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Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression

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3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  1,346 ratings  ·  94 reviews
Unholy Ghost is a unique collection of essays about depression that, in the spirit of William Styron's Darkness Visible, finds vivid expression for an elusive illness suffered by more than one in five Americans today. Unlike any other memoir of depression, however, Unholy Ghost includes many voices and depicts the most complete portrait of the illness. Lauren Slater eloque ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published January 8th 2002 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published 2001)
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Community Reviews

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Colleen
Oct 29, 2007 Colleen rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Depressed people and effected family and friends
I read this book while visiting my friends Kacy, Ben, and their six-month old adorable son, Miles, on the Oregon coast. Kacy and Ben are staying in Kacy's parents house. Her parents are visiting her brother in Japan.

I realize that this family history isn't necessary to explain my enjoyment of the book. What is crucial is that you imagine where and when I read it. The house is a soft brown cabin, shingles caressing every external surface. After playing with Miles, helping cook and eat, and talkin
...more
Julia
I was so disappointed in this book. I constantly read essays, memoirs, fiction, and academic work on psychological issues and this seemed like a good addition to the pile. However, most of the essays were incredibly boring and had nothing to do with the experience of being depressed, except that they were solipsistic and uninteresting. One or two essays along the lines of “I’m a writer and depression has related to my writing in these ways” would have been nice, but at least 75 percent of the es ...more
KR (Karen)
22 essays by writers on depression:

Artists and writers are associated more often with depression with a tip of the hat to an assumed "artistic temperament". Perhaps the way that artists are able to express darkness through their work could make this seem true but a particular temperament assigned to creative careers is not supported by research. Artists have the same struggles with depression as the general population but they talk, write, and sing about it more.

I found Donald Hall's essay "Gho
...more
Celeste
Despite having an introduction from the fabulous Kay Jamison, this essay collection is incredibly mediocre. Many of the essays are poorly written or circle aimlessly around the same topics. With so many evocative accounts of depression in the world, this book was a big disappointment.
Catherine
During the depths of a major depressive episode, this book felt like good company rather than something I probably should not be reading. Other than William Styron's "Darkness Visible," (which a part of is included here,) I don't know of many other books that have the power to bring empathy, compassion, and the mastery of the written word to bear on the existential devastation of clinical depression. Though each writer's story is unique, the sentiment of being on the outside of life is universal ...more
Jennifer
From "A Delicious Placebo" by Virginia Hefferman

I would say I was sick- sick with any ailment I could think of except "depression," which no one, no matter what the brochures with grainy girls' pictures and the word "reputable" say, will ever believe it is a real illness.

Overnight, it seemed, I'd gone from a twenty-eight-year old optimist, the type advertisers and politicians take into account, who might find a career and start a family, to a person who is unreliable and preoccupied, a person
...more
Lisa M.
When I buy books, I am generally buying them at used bookstores, library sales, or discount book sellers. I take home huge hauls, shelve them, and refer to my collection over the upcoming months. My love of books combined with my frugal nature prevents me from purchasing full-price books very often. This type of book purchasing does have it's downside, however. I go into a book frenzy. If a book has a low price sticker on it and is even related to a topic I like, I buy it. The second thoughts on ...more
Cindi
Jul 22, 2008 Cindi rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people with depression or with a loved one who struggles with depression
I'll start by saying that this book had some language and some sexual innuendo. I don't usually plug through a book with either of these, but in this case, I did because I could tell that I was learning some important things. I give it a high rating because of what I feel I take away from the book. I must say that for me, reading a book about depression is DEPRESSING! a sentiment expressed by one of the essay writers!

I have suffered from depression for as long as I can remember. I think it goes
...more
John Nooney
Each essay, taken individually, can be rated as good to excellent. The problem, for me, is that together, the essays really form no narrative, no cohesive point.

