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Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression Paperback – January 8, 2002

4.3 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"A reader on melancholy," the editor calls this book: a collection of 22 modern essays about depression by writers (several well known) who know their subject intimately. Some face depression as a sudden interruption of a previously gratifying life; others have never known life without it. Their words wrestle to express their vision, their gloom, their attempts to cope, their interactions, their isolation, and, often, their reactions to medications. Some attempt to analyze their depression; others just want you to know what it's like. Besides the essays by writers who have experienced depression firsthand, editor Nell Casey (also a writer of one of the chapters) includes a few essays by their spouses and siblings about what it was like to live with a person suffering from depression.

The writers' descriptions of "dwelling in depression's dark wood" (William Styron) are disturbing and haunting, laden with vivid imagery. "My heart pumped dread," writes Lesley Dormen. David Karp describes his depression as sometimes a "grief knot" in his throat, sometimes chest pain like a heart attack, sometimes "an awful heaviness" in his eyes and head. From her teenage years, Darcey Steinke would wrap herself in an old comforter and lie in a fetal position on top of her shoes in the closet (her brother called this her "poodle bed"). Nancy Mairs describes being institutionalized: "Lock [a woman] into a drab and dirty space with dozens of other wayward souls, make sure that she is never alone, feed her oatmeal and bananas until her bowels are starched solid, drug her to the eyeballs so that she can scarcely read or speak, and threaten to shoot bolts of electricity through her brain." If you want to know depression from the inside, from thoroughly gifted writers, you'll find it here. --Joan Price --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The recipient of a Carter Center fellowship for mental health journalism, Casey has compiled a widely varied collection in which authors reckon with their personal experience of depression the "unholy ghost" to which poet Jane Kenyon famously referred. Well-known writers such as Donald Hall and Ann Beattie rub shoulders with talented newcomers like Maud Casey and Joshua Wolf Shenk in pieces that alternate between startling eloquence and the kind of vague, self-indulgent writing that turns some readers away from memoirs. Lee Stringer concludes her contribution with the revelation that "perhaps what we call depression isn't really a disorder at all, but an alarm of sorts, alerting us that something is undoubtedly wrong," while Lesley Dormen resorts to cliches ("My heart pumped dread"). Among the most engaging essays are Rose Styron's response to husband William Styron's Darkness Visible, in which she writes about comic moments that her husband, in the throes of depression, was too blue to appreciate. Responding to spouse Chase Twichell's essay, novelist Russell Banks writes that he has "learned to feel for my wife and to avoid feeling with her." As a whole, the collection is a valuable contribution to the field of depression studies, and will lend some insight and cheer to those struggling with this little-understood condition. (Mar.)
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (January 8, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060007826
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060007829
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #267,008 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This collection of 22 essays about depression by respected writers has helped me with my journey through depression more than any other book on the subject. I sat in awe, often with my jaw dropped open because these people were so accurately describing experiences that I have also gone through. They are written with clarity and I have found much solace in the reading of these various essays. The essays include thoughts, feelings, medications, therapy, relationships, and the challenges of pregnancy with this illness. I agree whole-heartedly with William Styron, (who wrote one of the essays, as did his wife Rose) that the word depression does not describe even remotely the concept of depression. He said that it is more like a tempest in the brain. I am recieving much comfort in the reading of these essays because so many times we feel as if we are all alone; the only one experiencing the sometimes foreign and devastating symptoms resulting from climical depression. Praise goes to Nell Casey the editor of the book, who has a sister suffering from depression. I could go on and on. I cannot reccommend this book more highly if you or a loved one are going through the agony of depression. I believe everyone who reads this collection of essays will leave it having a fuller knowledge of depression.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you are seeking a "Chicken Soup for the Depressed Soul" brimming with uplifting stories, this book is not the source.
Unholy Ghost reflects the ordeal of depression via the perspectives of those coping with it. The DSM-IV provides a skeletal structure for understanding the diagnosis. These essays add flesh to the framework. The reader is given an opportunity to intimately connect with each writer's experience of anguish. Some might criticize these essays as self-absorbed and declare the writers to be imperfect. Well, that's the point. This book is about personal involvement, revealing humans who try to genuinely articulate their journeys. Among many viewpoints, the reader will grapple with the issue of taking medication while pregnant, what it is like to be an African American woman who is depressed, how one person's "failed" suicide led to a reckoning with life, trying to understand the heritability of depression, and the general strange reality of living with this heavy companion.
This book does not contain answers. It is ponderous and sometimes disconsolate reading. What it does is invite the reader to walk alongside each writer and learn vicariously what depression can be. As a person who lives with major depression and dysthymia, I was fascinated by these voices and heartened by their company. As a psychotherapist, these essays will be a valuable tool for me in educating people about the dimensions of depression.
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Format: Hardcover
Unholy Ghost is a compilation of various writers detailing their personal struggles with depression. Some authors are well known, William Styron, Larry McMurtry, and A.Alvarez to name a few. Some see their depression as a catalyst for their creativity, some see it as a thief that threatens to rob them of theselves. Each writer details their recognition of being different, and the time lost. All who contribute to this book(there are a few companion essays by family members detailing the effect their loved-one's depression had on them)have sufferd from depression. Each writer has a very distinct voice when discussing their melencholia, some are scattered and frenetic, some detail the various pharmacological interventions, there are stories of suicide attempts and hospitalizations. The continuing thread is the loss of hope and orientation. Each writer describes the depression as a very real, physical and emotional being that threatenes to rob them of their lives and happiness. You do not have to be a writer or suffer from depression to appreciate the raw honesty of these pieces. The only problem I had was the constant theme of depression,(book on depression, too much depression, go figure)and the rawness of the tales.As a person who has suffered from chronic reoccuring depression the truth of these pieces resonated with me. These people really have hurt and it is like poking an open wound to read these stories.

Rereading the book almost 10 years later, I find the stories still resonate and the truths are still there. I have changed my rating since the cloud of my own depression has lifted and I have a safer place from which to view. ML
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Format: Hardcover
unholy ghost is a very impressive collection of essays dealing with depression. the writers include susanna kaysen (author of girl interrupted), lauren slater (welcome to my country and prozac diary) and william styron. the writers reflect on depression in powerful, personal, and revealing ways. the book begins with virginia heffernan's comment "this is what would happen. in the middle of movie theaters, meetings, and restaurants, i would suddenly have to leave." i was most impressed by meri nana-ama danquah's essay "writing the wrongs of identity" which deals with the intersection of race, gender, and depression. she notes, "...mental illness and race are topics that can not be divorced from one another. not easily. not for me."
this is an incredible book - gripping, powerful, and intense.
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