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At the age of twenty-seven, Mary Cregan gives birth to her first child, a daughter she names Anna. But it’s apparent that something is terribly wrong, and two days later, Anna dies—plunging Cregan into suicidal despair. Decades later, sustained by her work, a second marriage, and a son, Cregan reflects on this pivotal experience and attempts to make sense of it. She weaves At the age of twenty-seven, Mary Cregan gives birth to her first child, a daughter she names Anna. But it’s apparent that something is terribly wrong, and two days later, Anna dies—plunging Cregan into suicidal despair. Decades later, sustained by her work, a second marriage, and a son, Cregan reflects on this pivotal experience and attempts to make sense of it. She weaves together literature and research with details from her own ordeal—and the still-visible scar of her suicide attempt—while also considering her life as part of the larger history of our understanding of depression.


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At the age of twenty-seven, Mary Cregan gives birth to her first child, a daughter she names Anna. But it’s apparent that something is terribly wrong, and two days later, Anna dies—plunging Cregan into suicidal despair. Decades later, sustained by her work, a second marriage, and a son, Cregan reflects on this pivotal experience and attempts to make sense of it. She weaves At the age of twenty-seven, Mary Cregan gives birth to her first child, a daughter she names Anna. But it’s apparent that something is terribly wrong, and two days later, Anna dies—plunging Cregan into suicidal despair. Decades later, sustained by her work, a second marriage, and a son, Cregan reflects on this pivotal experience and attempts to make sense of it. She weaves together literature and research with details from her own ordeal—and the still-visible scar of her suicide attempt—while also considering her life as part of the larger history of our understanding of depression.

30 review for The Scar: A Personal History of Depression and Recovery

  1. 5 out of 5

    Caoilinn

    THE SCAR has had a more profound influence on me than any book I've read in years. In its humanity and resolve, its depth and precision, its scientific rigour and personal candour, this book is deeply moving, riveting and enlightening. Woven through the text are as many references to works of art as there are to medical studies, demonstrating art's singular ability to convey experience—and THE SCAR accomplishes the same, as an artwork. This book is for everyone who has any interest in how the mi THE SCAR has had a more profound influence on me than any book I've read in years. In its humanity and resolve, its depth and precision, its scientific rigour and personal candour, this book is deeply moving, riveting and enlightening. Woven through the text are as many references to works of art as there are to medical studies, demonstrating art's singular ability to convey experience—and THE SCAR accomplishes the same, as an artwork. This book is for everyone who has any interest in how the mind works, and how it can work against itself.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Canadian Reader

