NPJ Book Review: Unholy Ghost, writers on depression by Nell Cassey

Unholy Ghost, writers on depression by Nell Cassey (2001)

I bought the first edition of this book for a dollar at a library book sale years ago. It reflects an ancient illness. Today substantial numbers of people suffer from – one in four is an estimate in America. World data on depression is a bit more troublesome.

As I read through the work one realizes the obvious. That is, opinions are a form of belief. Belief involves assumption and acceptance. The recipe for truth is reality and facts. Evidence entails proof and confirmation. That said, there are innumerable instances in which opinions, belief, truth and evidence overlap. Depression allows for the overlap and is different for everyone suffering from it. And as if need to be reminded, medicine is an imperfect science.

In his fictional work, The Egyptian, Mika Waltari writes of a physician by the name of Sinuhe, who in this third year of being exiled by the pharaoh notes of his weariness of the gods and their deeds…”and as for hope and immortality, I am weary of that as I am of gods and kings.”

I mention this as there is a weariness, sadness and dread in the voices behind many stories of depression. A weariness of the world, of suffering, a disease that is incurable or not wanting to be a burden on anyone during one’s final hours. A feeling of isolation, emptiness and futility exists. A few of the essays are more powerful than others, (William Styron for example), for despair not only immerses the person experiencing it but the relationships they are in. (As an aside, when an entire nation experiences it in some form because of leadership then the die is cast for disturbing behavior that will linger for years.)

Depression and suicide are siblings. One person states the obvious, “unless you are rich, and can convalesce in a sanitorium estate….you have to keep going if you’re depressed. That means phone calls, appointments, errands, holidays, family, friends and colleagues.” And suicide is but a thought away.

More men commit suicide than women with the largest group being veterans. Whether from a disease or a severing of the bond with others, long-term joblessness or poverty wages, the downstream effects can be profound whether it’s one person or a community. For many sufferers pills are not the answer but rather developing a different outlook…the question being what kind of act or event will change the outlook when the angst is embedded in society itself and the competition to merely to survive and continue to exist is daunting, for not everyone has the same emotional and physical resources to survive.

Though written before 9/11/2019 the essays point to an increasing problem in a politically, socially and culturally divisive world that pits people against each other. Some of the most recognized writers in the world suffered from depression. Whether that means if you are depressed then write… it’s a personal matter for each person. For may authors find their solace in written words or recordings.

Today we live in conflict. On one level it’s a modern dark age in terms of the increasing numbers of cases of depression and if for no other reason, this work has value in looking at how it effects the lives individually and collectively.  

Enlightenment is a personal matter as is solace and finding the positive through an act as simple as a smile and a hope even if for brief moments.

There are other insightful works on depression. This is just one of them. It’s a matter perhaps of what where you find comfort, affirmation and the people you associate with and can trust with your feelings. The unspoken concern is making profit off of misery.