Note: Other quotation sections to consider are Suicide, Self-Injury, and Misery/Despair/Anxiety/Grief.





The hardest thing to do when you go back
underwater is talk about what the sky was like.
–Iain S. Thomas, “The Ripple in the Clouds”

They always call depression the blues, but I would have been happy to waken to a periwinkle outlook. Depression to me is urine yellow. Washed out, exhausted miles of weak piss. –Gillian Flynn, Sharp Objects

Each sporadic burst of work, each minor success and disappointment, each moment of calm and relaxation, seemed merely a temporary halt on my steady descent through layer after layer of depression, like an elevator stopping for a moment on the way down to the basement. –A. Alvarez, The Savage God

One of the many things I hate about the word “depression” is the assumption of blankness attached to it, as if the experience of depression is as absent on the inside as it looks to be from the outside. That is wrong. Depression is a place that teems with nightmarish activity. It’s a one-industry town, a psychic megalopolis devoted to a single twenty-four-hour-we-never-close product. You work misery as a teeth-grinding muscle-straining job (is that why it’s so physically exhausting?), proving your shameful failures to yourself over and over again. Depression says you can get blood from a stone, and so that’s what you do. Competing voices are an irritating distraction from the work. No wonder depression doesn’t get invited out much. Not because it’s not the life of the party, it knows it’s not that, but because self-absorption as a work ethic is so prickly and one-eyed. That’s okay with depression—it figures, who’d want to be friends with it, anyway? –Lesley Dormen, “Planet No”

A pool of melancholy blooms in my chest and rushes into my body like deep-blue blood. –Ben H. Winters, World of Trouble

The most miraculous moments of my life were not when my daughter and son were born, but when the second or third Prozac pill shot down my throat and catapulted me into a world called sane. –Lauren Slater, “Would you Rather be Fat & Happy? Or Thin & Sad?”

The term clinical depression finds its way into too many conversations these days. One has a sense that a catastrophe has occurred in the psychic landscape. –Leonard Cohen, in the International Herald Tribune, November 4, 1988

I yearned to get better; I told myself I was getting better. In fact, the depression was still there, like a powerful undertow. Sometimes it grabbed me, yanked me under; other times, I swam free. –Tracy Thompson, The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression

If I was with people, I felt as if I were surrounded by strangers on a bus. The world seemed to be telescoping away; I saw everything through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars, watching tiny, animated people at the other end engage in activities I could not fathom. –ditto

I’d been depressed before, of course. But I’m talking about really depressed. Not just feeling a bit down or sad, a depression that has something to do with biorhythms. I’m talking about the kind of depressed that floats in upon you like a fog. You can feel it coming and you can see where it is going to take you but you are powerless, utterly powerless to stop it. I know now. –Alan Cumming, Tommy’s Tale


Pharmaceutical wonders are at work
but I believe only in this moment
of well-being. Unholy ghost,
you are certain to come again.

Coarse, mean, you’ll put your feet
on the coffee table, lean back,
and turn me into someone who can’t
take the trouble to speak; someone
who can’t sleep, or who does nothing
but sleep; can’t read, or call
for an appointment for help.

There is nothing I can do
against your coming.
When I awake, I am still with thee.
–Jane Kenyon, “Credo,” from “Having it Out with Melancholy”


There’s no grand excellence to it. In my experience it was just almost the gulaggy boringness of it that’ll kill you. You’re just in this murk. And you’re with other humans, but you lose all your human skills and it’s just like you’re in this plastic bag and you can’t quite connect with people. You lose your ability to transmit electricity or something, and to receive it. –Neko Case, re: her depression, in an August 23, 2013, interview in The Guardian

I realized that I had granted my illness lordship over me. In viewing my depression as a despot subjecting me to its savage fancies, I was able to escape responsibility, to indulge fully my selfish desire to let my ego flourish unfettered, not obliged to anyone. But this wasn’t freedom. It was a prison—a cell separating me from those who cared for me and for whom I might have cared. –Eric G. Wilson, Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away

Every day, though, sometimes more than once a day, sometimes all day, a coppery taste in my mouth, which I termed intense insipidity, heralded a session of helpless, bottomless misery in which I would lie curled in a fetal position on the sofa with tears leaking from my eyes, my brain boiling with a confusion of stuff not worth calling thought or imagery: it was more like shredded mental kelp marinaded in pure pain. During and after such attacks, I would be prostrate with inertia, as if all my energy had gone into a black hole. –Les Murray, Killing the Black Dog: A Memoir of Depression

The worst way to have chronic depression is to have it unconsciously, to be in a burning rage and not know you are angry. –ditto

God, whoever He was apart from being all that was best and strangest in Jesus, seemed content to leave me in the muck till I died, and let no one pull me out of there. –ditto

The returning illness would once again shoot crippling arrows into my life ... I was made to remember who still owned the game. –ditto

I’ll never escape. It drives me mad. I must must must do something. I feel as if I’m at the earth’s heart. I’ve got the whole weight of the whole earth pressing in on this little box. It grows smaller smaller smaller. I can feel it contracting.
         I want to scream sometimes. Till my voice is raw. To death.
         I can’t write it. There aren’t the words.
         Utter despair.
         I’ve been like that all day. A kind of endless panic in slow motion.
–John Fowles, The Collector (This character wasn’t actually talking about depression, but about physical imprisonment. However, I thought it served as an accurate metaphor for what it’s like to be depressed.)

I could feel myself begin to recede, to tip and lose balance, slide toward the deeper darkness that had crept in from outside. It happened so quickly and took me by surprise; sometimes I just turned around and found it there—ah, camarade—unaware it had been waiting for me for days. –Bryan Mealer, All Things Must Fight to Live: Stories of War and Deliverance in Congo (He wasn’t necessarily talking about depression, but I thought it described the decent into depression perfectly.)

The Failure of Will theory is equally popular with people who are not depressed. Get out and take your mind off yourself, they say. You’re too self-absorbed. This is just about the stupidest thing you can say to a depressed person, and it is said every day to depressed people all over this country. And if it isn’t that, it’s Shut up and take your Prozac. –Chase Twichell, “Toys in the Attic”

The worst thing about depression—the thing that makes people phobic about it—is that it’s a foretaste of death. It’s a trip to the country of nothingness. Reality loses its substance and becomes ghostly, transparent, unbelievable. This perception of what’s outside infects the perception of the self, which explains why depressed people feel they aren’t “there.” –ditto

The melancholic temperament is equipped to perceive and, more important, to tolerate the fundamental ambiguities of life. The transient nature of happiness, beauty, success, and health may come as a shock to the upbeat person but it’s old hat to the depressive. And, I think depressive people have more fun. Human nature being what it is, we enjoy more whatever is hard to get and in short supply. Happiness is certainly both, and nobody knows that better than someone who spends half the time sunk in gloom. –ditto

As if some alchemical spell had been cast, the world became gray, entirely gray. I was aware of no color in anything; I might have been living in an old black-and-white movie. Shadows became more stark and sharp-edged. The air itself seemed gray, as though contaminated by a toxic mist so fine that it could not be seen, only sensed. Voices were fuzzy, the aural equivalent of gray. The few times that I switched on the TV or the radio, the music seemed to have no melody that I could discern. My interior world was as gray as the physical world around me, and the unseen but acutely sensed mist that fouled the outer world had penetrated to my core. –Dean Koontz, “Twilight of the Dawn”

And then, over and over, I would say I was sick—sick with any documented ailment I could think of except “depression,” which no one, no matter what the brochures with grainy girls’ pictures and the word “reuptake” say, will ever believe is a real sickness. –Virginia Heffernan, “A Delicious Placebo”

I’m living under water. Everything seems slow and far away. I know there’s a world up there, a sunlit quick world where time runs like dry sand through an hourglass, but down here, where I am, air and sound and time and feeling are thick and dense. –Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife

A large proportion of my best friends are a little bit crazy. … I try to be cautious with my friends who are too sane. Depression is itself destructive, and it breeds destructive impulses: I am easily disappointed in people who don’t get it … –Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon

Depression is the flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair. When it comes, it degrades one’s self and ultimately eclipses the capacity to give or receive affection. It is the aloneness within us made manifest, and it destroys not only connection to others but also the ability to be peacefully alone with oneself. –ditto

Mild depression is a gradual and sometimes permanent thing that undermines people the way rust weakens iron … Like physical pain that becomes chronic, it is miserable not so much because it is intolerable in the moment as because it is intolerable to have known it in the moments gone and to look forward only to knowing it in the moments to come. –ditto

It is not pleasant to experience decay, to find yourself exposed to the ravages of an almost daily rain, and to know that you are turning into something feeble, that more and more of you will blow off with the first strong wind, making you less and less. Some people accumulate more emotional rust than others. Depression starts out insipid, fogs the days into a dull color, weakens ordinary actions until their clear shapes are obscured by the effort they require, leaves you tired and bored and self-obsessed—but you can get through all that. Not happily, perhaps, but you can get through. No one has ever been able to define the collapse point that marks major depression, but when you get there, there’s not much mistaking it. Major depression is a birth and a death: it is both the new presence of something and the total disappearance of something. –ditto