    Rating: 3.5 In the preface to her book, Mary Cregan explains that it will provide the personal story of her mental illness (and suicidality) and a cultural, literary, historical study of psychiatry that will include some scientific information as well. The book’s expository elements often outweigh the memoir component, and, although I did learn some things, I found parts of the text pretty dry. For example, I wasn’t particularly interested in the history of the New York Hospital—Westchester psych Rating: 3.5 In the preface to her book, Mary Cregan explains that it will provide the personal story of her mental illness (and suicidality) and a cultural, literary, historical study of psychiatry that will include some scientific information as well. The book’s expository elements often outweigh the memoir component, and, although I did learn some things, I found parts of the text pretty dry. For example, I wasn’t particularly interested in the history of the New York Hospital—Westchester psychiatric branch, the asylum to which Cregan was confined for three months when she was 27 years old in the spring of 1984. Cregan explains that there was a history of depression in her family. She recognizes that she experienced moments of inexplicable sadness in childhood and longer episodes of mood disturbance in her teenage years. However, the crisis—a major depressive episode with melancholia—did not strike until she was in her late twenties. In December 1983, a few months prior to entering the psychiatric institution, Cregan lost her daughter within 24 hours of the child’s birth. The baby had an inoperable heart defect. After this, the author fell into ever-deepening dejection and despair. The baby’s death was proof to Cregan of her essential defectiveness. She felt she had no right to exist. No longer able to control the impulses that seemed to be directing her to end her own life, she ultimately signed papers to admit herself to a psychiatric hospital. It was here that Cregan, whose compliance and cooperation possibly lulled medical personnel into the false sense that their patient was not at significant risk, almost succeeded in taking her own life. To this day, she bears a scar on her neck, a reminder of how she almost managed to self-destruct. “It’s the sign of an illness that has shaped my history, she writes. “It hasn’t allowed me to forget the most harrowing days of my life.” Over the years, it has been necessary for Cregan to stay attuned to her internal state, her moods and thoughts, and remain on antidepressant medication. She acknowledges: “I have no choice but to accept the presence of this disorder, and to remain wary of it.” Among the many subjects Cregan considers in her book—all of them related to her own diagnosis, treatment, or experience—are the following: the (changing) labels/names for psychiatric disorders; endogenous depression (a biological illness) vs. psycho-reactive depression (a response to stressful life events); the history and use of electroshock therapy; the asylum experience (including the degrees of surveillance of suicidal patients); Freud’s perspective on mourning and melancholia; the role of religious upbringing in the author’s mental illness; loss and grief; the serendipitous, accidental, and profit-driven discoveries of certain psychoactive medications (including the revolutionary ’50s drugs, chlorpromazine and imipramine, which were derived from dyes) and the arrival of Prozac and other SSRIs in the ’80s and ’90s . . . and more. If these topics sound interesting, then this is your book. Having already encountered some of this material elsewhere over the years, I wasn’t always engaged by the expository sections of Cregan’s work. I was most interested in her discussion of her personal story of coming to terms with the fact that depressive illness would always be a part of her. The author’s discussion of her Catholic upbringing and the role of certain character traits in depressive illness was also valuable. Early on, there are frequent allusions to literature and literary figures; Rainer Maria Rilke, Sir Robert Burton (author of The Anatomy of Melancholy), Sylvia Plath, and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest author Ken Kesey are among those who make appearances. A number of poems, myths, and novels are alluded to or considered—perhaps not too surprising from an author with a doctorate In English literature. Film and popular culture are sometimes referred to as well. Cregan’s book has a calm, detached, somewhat academic feel to it. The writing is cleaner and less dense than scholarly works, however, and it is unencumbered by footnotes. Instead, there is an excellent set of notes appended to the main text; I only wish these had been conveniently hyperlinked in the book edition I borrowed from my library. The author has clearly read widely and synthesized a vast amount of material to create an informative book, for which she deserves to be commended. Cregan says she comes from a family whose modus operandi was to keep silent about personal matters. It shows in this book, but that does not diminish the fact that it was an act of courage to write it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Abigail Higgins

