Writer Donald Antrim opens up about depression and help in new memoir – Orange County Register


Donald Antrim was on the rooftop of his Brooklyn apartment building, desperate and close to the edge, both metaphorically and literally. Antrim, the award-winning author of three novels, writes that “I felt like I had been dying my whole life” but as “the world seemed to be screaming” that day, he came closer than ever to suicide. .

Antrim, who had long struggled with his sanity, was in the throes of a crisis sparked by his mother’s death and her attempt to come to terms with their tumultuous relationship in her memoir, “The Afterlife.” It took him months of hospitalization, therapy, and electroconvulsive therapy to even begin to get back on his feet, and then longer to find the right medication that would stabilize his life.

Today, 15 years after that day on the roof, Antrim has revisited it for his new book, “An April Friday” which, like William Styron’s classic “Darkness Visible”, chronicles his experience with brutal frankness. which, he hopes, can engender empathy. and even hope for others in the same situation.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. Writing “The Afterlife” has helped fuel the emotional turmoil you describe in this new book “One Friday in April”. Did you hesitate to write another dissertation? How did this experience go?

I was suspicious for a while. When I wrote “The Afterlife” about a year after my mother died, it was just too soon. If I had waited five or ten years to write it, it would have cost less. I only ended up writing this one because I thought about writing it all the time. But it was a very good experience; it didn’t put me in a bad spot.

Q. You ask in the book if telling your story can change the world. Can he? Can he save a life?

I hope the book will be important to people. The book is written with people who are suffering in one way or another in mind. This is one of the reasons I finally got down to writing it, to hopefully help people in the kind of situation I was in.

The book is also an argument for people to express themselves. This is, I think, what saves a life: expressing yourself, finding the courage to express your own story.

I also write for the caretakers: trying to take care of someone in this condition is desperate work.

Q. You read “Visible Darkness” after your hospitalization. Did it help you?

Most of the time it’s the drugs, the time, and the love, but I’m sure the book helped. Styron is a hero, a man of a certain age at a certain time when telling this story would have been very difficult for him to do, confessing his experience. He’s doing a great thing by writing this book; it really opens the door to others.

Q. You qualify your experience as “suicide” and not as “depression”, even though you clearly did not commit suicide. Why this choice of word?

I agree with Styron that the word depression is too soft and a little misleading. I looked around for what I could name this experience and finally suicide was just the logical choice.

I wanted to tell the story of a long illness. Currently, we believe that suicide is a consequence of depression, an unfortunate event that may or may not happen. I think about what I experienced as suicide. I’m not necessarily talking about falling from a height, but it’s a logical outcome of a psychotic illness unless we can intervene. This is my impression of what I went through, and I feel like I had a long illness that took my life. Whether others want to think of it this way is not in my control.

Q. You had suicidal thoughts for months before that day on the roof. Why did you start there and name the book what you did?

Before that day, I couldn’t admit that I was going to die – it wasn’t theater, but I didn’t quite get the idea. That day, on the roof, I knew I could die. It was also the day I went to the hospital, so it was a pivotal event.

That day changed me and the way I approached my own illness. I had thought I needed to improve but I couldn’t believe it but when I got off the rooftop that Friday I knew I had to give it a try. That’s the message of the book – go to the hospital, try to get better even if you think it’s not going to work, try to be somewhere where you can’t die.

Q. You write both about the importance of hospitals and also about the importance of love and touch.

I think community hospitals, something that is handy, is important, but we don’t really have any, we have big institutions. But we need a commitment to hospitals no matter what. And we need a better approach to mental illness, to de-stigmatize it, including the need to go to the hospital.

I meant touching in a literal but also metaphorical sense, in terms of connection to the community, the feeling of belonging and the well-being that can result from it. Withdrawing from touch, withdrawing in isolation, that’s what is dangerous.

Q. How can we prevent this?

There is no easy answer. I’m on a cocktail of drugs now it’s not just one and they are working. But finding the right drugs can take forever, and the diagnosis can be quite tricky. I can only encourage and say, “Don’t give up”.

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