My depression … had been a sucking thing that had wrapped itself around me, ugly and more alive than I. It had had a life of its own that bit by bit asphyxiated all of my life out of me. At the worst stage of major depression, I had moods that I knew were not my moods: they belonged to the depression…in the end I was compacted and fetal, depleted by this thing that was crushing me without holding me. Its tendrils threatened to pulverize my mind and my courage and my stomach, and crack my bones and desiccate my body. It went on glutting itself on me when there seemed nothing left to feed it. …I knew then that I could never kill this vine of depression, and so all I wanted was for it to let me die. But it had taken from me the energy I would have needed to kill myself, and it would not kill me. If my trunk was rotting, this thing that fed on it was now too strong to let it fall ; it had become an alternative support to what it had destroyed. In the tightest corner of my bed, split and racked by this thing no one else seemed to be able to see, I prayed to a God I had never entirely believed in, and I asked for deliverance. I would have been happy to die the most painful death, though I was too dumbly lethargic even to conceptualize suicide. Every second of being alive hurt me. –ditto

I hated being depressed, but it was also in depression that I learned my own acreage, the full extent of my soul. –ditto

Grief is depression in proportion to circumstance; depression is grief out of proportion to circumstance. It is tumbleweed distress that thrives on thin air, growing despite its detachment from the nourishing earth. It can be described only in metaphor and allegory … Grief is a humble angel who leaves you with strong, clear thoughts and a sense of your own depth. Depression is a demon who leaves you appalled. –ditto

It was too difficult to remember and think and express and understand—all the things I needed to be able to do to talk. To keep my face animated at the same time was insult added to injury. It was like trying to cook and roller-skate and sing and type all at once. –ditto

It’s enough just to speak when spoken to, to give some minimal reaction to a stimulus. But to actually be the stimulus doesn’t even occur to me. –Martha Manning, Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface

In the psychological literature, depression is often seen as a defense against sadness. But I’ll take sadness any day. There is no contest. Sadness carries identification. You know where it’s been and you know where it’s headed. Depression carries no papers. It enters your country unannounced and uninvited. Its origins are unknown, but its destination always dead-ends in you. –ditto

It’s strange, the line you cross when you move from calm and satisfied with the rightness and safety of things to the sudden panic that the world has turned angry and dangerous. –ditto (this quote and the following quotes deal with her descent into a crippling depression)

Some struggles are so solitary that they drown in words. –ditto

… she tells me that I am “quite depressed.” I can tolerate being labeled “depressed.” “Quite depressed” sounds more serious and feels “quite” uncomfortable when applied to me. I tell her how humiliated I am that I can’t deal with it myself. … She responds … that some of the greatest artists have known the terrible torments of depression. She tells me I have a very moralistic view of depression as a personal weakness and a condition under one’s control. She counters with her belief that my depression is an illness. … As she talks, she says at one point, “People who suffer from depression…” I don’t hear the rest of the sentence. “Suffer from depression.” That’s right. It is suffering. A person doesn’t just have depression. She suffers from it. –ditto

All their “helpful” comments imply that if I’d only do _____, my problems would be solved. Like it’s all within my grasp, able to be managed and mastered, if only I would try harder, longer, better. As I nod my head in polite and pathetic appreciation for their input, I scream inside, “Shut up. Shut up. Unless you’ve been lost in this particular section of hell yourself, don’t you dare try to give me directions. –ditto

I should come with a consumer warning, like the labels that say “Handle with care” or “May be hazardous to your health.” I am unfit for human consumption. I struggle to articulate how awful and isolating this feels, but I can’t find the words. –ditto

I look at other people and I think, “He lives without meds. She does. What is wrong with me? Am I so biochemically screwed up, so neurotic, so narcissistically self-absorbed that every hour is an obstacle course for me?” I don’t know, but this can’t continue. I feel like I am dying. A slow torturous death. And the worst thing is that I’m taking other people along for the ride. But I swear, I don’t know how to do it differently. –ditto

What a time. What a long lonely time. I never knew the days could stretch out so endlessly. Stretch so far I think they’ll break, but they only heave and sag. The weight of them bears down on me mercilessly. I wake … into another day of dread. Dread with no name or face. Nothing to fight with my body or wits. Just a gnawing gripping fear. So hard and heavy. I can’t breathe. I can’t swallow.
         The emptiness of my depression turns to grief, then to numbness and back again. My world is filled with underwater voices, people, lists of things to do. They gurgle and dart in and out of my vision and reach. But they are so fast and slippery that I can never keep up. Every inch of me aches. I can’t believe that a person can hurt this bad and still breathe. All escapes are illusory—distractions, sleep, drugs, doctors, answers, hope… –ditto

I am afraid. Afraid of managing the desolation of each second. Afraid that I won’t make it to the next hour. These feelings are still so alien to me. Time used to be something I loved to play with, to tease, to race. But there is no contest now. –ditto

Depression is such a cruel punishment. There are no fevers, no rashes, no blood tests to send people scurrying in concern. Just the slow erosion of the self, as insidious as any cancer. And, like cancer, it is essentially a solitary experience. A room in hell with only your name on the door. I realize that every person, at some point, takes up residence in one or another of these rooms. But that realization offers no great comfort now. –ditto

All the romantic nonsense about depression somehow making one into a creature of unique sensibilities is easy to agree with when I feel good. Then I’m sharper, superior for having weathered something terribly difficult, or just plain pleased at having narrowly gotten away with something once again—like the snow day after the night’s homework I didn’t do. All of it stands up in the light, but it’s bullshit in the shadows. I don’t care about unique sensibilities. All I care about is surviving. My goal in life is just to get through the days. –ditto

But depression is not a sudden disaster. It is more like a cancer: At first its tumorous mass is not even noticeable to the careful eye, and then one day—wham!—there is a huge, deadly seven-pound lump lodged in your brain or your stomach or your shoulder blade, and this thing that your own body has produced is actually trying to kill you. Depression is a lot like that: Slowly, over the years, the data will accumulate in your heart and mind, a computer program for total negativity will build into your system, making life feel more and more unbearable. But you won’t even notice it coming on, thinking that it is somehow normal, something about getting older, about turning eight or twelve or turning fifteen, and then one day you realize that your entire life is just awful, not worth living, a horror and a black blot on the white terrain of human existence. One morning you wake up afraid you are going to live. –Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation

That’s the thing I want to make clear about depression: It’s got nothing at all to do with life. In the course of life, there is sadness and pain and sorrow, all of which, in their right time and season, are normal—unpleasant, but normal. Depression is an altogether different zone because it involves a complete absence: absence of affect, absence of feeling, absence of response, absence of interest. The pain you feel in the course of a major clinical depression is an attempt on nature’s part (nature, after all, abhors a vacuum) to fill up the empty space. But for all intents and purposes, the deeply depressed are just the walking, waking dead. –ditto

Sometimes, I get so consumed by depression that it is hard to believe that the whole world doesn’t stop and suffer with me. –ditto

Jesus, I wondered, what do you do with pain so bad it has no redeeming value? It cannot even be alchemized into art, into words, into something you can chalk up to an interesting experience because the pain itself, its intensity, is so great that it has woven itself into your system so deeply that there is no way to objectify it or push it outside or find its beauty within. That is the pain I’m feeling now. It’s so bad, it’s useless. The only lesson I will ever derive from this pain is how bad pain can be. –ditto

That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key. –ditto

Rock bottom is feeling like the only thing that matters in all of life is the one bad moment. … Rock bottom is everything out of focus. It’s a failure of vision, a failure to see the world as it is, to see the good in what it is, and only to wonder why the hell things look the way they do and not—and not some other way. As if there were any way that might look right from behind that depressive fog. –ditto

In a strange way, I had fallen in love with my depression. … I loved it because I thought it was all I had. I thought depression was the part of my character that made me worthwhile. I thought so little of myself, felt that I had such scant offerings to give to the world, that the one thing that justified my existence at all was my agony. –ditto

Depression is a very narcissistic thing, it’s a self-involvement that is so deep and intense that it means the sufferer cannot get out of her own head long enough to see what real good, what genuine loveliness, there is in the world around her. –ditto

… I am crying because whatever my gifts, the pieces of good buried inside and under so much that I feel is bad, is wrong, is twisted, are less clear than the ability to hit a ball with a bat and break the scoreboard or do a triple pirouette in the air on ice. My gifts are for life itself, for an unfortunately astute understanding of all the cruelty and pain in the world. My gifts are unspecific. I am an artist manqué, someone full of crazy ideas and grandiloquent needs and even a little bit of happiness, but with no way to express it. –ditto

I wonder if any of them can tell from just looking at me that all I am is the sum total of my pain, a raw woundedness so extreme that it might be terminal. It might be terminal velocity, the speed of the sound of a girl falling down to a place from where she can’t be retrieved. What if I am stuck down here for good? –ditto

And the crying and the pain that goes with it becomes too much to bear. Usually, tears are cathartic. As you cry, the salt and water shed from your eyes and drag misery along the way. But in this case, the crying only escalates the emotions that it expresses, and the more I cry, the more upset I get, and I am thinking of every time I cried over Rafe, every time I cried because I thought he didn’t love me well enough, and every time he would reassure me and tell me I was being silly, because where is he now, where is he as I lay dying, and why is it that no one who is supposed to be here for me ever is? –ditto

They don’t understand how desperate I am to have someone say, I love you and I support you just the way you are because you’re wonderful just the way you are. They don’t understand that I can’t remember anyone ever saying that to me. I am so demanding and difficult for my boyfriends because I want to crumble and fall apart before them so that they will love me even though I am no fun, lying in bed, crying all the time, not moving. Depression is all about If you loved me you would. As in If you loved me you would stop doing your homework, stop going out drinking with your friends on a Saturday night, stop doing everything besides sitting here by my side and passing me Kleenex and aspirin while I lie and creak and cry and drown myself and you in my misery. –ditto