As a person who suffers from chronic depression (since my teens), I have a good understanding of depression, and it's pain. And, each of the writer's told their tales of bouts with depression. Perhaps the fault is mine, asI was hoping the book would be more about people who've dealt with depression for a good portion of their lives, as I
...more
Toby Elliott
this was pretty intense. especially "noontimes" by lauren slater, and obviously the contribution by russell banks. so many of these stories lead to medication, or some kind of medical treatment (in two of them, ECT is used and somewhat astonishingly, both are reported as successful) which gives one pause, but it shouldn't be taken as a book about drugs. there is an excerpt from "darkness, visible" by william styron in the book, and it is one of the best sections to include in this anthology: sty ...more
Becca
This book of essays is not merely a collection of sad stories from depressed artists, but rather an exploration of all sides of the illness-- from inside and outside, from before and after, from searching to knowing. That's what makes it so incredible.

I have read many collections and memoirs of madness, and few have successfully painted a full picture of depression in a way that isn't contrived. Unholy Ghost successfully dodges that easy trap by allowing each writer to enter the subject from a d
...more
AJ
A few excellent essays, a couple of horrible ones, and most residing somewhere in between. Some of the essays were first-hand accounts of depression, some second-hand accounts, and some by people with seemingly no relationship to depression whatsoever.

I almost abandoned the book halfway through Suzanna Kaysen's essay, which was abysmal. She actually says: "I don't think [depression]'s so bad. I think depression and despair are reasonable reactions to the nature of life." And she decries people w
...more
Kristen
I recommend this book to people who know anyone coping with a mental illness. Many of the stories began long before the pharmaceuticals came up with funny cartoons and purple pills, but the symptoms and the struggles are the same. The stories offer comfort to people with mental illness -- a kind of community. Most writers coped with not wanting to take medication, symptoms of depression exacerbated by solitude even when solitude felt like the right medicine, and the guilt of seeing partners and ...more
Michelle
I highly recommend this to people either struggling with depression, as I have, or to people who know depressives. It's a great insight to see into a very dark cave that depression is. To me it's like a reverse Plato's cave--where the cave is dark and on the wall there are shadows/slivers of light and I want to lift my hand to snatch the light but can't seem to move or understand why I'm in the cave to begin with.

This is also a great book for creative souls who struggle with depression. It lifts
...more
Rikki
I'm not one who usually enjoys compilations of short stories or essays, but such a collection is perfect for this topic. It gives a face to the often unspoken world of depression, and when it is difficult for author's to describe, no wonder it is for the rest of the world! Situations in here are as varied as the author's themeselves, and everyone can learn a little something from what they have to say.
Joan Opyr
It seems counterintuitive that reading about depression could be uplifting, but I found this book oddly comforting. In particular, I gained a lot of insight from Donald Hall's account of wife Jane Kenyon's battle with bipolar disorder. Kenyon wrote the brilliant poem, Having It Out With Melancholy. No one has ever described the oppressive, unrelenting nature of depression better.
Andrea Arbit
I was hoping for more out of this book (but then, I suppose some say the same about depression, which is often romanticized, connected with loving and losing and writing and creating and living, but is, in truth, awful and all-encompassing and mundane in its everydayness).

One of the problems with this book was the lack of diversity of its writers. Nearly all of them were white and middle-to-upper class, and nearly all had grown up in and were still living on the East Coast. There weren't many di
...more
Karen
This was an amazing book. I really enjoyed the way I learned about depression from the viewpoint of different writers; the way each one shared their experience and I related to their words and their minds; the way each essay was unique to its approach and that I didn't necessarily agreed with all of the writers. Nell Casey certainly chose the exact writers for the compilation of this book.

