The ebb and flow of a life with depression

The ever-tightening grip of mental illness pushes its victims to disturbing ends. The narrative journey of This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression is easy to follow, but its themes are not for the faint of heart. Learning to live with mental illness is a daily struggle, especially for someone whose family has been affected for generations. Daphne Merkin exhibits shocking honesty in allowing readers to look into her journey. Merkin presents a realistic but uncomfortable look into her struggle with depression. Her depth of writing experience on the topic comes through in emotion-packed prose. The first-person account invites readers to see the personal side of a struggle, when much mental health writing can take a sterile, almost clinical approach to describing the sickness.

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This Close to Happy by Daphne Merkin

Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 304p, $26

The book opens with a line whose message haunts the entire narrative—“Lately I’ve been thinking about the allure of suicide again.” The theme of death, and more specifically what it can mean to someone facing a seemingly indefinite period of suffering, surfaces again and again. Because she lived on both sides, Merkin writes for those in anguish and those watching the anguished. Her mother struggled with mental illness, too, a cold reality that haunts the author as she raises her own daughter. The details of how she copes with her responsibility to herself and her family are enlightening but at times troubling as her depression complicates the trial-and-error process of parenting.

Merkin packs her story with prose that rings: “You have lost the thread that pulled the circumstances of your life together. Nothing adds up, and all you can think about is the raw nerve of pain that your mind has become.” This book offers the education necessary for readers need to follow depression as it rises and falls in one woman’s life, as well as in the lives of thousands of others.

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