    Narrative non-fiction is not a genre in which I read heavily. However, after receiving a copy of this work through a Goodreads giveaway, I decided to work my way through it, and by the end of this memoir of mental illness, I was thoroughly glad that I had. In The Scar, Mary Cregan approaches her own past encounter with depression, and the suicide attempt that it triggered, with a clinical approach, exploring the factors at work in her own life and health, as well as the history of the mental hea Narrative non-fiction is not a genre in which I read heavily. However, after receiving a copy of this work through a Goodreads giveaway, I decided to work my way through it, and by the end of this memoir of mental illness, I was thoroughly glad that I had. In The Scar, Mary Cregan approaches her own past encounter with depression, and the suicide attempt that it triggered, with a clinical approach, exploring the factors at work in her own life and health, as well as the history of the mental health professions. As an English professor, Cregan writes as a non-expert; but, she writes clearly, powerfully, and honestly. Her work treats a multitude of topics being currently discussed in the public sphere, and offers emotional insight into the experience of illness. In 1983, Mary Cregan and her husband were preparing to begin life as parents, when their newborn daughter died suddenly of a congenital heart defect. In the wake of the loss and the advent of grief, Cregan sank into suicidal depression during the months that followed. Following a suicide attempt, she was hospitalized in a mental institution, where she soon unsuccessfully tried again to take her own life. Over the course of several months, Cregan received a range of treatments aimed at pulling her out of her dire condition: electroconvulsive therapy, several different medications, and psychotherapy. Eventually able to return to the wider world, she still struggled with depression and attempted to maintain a normal lifestyle in the midst of tumultuous moods and emotions. In The Scar, as Cregan narrates her experience, she also explores the medical developments and psychological theories that led to her treatments. Situating the mental health professions historically and showing how they intersected with her own life, Cregan’s book is a mixture of narrative and analysis. Since I am not an expert in psychiatry or the sciences related to mental health, my evaluation of the medical merits of Cregan’s book must by necessity be somewhat limited. However, I can make a couple of general comments. First, she is useful in that she provides a history of the development of the profession for non-experts. She situates the developments in the field within historical context, and demonstrates how they have led to modern practices. Second, many of her evaluations of beneficial treatments and effective methods are based on her personal experience. Her research seems thorough, but as an English professor, not a licensed doctor or therapist, she cannot speak as a medical expert. Cregan personally found ECT, medication, and psychotherapy to be helpful, and suggests that negative public perceptions may keep people from seeking such treatments. But, before seeking to adopt any treatment plan, readers should keep in mind that the advice of an expert in the field should first be sought. Finally, the main value of The Scar seems to me to be its bleakly honest exposure of the life-altering effect that mental illness can have. Emotionally powerful, Cregan places her personal struggles on full display, examining her own life in a clinical manner, and exploring the causes, treatments, and effects of her depressive experience and suicide attempt. Ultimately, Cregan’s is what it claims: a personal history. She uses the narrative framework of her own experience to explore the development of the mental health professions, which is useful in combatting public misperceptions and in affirming the point that depression is a complex affliction of the mind, body, and spirit. The historical and scientific portions of her work are thorough but must be taken tentatively. Overall, however, The Scar is powerful in its in-depth exploration of one specific instance of the affliction: Cregan’s own. Lucidly written and emotionally stirring, Cregan’s memoir of mental illness is a timely evaluation of the personal effects of depression in an era during which many others are discovering the damage the disease can create. {See more reviews at https://witnessofthedawn.wordpress.com}

