February 26, 2009
Andrew Solomon, Parker Palmer and Anita Barrows —
The Soul in Depression

One in ten Americans, and even more dramatically, about one in four women, will experience clinical depression at some point in their lives. We take an intimate look at the spiritual dimensions of this illness and its aftermath.



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is author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, which won the National Book Award in 2001.

is an educator, activist, and author of Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

is a poet and psychologist, and translator of Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God

Pertinent Posts

The vulnerability of revisiting this conversation reminds Krista to embrace "dark times as expressions of human vitality."

Featured Writings

Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke

Ich liebe meines Wesens Dunkelstunden
Dich wundert nicht des Sturmes Wucht

Poems by Anita Barrows

Questo muro
Heart Work

Psalms of the Old Testament

The following psalms taken from the Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures can be helpful examples for prayer and meditation during and after depression.

Passage from The Winter's Tale

With relation to the use of medications, Solomon describes in the The Noonday Demon the current, ongoing debate about the natural or authentic self. He says this is not new, but an age-old debate:

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"Anziano alla stazione"

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The gods are unkind...

As someone of faith who has been living with clinical depression for the past six or seven years, I appreciate thoughtful resources such as this.

This is so utterly timely! thank you, Krista Tippet!

There is an unfortunate tendency in this interview--especially in last guest-- to spiritually exalt depression. the dark night of the soul is more like white noise, elevator muzak, furniture polish, a shopping mall, sunday light on an overstuffed house. it shrieks and scratches. its shrill or drones. it is not an experience of depth. that is sadness not depression.

I'm curled like a shrimp...holding my innerds....the pain. I haven spent so many tears in yearslllll I'm older and definitaly not wiser I hear what you say...Listening to TED talks... and Krista you've saved me more times than you can imagine.I will keep on keeping on my dog and mother assume I'll be here...but I keep cryiig...so alone. What I would give to be in a Friends meeting...to feel the silence..the space My dx depression...tried too many meds. It's just my life.
how do I send this. I need to reach out even through email but am stuck.

Thanks for this program. I appreciate hearing others talk of their experiences dealing with depression.

I've suffered most of my life with depression, anxiety, and bi-polar disorder and spent 16 years on various pharmaceutical cocktails. Three years ago I stopped taking all my medications and began practicing Theravada Buddhism. True, I feel depressed and anxious much of the time, but I am thankful for the clarity that I've gained from seeing myself as I am rather than through the veil of chemicals. I appreciate the seconds (sometimes minutes) during meditation, where patches of sky appear behind the dark clouds, when I can take deep breaths and turn towards the suffering and see it soften. This is finding ground in groundlessness, knowing that the worst is endurable, and that I've made it to the other side, however briefly, with the support of the teachings and the practice.

Upon reflection, I can see that when I have been depressed, I have been the most self-absorbed while feeling most separated from life. At these times, there is a ‘me’ living in ‘my world’ into which I retreat deeper and deeper because the other world – the world ‘out there’ – is a world I can no longer handle.

And the deeper and longer I retreat into the world of ‘me’, the more separated I feel and the more unmanageable and unrelatable that other world becomes to me.

In the world of ‘me’, there are few options available and the number shrinks rapidly. The viability of the remaining few fades like a mirage upon close encounter. Soon, it feels like I have no options. I am stuck in this state of helplessness and hopelessness. This is the state I go to bed in and wake up to.

Somewhere in me, there is a sense that I want this to end and sometimes, it can get confused with ‘I want me to end’. But somehow, that blurred, lifeless ground upon which I am shriveling happens to have a crack through which a tiny sliver of light shines. Enough to let me see that I don’t want ‘me’ to end.

Slowly, I crawl out from the world of ‘me’, regaining in small amount the sense that the world of ‘me’ is not separated from the world ‘out there’.

That’s when the voices of those who have been watching over me, standing guard on my behalf in their loving and unobtrusive way, become audible again, a little more coherent again. It’s my cue to return to life, that it is safe after all, that the sense of separation I have been feeling has ended, or at least is not as irreconcilable as I had believed it to be.