It’s strange living with no relief for so long. –Vivienne Loomis, regarding her depression, in a December 2, 1973, letter

On one level my sense of despair had been dispelled by therapy, yet on another it had not been replaced by either the desire for a future or the concept of one. I felt more aware of who I was, but that in itself—dominated as it was by sensations of fragmentation and isolation—filled me with no great hope, and in many ways only fuelled an appetite for destruction. –Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So

But now she knew the truth: The Black Dog of depression was dirty and scarred, feral and rabid. He lurked in the night, yellow eyes gleaming, waiting for a chink in the armor, a weakness, a vulnerability, a memory. And then, jaws wide and fangs sharp, he would leap. –Susan Elia MacNeal, The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent

My world falls apart, crumbles, “The center cannot hold.” There is no integrating force, only the naked fear, the urge of self-preservation. I am afraid. I am not solid, but hollow. I feel behind my eyes a numb, paralyzed cavern, a pit of hell, a mimicking nothingness. I never thought. I never wrote, I never suffered. I want to kill myself, to escape from responsibility, to crawl back abjectly into the womb. I do not know who I am, where I am going—and I am the one who has to decide the answers to these hideous questions. I long for a noble escape from freedom—I am weak, tired, in revolt from the strong constructive humanitarian faith which presupposes a healthy, active intellect and will. There is nowhere to go … –Sylvia Plath, journal, November 3, 1952

Now I sit here, crying almost, afraid, seeing the finger writing my hollow futility on the wall, damning me—God, where is the integrating force going to come from? My life up till now seems messy, inconclusive, disorganized: I arranged my courses wrong, played my strategy without unifying rules—got excited at my own potentialities, yet amputated some to serve others. I am drowning in negativism, self-hate, doubt, madness ... I go plodding on, afraid that the blank hell in back of my eyes will break through, spewing forth like a dark pestilence, afraid that the disease which eats away the pith of my body with merciless impersonality will break forth in obvious sores and warts, screaming “Traitor, sinner, imposter.” –ditto

I am a conglomerate garbage heap of loose ends—selfish, scared, contemplating... going...anywhere, anywhere, where the burden, the terrifying hellish weight of self-responsibility and ultimate self-judgment is lifted. I can see ahead only into dark, sordid alleys, where the dregs, the sludge, the filth of my life lies, unglorified, unchanged—transfigured by nothing: no nobility, not even the illusion of a dream. Reality is what I make it. That is what I have said I believed. Then I look at the hell I am wallowing in, nerves paralyzed, action nullified—fear, envy, hate: all the corrosive emotions of insecurity biting away at my sensitive guts. Time, experience: the colossal wave, sweeping tidal over me, drowning, drowning. How can I ever find that permanence, that continuity with past and future, that communication with other human beings that I crave? Can I ever honestly accept an artificial imposed solution? How can I justify, how can I rationalize the rest of my life away? –ditto

Whom can I talk to? Get advice from? No one. A psychiatrist is the god of our age. But they cost money. And I won’t take advice, even if I want it. I’ll kill myself. I am beyond help. No one here has time to probe, to aid me in understanding many others are worse off than I. How can I selfishly demand help, solace, guidance? No, it is my own mess, and even if now I have lost my sense of perspective, thereby my creative sense of humor, I will not let myself get sick, go mad, or retreat like a child into blubbering on someone else’s shoulder. –ditto

Tomorrow I will curse the dawn, but there will be other, earlier nights, and the dawns will be no longer hell laid out in alarms and raw bells and sirens. –Sylvia Plath, journal, November 14, 1952

I had been withdrawing into a retreat of numbness: it is so much safer not to feel, not to let the world touch one. But my honest self revolted at this, hated me for doing this. Sick with conflict, destructive negative emotions, frozen into disintegration I was, refusing to articulate, to spew forth these emotions—they festered in me, growing big, distorted, like pus-bloated sores. Small problems, mentions of someone else’s felicity, evidence of someone else’s talents frightened me, making me react hollowly, fighting jealousy, envy, hate. Feeling myself fall apart, decay, rot, and the laurels wither and fall away, and my past sins and omissions strike me with full punishment and import. All this, all this foul, gangrenous sludge ate away at my insides. Silent, insidious. –ditto

You have lost all delight in life. Ahead is a large array of blind alleys. You are half-deliberately, half-desperately cutting off your grip on creative life. You are becoming a neuter machine. You cannot love, even if you knew how to begin to love. Every thought is a devil, a hell—if you could do a lot of things over again, ah, how differently you would do them! You want to go home, back to the womb. You watch the world bang door after door in your face, numbly, bitterly. You have forgotten the secret you knew, once, ah, once, of being joyous, of laughing, of opening doors. –Sylvia Plath, journal, November 18, 1952

Dear Doctor: I am feeling very sick. I have a heart in my stomach which throbs and mocks. Suddenly the simple rituals of the day balk like a stubborn horse. It gets impossible to look people in the eye: corruption may break out again? Who knows. Small talk becomes desperate.
         Hostility grows, too. That dangerous, deadly venom which comes from a sick heart. Sick mind, too. The image of identity we must daily fight to impress on the neutral, or hostile, world collapses inward: we feel crushed. –Sylvia Plath, journal, February 20, 1956

Look at that ugly dead mask here and do not forget it. It is a chalk mask with dead dry poison behind it, like the death angel. It is what I was this fall, and what I never want to be again. The pouting disconsolate mouth, the flat, bored, numb, expressionless eyes: symptoms of the foul decay within. –Sylvia Plath, journal, January 10, 1953

... I keep wanting to crawl back into the womb ... –Sylvia Plath, journal, undated entry from summer 1953

Right now you are sick in your head ... You fool—you are afraid of being alone with your own mind. You just better learn to know yourself, to make sure decisions before it is too late. –ditto

... you looked around and saw everybody either married or busy and happy and thinking and being creative, and you felt scared, sick, lethargic, worst of all, not wanting to cope. You saw visions of yourself in a straightjacket, and a drain on the family, murdering your mother in actuality, killing the edifice of love and respect built up over the years in the hearts of other people. –Sylvia Plath, journal, July 14, 1953

A terrible depression yesterday. Visions of my life petering out into a kind of soft-brained stupor from lack of use. –Sylvia Plath, journal, September 16, 1959

Very depressed today. Unable to write a thing. Menacing gods. I feel outcast on a cold star, unable to feel anything but an awful helpless numbness. –Sylvia Plath, journal, October 13, 1959

Something small and quiet, like a match being struck, lights up the gloom inside of me. –Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

Depression makes you seek lonely places, and that is what I started doing during the second semester of my first year in college. The black creek, the woods, the empty fields, the old cemetery—anywhere away from people, away from their critical eyes. I would seek out these places, choosing routes and times that would mean I could avoid as many people as possible. –Samantha Abeel, My Thirteenth Winter

... I feel tired to death, paralyzed by this mysteriously wasted life’s stubborn concentration on hopelessness and dissolution. It occurs to me that if I lie still like this for long enough, then I’ll be dead when I finally wake again, and nothing can ever again torment me, beset me, or present me with evidence of my baseness and decay. That thought is the only one that can comfort me. –Christer Kihlman, The Blue Mother

Blues like this lives out of sight of the world, I think. It seems more a solid oranic mass than a mood that can blow away or be lifted. It lies there and says, Go ahead, try to budge me. ... Blues like this doesn’t have ears. It can’t be disturbed. It has nothing to do with sadness or even grief—which at least are imaginable emotions. –Michael Greenberg, Hurry Down Sunshine

All the same, my depression and self-hatred, my desire to mutilate myself with broken bottles, my numbness and crying fits, my inability to get out of bed for days and days, the feeling of the world moving in to crush me, went on and on. But I knew I wouldn’t go mad, even if that release, that letting-go, was a freedom I desired. I was waiting for myself to heal. –Hanif Kureishi, The Buddha of Suburbia

I kept pushing against the black, though, almost a reflex. I wasn’t trying to lift it. I was just resisting. Not allowing it to crush me completely. I wasn’t Atlas, and the black felt as heavy as a planet; I couldn’t shoulder it. All I could do was not be entirely obliterated. –Stephenie Meyer, Breaking Dawn (This character wasn’t actually talking about depression, but about physical pain. To me, though, it sounded like a perfect metaphor for depression.)

