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Graphic Medicine Novels: My Depression

 My Depression: A Picture Book

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Bibliographic Record

 Title  My Depression: A Picture Book
 Author  Swados, Elizabeth
 Illustrator  Swados, Elizabeth
 Mental Illness  Depression
 Publication Date  2015
 Publisher  Seven Stories Press
 ISBN  978-1609806040
 # Pages  176
 Color Profile  Black & White
 Worldcat Link  http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/948318788
 Amazon Link  https://www.amazon.com/My-Depression-Picture-Elizabeth-Swados/dp/1609806042
 Annotator  Tina L. Hefty

Summary

Elizabeth Swados is a true Renaissance Woman. She’s an artist, a theater director, a musician, and an author. She has great friends, a good job, and pets she loves. But all these good things are obscured when she experiences depression. My Depression is Elizabeth’s attempt to put her personal relationship with depression into words and pictures. Topics covered include events that trigger an episode, depression’s onset, ways Elizabeth feels and acts while depressed, coping mechanisms, and thoughts on professional treatment options. The book concludes with heartwarming pages of encouragement for others experiencing depression.

Presentation

Elizabeth’s artwork could probably be described as intentionally scribbly. The messy illustrations and naturally-penned text create a feeling of both chaos and approachability. There are no page numbers or chapters, but thematic changes serve to divide the book up into perceptible sections.

Mental Illness Narrative

Elizabeth willingly shares how depression has affected the way she feels inside her own head and body. She describes ongoing mood swings, whereby she becomes angry and snappy, yelling at the people she loves the most. Chronic pessimism encourages her to only see and hear the negative while feeling that the world is conspiring against her. She admits to avoiding other people, making up excuses to avoid friends and family, when in reality, she is home alone, entrenched in her own sadness. She describes feeling apathetic and disengaged: “I take no interest in my life. I can’t clean my loft, take out the garbage, or shower” (p. 43). Elizabeth admits to a range of self-destructive behaviors, such as smoking and doing drugs, activities which she describes as being useless. Alongside these behaviors is a loss of appetite. Lastly, she devotes several pages to her suicidal ideation, whereby she illustrates a family history of suicide, thoughts on famous people who have taken their own life, and how she would do it herself.

Humanistic Revelations

Elizabeth’s vulnerability allows her to convey many of the hidden sides of depression. First is the tendency of depressed people to try to reconcile how they can feel depressed while also having great lives. The first page of the book even eludes to this as she exclaims, “What a great life I have!” (p.1). Elizabeth goes on to explain events that can trigger depressive episodes, including seasonal change, rejection, the world, death, and no reason at all. The way she describes its onset is particularly unique, stating that it’s like “a little cloud at the edge of my vision. I only sense it’s there. Soon the cloud is accompanied by a buzz and a whine—Suddenly I can only write sad songs” (p. 15-16). As can be observed in other graphic memoirs about depression, Elizabeth shares a tendency to compare herself with other healthy people. She goes on to share what other people often tell her when they hear she’s depressed, such as “when I was young, no one found the time to be depressed” and “take care of your body” and “get a hobby” and “snap out of it” (p. 39).

Recommendations

On first glance, the artwork in My Depression might turn some folks off, especially those who are accustomed to a more meticulous approach to illustration. However, after reading a few pages, the reader should naturally adjust to Elizabeth’s style. A healthy combination of dark reality and positivity keeps the reader engaged.  There is much to learn in this short book—it’s definitely worth the read.

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