David Karp's experiences certainly related to the phases of my own illness, but it was Nancy Mairs experien
...more
Lisa
Several essays were illuminating, the way in which the writers conveyed their histories of depression (or melancholy, as a few preferred to call it). The latter certainly has a lyrical, forlorn quality that depression lacks, and I agree with some of the reasons given for preferring it (if interested, check out its origins in the OED). I just realized I used the term, "illuminating," in describing some of these works; it's revealing because to anyone who has lived with it, depression at its bleak ...more
Pat
Edited by Nell Casey, this collection of twenty-two essays by contemporary American and European writers explores the many faces of depression. Rather than a medical guide of what constitutes depression or a depressive episode these essays vividly portray each writer’s experience of depression.
The link between the depressed person and their family member is explored as Casey includes her personal essay entitled Wish You Were Here. Her essay illuminates the role of caregiver to her sister’s bi-p
...more
Theresia
Read this for Maud and Nell Casey and my god I teared up. The writings edited here are elegant, the way only literate writers can thread the fine line about the dark suffering and the intimate glimpse of pondering, and address the experience of living with their ghost (or, in some cases, being *the* ghost).
Maureen
A mixed bag collection of essays about depression. Some essays are interesting, thought provoking, insightful and well-written; others seem like rough drafts. Some seem like magazine articles. Most have vague endings with not a lot of conclusions. I did like that it was many different stories/perspectives/authors so if one story was not written well or not great there was always another one to read.
Ed
The most interesting essay in this collection was Joshua Wolf Shenk's "A Melancholy of My Own," where he argues that the introduction of the term "depression" by Adolf Meyer in 1905 as a replacement for melancholia in the lexicon of psychiatry has served, if nothing else, to deaden and flatten the way we use language to describe certain painful experiences. The essays in this collection are strong evidence for his argument. While some of the authors do use vivid language to describe their experi ...more
Christopher
Dark and descriptive short stories/essays of different writers' experiences with clinical depression. The stories are heart wrenching and give an intimate, and palpable understanding of what each writer experienced. One would have to go through a experience akin to these experiences to fully know what it means to be afflicted with such a parasitic, life draining poison that is severe depression. For those suffering it can be helpful to know or be reminded that one is not alone in their afflictio ...more
Leigh Ann
For me, the best essays in this collection were Donald Hall's (about his relationship with his wife Jane Kenyon), Nell Casey's (about her sister Maud), and Maud Casey's (about the same experience referenced in her sister's essay).
Richard Jespers
Mostly these people write about their own depression. Quite good. Rang some familiar bells. However, I don’t seem to have the same creative result that most of these writers have with their multiple publications, prestigious grants.
Ron Christiansen
Never one to pass up a book on depression...this was even better than I had expected. Interesting to briefly experience so many different views living in depression.
Devon
This book is for anyone who has ever felt depressed, been diagnosed with depression or has been close to someone who is depressed. Writers speak candidly and eloquently about their personal experiences with medication, hospitalization, electro-convulsive therapy, post-surgical and post-partum depression. This is like being witness in the confessional of therapy, not as a voyeur, but as a fellow human being wanting to connect. Depression is a varied as fingerprints and still such an elusive myste ...more
Gayle
I found this a really eye opening and interesting read - not just to understand what people with depression are going through, but also what writers with depression are going through too. I saw myself in some of the essays - not being able to write for a variety of reasons, fear of rejection, anger at self and the world for not being able to write as well as one thinks one should. It really helped process some feelings I'd been having lately as a writer, and more importantly gave me a greater un ...more
Erin
Although this book wasn't cheery or especially uplifting, it was well edited and had some beautiful parts. Full of various essays about depression from different writers, it touched on so many aspects of depression.

What I truly appreciated were the works written not by the people who sufferered from depression themselves, but the ones written by family members or partners touched by their loved ones' depression. I would recommend this to anyone who either has to deal with depression themselves
...more
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“My life felt so cluttered and obstructed that I could hardly breathe. I inhabited a closed, concentrated world, airless and without exits.” 2 likes
“For many people, depression is an abrupt change in an otherwise full and happy life. It emerges suddenly and devastates by its very strangeness and pathology.” 2 likes
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