  4. 4 out of 5

    Judy G

    First this book is definitely not for everyone. Mary Cregan tells her readers about her life of 20+ y with Depression and melancholia and attempted suicides and medications and psychiatric hospitalization. She is looking back on many years of something that appeared to begin at age of 27 altho it was probably there before and with depression in her family altho she didnt know. “Silence in the family is the default” This memoir must have been a labor of love for her wanting others to know and to sh First this book is definitely not for everyone. Mary Cregan tells her readers about her life of 20+ y with Depression and melancholia and attempted suicides and medications and psychiatric hospitalization. She is looking back on many years of something that appeared to begin at age of 27 altho it was probably there before and with depression in her family altho she didnt know. “Silence in the family is the default” This memoir must have been a labor of love for her wanting others to know and to share her life. It is about a woman coming to terms with a lot of reality. Extremely well written and searingly honest Judy

  5. 5 out of 5

    Davood Gozli

    Mary Cregan explores depression from multiple perspectives: personal, cultural, medical, and historical. The personal account is honest and engaging, while the less personal ("objective") account is fair and based on thorough research. What I find most valuable in this book is the multiplicity of perspectives the author has included. Even when she explores her own experiences, we find a multiplicity of (first-person) perspectives: "Eventually you realize that you can and do end up splitting your Mary Cregan explores depression from multiple perspectives: personal, cultural, medical, and historical. The personal account is honest and engaging, while the less personal ("objective") account is fair and based on thorough research. What I find most valuable in this book is the multiplicity of perspectives the author has included. Even when she explores her own experiences, we find a multiplicity of (first-person) perspectives: "Eventually you realize that you can and do end up splitting yourself: a part of you can remain detached, watching the thing that is squeezing out any light and vitality within you." I found the book very interesting, and I will very likely return to it in the near future.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    This book came to me at an opportune time. While playing of the idea of writing my own memoir and experiences with depression and healing, I randomly found this book at the Library. Mary Cregan's book touched my soul in so many ways. I needed this book.. even if there were times I did not agree with her. “The profoundly depressed person can’t see that her thinking is distorted and, after a certain point in the downward spiral, can’t hear or comprehend the people who argue that she has a life ahead This book came to me at an opportune time. While playing of the idea of writing my own memoir and experiences with depression and healing, I randomly found this book at the Library. Mary Cregan's book touched my soul in so many ways. I needed this book.. even if there were times I did not agree with her. “The profoundly depressed person can’t see that her thinking is distorted and, after a certain point in the downward spiral, can’t hear or comprehend the people who argue that she has a life ahead if she can just hold on.” Truer words have never been said. I wish that I had this at my disposal when I suffered through depression - perhaps it would have helped my family and friends understand what was going on in my mind. Cregan also discussed how she believes that her feelings and experiences of stress as a child contributed to her depression. This truly opened my eyes and made me re-examine my life and experiences. Cregan tackles not only her personal fight with lifelong depression but also includes some of the research that she has done in regards to the disease, medication and psychoanalysis. Her discussions are not exhaustive and leaves the reader with many avenues to pursue. Cregan provides numerous references to explore. I found the information on antidepressants interesting, although I believe there are other paths that a depressed person can follow for treatment. As a survivor, I have beat my depression without the use of antidepressants and think there is plenty more to discuss in regards to treatment and therapy than the scope of this book. Cregan's account, to me, was a window into the discussion of depression. She made me feel like I was not alone and solidified my need to record my experience and try to figure out myself too.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    (3.5) Cregan has a scar that reminds her, every time she notices it, of how close she came to taking her own life decades ago. In 1983, at the age of 27, she gave birth to a baby girl, Anna, who died two days later of a heart defect. The loss plunged her into a depression so severe that she made a halfhearted suicide attempt some weeks later and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where she was given electroconvulsive therapy. One morning in the hospital, she brought a glass jar of lotion in (3.5) Cregan has a scar that reminds her, every time she notices it, of how close she came to taking her own life decades ago. In 1983, at the age of 27, she gave birth to a baby girl, Anna, who died two days later of a heart defect. The loss plunged her into a depression so severe that she made a halfhearted suicide attempt some weeks later and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where she was given electroconvulsive therapy. One morning in the hospital, she brought a glass jar of lotion into the shower with her, smashed it, and took a shard to her throat. She only narrowly missed her carotid artery. Cregan wonders if, had she been given appropriate medication, all this heartache could have been avoided. “I’ve often wished I could undo my own act (if indeed ‘I’ and ‘my’ are accurate words for a self in the condition I was in.)” “It took a long time to work all of this out, because it’s very hard to see yourself clearly when depressed. The problem is that you think with your mind, but your mind is ill and untrustworthy. Your mind is your enemy.” Alongside her own winding story, the author surveys the history of mental health treatment in the United States. This felt more familiar and thus engaged me less than the personal material. Nevertheless, I would recommend this forthright memoir to anyone keen to read about the experience of mental illness. Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Margie Dewind

    I am fortunate to have never suffered a depressive episode as deep as those experienced by the author, but I can attest to the accuracy of her descriptions of depression generally. I also found very interesting and helpful her discussions of mental health care provided in institutions, electroconvulsive treatments, and antidepressants, particularly prozac.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    I won this in a Goodreads giveaway. This is an honest memoir of the struggle of living with depression.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Delphi Library

    Mary Cregan is 27 years old and living in New York. She has a fulfilling career as a book designer and is happily married with her first baby on the way. When her daughter is born, she names her Anna, but almost immediately the newborn is diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. Anna dies two days later. The death of her baby causes Cregan to descend into a suicidal depression called melancholy. This memoir is a personal history of the author's illness and recovery. Written years later, with the Mary Cregan is 27 years old and living in New York. She has a fulfilling career as a book designer and is happily married with her first baby on the way. When her daughter is born, she names her Anna, but almost immediately the newborn is diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. Anna dies two days later. The death of her baby causes Cregan to descend into a suicidal depression called melancholy. This memoir is a personal history of the author's illness and recovery. Written years later, with the scar of her suicide attempt still visible, she chronicles the treatment she received for depression. As she weaves her narrative, she chronicles some of the history of mental illness treatment. Included are descriptions of asylums of the past, the advent of shock treatment, and how scientists have made advances in the study of mental illness. I found this to be skillfully written and a hopeful story for anyone suffering from depression.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Richard Propes

