If you’ve ever suffered from depression, you know what a dark muck it can be. Helpless and hopeless, this deadened state leaves people at the bottom of a dank well with no ladder out.
I’ve gone through major depression. I count myself one of the 20 million in this country so afflicted. I’ve gotten to know so many fellow sufferers over the years. One I didn’t get the chance to meet, to my great chagrin, was author, composter and Tony-nominated playwright Liz Swados. We had a few things in common – we both grew up in Buffalo (she left for a theater career in NYC years ago and I’m still here), a lawyer connection (her dad was one and I’m currently one) and we both struggled with depression on and off during our lives.
Sadly, Liz died on January 5, 2016 of cancer at the age of 64 before I had the chance to meet her.
If you not aware of Liz’s work, you should be. She’s the author of the book, My Depression: A Picture Book.
The book is a memoir in words and pictures of Liz’s journey through depression that is by turns poignant and funny. Through her whimsical drawings, readers get a unique view of the experience of depression: from the struggle to keep her condition a secret, to the strange effects of ‘new’ drugs, to the small things that can trigger relapses. At its heart, it is a gentle reminder fellow sufferers are not alone and that they can lead a fulfilling and happy life.
She’s also the creator of the brilliant HBO animated film, “My Depression (The Up and Down of It)” that appeared last summer.
Here’s what Liz wrote about the film:
“It takes us through a journey from the beginning of a depression, through the darkest symptoms and searching a person can do to try to find a cure, to discovering small bits of light, be them from anything – chocolate, yoga, therapy, medications… We didn’t come to any brilliant conclusions; we just went by our instincts and experiences. We have been showing it to various audiences and have found that many people identify with it, which is a true pleasure because I wouldn’t want to represent something so sensitive in a wrong way. I’ve received emails and all kinds of communications from people telling me that they feel simpatico with me, and that’s the best: to give someone an identity and a way to be not alone in a very empty, difficult time of life. I think the most important part of the film is the humor. Depression may not be funny to live through, but if you look at it in a certain way, if you look at yourself and others as creatures under some silly dark spell, it can help lift the weight.”
It’s so hard to describe to others who have never been through depression what it’s really like. It’s tough, I think, because they really don’t have a reference point. They’ve been through sadness. But depression isn’t sadness – it’s an illness.
Liz’s book and film have done a lot of good to help others understand and, hopefully, offer more love and support.
But it’s also is a powerful visual journey for those who suffer. It gives voice to an experience that so often, in it’s most miserable manifestations, mutes that voice.
The voice of our truest and most vital selves.
And it does it all with a panache of humor.
Thanks for everything you’ve done Liz and rest in peace.