I wondered if I was just the sum of my brain scan, little dots clustered in my frontal lobe. Is that where the poems came from? The desire to destroy myself? This last depression had scared me. It had come on so quickly, not like the gradual woolgathering in my brain I had known before. –Betsy Lerner, Food and Loathing

Rituals, even unhappy ones, provide a measure of comfort. Like a superstitious ballplayer who will only use certain bats, my depression rituals have become a fixed, normal part of my life. … I need rituals to prevent unnecessarily rocking my already shaky emotional boat. –David Karp, “An Unwelcome Career”

This is the Hour of Lead—
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons recollect the Snow—
First—Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go—
–Emily Dickinson, “After Great Pain”

Indeed my life became troubled, not when individual men entered it, but when I emerged from the long undifferentiated dream of my female-supported childhood into the Real/Male World, an environment defined and dominated by the masculine principles of effectiveness, power, and success, and environment containing a ready-made niche for me which happened to be the wrong size and shape. Some days I longed to smash the entire hideous alien structure, but I had no tools. Other days I wanted nothing more than to fit into my niche, even if I had to whack off my hands and my feet and my head to do so. Empty-handed, contemplating self-mutilation, of course I grew depressed. I believe now that my depression was—and still is—my response to the struggle not to go under, not to go down for the last time, sinking into acceptance of that space which crabbed and cramped me. I will not be the little woman, my depression cried, even while I was hunching and squeezing, cracking my bones and scraping my knuckles and knees. I will die first. For this reason I call it the saving of me. –Nancy Mairs, “On Living Behind Bars”

… though I learned to function, however modestly, on “the outside,” as we used to call it in the hospital, I never got well. I didn’t know that I was still depressed. Remember, no one had ever taught me about depression, so I came to associate it with the episode that put me into the hospital. I didn’t know that it could, in its chronic permutation, twist itself into the fibers of my existence, a continuous strand of unusual tensility so woven into my way of looking at the world as to constitute, together with the grayish cast of my eyes and my laboring limp and my fondness of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and my fear of all spiders except tarantulas, my Self. –ditto

I’m at the point in my life where I’m so tired, depressed, and lonely that I just don’t care anymore. I’m so tired I can’t even kill myself. I’m too afraid. I will just sit here until I die of a heart attack or radiation from my computer screen. –J. Stile, in

… I never wanted to change the world or to be popular. All I ever wanted was a reason—to live, to continue my existence, to feel some sense of purpose in an otherwise chaotic world. I’m going to try and sleep now for as long as possible and pray that I don’t wake up. It’s much easier that way. –ditto



Thoughts on Mental Illness


Her sanity was a fragile thing, a butterfly cupped in her hands, that she carried with her everywhere, afraid of what would happen if she let it go—or got careless and crushed it. –Joe Hill, NOS4A2

Though many schizophrenics become curiously attached to their delusions, the fading of the nondelusional world puts them in loneliness beyond all reckoning, a fixed residence on a noxious private planet they can never leave, and where they can receive no visitors. –Andrew Solomon, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

The authorities say it is their choice and their right to live like stray animals. Why is rapid suicide illegal and gradual suicide a right? –the frustrated father of a schizophrenic child, quoted in Rael Jean Isaac and Virginia C. Armat’s Madness in the Streets

These kids die but they never get buried. –the mother of a schizophrenic child, quoted in Raquel E. Gur and Ann Braden Johnson’s If Your Adolescent Has Schizophrenia: An Essential Resource for Parents

Mental illness cannot be treated separately from the person; they are inextricably linked. I’ve answered the question “Where does mental illness end and where do I begin? In my case, we are one. I’ve made friends with the enemy. My treatment is successful precisely because it takes both me and my disorder into account and doesn’t delineate between the two of us. –Andy Behrman, “Mental Health Recovery: A Personal Perspective”

From that day onward—buoyed by effective drugs, supported by excellent psychotherapy, and catalyzed by fatherhood—I have labored to forgive my manic depression, to relinquish my negative judgments toward it, to cease viewing it as a tyrannical taskmaster ruining my life. This effort has liberated my bipolar disorder to be what it is: not a curse but a part of me, no different from my hands or auricles or larynx, an element of my constitution, no more and no less.
         Stripped of its dark powers, the disorder has emerged as more than an affliction. I can see it now as an indispensable energy in the shaping of my identity, of my flaws, yes (such as an obstinate narcissism), but also of my productive sensibilities: my love of contemplation, my honesty about life’s troubles, my willingness to endure confusion and discover solutions.
         And my manic depression has also revealed to me what I most need to be alive: the vulnerability that inspires the giving and receiving of affection. Doing so, my condition has shown me the requirements of fatherhood and the beauties of my daughter.
–Eric G. Wilson, Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away

But you learn to smother the living breathing soul, go deaf to it, and this violence to the self is what is commonly called sanity in the places where I have lived. –Philip Ó Ceallaigh, “Walking to the Danube”

We all fear at some point that “our” world and “the” world are hopelessly estranged. Psychosis is the fulfillment of that fear. –Michael Greenberg, Hurry Down Sunshine

Mad, adj.: affected with a high degree of intellectual independence, not conforming to standards of thought, speech, and action derived by the conformants from the study of themselves; at odds with the majority; in short, unusual. It is noteworthy that persons are pronounced mad by officials destitute of evidence that they themselves are sane … –Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks—is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.
–Theodore Roethke, “In a Dark Time”

I may be a lunatic, but then, wasn’t my lunacy caused by a monster that lurks at the bottom of every human mind? Those who call me a madman and spurn me may become lunatics tomorrow. They harbor the same monster. –Akutagawa Ryunosuke

We are all born mad. Some remain so. –Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

I am not mad; I would to heaven I were! For then, ’tis like I should forget myself; O, if I could, what grief should I forget! –William Shakespeare, “The Life and Death of King John”

There is a pleasure in being mad, which none but madmen know. –John Dryden, The Spanish Friar

People often write me and ask how I keep my wood floors so clean when I live with a child and a dog, and my answer is that I use a technique called Suffering From a Mental Illness. –Heather Armstrong, on

But what is madness, if not being able to control your own mind? –Victoria Leatham, Bloodletting: A Memoir of Secrets, Self-Harm, and Survival

You wanted to get well. You never had a conscious moment in which you were not aware of being sick. You could no more, while conscious, forget your sickness than you could forget to breathe. Asked your greatest wish in life you would have replied at once—sanity. How remote was the world in which sanity was taken for granted. In the world outside, people longed desperately to be millionaires, movie actors, club presidents, and even, tell me little gypsy what force creates this one, even novelists. True, a bad cold, a touch of heartburn, an allergy to a favorite dog could blot out for a time the desire for money, power, and fame. During the period of the running nose, the stomach ache, or the asthmatic wheeze physical well-being would stand alone in the spotlight of yearning. But nowhere, nowhere save the madhouse, did mental health get its share of prayers. –Mary Jane Ward, The Snake Pit

At the end of each therapy session, I waited for an evaluation, a clinical judgment, some kind of pronouncement on “my condition.” I hoped I suffered from something serious, a clear syndrome, maybe requiring heavy medication and hospitalization. I pictured myself wearing a robe and paper slippers and looking out of a window with bars on it. I wanted to be relieved of the responsibility of taking any action to help myself. –Ken Dornstein, The Boy Who Fell Out of the Sky

A broken leg can be remembered and located: “It hurt right below my knee, it throbbed, I felt sick at my stomach.” But mental pain is remembered the way dreams are remembered—in fragments, unbidden realizations, like looking into a well and seeing the dim reflection of your face in that instant before the water shatters. –Tracy Thompson, The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression

It seemed to me the basic definition of mental illness, this persistent, painful inability to simply be with someone else. It might be lifelong, or it might descend like a sudden catastrophe, this blankness between ourselves and the rest of the world. The blankness might not even be obvious to others. But on our side of that severed connection, it was hell, a life lived behind glass. The only difference between mild depression and severe schizophrenia was the amount of sound and air that seeped in. –ditto

Melancholy had crept inside me. Small children made me cry, I got depressed eating meat, old book bindings awakened tenderness in me. Everything was disintegrating. Nothing stood the test of time, including me. Somewhere on the other shore were madness and God, sometimes both wearing a beard. Neither instilled much confidence. –Mati Unt, Things in the Night

A man who is “of sound mind” is one who keeps the inner madman under lock and key. –Paul Valéry, Mauvaises pensées et autres

And of course you are mad, if by a madman we mean a mind that questions and rejects every civilized norm. –Stephen Fry, Revenge

His impression was that he had been imprisoned in a shelter deep down in the underworld of his personality, listening and biding his time while insanity rushed like spring flood through the upper layer of his soul, roaring and crashing, leaving terrible destruction in its wake, a deserted, ravaged country. No, he hadn’t been crazy, but something inside him had been crazy. –Christer Kihlman, The Blue Mother

He thought Reino was probably crazier than he made out, insane through and through, in contrast to his own insanity, which was only on the surface, in the peel around a kernel, a healthy kernel, despite everything; Reino, on the other hand, was also sick in the kernel of his soul. –ditto

The body’s pain is so paper-thin and insignificant compared to that of the mind. –Peter Høeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow

It is a negative sort of achievement, she thinks, to have spent a life warding something off. –Adam Haslett, “The Volunteer” (on keeping looming mental illness at bay)

Maybe people are more like the earth than we know. Maybe they have fault lines that sooner or later are going to split open under pressure. –Rebecca Wells, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams—this may be madness. To seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be. –Don Quioxite, The Man of La Mancha

Men have called me mad, but the question is not yet settled whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence—whether much that is glorious—whether all that is profound—does not spring from disease of thought, from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect. –Edgar Allen Poe, “Eleanora”

... in one way or another all men are mad. Many are mad for money ... Love is a madness ... it can grow to a frenzy of despair ... All the whole list of desires, predilections, aversions, ambitions, passions, cares, griefs, regrets, remorses, are incipience madness, and ready to grow, spread and consume, when the occasion comes. There are no healthy minds, and nothing saves any man but accident—the accident of not having his malady put to the supreme test.
         One of the commonest forms of madness is the desire to be noticed, the pleasure derived from being noticed. Perhaps it is not merely common, but universal. –Mark Twain, The Memorable Assassination

