Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression takes its main title from a poem by Jane Kenyon; depression is the “Unholy ghost,/ . . . certain to come again.” Her voice is echoed by her husband, poet Donald Hall, who writes movingly of her lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder. In one of the most compelling essays, editor Nell Casey recognizes her own fragility as her sister Maud is hospitalized again. Maud Casey's illness is clearly the impetus for this collection.
Because the authors include poets, novelists, psychologists, and sociologists, these selections approach the subject of depression from many different perspectives. Susanna Kaysen argues that melancholy is more realistic than optimism and better prepares one for life. Lesley Dormen credits depression as the “crucible” in which her adult writing self was formed. Meri Nana-Ama Danquah points out how a depressed black woman is perceived as a contradiction in terms, so that she must battle a stereotype as well as the disease.
In a powerful selection, Lauren Slater recalls her desperation during pregnancy, trapped between her need for essential medication and fear of its possible effects on the fetus. Larry McMurtry reveals his continuing sense of dissociation as a side effect of quadruple bypass surgery.
Unholy Ghost is not so much a manual as an examination of the many guises of depression and the ways in which it affects the lives of its sufferers. Nor is the book without humor, as Darcy Steinke describes her place of refuge, her poodle bed. Here is a cross-section of voices, exploring multiple aspects of a condition once blamed upon the body's excess of black bile.