The Sunday Magazine

Daphne Merkin on staying alive, despite her near-constant wish to die

The critic, essayist and novelist Daphne Merkin has suffered from what she calls the "dark season" — depression — since childhood. For years, she says, she has longed for, even planned, her own death. Yet she remains in the world. Merkin's new book is called "This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression".
Daphne Merkin's new book is called This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression. (Tina Turnbow)

For much of her life, Daphne Merkin has been locked in a fight with her own brain. It is not a fight she is confident of winning.

Since childhood, Merkin has experienced recurring bouts of what she calls the "dark season," a depression that can arrive without warning or reason and settle in like thick fog. 

For years, she has wished to die — longed for it, planned for it, yearned for it, the way other people long for a lover or a new car. 

But day by day, she has stayed alive.

Even when she is not convinced she wants to live. Even when she has "ceased admiring her own efforts to keep going." Even when she does not understand how other people get out of bed and set their day in motion.

She is not alone.

It is estimated that more than 15-million Americans, or 6.7 per cent of the population, suffer from depression. In Canada, the figure is five per cent. 

Merkin's new book is an inside look at what it is like to live with clinical depression, never knowing if it will ever go away. It is also an account of her difficult relationship with her Orthodox Jewish mother, and a deeply personal examination of the nature vs. nurture debate. 

Daphne Merkin is an essayist, critic and novelist based in New York City. Her new book is called This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression.

Click 'listen' above to hear Michael's interview with Daphne Merkin. 


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