Then it is in me, too, the psychotic streak. A psychotic world we live in. The madmen are in power. How long have we known this? Faced this? And—how many of us do know it? … Perhaps if you know you are insane then you are not insane. Or you are becoming sane, finally. Waking up. I suppose only a few are aware of all this. Isolated persons here and there. But the broad masses—what do they think? All these hundreds of thousands in this city, here. Do they imagine that they live in a sane world? Or do they guess, glimpse, the truth…? –Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle

Lunatics are similar to designated hitters. Often an entire family is crazy, but since an entire family can’t go into the hospital, one person is designated as crazy and goes inside. Then, depending on how the rest of the family is feeling, that person is kept inside or snatched out, to prove something about the family’s mental health. Most families were proving the same proposition: We aren’t crazy; she is the crazy one. –Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted

Are psychiatric crises so overwhelming to the mind that they inhibit the presence of ethics? Is depression at root an amoral phenomenon, its focus on the self preventing any other from really counting? Perhaps. Sometimes. Sometimes, even when we are two we are really only one; we can feel nothing but our own bones, our own difficult breaths. –Lauren Slater, “Noontime”

I always feel bad laughing at people who act crazy. But sometimes the things they do are so damned funny. I wonder what I’d look like if I slipped a few notches on the mental-health index. –Martha Manning, Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface

Crazy isn’t being broken, or swallowing a dark secret. It’s you or me, amplified. –Winona Ryder, in Girl, Interrupted

You’ve got everything except one thing: madness! A man needs a little madness, or else... –Anthony Quinn, in Zorba the Greek

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane. –Marcus Aurelius

In a totally sane society, madness is the only freedom. –JG Ballard, Running Wild

What we call “normal” is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection, and other forms of destructive actions on experience…It is radically estranged from the structure of being … –RD Laing

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat. “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
–Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

I’ll admit that suffering, or rather, the dramatic interest of being One Who Suffered, appealed to me. I could see myself tragic and tortured, wasted by some suitably novel madness or malaise that would leave me wanly luminous, a brave inspiration to friends and family gathered about my beside. –Caroline Kettlewell, Skin Game

I was disentangling myself piece by piece, severing my obligations. I wanted less and less to be asked of me. You sometimes hear stories of people who fall into icy lakes and survive drowning because their metabolisms slow to the barest possible level of functioning. That’s what I did with my life, a kind of icing down to the survivable minimum. –ditto

Now in this disappointing adult life—a life I’d been scammed into looking forward to as the culmination, not the sorry purgatorial aftermath, of all those school years—there was no future, no past. Time just kept lurching along in a dreary, monotonous sameness of day and month and year. Like living in a whiteout.
         Now, I spent my hours at work stunned, like someone beaten to the point of immobility, and rushed out the door at the end of the day only to spend the evening in solitude, listening to my mind race around in a random, shrieking, undistractable chaos.
         I was driving myself crazy. –ditto

Was this what it was like to go crazy, I wondered? Not a sudden splashing into the ocean of madness, but a creeping by degrees, a slow immersion? –ditto

I remembered the afternoon of my MRI, the way I’d seen my brain that day for what it is—an organ. A lump of tissue and cells and nerves, no less than heart or lungs or kidney, generating perception as much as the heart pumps blood or the lungs extract oxygen. How we know and feel and understand the world is made possible merely by the pulse of elctrochemical activity. If a heart could fail in its pumping, a lung in its breathing, then why not a brain in its thinking, rendering the world forever askew, like a television with bad reception? And couldn’t a brain fail as arbitrarily as any of these other parts, without regard to how fortunate your life might have been, without regard to the blessing and cosseting that, everyone was so eager to remind you, disentitled you from unhappiness? –ditto

Insanity—a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world. –RD Laing

Maybe I’m needy, neurotic, paranoid. Under the circumstances, of course, if I weren’t needy, neurotic, and paranoid, I’d obviously be psychotic. –Dean Koontz, Seize the Night

I was beyond crazy, caught in a wave of totally macking lunacy, sick with terror, sicker with despair, sickest with hope… –ditto

…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” –Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Mental illness is a crucial event not only to the afflicted person but to the surrounding family members. It is a preoccupying event…[Family] members stare at it, transfixed by the event and worried about their own vulnerabilities. –Elizabeth Stone

Each of us keeps, battened down inside himself, a sort of lunatic giant—impossible socially, but full-scale—and it’s the knockings and batterings we sometimes hear in each other that keep our intercourse from utter banality. –Elizabeth Bowen, The Death of the Heart

Crazy people talk to themselves. And finally, you realize, only a madman doesn’t listen. –from a Nike ad

Psychotics are like sleepwalkers in our midst. –Morag Coate

I stand alone in the shadow of the mountains in my straitjacket and Docs, wanting to scream the hurt away. –JB, jotted in the margin of a college notebook

Pain of mind is worse than pain of body. –Syrus

I cling to nowhere ’til I fall - the crash of Nothing... –Emily Dickinson, “More than the Grave is Closed to Me” [this always reminded me of a nervous breakdown]

Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy. –Nora Ephron

One trembles to think of that mysterious thing in the soul, which seems to acknowledge no human jurisdiction, but in spite of the individual’s own innocence self, will still dream horrid dreams, and mutter unmentionable thoughts. –Herman Melville

There is a diabolical streak in me, a troublesome and inexplicable perversity. –Octave Mirbeau, The Torture Garden

See, the human mind is kind of like... a piñata. When it breaks open, there’s a lot of surprises inside. Once you get the piñata perspective, you see that losing your mind can be a peak experience. –Jane Wagner, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe

Beneath the seemingly rational exterior of our lives is a fear of insanity. We dare not question the values by which we live or rebel against the roles we play for fear of putting our sanity in doubt. –Alexander Lowen

You know those drugstore kits that tell you when you’re pregnant? They should have one that tells you when you’re sane. –Kristin Scott Thomas, in Random Hearts

It is important to remember that at first blush, going sane feels just like going crazy. –Julia Cameron

Still, like a magnet shoved in a box of really depressed safety clips, I’ve attracted more of this city’s screw-ups than I care to count. It’s gotten better with age, but a few years back, my second question when meeting someone new was an inquiry as to why they were contemplating suicide. It was that common. This was back in high school where my biggest goal was to insinuate to everyone else that I was a nutcase, so I’m not sure why all these people thought I’d make a good psychotherapist, but I’m not complaining since there’s no therapy better than realizing the rest of your friends are twice as fucked up as you are. –Matt, at

The madhouse is in a lot of places, not just a hospital, not just a palace, but also a pattern woven from threads so fine that no one can distinguish them, neither the Emperor nor the children, neither you nor I. –Einar Mar Gudmundsson, Angels of the Universe

No one wants to publish loonies. They’re like Soviet dissidents. They write loony poems and are published by the Loony Bin Press. –ditto

She opened her mouth to speak but could not. Help me. I think I’m going crazy. I’ve misplaced my soul. I married the wrong man and I love the wrong man and I want to die, I’m so exhausted but I don’t want my love to outlive me, I know he’ll forget me. I’m so ashamed, I despise myself but I’m afraid, afraid to die— –Joyce Carol Oates, “Summer Sweat”

I bend but do not break. –Jean de la Fontaine, “The Oak and the Reed,” in Fables

We shall live to fight again and to strike another blow. –Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “The Revenge” (this and the next quote make me think of surviving mental illness)

Endure, and preserve yourselves for better things. –Virgil, Aeneid

I don’t know why I feel so crazy…I feel like I’m going through a stargate. Maybe it’s the diet pills. Maybe it’s Buddha. –Dawn French, in The British Comic Strip Presents

Sometimes I think that it is enough to say that if we don’t sit down and shut up once in a while we’ll lose our minds even earlier than we had expected. Noise is an imposition on sanity, and we live in very noisy times. –Joan Baez

Psychoanalysts believe that the only “normal” people are those who cause not trouble to either themselves or anyone else. –AJP Taylor

[I] learned … that friends are a good source of food and soul when one has not yet gotten the hang of cooking or living (as opposed to dying) alone. That nothing—not booze, not love, not sex, not work, not moving from state to state—will make the past disappear. Only time and patience heal things. I learned that cutting up your arms in an attempt to make the pain move from inside to outside, from soul to skin, is futile. That death is a cop-out. I tried all of these things. –Marya Hornbacher, Wasted

I suppose that the human mind can only stand so much grief and anguish. After that the fuses blow. –Fynn, Mister God, This is Anna

And all that weirdness isn’t just going on outside. It’s in you too, right now, growing in the dark like magic mushrooms. Call it the Thing in the Cellar. Call it the Blow Lunch Factor. Call it the Loony Tunes File. I think of it as my private dinosaur, huge, slimy, and mindless, stumbling around in the stinking swamp of my subconscious, never finding a tar pit big enough to hold it. –Stephen King, “Rage”

He realized now that a lot of the problem had been his own mind, which was usually moving at a speed ten or twenty times that of his classmates. They had thought him strange, weird, or even suicidal, depending on the escapade in question, but maybe it had been a simple case of mental overdrive—if anything about being in constant mental overdrive was simple. Anyway, it was the sort of thing you got under control after a while—you got it under control or you found outlets for it … –Stephen King, It

At the same time he had begun to understand the great principle that moved the universe, at least that part of the universe which had to do with careers and success: you found the crazy guy who was running around inside of you, fucking up your life. You chased him into a corner and grabbed him. But you didn’t kill him. Oh no. Killing was too good for the likes of that little bastard. You put a harness over his head and then started plowing. The crazy guy worked like a demon once you had him in the trances. –ditto

I read somewhere that 77 per cent of all the mentally ill live in poverty. Actually, I’m more intrigued by the 23 per cent who are apparently doing quite well for themselves. – (?)

