Program Particulars: The Soul in Depression

February 26, 2009

Program Particulars

*Times indicated refer to Web version of audio

(01:11) Statistics on Depression

The statistics presented during the program can be found, along with further in-depth explanation, on the National Institute of Mental Health site for depression. They provide definitions for depressive disorders, causes and symptoms, treatments, and references for clinical studies being conducted.

Of the one in four women who will experience depression, many will encounter a form of post-partum depression. For more information, The National Women's Health Information Center provides a solid foundation for understanding the symptoms and effects of this illness. American RadioWorks produced a probing piece, "Suffering for Two: The Bind of Maternal Depression," which presents the mixed or conflicting advice that pregnant women face when weighing the impact of taking anti-depressant medication.

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(01:41–03:40) Music Element

"The Multiples of One" from Awakening, performed by Joseph Curiale


(02:42) Reference to Solomon's Book

Andrew Solomon was awarded the 2001 National Book Award for The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. In awarding the prize to Solomon, the judges remarked:

"Practical, lyrical, and expository, The Noonday Demon provides a detailed and comprehensive cartography of the desolate landscape of depression. It is, as the subtitle tells us, an atlas, and like all compendia of maps and strange, unknown countries, it elucidates and renders knowable what otherwise might seem alien and frightening. In the process, this wise and learned book provides information and succor to those who have suffered from the disease and to those whose lives have been touched by it. Retaining the stringency of an acutely democratic attitude — never falling into sentiment — The Noonday Demon forces us to recognize the paradoxical movements of the human spirit."

(03:15) Article in The New Yorker

In the January 12, 1998 issue of The New Yorker, Andrew Solomon published "Anatomy of Melancholy," an essay that details the unexpected and debilitating depression that gripped his life for several years. In it, he writes:

When you are depressed, the past and the future are absorbed entirely by the present, as in the world of a three-year-old. You can neither remember feeling better nor imagine that you will feel better. Being upset, even profoundly upset, is a temporal experience, whereas depression is atemporal. Depression means that you have no point of view.

(04:19) Line Cited by Krista

The phrase cited appears in the last paragraph of Solomon's book, The Noonday Demon:

The opposite of depression is not happiness but vitality, and my life, as I write this, is vital, even when sad. I may wake up sometime next year without my mind again; it is not likely to stick around all the time. Meanwhile, however, I have discovered what I would have to call a soul, a part of myself that I could never have imagined until one day, seven years ago, when hell came to pay me a surprise visit. It's a precious discovery.

(07:14) Listing of Medications

Solomon lists several medications he takes to treat his depression. A number of them fall under the umbrella of SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). SSRIs are a relatively new, widely used class of antidepressant medication, which includes such drugs with the commercial names of Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft. These medications generally treat the organic basis of depression more effectively than older classes of antidepressants, and with fewer serious side-effects. It is believed that they work by allowing the body to make the best use of serotonin and in some cases other brain chemicals — or neurotransmitters — that are depleted when clinical depression is present. Concern has been raised that some SSRIs may heighten the risk of suicide, especially in children and adolescents.

(08:17) 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 that has been explored by writers such as Thomas Nagel in The Possibility of Altruism and even Shakespeare in the play The Winter's Tale, which ends with the line, "The art itself is Nature."

(08:41) Poem by Jane Kenyon

The line, "We try a new drug, a new combination of drugs, / and suddenly I fall into my life again" comes from the poem "Back" by Jane Kenyon.

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(10:10–11:30) Music Element

"Darkwood VII: The Picture" from Dark Wood, performed by David Darling


(12:53) Passage from The Noonday Demon

Solomon says that love is the most important feeling humans have. And, to truly experience love, Solomon adds, one has to be able to experience the great range of emotions—from immense grief to extreme joy. The sentence cited appears in the first paragraph of Solomon's book, The Noonday Demon:

Depression is the flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair. When it comes, it degrades one's self and ultimately eclipses the capacity to give or receive affection. It is the aloneness within us made manifest, and it destroys not only connection to others but also the ability to be peacefully alone with oneself. Love, though it is no prophylactic against depression, is what cushions the mind and protects it from itself. Medications and psychotherapy can renew that protection, making it easier to love and be loved, and that is why they work. In good spirits, some love themselves and some love others and some love work and some love God: any of these passions can furnish that vital sense of purpose that is the opposite of depression. Love forsakes us from time to time, and we forsake love. In depression, the meaninglessness of every enterprise and every emotion, the meaninglessness of life itself, becomes self-evident. The only feeling left in this loveless state is insignificance.

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(16:30–17:25) Music Element

"Ruins" from Death of the Dream, performed by Steve Heitzeg


(17:30) Essay by Parker Palmer

The essay Krista mentions is included in Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, a compilation of essays by Parker Palmer.

