Sunday, September 18, 2011


In Struck by Living, Julie Hersch reveals the devastation wrought by a lifelong battle with the insidious disease of depression. She tries to outsmart it, out work it, out achieve it, out mother it, outrun it, out maneuver it across several decades, and still, depression manages to stealthily bypass the defenses and obstacles she'd erected by living in a super-accomplished, "super-happy" life, reducing her to a woman who is a grim shadow of her former self.

However, this memoir is not about tracing Ms. Hersch's descent into catatonic melancholy; instead, through her choice of narrative manipulation, we move with her back and forth across time, glimpsing the woman well on the road to recovery, while being allowed to look back with her into the confusing, isolating hell that it once was. Her recovery is not complete, she confides, there is always the chance for relapse, for the demons to return, so vigilance is always present, a crisis plan always in place. But what has changed for Ms. Hersch, by the end, is her acceptance that she does not have to be the woman confined to locked wards, but can be the woman struck back to life by an electrical charge to the brain, a small yielding to medicine, a trade off: she must allow herself to be momentarily powerless in order to regain power over her life and herself once again.

Perhaps the strongest message of this memoir is one many women who are mothers and struggle with mental illness need to hear. For many of us, we have lived with the false promise: that love can heal what wounds us. Love will be the medicine to dispel the dark storms that gather suicidal force. Love of husband and children will be enough to keep us here, will be enough to keep us from wanting to give in and give up. Surely that love will summon up enough concurrent guilt. But those of us who are mothers and wives and who love our families often desperately, in the midst of our illness, can't see or hear beyond the illness. The voice of depression is damning, is All. And so we succumb. Some succeed, some fail. How could we ever imagine leaving our spouses and children with a legacy of suicide?

But as Ms. Hersch reminds us over and over, when we are suicidally depressed we are no longer our loving selves. We are lost, empty, without hope. If only love was enough. Thank god, as Ms. Hersch realizes, a current of electricity can be enough to allow love to fill her back up again--so that life, her life, filled with love, is not just enough, but abundantly fulfilling.