    I really wanted to fall in love with Mary Cregan's "The Scar" as I was certainly in love with the idea of the book and I certainly admired Cregan's honesty and transparency in writing it. However, I can't deny that as much as I occasionally found the book to be engaging and informative I also, quite often, found it disconnecting and occasionally even mind-numbingly boring. The concept behind "The Scar" is both very cool and incredibly ambitious - Cregan essentially weaves her own experiences wit I really wanted to fall in love with Mary Cregan's "The Scar" as I was certainly in love with the idea of the book and I certainly admired Cregan's honesty and transparency in writing it. However, I can't deny that as much as I occasionally found the book to be engaging and informative I also, quite often, found it disconnecting and occasionally even mind-numbingly boring. The concept behind "The Scar" is both very cool and incredibly ambitious - Cregan essentially weaves her own experiences with depression, melancholia, suicide, and the mental health system into what is essentially a historical glimpse into those areas of each subject that are directly related to her own life experiences. Without giving too much away, for example, she not only talks about her own experiences with ECT ("shock treatment") but then explores the history of ECT. It's a really neat approach. While occasionally "The Scar" balances this all quite nicely, there are also times when it's jarringly abrupt in its transitions between personal experience and history. It also felt to me like there were times when Cregan would make the cut when she was getting into a more emotional space - in other words, it almost felt like avoidance. I also found, surprisingly enough, that there were times when Cregan writes from an obvious place of privilege. A section, and I won't go into it to avoid spoilers, in the final third of the book deals with support systems and having a psychiatrist and yet completely fails to recognize the woeful inadequacy of America's mental health system and the complete lack of availability of psychiatrists, especially those who would meet 1-2x weekly, for anyone but those with either the finances or the insurance to make it happen. There are people who HAVE to lean on the people in their lives because that's who they have and what they can afford. I say surprisingly because there are places where she does address the financial impact of mental healthcare. The historical research in "The Scar" is fascinating and well researched and incredibly informative. It packs an emotional wallop precisely because it does so concretely tie into Cregan's own life. If anything, it's the "personal history" that is more lacking. At times, it seems to skim the surface of what could have been shared - obviously, Cregan shouldn't go into an area that causes trauma or re-victimizing, but the lack of balance is just really obvious at times. This seemed especially true around her relationships. Overall, I appreciated "The Scar" but it didn't grab me as much as I'd hoped. As someone who has both had a mental health history, lost a spouse to suicide, and worked within the mental health system, I had higher hopes for "The Scar." It wasn't a disappointment, really, but neither was it the groundbreaking literary experience I'd hoped it would be. "The Scar" is also written at a somewhat higher level academically and lacks broad accessibility. It's likely to be most appreciated by those who've experienced inpatient mental health, clinicians who will appreciate Cregan's insights and historical research, and those with an interest in the systemic aspects of mental health.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

    A very-well written book relating the incredible story of a young woman who, after losing her newborn child, is thrown into the depths of deep depression which remained a life-long mental health issue. Despite a divorce, suicide attempts, multiple attempts to have another child, and the realization that the career aspirations she had for herself may not come to fruition, Mary Cregan not only survived but also learned how to successfully cope with this illness that she knew would be with her alwa A very-well written book relating the incredible story of a young woman who, after losing her newborn child, is thrown into the depths of deep depression which remained a life-long mental health issue. Despite a divorce, suicide attempts, multiple attempts to have another child, and the realization that the career aspirations she had for herself may not come to fruition, Mary Cregan not only survived but also learned how to successfully cope with this illness that she knew would be with her always. She also gives a good incite into the history of categorizing mental illnesses over the years in the DSM manuals in addition to the many drugs that were introduced to treat various forms of depression, etc. I recommend this book to all who are interested in the mental health field, especially in depression and suicide. Kudos to the author!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mel

    Melding memoir and historic fact, Cregan knocked out a touching book that detailed her own struggles with depression and suicidal ideation immediately following the unexpected death of her newborn daughter alongside psychiatric developments of the last 50+ years. Though I’d expected more focus on her own life, I quite liked how she dipped in and out, using the science to back her experiences in a mental hospital and starting/stopping/changing drug regimens. Reminded me a lot of Johann Hari’s Los Melding memoir and historic fact, Cregan knocked out a touching book that detailed her own struggles with depression and suicidal ideation immediately following the unexpected death of her newborn daughter alongside psychiatric developments of the last 50+ years. Though I’d expected more focus on her own life, I quite liked how she dipped in and out, using the science to back her experiences in a mental hospital and starting/stopping/changing drug regimens. Reminded me a lot of Johann Hari’s Lost Connections, Cregan even outlined similar points. Both are worth reading.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

    Honest, thoughtful, and insightful.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Adele

    Well researched and written--Cregan's story sheds light on a difficult subject. A fresh take on treatment options and depression itself. I liked her remarks on melancholia, a term not often referred to when discussion depression. Well researched and written--Cregan's story sheds light on a difficult subject. A fresh take on treatment options and depression itself. I liked her remarks on melancholia, a term not often referred to when discussion depression.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kai Hunter

    A very moving journey through melancholia and major depressive disorder with the author. Excellent research and information. I have felt so many things similar to what Ms. Cregan describes and I've shared so many of her thoughts. All I can say is "Mary, I see you." A very moving journey through melancholia and major depressive disorder with the author. Excellent research and information. I have felt so many things similar to what Ms. Cregan describes and I've shared so many of her thoughts. All I can say is "Mary, I see you."