I think we must all be mad, and we shall awaken to sanity in straitjackets. –(?)

What brings a man to the edges of insanity? Is it a sudden earth-shaking revelation, or a loss of faith in humanity? –(?)

Life is demented enough as it is. Why I haven’t gone crazy, I don’t know. But sometimes I wish I were. –Jason Q

Those whom God wishes to destroy, he first makes mad. –Euripides

Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you. –Carl Jung

If all weren’t a little mad, we’d be totally insane. –Stacy Lucero

Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through. It is potential liberation and renewal as well as enslavement and existential death. –RD Laing, The Politics of Experience

Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. … I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends … and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it. –John Lennon

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven. –John Milton, Paradise Lost

I tried to fill the empty places inside with books, TV, hobbies, but, oddly enough, never booze or drugs. I could never let my control slip, not once, or I would go totally insane … Sometimes I wish I could go insane, start screaming and never stop, let it all out. I can’t. I am bottled up so tight it hurts … but I can’t let go. –J, in “The Cutting Edge”

The place where optimism most flourishes is the insane asylum. –Havelock Ellis

It’s good to know that if I behave strangely enough, society will take full responsibility for me. –Ashleigh Brilliant

It’s great to be young and insane. –Michael Keaton, in Dream Team

What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy? –Ursula K. LeGuin

I think love lyrics have contributed to the general aura of bad mental health in America. –Frank Zappa

When we remember that we are all mad, the mysteries of life disappear and life stands explained. –Mark Twain, Notebook

The point is, you see … that there is no point driving yourself mad trying to stop yourself from going mad. You might just as well give in and save your sanity for later. –Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe, and Everything

Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness. –Blaise Pascal, Pensees

The question is: what is a sane man to do in an insane society? –Joseph Heller, Catch-22

I’ve always been crazy, but it’s kept me from going insane. –Waymore’s Blues

If you talk to God, you are praying; if God talks to you, you have schizophrenia. –Thomas Szasz, The Second Sin

Perhaps God is not dead; perhaps God himself is mad. –RD Laing

We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe. –Johann von Göethe

Things are always darkest just before they go pitch black. –Kelly Robinson

Don’t go to bed with any woman crazier than you are. –Frank Zappa

Some mornings it’s just not worth chewing through the leather straps. –(?)

I’ll be the “in” to your “sane.” –Numan

I’m not crazy—I just don’t give a fuck! –some character in Night of the Comet

Maybe I’m a bit of a psycho—but I’d rather be psycho than boring. –Julie Delpy

Joe felt almost if somewhere earlier in the night he had stood before a mirror of madness and, closing his eyes, had passed through his own reflection into lunacy. Yet he did not want to return through the silvered surface to that old gray world. This was a lunacy that he found increasingly agreeable, perhaps because it offered him the one thing he desired most and could find only on this side of the looking glass—hope. –Dean Koontz, Sole Survivor

I tell you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star! –Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

Of course I’m crazy, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. I’m mad but not ill. –Robert Anton Wilson

The hidden stone ripens fast, then laid bare like a turnip can easily be cut out at last but even then the danger isn’t past. That man lives best who’s fain to live half mad, half sane. –Jan van Sujevoort

Paranoia is just a kind of awareness, and awareness is just another form of love. –Charles Manson

Those who can laugh without cause have either found the true meaning of happiness or have gone stark raving mad. –Norm Papernick

… he preferred his own madness, to the regular sanity. He rejoiced in his own madness, he was free. He did not want that old sanity of the world, which was become so repulsive. He rejoiced in the new-found world of his madness. It was so fresh and delicate and so satisfying. –DH Lawrence, Women in Love

I have been
Sick, brainsick, heartsick, mad—I thought—
I feared—
It was a foretaste of the pains of hell
To be so mad and yet retain the sense
Of that which made me so.
–Mary Russel Mitford, “Julian”

… now I was safe, now I was really crazy, and nobody could take me out of there. –Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted

… it is possible for even the most deeply disturbed and desperately unbalanced among us to be a beautiful person. –George Howe Colt, The Enigma of Suicide

You don’t have to drive me crazy—I’m close enough to walk. –(?)

I have gone insane. I won’t be talking with you for a while. –Jennifer Lynch, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer

On Earth, you lack the language to communicate with the insane. But eventually you’ll learn it. Like the Australian Aborigines, you’ll enter dreamtime. And then you’ll discover what pain, what dignity, what wisdom, and what sorrow lie within the mentally ill. –Eugene Stein, Straitjacket and Tie

Sex broke through Philip’s insanity, but sanity itself couldn’t break through—which meant sex was stronger than sanity. Or was sexual hunger itself a kind of disease? –ditto

When you are insane, you are busy being insane—all the time … when I was crazy, that was all I was. –Sylvia Plath

A time will come, and soon, when, from mere habit, you will echo the scream of every delirious wretch that harbors near you; then you will pause, clasp your hands on your throbbing head, and listen with horrible anxiety whether the scream proceeded from you or them. –Charles Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer

My mind was bursting with depression and anguish. I muttered imprecations and murmuring as I passed along. I was full of loathing and abhorrence of life, and all that life carries in its train. –William Godwin, Caleb Williams

You are my strange hero,
haunting my sanity.
–Maggie Sullivan, “To Michael”

We peck at you like vultures
To pick you clean of madness
With pills and potions
And psychoanalytic thought.

She wished some help would come from outside. But in the whole world there was no help. Society was terrible because it was insane. Civilized society is insane. Money and so-called love are its two great manias; money a long way first. The individual asserts himself in his disconnected insanity in these two modes: money and love. –DH Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Only when all our hold on life
is troubled,
Only in spiritual terror can
the truth
Come through the broken mind—
—WB Yeats, “The Hour-Glass”

In a mad world, only the mad are sane. –Akiro Kurosarva

I suppose it is much more comfortable to be mad and not know it than to be sane and have one’s doubts. –GB Burgin

Sanity is a cozy lie. –Susan Sontag

There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line. –Oscar Levant

Insanity in individuals is something rare, but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule. –Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Sanity calms, but madness is more interesting. –John Russell

Truly great madness cannot be achieved without significant intelligence. –Henrik Tikkanen

You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it. –Robin Williams, in David Housham and John Frank-Keyes’s Funny Business

Correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t the fine line between sanity and madness gotten finer? –George Price

Part of being sane is being a little bit crazy. –Janet Long

You get to the bottom, where it is very dark, and very lonely. You might be down there a few hours, or years. It will feel interminable, either way. Eventually, however, through love or wisdom, by medicinal miracles or divine intervention, or maybe just by accident, you bump against something—the steps that will help you out of here. –Cindy Jerrell, a 1996 issue of Dark’s Art Parlour

I will find a way out or make one. –Robert Peary

It is as if my life were magically run by 2 electric currents: joyous positive and despairing negative—whichever is running at the moment dominates my life, floods it. –Sylvia Plath, journal

… I felt sad because I realized that once people are broken in certain ways, they can’t ever be fixed, and this is something that nobody ever tells you when you are young and it never fails to surprise you as you grow older—as you see people in your life break one by one. You wonder when your turn is going to be, or if it’s happened already. –Dana-Christine Umanetz

I’m a happy-go-lucky manic-depressive. It does get very deep and dark for me, and it gets scary at times when I feel I can’t pull out of it. But I don’t consider myself negative-negative. I’m positive-negative. –Tim Burton

What happens to the wide-eyed observer when the window between reality and unreality breaks and the glass begins to fly? –Stephen King, in the introduction to “Secret Window, Secret Garden”

There’s someone in my head but it’s not me. –Pink Floyd, “Brain Damage”

… you rearrange me ’till I’m sane. –ditto

Those who try to “break on through to the other side” not only cannot predict what they may find there, but are themselves too often broken in the process. –Charles Shaar Murray

And I just can’t live in this present. I would go mad if I did. –John Fowles, The Collector

The soul is innocent and immortal, it should never die ungodly in an armed madhouse. –Allen Ginsberg, “Howl, part III”

Fifty more shocks will never return your soul to its body again from its pilgrimage to a cross in the void. –ditto

Hence, viper thoughts, that coil around my mind,
Reality’s dark dream!
I turn from you, and listen to the wind,
Which long has raved unnoticed.
–Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Dejection: An Ode”

I can’t sleep with you tonight, baby, my head’s all messed up, you’ve no idea. It’s somewhere else and it’s full of voices and songs and bad things … –Hanif Kureishi, The Buddha of Suburbia

Madness is a kind of mental suicide. –Stephen King, “The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet”

Why is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy, politics, poetry, or the arts are clearly of an atrabilious temperament and some of them to such an extent as to be affected by diseases caused by black bile? –Aristotle, on insanity

I have a plan—to go mad. –Fydor Dostoevsky

We all have a dark side. Mine’s just a little closer to the surface. –from Sliders

Is God mad? Was Christ
crazy? Is the truth
the legal truth?
–Heather McHugh, “Third Person Neuter”

You know, there are many people in the country today who, through no fault of their own, are sane. Some of them were born sane. Some of them became sane later in their lives. It is up to people like you and me who are out of our tiny little minds to try and help these people overcome their sanity. –Graham Chapman, in Monty Python