(19:15) Reference to 23rd Psalm

Palmer cites a passage from the Old Testament often read at funerals as a profession of faith in God's protection and guidance — the Twenty-third Psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for His name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff— they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

(20:53) Citation of Tillich

Paul Tillich (1868 -1965) was an American theologian born in Germany whose discussions of God and faith illuminated and bound together the realms of traditional Christianity, existential philosophy, and modern psychology. His 1952 book, The Courage to Be, which Parker Palmer references, was his most popular work outside the academy.

In his works — including his seminal publication Systematic Theology — Tillich discusses questions about the powers and limits of man's reason, the nature of God, and the nature of being. He was convinced that the personal God of traditional Western theism must be discarded, but he also believed that religion was necessary for humankind. Tillich holds deep-rooted anxiety is part of the human condition, and cannot be eradicated by therapy. This passage from Systematic Theology illustrates Tillich's view of the role theologians should play in contemporary society:

[He or she must] participate in the human predicament not only actually—as he always does—but in conscious identification. He must participate in man's finitude, which is also his own, and in its anxiety as though he had never received the revelatory answer of "eternity." He must participate in man's estrangement, which is also his own, and show the anxiety of guilt as though he had never received the revelatory answer of "forgiveness."

(21:27) Quote from Palmer's Book

The following extended passage from Palmer's book, Let Your Life Speak, appears in the section entitled "From the Inside Looking Out":

I started to understand that I had been living an ungrounded life, living at an altitude that was inherently unsafe. The problem with living at high altitude is simple: when we slip, as we always do, we have a long, long way to fall, and the landing may well kill us. The grace of being pressed down to the ground is also simple: when we slip and fall, it is usually not fatal, and we can get back up. The altitude at which I was living had been achieved by at least four means. First, I had been trained as an intellectual not only to think—an activity I greatly value—but also to live largely in my head, the place in the human body farthest from the ground. Second, I had embraced a form of Christian faith devoted less to the experience of God than to abstractions about God, a fact that now baffles me: how did so many disembodied concepts emerge from a tradition whose central commitment is to "the Word become flesh"? Third, my altitude had been achieved by my ego, an inflated ego that led me to think more of myself than was warranted in order to mask my fear that I was less than I should have been. Finally, it had been achieved by my ethic, a distorted ethic that led me to live by images of who I ought to be or what I ought to do, rather than by insight into my own reality, into what was true and possible and life-giving to me.

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(24:14–24:30) Music Element

"Parlor Piano" from Death of the Dream, performed by Steve Heitzeg


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(24:50–25:26) Music Element

"Darkwood V: Earth" from Dark Wood, performed by David Darling


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(29:00–29:25) Music Element

"Sonate for flute & piano, Op. 77" from Joseph Jongen: Music for Flute, performed by Marc Grauwels


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(32:34–33:12) Music Element

"Threshing Time Memories" from Death of the Dream, performed by Steve Heitzeg


(33:45) Reference to Theravada Buddhism

Theravada Buddhism is considered a conservative branch of Buddhism that adheres to Pali scriptures and the nontheistic ideal of self-purification leading to nirvana and is dominant in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. Thought to be the language the Buddha spoke during the 5th century BCE, Pali is a dialect of Sanskrit and is the language of Theravada Buddhism. The Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism is composed of a collection of Buddhist writings, the Tipitaka, that are divided into three discrete sections.

A vast number of strains of Buddhism have emerged over time. Learn more about Theravada, Tibetan, and many other forms of Buddhist thought. At the core of each of these sects are the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.

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(34:25–34:50) Music Element

"Variations for the Healing of Arinushka" from Piano Icons for the 21st Century, performed by Elena Riu


(34:50) Mention of Hebrew Prayer

"Baruch atah" is a Hebrew phrase meaning "Blessed are you" that often begins Jewish prayers and blessings.

(38:35) First Reading of Rilke Poem

The poem read by Barrows during the show is "Ich liebe meines Wesens Dunkelstunden" and was published in Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God

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(40:50–41:18) Music Element

"Variations for the Healing of Arinushka" from Piano Icons for the 21st Century, performed by Elena Riu


(41:06) Second Reading of Rilke Poem

The following passage read by Barrows during the show was excerpted from "Dich wundert nicht des Sturmes Wucht," as published in Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God:

Be modest now, like a thing ripened until it is real, so that he who began it all can feel you when he reaches for you.

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(44:48–45:05) Music Element

"Caprice No. 1 in A Major" from Midnight on the Water, performed by Mark O'Connor


(45:52) Reading of "Questo Muro"

Anita Barrows' poem "Questo Muro" was read by the author and can be read in its entirety on the next page.

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(47:44–49:08) Music Element

"Threshing Time Memories" from Death of the Dream, performed by Steve Heitzeg


(47:44) Reading of "Heart Work"

The poem "Heart Work" was written and read by Anita Barrows.

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(49:09–50:52) Music Element

"Prelude No. 24" from Music For Two, performed by Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer


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(50:53–51:46) Music Element

"Caprice No. 1 in A Major" from Midnight on the Water, performed by Mark O'Connor


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Voices on the Radio

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