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen M.

    This excellent book is for anyone who lives with depression or knows someone who does, which is likely all of us. Mary Cregan writes beautifully about her own life and intersperses her personal story with a history of the treatment of depression that is both fascinating and immensely readable. I can't recommend “The Scar” highly enough. This excellent book is for anyone who lives with depression or knows someone who does, which is likely all of us. Mary Cregan writes beautifully about her own life and intersperses her personal story with a history of the treatment of depression that is both fascinating and immensely readable. I can't recommend “The Scar” highly enough.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jess Rice

    As a person who suffered a miscarriage and deals with depression daily this was a really great eye opener. Got really good resources and great information that you don't realize that's out their for you to utilize. As a person who suffered a miscarriage and deals with depression daily this was a really great eye opener. Got really good resources and great information that you don't realize that's out their for you to utilize.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Beth Polebaum

    I became aware of this book from the Middlebury alumni news. It struck me that Mary, a classmate who I did not know at Middlebury but wish I had, required enormous heroism to write this book. I believe her efforts will probably help others suffering from this debilitating condition. This book is meticulously researched and beautifully written. Her use of literature and poetry enhanced my understanding of the profound depths of clinical depression. I wish her joy and health.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Despite the subject matter, this is not a maudlin, poor-me story. The author clearly describes her own struggle with depression/melancholia and describes the treatments and drugs that were prescribed to her, their origins, and the results. Since she experienced this journey herself, it is powerful story of despair being overcome daily with courage and insight. A beneficial read for anyone dealing with depression themselves or who have someone close to them engaged in this struggle.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Arturo Hernández

    This book talks about depression. The author shares her darkest episodes dealing with it and in that process explains the origins of what society understands of this disease from its conception to nowadays. In here, she even talks about the origins of specific medicaments and the stories that marked her life while interacting with them. It’s quite an enlightening book to understand a profound concept.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kier

    I gave this one 3/5 stars. It is clear the author did much research on depression, treatment of depression, and the treatments available to the mentally ill. The historical information was interesting, but it did read as a bit disconnected from the more personal parts of the book. I give the author a lot of credit for being willing to write about such personal and painful topics.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    Consider this book a personal memoir on melancholia with detailed history on psychoanalysis, mental institutions and the advent of psychiatric medication being used to treat depression. Not as personal as I expected it to be.

  24. 4 out of 5

    STEPHEN PLETKO

    XXXXX The author: “I am a survivor” XXXXX “I began to read widely, in a hope that a better understanding of my disorder would make me feel less frustrated and powerless. My reading led me to more questions, and eventually to the decision to write [this] book that would help me come to terms with my experience. I wanted to confront the mystery of how depressive illness permeates and disables the self… [T]he need to write this book never left me because I sensed that writing about depression…was th XXXXX The author: “I am a survivor” XXXXX “I began to read widely, in a hope that a better understanding of my disorder would make me feel less frustrated and powerless. My reading led me to more questions, and eventually to the decision to write [this] book that would help me come to terms with my experience. I wanted to confront the mystery of how depressive illness permeates and disables the self… [T]he need to write this book never left me because I sensed that writing about depression…was the only way to wrestle with a subject so difficult to grasp, and an inner experience so continually, unrelentingly frustrating.” The above quotation (the one in italics) comes from this extremely well-written book by Mary Cregan, Ph.D. She now is a lecturer in English literature at Barnard College (a private women’s college located in Manhattan, New York City that’s affiliated with Columbia University). Cregan is also a writer. What is depression (AKA “major depressive disorder”)? It is a mental disorder characterized by at least two weeks of low mood that’s present across most situations. It’s often accompanied by low self-esteem, loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, low energy, and pain without a clear cause. Sufferers may also occasionally have false beliefs or see or hear things that others cannot. Some sufferers may have periods of depression separated by years of normalcy while others nearly always have symptoms present. It can negatively affect a person’s personal life, work life, or education, as well as sleeping, eating habits, and general health. Two to eight percent of depressed adults take their own life. This is a penetrating memoir interweaving the author’s decent into depression and the treatments she sought with a medical and cultural history of this illness. The result is a compulsively readable, beautifully written, and honest book that will make you think differently about this condition and its debilitating effects, bringing into the light a disease that’s often been shrouded in the darkness of stigma and shame. Finally, I want to emphasize that this an IMPORTANT book about a mental condition described as “the common cold of mental illness.” In conclusion, this book is an invaluable contribution to the literature of this illness!! (2019; preface [ix-xiv]; 8 chapters; main narrative 245 pages; acknowledgements; notes) XXXXX