Once underground, you know exactly where you are. Nothing can happen to you, and nothing can get at you. You’re entirely your own master, and you don’t have to consult anybody or mind what they say. Things go on all the same overhead, and you let ’em, and don’t bother about ’em. When you want to, up you go, and there the things are, waiting. –Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows [this has always reminded me of a nervous breakdown]

What does not destroy me, makes me stronger. –Friedrich Nietzsche, The Twilight of the Idols

A young man is afraid of his demon and puts his hand over the demon’s mouth sometimes and speaks for him. And the things the young man says are very rarely poetry. –DH Lawrence

How is it
People fear the dark?
Not me, I’m reconciled.
as every day I see
the blackness grow,
I’ve come to terms with it,
it knows I know.
–Rod McKuen, Alone

When you look directly at an insane man all you see is a reflection of your own knowledge that he’s insane, which is not to see him at all. –Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

This is the ghost of normal everyday assumptions which declare that the ultimate purpose of life, which is to keep alive, is impossible, but that this is the ultimate purpose of life anyway, so that great minds struggle to cure diseases so that people may live longer, but only madmen ask why. –ditto

But no one was listening at that time and they only thought him eccentric at first, then undesirable, then slightly mad, and then genuinely insane. There seems little doubt that he was insane, but much of his writing at the time indicates that what was driving him insane was this hostile opinion of him. Unusual behavior tends to produce estrangement in others which tends to further the unusual behavior and thus the estrangement in self-stroking cycles until some sort of climax is reached. –ditto

I suppose our capacity for self-delusion is boundless. –John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

Just because you’re paranoid
don’t mean they’re not after you.
–Nirvana, “Territorial Pissings”

Too long, the earth has been a madhouse! –Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals

Sanity is a valuable possession; I hard it the way people once hoarded money. I save it, so I will have enough, when the time comes. –Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

There’s something in us that is very much attracted to madness. Everyone who looks off the edge of a tall building has felt at least a faint, morbid urge to jump. And anyone who has ever put a loaded pistol up to his head…All right, my point is this: even the most well-adjusted person is holding onto his or her sanity by a greased rope. I really believe that. The rationality circuits are shoddily built into the human animal. –Stephen King, “The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet”

On the way, we decided to keep on walking for a while longer, and so we walked up to the [Northampton] mental hospital, among the buildings, listening to the people screaming. It was the most terrifying, holy experience, with the sun setting red and cold over the black hills, and the inhuman, echoing howls coming from the barred windows. (I want so badly to learn about why and how people cross the borderline between sanity and insanity!) –Sylvia Plath, in a letter to her mother, December 15, 1952

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.
–William Shakespeare, “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”

… it regards reality as the sole enemy and as the source of all suffering, with which it is impossible to live, so that one must break off all relations with it if one is to be in any way happy. The hermit turns his back on the world and will have no truck with it. But one can do more than that; one can try to re-create the world, to build up in its stead another world in which its most unbearable features are eliminated and replaced by others that are in conformity with one’s own wishes. But whoever, in desperate defiance, sets out upon this path to happiness will as a rule attain nothing. Reality is too strong for him. He becomes a madman, who for the most part finds no one to help him in carrying through his delusion. –Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontent

We swung between madness and suicide … it was beautiful! –Gustave Flaubert

They made us participate in their own madness, because we couldn’t help but retrace their steps, rethink their thoughts, and see that none of them led to us. –Jeffery Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

Only dangerous psychotics celebrate real blood. –Penn & Teller

You’re never too old to be crazy. –Michael Cain

Moods should be heard but never danced to. –Hugh Prather, Notes to Myself

You know what scares me? When you have to be nice to some paranoid schizophrenic, just because she lives in your head. –Steven Wright

All of us have two minds, a private one, which is usually strange, I guess, and symbolic, and a public one, a social one. Most of us stream back and forth between those two minds, drifting around in our private self and then coming forward into the public self whenever we need to. But sometimes you get a little slow making the transition, you drag out the private part of your life and people know you’re doing it. They almost always catch on, knowing that someone is standing before them thinking about things that can’t be shared, like the one monkey that knows where a freshwater pond is. And sometimes the public mind is such a total bummer and the private self is alive with beauty and danger and secrets and things that don’t make any sense but that repeat and repeat and demand to be listened to, and you find it harder and harder to come forward. The pathway between those two states of mind suddenly seems very steep, a hell of a lot of work and not really worth it. Then I think it becomes a matter of what side of the great divide you get caught on. Some people get stuck on the public, approved side and they’re all right, for what it’s worth. And some people get stuck on the completely strange and private side of the divide, and that’s what we call crazy and its not really completely wrong to call it that but it doesn’t say it as it truly is. It’s more like a lack of mobility, a transportation problem, getting stuck, being the us we are in private but not stopping… –Scott Spencer, Endless Love

I think there can be no greater suffering than the state of mind I find myself in at present. I am sane enough to know that I am no longer sane. Somewhere, somehow, I am being dragged over a line, a line which never even existed for me until now. It’s I, not someone else, but I, who am crossing that line, and I see no way to stop myself.
         I have become, inexplicably, a wandering and completely bewildered stranger in the realm of my emotions. I can no longer find my way back to my familiar and known world where I did dwell once in some harmony with myself. Everyone is one the other side of an impenetrable glass. We can see each other, but we cannot reach each other, and I am stretching out my hand in vain. I am alone and abandoned in the dark, and I am terrified, beyond any understanding, and the not understanding leaves me in a state of paralyzing panic.
         I can’t move in any direction.
         I am becoming more and more rigid physically. I am afraid that if I turn my head, even a little I will see my horrible terrors and they will overwhelm me. I think I’m being followed—I am running through endless, twisting, pitch-dark tunnels, and I can’t find my way out. There is no light at the end of any turn I take. I can’t turn back. I am being backed into the darkest and last corner of all. (Oh, yes, I know it’s not rational, but I can’t stop thinking these monstrous thoughts.)
         I long to escape from these feelings that I can neither understand nor bear. Where is there a place for me, where can I go, where can I turn, save deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of my poor sick mind?
         My mind is dying and I want to die with it.
         The pain is too much to bear.
         Even my body hurts.
         My terrors are crushing me, smothering me. I can’t breathe—I can’t communicate my fears to anyone with any hope that they will be understood. I am locking myself up in a prison of my own making, a horrible, painful prison, to which I have no key.
         There is only one escape, and that is death. I plan each day and night how to take my life. It is hard to believe that I, who loved life so much, am planning to kill myself—find myself longing for death. I am obsessed with one desire—to blot out a mind that can harbor and play with such thoughts.
         Someone must help me—safe me from myself, for what will become of me? –(?)

Is it better then
to be on the outside
in the dark and free,
or caged contentedly
but still looking
out beyond the bars?
–Rod McKuen, Alone [this always makes me think about life before and after antidepressants]

I didn’t want my picture taken because I was going to cry. I didn’t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anyone spoke to me, or looked at me too closely, the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of my throat and I’d cry for a week. –Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar [the narrator was in the throes of a nervous breakdown]

All things considered, insanity may be the only reasonable alternative. –slogan seen on the internet

Do not disturb. Already disturbed. –ditto

I used to be sane, but I got better. –ditto

If God hadn’t wanted me to be paranoid, he wouldn’t have given me such a vivid imagination. –ditto

Madness takes its toll; please have exact change. –ditto

My only advantage is that I’m slightly insane. –ditto

One day I shall burst my bud of calm and blossom forth into hysteria. –ditto

My mind is not merely twisted, but actually sprained. –ditto

Insight is often mistaken for madness. –Sir George Hutchinson, in Dr. Who

Anybody remotely interesting is mad, in some way or another. –the doctor, in Dr. Who



to Medicate or Not to Medicate


I suffer from depression and spent 10 years seeking effective treatment for it. As someone whose ability to function would be compromised without psychotropic medications, I know the weird discomfort of recognizing that without enhancements I’d be someone else. I’ve also felt ambivalence about upgrading my emotional life, and I sometimes feel that I’d be truer to myself if I were morose, withdrawn, and hiding in bed. I know why some people make the choice not to medicate. –Andrew Solomon, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

Since I am writing a book about depression, I am often asked in social situations to describe my own experiences, and I usually end by saying that I am on medication. “Still?” people ask. “But you seem fine!” To which I invariably reply that I seem fine because I am fine, and that I am fine in part because of medication. “So how long do you expect to go on taking this stuff?” people ask. When I say that I will be on medication indefinitely, people who have dealt calmly and sympathetically with the news of suicide attempts, catatonia, missed years of work, significant loss of body weight, and so on stare at me with alarm. “But it’s really bad to be on medicine that way,” they say. “Surely now you are strong enough to be able to phase out some of these drugs!” If you say to them that this is like phasing the carburetor out of your car or the buttresses out of Notre Dame, they laugh. “So maybe you’ll stay on a really low maintenance dose?” They ask. You explain that the level of medication you take was chosen because it normalizes the systems that can go haywire, and that a low dose of medication would be like removing half of your carburetor. You add that you have experienced almost no side effects from the medication you are taking, and that there is no evidence of negative effects of long-term medication. You say that you really don’t want to get sick again. But wellness is still, in this area, associated not with achieving control of your problem, but with discontinuation of medication. “Well, I sure hope you get off it sometime soon,” they say. –Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon

