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You Are Not AloneReview - You Are Not Alone
Words of Experience and Hope for the Journey Through Depression
by Julia Thorne with Larry Rothstein
Harperperennial, 1993
Review by Deborah A. Hill
Aug 31st 2000 (Volume 4, Issue 35)

Warning! This is not a straightforward book review. It is, rather, an extension of this fine book. So, taking my cue from the format of the book, it made me think of all kinds of appropriate quotes, so I'll share with you my own collection, although some are not as direct and plain-spoken as those included in the book. But, they all support the main message of You Are Not Alone and remind me who I am and can be. My first one is by Ranier Maria Rilke from The Dragon Princess:

"[P]erhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave . . . Perhaps terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us."

I think the dragons are the terrible cycles of loneliness and isolation, and methods of numbing that sense of hopelessness that CAN act as an impetus to finally ASK FOR HELP. Trying to see terrible dragons (the worst that can be imagined) as princesses that can be both brave AND beautiful is a major feat--one that could be the push we need to get up out of the hell hole of depression. "The mind is its own place and can make a heaven of hell, and a hell of heaven" (John Milton quoted in An Anatomy of Illness by Norman Cousins). Also, along these lines in a more contemporary vein, Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, has done an enormous amount of work on how we LEARN (not genetic) helplessness and, on an even better note, how we can LEARN optimism (Learned Optimism). After all, pessimists are right but optimists are happy!

The book is divided into five divisions working from the realizations and experience of depression, through searching for support and the healing process, to how our family and friends feel about the big IT and lists of various resources. If you've ever experienced a serious depression, you can tell right away that the people who are quoted have been in the thick of it.

Unfortunately, in the Resources section, the list is quite basic and it does not discuss the vast array of resources available through the Internet and World Wide Web (especially Mental Health Net and Metapsychology!). It was written in 1993, a coon's age ago when it comes to computer technology. But there were resources even then. It's possible today to find myriad online support groups (e.g., newsgroups), email with friends and other depressed, and get information on all types of treatment: medications, ECT, meditation, etc. In these computer days, this lacuna is a big no-no.

Okay, back to my quotes. I have a tendency to intellectualize my difficulties in life, somewhat removing them from myself. I don't know, I guess if I can look at them from a distance, I can see how things might fit together better? However, this exercise can also disguise itself as a ruse not to face things. "let's think our way out of feelin . . . ." (Ntozake Shange from For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf)

Somehow, I think the worst curse of illness of any kind is the feeling of "You Are Alone!!!" Nobody has EVER felt like you feel before. I could NEVER talk about this in a support group or a therapist when I don't even know these people! It's a social (and maybe financial) embarrassment. Whatever would the neighbors think if I was taking medication for a mental illness! Isn't yoga or meditation some kind of weird Chinese hocus pocus? Heavens to Betsy, what about my co-workers? They would think I'm weird or not competent to do my job. (The issue of how much to disclose about one's mental illness in a work situation is an important subject, but not part of this book.) I KNOW I can beat this all by myself if I try hard enough.

"To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do--to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst--is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still" (Unknown).

I really think this "wonderful" American spirit of "can do" and emphasis on independence and pride can be a deadly combination when you're dealing with potential suicide.

The third division of the book is, I think, the best. It deals with self-image--how what you've heard others say about you growing up or how you interpret difficulties in your life as being your fault, and might have incorporated to the degree that you believe you have no self- worth or anything to share with or give to others. It may be physical or emotional abuse or neglect. Somehow, you are absolutely sure to the core of your being that life is hopeless because you are worthless. Maybe you feel that "my love is too delicate to be thrown back in my face" (Shange) and that's just what would happen if you attempted a dialog about your feelings--even with yourself! "You become who you hear yourself say that you are" (Frederick Buechner, The Return of Ansel Gibbs).

Finally, a quote that I think sums up the whole process both literally and figuratively with (what I interpret as) humor is "Of all the things in this world worse than suffering, wasted suffering is certainly high on the list" ("To Anger, With Love").

None of these quotations are from resources that deal specifically or only with depression; they are from poetry, plays, novels, and self-help books that show that it is a part of a LOT of peoples lives and that they deal with it in a wide variety of ways.

You Are Not Alone is exactly what the title says it is. It is a modest but good manual of reflections at all points of depression, aids toward healing, commiserations and regrets that indubitably prove that, most assuredly, you are NOT alone in your feelings. It is not meant to be read straight through, however; it should be used more as a journal, maybe, as food for thought piece by piece. I found myself there and I'm sure you will, too.


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