  25. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    I was on the fence between three and four stars with this one because the digressions into the history of psychiatry/mental health care/etc. that cropped up would take me out of the memoir. Then I realized how many quotes I highlighted that spoke to me and my experience with depression, and any book that is able to connect with me that deeply deserves that extra star. I'm not sure how helpful this book would be to someone who's dealing with someone with depression, but as a fellow sufferer it wa I was on the fence between three and four stars with this one because the digressions into the history of psychiatry/mental health care/etc. that cropped up would take me out of the memoir. Then I realized how many quotes I highlighted that spoke to me and my experience with depression, and any book that is able to connect with me that deeply deserves that extra star. I'm not sure how helpful this book would be to someone who's dealing with someone with depression, but as a fellow sufferer it was therapeutic to have it reinforced that I'm not alone in this. Recommended. I received a digital ARC from the publisher via Netgalley and Edelweiss+.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Mary Cregan skillfully weaves the history of her own struggle with depression with the history of mental health treatment in the United States, including hospitalization, electroconvulsive therapy, psychoanalysis, and antidepressant medication. Her own story is painfully honest; the history of mental health treatment in this country is informative. Anyone who struggles to manage his or her depression, or anyone with a friend or loved one who struggles, will appreciate the understanding this book Mary Cregan skillfully weaves the history of her own struggle with depression with the history of mental health treatment in the United States, including hospitalization, electroconvulsive therapy, psychoanalysis, and antidepressant medication. Her own story is painfully honest; the history of mental health treatment in this country is informative. Anyone who struggles to manage his or her depression, or anyone with a friend or loved one who struggles, will appreciate the understanding this book provides.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mindy Greiling

    Normally I don't like memoirs that include a lot of facts with the story, but this one I do. Instead of me skipping over those parts as I usually do, Cregan makes me want to read them too as part of the mystery of her learning about her illness over time and how the mental health system and it's drugs have evolved. I love that she included that longer look that books about mental illness rarely do. Her writing is incredibly beautiful and her introverted humbleness personifies her illness. While Normally I don't like memoirs that include a lot of facts with the story, but this one I do. Instead of me skipping over those parts as I usually do, Cregan makes me want to read them too as part of the mystery of her learning about her illness over time and how the mental health system and it's drugs have evolved. I love that she included that longer look that books about mental illness rarely do. Her writing is incredibly beautiful and her introverted humbleness personifies her illness. While reading, I often ached to hug her.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kerri

    Cregan does an amazing job of demystifying the stigma related to mental illness and depression. As a person that has suffered and survived the trauma of depression, I related deeply to her story (though not her particular situation/trauma). I loved the history that she provided and I just think this was very well done, written.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Linda Albert

    Fantastic combination of the author's experience with her own depression and a useful history of the treatment methods developed for it. This book helped me to see my mother's life in a new light as well as to appreciate the assistance I have had, both medical and therapy, over the years, to manage my disease. Fantastic combination of the author's experience with her own depression and a useful history of the treatment methods developed for it. This book helped me to see my mother's life in a new light as well as to appreciate the assistance I have had, both medical and therapy, over the years, to manage my disease.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jwein7

    This is an honest, straightforward, and ultimately kind and optimistic memoir. Cregan doesn't mince words, but she isn't shocking or provocative. Woven into her personal story is an edifying discussion of the history of treatment of depression and melancholia. I thank her for writing this; I hope others find hope in her story. This is an honest, straightforward, and ultimately kind and optimistic memoir. Cregan doesn't mince words, but she isn't shocking or provocative. Woven into her personal story is an edifying discussion of the history of treatment of depression and melancholia. I thank her for writing this; I hope others find hope in her story.

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