What a book. Miriam Toews tackles the touchy subjects of depression and suicide with a deft ability, taking us through the helplessness and desperation of loving someone who cannot embrace life. This story was sad – so sad – and also filled with a sort of hope and love of life. There was humour and overwhelming sorrow tempered with the love of family. My favourite character, the mother, was very familiar to me – I think I see in her some of my favourite people.
Mental illness is such a touchy subject. There is a great push nowadays to normalize it, but the problem is that it isn’t normal. It is the opposite of normal. It is a lack of the rational that cannot be helped. It is the diabetes/cancer/multiple sclerosis that doesn’t affect the function of the body but the function of the mind. It is sometimes fatal. And as someone who has grown up in the church, who is still active in the church, there is definitely an element of “you should pray (or trust or read your Bible or have faith or don’t worry) more” to make all such areas of “low self control” go away. Don’t get me wrong, there are changes in the wind, but not across the entire gamut of denominations or even individual churches. Not only do we Christians get hit with the “you don’t have enough faith” card for physical ailments, but it is worse for the mental ones. Talk about heaping guilt on to the heads of those who can least carry it. So what can we do? How can we talk God’s love to someone who needs it yet can’t accept it in the way that we try to give it?
I don’t have the answer. Depression steals self, steals health, steals life. It affects not only the one who has it but the loved ones who are helpless in the face of it. It can come across as manipulation or anger or avoidance or despair and it has an ugly face. Therapy can help. Medications can help. Sometimes nothing can help. Shame and guilt just hurt. The only way I know how to treat any of it is with patience, kindness, and love. I can help them practice strategies. It is all I can physically do. I cannot change anyone’s mind or feelings or perceptions, however much I try.
If you are at all interested in what it is like to deal with someone who has depression, read this book. If you like a good story, read this book. If you enjoy good writing, read this book. Can you tell I like it?