I may not know the exact effects of long-term medication. No one has yet taken Prozac for eighty years. But I certainly know the effects of nonmedication, or of going on and off medication, or trying to reduce appropriate doses to inappropriate levels—and those effects are brain damage. You start to have consequences from chronicity. You have recurrences of increasing severity, levels of distress there is no reason for you ever to experience. We would never treat diabetes or hypertension in this on-again, off-again way; why do we do it with depression? Where has this weird social pressure come from? This illness has a an eighty percent relapse rate within a year without medication, and an eighty percent wellness rate with medication. –John Greden

People worry about side effects from staying on medication for a lifetime, but the side effects of doing that appear to be insubstantial, very insubstantial, compared to the lethality of undertreated depression. If you have a relative or a patient on digitalis, what would you think of suggesting he go off it, see if he has another bout of congestive heart failure, and have his heart get so flabby that it can never get back into shape again? It’s not one iota different. –Robert Post


Mental Illness and Creativity/Genius


[Note: for more fantastic quotes on creativity, check out my Writing category]

Everything we think of as great has come to us from neurotics. It is they and they alone who found religions and create great works of art. The world will never realize how much it owes to them and what they have suffered in order to bestow their gifts on it. –Marcel Proust, Le Côté de Guermantes

There is in every madman a misunderstood genius whose idea, shining in his head, frightened people, and for whom delirium was the only solution to the strangulation that life had prepared for him. –Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings

Psychiatry’s a young science. Yesterday’s madman may be tomorrow’s genius. Beethoven and Van Gogh were both a bit loopy. In my view, most madmen are remarkable. They’re explorers, travelers beyond the rim of consciousness. Not surprising if they pick up a few bugs and get sick. That’s all it is, madness. Mad just means sick. If you get fluid on the lungs it’s pleurisy. If it’s fluid on the brain, it’s insanity. –Clare Boylan, Beloved Stranger

No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness. –Aristotle, De Tranquillitate Animi

I sometimes wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic-fear which is inherent in the human situation. –Graham Greene

That terrible mood of depression of whether it’s any good or not is what is known as The Artist’s Reward. –Ernest Hemingway, in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald

Having a mood disorder is not synonymous with having artistic talent, but it is true that people in the so-called creative professions—writers, actors, artists, musicians—have a higher than normal incidence of such illnesses, and there are also a disproportionate number of alcoholics in these fields whose drinking may be an attempt to medicate the anxiety of depression. –Tracy Thompson, The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression

Why must every literary examination of Robert Lowell, of John Berryman, of Anne Sexton, of Jean Stafford, of so many writers and artists, keep perpetuating the notion that their individual pieces of genius were the result of madness? While it may be true that a great deal of art finds its inspirational wellspring in sorrow, let’s not kid ourselves about how much time each of those people wasted and lost by being mired in misery. So many productive hours slipped by as paralyzing despair took over. None of these people wrote during depressive episodes. If they were manic-depressives, they worked during hypomania, the productive precursor to a manic phase which allows a peak of creative energy flow; if they were garden-variety, unipolar depressives, they created during their periods of reprieve. This is not to say that we should deny sadness its rightful place among the muses of poetry and of all art forms, but let’s stop calling it madness, let’s stop pretending that the feeling itself is interesting. Let’s call it depression and admit that it is very bleak. Sure, madness draws crowds, sells tickets, keeps The National Enquirer in business. Yet so many depressives suffer in silence, without anyone knowing, their plight somehow invisible until they adopt the antics of madness which are impossible to ignore. Depression is such an uncharismatic disease, so much the opposite of the lively vibrance that one associates with madness.
     Forget about the scant hours in her brief life when Sylvia Plath was able to produce the works in Ariel. Forget about that tiny bit of time and just remember the days that spanned into years when she could not move, couldn’t think straight, could only lie in wait in a hospital bed, hoping for the relief that electroconvulsive therapy would bring. Don’t think of the striking on-screen picture, the mental movie you create of the pretty young woman being wheeled on the gurney to get her shock treatments, and don’t think of the psychedelic, photonegative image of the same woman at the moment she receives that bolt of electricity. Think, instead, of the girl herself, of the way she must have felt right then, of the way no amount of great poetry and fascination and fame could make the pain she felt at that moment worth suffering. Remember that when you’re at the point at which you’re doing something as desperate and violent as sticking your head in an oven, it is only because the life that preceded this act felt even worse. Think about living in depression from moment to moment, and know it is not worth any of the great art that comes as its by-product. –Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation

The depressed writer, or actor, or painter asks, “Without the highs of mania or the lows of depression, would I still live a life of creative intensity?” The question also might be “Without the distraction of mania, would I be free to make the most of my gifts? Without the shackles of depression, would my work soar?”
     Writing, painting, acting, singing may help you feel a little better, for a little while, by siphoning off some of the painfully urgent emotions of mania and depression. If the internal pressure can be channeled artistically, at the very least, those around you may be spared some of the emotional fallout from your anger or your pain. The result doesn’t have to be “good” by any objective criteria; all it needs to be is a release. If it is also well wrought, ask yourself, “Is that because of or in spite of my illness?” and remember that it is the artist who created the work, not the depression. –Kathy Conkrite, On the Edge of Darkness

Gifted people are by no means disorder-free. We know there is a strong correlation between creativity and depression; creativity and mania.... Giftedness, per se, has often been described as pathology. I’ve had a lot of clients who come to me who have been told they are “too sensitive,” “too empathic,” “too smart,” “too verbal.” I can’t think of one person I’ve seen who hasn’t been pathologized, for being “too”—and I put that in quotes—all those things: “too high energy,” “too quirky,” “too introspective,” “too intuitive”—blah, blah, blah. –Professor Kathleen Noble

I think wanting to write is a fundamental sign of disease and discomfort. I don’t think people who are comfortable want to write … –Kay Redfield Jamison, one of the foremost proponents on the link between creativity and madness

Among writers, if you don’t have a therapist, it’s like saying you don’t keep a journal or use the thesaurus. It’s a natural accompaniment. –Amy Tan

Some of the very greatest gifts bring an inevitable downside which you cannot “cure” without curing the gift at the same time. –Stephanie Tolan, on the link between creativity and madness

Among artists, writers were found to have the highest lifetime rates of mental disorders. And among writers, poets exhibit the highest rates of mental disorders … –Silja JA Talvi, “Study Links Angst to Creativity”

Did the hospital specialize in poets and singers, or was it that poets and singers specialized in madness? –Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted

What garlic is to food, insanity is to art. –(?)

Plath regained her strength through poetry. But her poetry found its strength in her own private horrors of suicide, death, and depression. Thus Plath was caught in a catch-22. She needed her poetry for her sanity, but she needed her insanity for her poetry. –Marc Etkind, …Or Not To Be

If one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions of his genius, which are certainly true, he sees not to what extremes, or even insanity, it may lead him; and yet that way, as he grows more resolute and faithful, his road lies. –Henry David Thoreau, Walden


Mental Illness and Language


Madness wrenches us from the common language of life. –Michael Greenberg, Hurry Down Sunshine

I began to think that melancholy was a dialect that only some people knew—or could even hear—and in my conversations, I sought these people out. –Virginia Heffernan, “A Delicious Placebo”

I’m getting less good at faking it. People in my family are noticing and asking what’s wrong. My friends give me invitations to talk, to cry. I love them for their caring, but I want to run from it. I have lost their language, their facility with words that convey feelings. I am in new territory and feel like a foreigner in theirs. –Martha Manning, Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface

I feel like I am rowing against the current. And despite every ounce of energy I can muster, I am making no progress. In fact, I am drifting more off course every day and fear that I am close to slamming up against some great, but indescribable, danger. The enormity of this struggle obliterates my facility with language. –ditto

For fifteen years I’ve lived with psychoactive drugs in my brain … I’ve studied the properties of each drug in the laboratories of my mind and body, and have made some unsettling but ultimately consoling discoveries concerning the nature of the self and its language. One is that the animal is slippery because it’s mutable. It travels light, moving from drug to drug as if from country to country. The traveler learns that in all those foreign places the same language is spoken, precise and unadorned but also playful. It’s the language I want for my poems because it’s the language of my consciousness, my little piece of the flux, which happens to be something I fine-tune with psychopharmaceuticals. –Chase Twichell, “Toys in the Attic”

All of them [psychopharmaceuticals] affect the way in which the brain processes language. It’s not something a person uninterested in words might notice, except for maybe a bit of tip-of-the-tongue syndrome, but to me it’s obvious that my relation to language has been subtly affected. Before the long parade of drugs, words were like water—all I had to do was dip my mind and it would come up brimming with new excitements. I always thought of this ability as a “gift,” a part of my being. Now the river of words flows around me as it always has, but I write as a translator trespassing outside the boundaries of my original language, fluent but no longer a native speaker. It’s hard to explain. It feels like a new part of my brain has learned language, and the old part has atrophied. Maybe this sensation is just a physical metaphor for what the antidepressants do. I don’t know, but I’ve come to see that this death of imaginary self (along with its language) is not necessarily a hindrance to my work, though it took me years to stop trying to call my “gift” back from a grave. Its loss functions exactly as form does in poetry: if the door’s locked, try a window. –ditto

But however the illusion of self is born, whether out of anger, ignorance, and greed, or trouble in the neurotransmitters, it’s that unstable mental projection that makes language, and in whose voice I’m doomed to speak. –ditto