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Podcast Review: 'The Great God of Depression'

Keith Higgons

Posted on August 6, 2018 18:30

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A five episode podcast from the Radiotopia Showcase series.

On his 2017 Netflix special 3 Mics, comedian Neal Brennan details his lifelong struggle with depression. I recently outed myself as having battled clinical depression for decades. Just last week, in The Hollywood Reporter, media executive Paul Greenberg shared his success story with ECT in treating his depression. It's fair to say that opening up about clinical depression doesn't carry as much stigma as it once did … and that's much needed progress.

However, the progenitor of clinical depression disclosure is author William Styron (Sophie's Choice), who shares his clinical depression story in the memoir Darkness Visible.

Producers Karen Brown and Pagan Kennedy's podcast The Great God of Depression shines a light on two stories. The first, of brain scientist and "openly crazy" Alice Weaver Flaherty (The Midnight Disease) who, in 1998, slipped into a manic period that resulted in her discovering William Styron's memoir. The second story is a deeper dive into William Styron and how his depression journey eventually led to the door of Flaherty's office.

Later in life and after his second depressive episode, Styron claimed that he had lost the ability to write. It wasn't that he was suffering from writer's block; he claimed he was unable to use his hand to write. In Darkness Visible, Styron is a little hard on doctors, so rather than defy their Hippocratic oath, they pointed Styron in Flaherty's direction because her manic illness presented itself as the rare hypergraphia (intense desire to write).

Where one couldn't write, the other couldn't stop.

The God of Depression does an excellent job of showing how hard Styron struggled when his depression returned after the publication of his revolutionary memoir and after doing the media rounds as, well, the God of depression. He felt his inability to keep depression at bay made him somewhat of a fraud. The return of Styron's depression simply reminds us of just how insidious the disease is. Curable? No. Treatable? Yes.

Styron and Flaherty's stories are important for two reasons. One, despite his belief that he would die of suicide caused by his clinical depression, that wasn't what killed him. William Styron died in 2006, at 81, of complications from pneumonia. Two, in addition to being "openly crazy," Alice Weaver Flaherty is an associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, she has a Ph.D. from MIT and is a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital (where she heads a group that examines how "the human brain represents our body, a factor that helps drive suffering in depression" among other diseases).

Living with a mental malady like clinical depression or bipolar disorder is never going to be easy because despite all of the effort, those diseases are always lying in wait. The Great God of Depression reminds us that mental illness need not be a death sentence and that you can live a full life with it. Easily? No. Happily? I hope so.

If you need help. Please call.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

Keith Higgons

Posted on August 6, 2018 18:30

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The signs and struggles of depression are often harder to notice than those of physical conditions, but like any mental health...

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