Give me a sign I'm supposed to hang on, or else I am out of here. I am so out of here if you don't let me know you are with me!"
"After about 20 minutes of wailing, I decided to go inside and, on the way into my house, checked the mailbox. There was a letter written by a woman I had met at a conference, and she sent me a medal of St. Therese that was an exact copy to the one that I had been carrying in my pocket ever since the depression set in."
"I knew from that point on that, even though I didn't always feel God's helping hand, that I must somehow try to have faith in him."
Faith takes many forms, and a spiritual/religious belief may not be required. Borchard also had faith in her final therapist, who advised her to check in to Johns Hopkins and changed her drug cocktail. She had faith in the six people she knew she could call when she felt the walls come crashing down. And, finally, she had faith in herself --- she accepted that this bad day was only one day, that tomorrow was a fresh chance, that better could come.
For a long time, one of her doctors notes, Therese Borchard "carried a bag of rocks" on her back. In short chapters, short on technical writing but long on facts about the brain, she shows us the weight and then, one by one, lightens her load. She's not giddy with joy at book's end --- this is a book that deals in stark reality.
But that reality is an enormous achievement. She understands that she's not to blame for her dysfunctions. She grasps that her illness is exactly that --- a sickness. And she shows you how, with good therapy and smart self-care, depression need not be a death sentence.
"Beyond Blue" can save lives. If you or someone you care about is suffering from gloom that's deeper than the blahs, I can think of no better gift than this book.