aodtoper.gifNancy Graham

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 In the 1960s and 1970s when I was growing up, depression was a private illness. I believed we were the only family in the world experiencing it.

 I reflect upon a phrase from Virginia Woolf, who wrote in The Waves, “you cannot find peace in avoiding life.” Tragically, she was consumed by being afraid of the day. Decades after Woolf’s untimely death, the tragedy of mental illness and its ripple effect continue to destroy lives the world-over at a staggering rate.

 Thankfully, albeit slowly but surely, depression and mental illness in general, are coming out of the closet and into memoirs and magazines, television and the big screen, billboards and lecture halls. Lives are being saved and salvaged in the process.

 Depression is an issue of worldwide, contemporary concern. It is widely estimated that some sort of a depressive disorder affects more than 1,000,000 Canadians each year. The recently released ROMANOW REPORT ON HEALTH CARE IN CANADA has set a precedent by including mental health, traditionally the “lost orphan” of health care. Furthermore, the World Health Organization has predicted that depression will be the second largest cause of death, next to heart disease, by the year 2020. Given that the spectrum of this illness transcends age, gender, cultural and socio-economic background, it is my hope that Afraid of the Day: a daughter’s journey will appeal to a large segment of the general population, as well as those in the health care field.

 Although no longer the closeted issue that it was in the 1960’s and 1970’s, a certain stigma prevails, which discourages open and honest discussion about the illness.

 My goal is to help break through that barrier of silence.

Literary Depression

 Much of what has been written on the subject of depression examines the causes and treatment of the disorder. The majority of such works are penned by professionals in the field and others whose more clinical approaches of the illness tend to overshadow the minority of the first person accounts of life within the grip of depression. It is human nature to know we are not alone in our life experiences. We hunger to read about those who have trodden paths similar to ours.

 We may be familiar with contemporary public personalities such as journalist John Bentley Mays (In the Jaws of the Black Dog), poet Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar), author William Styron (Darkness Visible) and reporter Tracy Thompson (The Beast: Reckoning with Depression), who have chronicled their descents into the depths of depression. We may also know of others such as journalists Helen Hutchinson and Joey Slinger, Mike Wallace and Walter Cronkite, all of who have spoken publicly about their illness.

 Equally compelling are the accounts of the “wounded healers”, and academics, such as psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind), therapist Martha Manning (Undercurrents) and York University psychologist Norman Endler (Holiday of Darkness), all whom have exposed their inner struggles with a depressive disorder and the impact it has had upon their lives.

 While these autobiographical narratives are riveting versions of the stranglehold of depression, Linda Gray Sexton’s powerful, disturbing memoir (Searching for Mercy Street) captures another less common angle. Her raw, first person account of life with her mother, poet Anne Sexton, speaks to the experience of the child-caregiver, the self-destructive teenager and the adult daughter of a mentally ill mother.

 The difference is in the ordinary. My mother is neither a poet, nor a writer, nor an academic nor a woman of other such accomplished status. She is an ordinary mother, and we her ordinary family. Yet, as Kathy Cronkite wrote in her conversations with celebrities who have battled mental illness (On the Edge of Darkness), depression is the great equalizer. Much like Halifax-born Francois Bonneville’s heart-rending narrative of the journey through his wife’s depression (My Years of her Melancholy), and Steinbach Manitoba native Miriam Toew’s passionate documentation of her father’s illness (Swing Low). I have told the story of an ordinary individual’s extraordinary struggle with major clinical depression. I believe it is on the grounds of this fundamental simplicity that Afraid of the Day: a daughter’s journey addresses the conflict we all share in daring to give a public face to a very private domain.

Recommended Reading*


Upstairs in the Crazy House (C)  Pat Capponi (Penguin, 1992)

Beyond the Crazy House (C)  Pat Capponi (Penguin, 2003)

Beyond Crazy:  Journeys through Mental Illness (C)  Julia Nunes & Scott Simmie (McClelland & Stewart, 2002)

The Last Taboo:  a Guide to Mental Health Care in Canada (C)  Scott Simmie & Julia Nunes (McClelland & Stewart, 2002)

Grieving Mental Illness (C)  Virginia Lafond (University of Toronto Press, 2002)

The Noonday Demon:  an Atlas of Depression Andrew Solomon (Simon & Schuster, 2001)

Swing Low (C)  Miriam Toews (Stoddart, 2000)

Too Close to the Falls (C)  Catherine Gildiner (ECW Press, 1999)

My Years of Her Melancholy (C)  Francois Bonneville (Oberon Press, 1998)

How You Can Survive when they’re Depressed Anne Sheffield (Three Rivers Press, 1998)

Being Present in the Darkness Cheri Huber (Berkley Publishing Group, 1996)

Beating the Blues:  Self-Help for Depression Brigid McConville(Headline Press, 1996)

When Someone You Love is Depressed Laura Epstein Rosen, Xavier Francisco Amador (The Free Press, 1996)

In the Jaws of the Black Dog (C)  John Bentley Mays (Penguin, 1995)

An Unquiet Mind Kay Redfield Jamison (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995)

Uncercurrents:  a Life Beneath the Surface Martha Manning(HarperCollins, 1994)

On the Edge of Darkness Kathy Cronkite (Doubleday, 1994)

Searching for Mercy Street Linda Gray Sexton (Little Brown, 1994)

Darkness Visible William Styron (Vintage, 1992)

Holiday of Darkness (C)  Norman Endler (Wall and Thompson, 1990)

Depression Wina Sturgeon (Prentice Hall, 1979)

Daughter of the Queen of Sheba Jacki Lyden (Penguin, 1997)

You Mean I Really Don't Have to Feel this Way? Colette Dowling (Bantam Books, 1991)

Addicted: Notes from the Belly of the Beast (C) Lorna Crozier & Patrick Lane (Douglas & McIntyre, 2001)

Note Found in a Bottle Susan Cheever (Simon and Schuster, 1999)

Drinking: a Love Story Caroline Knapp (Dell Publishing, 1996)

The Next Step Jean Swallow (Alyson Publications, 1994)

Many Roads, One Journey Charlotte Davis Kasl (Harper Collins, 1992)

Women, Sex, and Addiction Charlotte Davis Kasl (Harper Collins, 1989)

Accepting Ourselves Sheppard B. Kominars (Harper Collins, 1989)

Good-bye Hangovers, Hello Life Jean Kirkpatrick (Ballantine Books, 1986)

Out from Under Jean Swallow (Spinsters’ Innk, 1983)

Turnabout:  New Help for the Woman Alcoholic Jean Kirkpatrick (Madrona Publishers, 1978)

Alcoholics Anonymous (Big Book) (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc., 1939)


From Bruised Fell (C)  Jane Finlay-Young (Penguin, 2000)

The Butterfly Ward (C)  Margaret Gibson (Harper Collins, 1976)

*this is by no means an exhaustive list of books on the subject of addiction and mental health; merely ones that I have found particularly useful and validating over the years.

 (C)  denotes Canadian author.

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Recommended Links

The Jean Tweed Centre
Toronto Public Library

Page last updated
06/18/10 09:53 AM