“This is what I know this morning. Post-coffee. Pre-wine.” This is how author Amy Ferris begins the book, “Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide and Feeling Blue,” which she edited. She knows a lot of things. One of them is showing signs of suicide. She tried it with pills when she was 19. She made it through after getting her stomach pumped. It’s an event she had kept to herself for most of her life. Then Robin Williams died and she had to do something. She posted about her attempt on social media and the love came flying at her. She thought maybe there are others willing to go public. A book idea was born, which Seal Press was smart enough to snap up.
What a book it is. In it Ferris gives a platform to 35 writers to talk about their connection to suicide. Some talked about attempts they made. Others reflect on suicides completed by loved ones. They all talk about mental illness. And remarkably, the book never repeats itself. Like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, there are a million ways to suffer from depression. Ferris does an expert job in providing a forum for singular voices and weighing them all the same.
And believe us, they get into the real stuff. It’s not a look-at-the-bue-sky pep talk; it’s more my-god-will-we-ever-stop-feeling-blue? honesty. These authors shoot you straight and trust that you can take it.
All manner of inquiry and commentary is invited by Ferris. Jennifer Pastiloff wonders where her depression comes from, imagining it arrived with her Romanian grandmother or Native American great grandfather. Elizabeth Rosner describes her depression as the color of sea foam. Sherry Amatestein flat-out says she might still one day kill herself, although she doubts it.
What we love about the book is the great truth beating on every page: that it takes guts to frown. The world wants you to smile. But it’s the frowners who have a shot because they’re no longer trying to pretend.
This is a book for the smilers, and it’s a marvel.
TP: How did this book come about?
AF: It all started when Robin Williams committed suicide. When I heard the news my immediate reaction was what everybody else was feeling, which was complete sadness and shock. As I listened to the news that came out on how he committed suicide and that underneath all of his humor was this really sad man, and going through a lot of emotional and physical issues, I just thought I had to do something. So after Robin’s death I posted something about my own suicide attempt and it sort of went viral. I was getting a lot of messages and a lot of emails from people saying, Oh my god, thank you for writing this, I’m feeling really sad, I’m going through a depression, everybody think it’s this one thing, when it’s really not. I decided to reach out to my publisher, Seal Press, and see if this is something they want to get behind.
TP: And then you set about to gather authors?
AF: I did. I reached out to people I know who had commented on suicide, but also some people I didn’t know but had read. I reached out and they all said yes. Every one.
TP: And here it is in our hands a year later. Gosh, that’s fast.
AF: The one thing Seal Press asked is that it come out within a year. It was a lot of work but an amazing experience. To say that I’m delighted is an understatement.
TP: Were some of the pieces from previous works by authors?
AF: No, they’re all original pieces.
TP: Really? I assumed some of these had already appeared somewhere, considering the time frame.
AF: All fresh pieces.
TP: Why is this topic so important to you?
AF: It seems every single day someone I know or someone I know would know someone who knew someone who committed suicide. Mental health issues need more attention. So whether it’s a story about depression or an essay about a suicide attempt or a piece about the issue of family suicide, we need to start talking about this, we need to start shouting about it, because people feel so alone.
TP: What I loved about the book is even though there was this common subject matter, each piece was singular. I think of C.O. Moed’s piece. What a voice. She starts by saying that for years planning her suicide was the only thing that kept her going. Then she describes managing her depression as dancing with Gene Kelly. And she closes it by saying nothing really helps her except love and the hope for something different. I mean wow.
AF: C.O. Moed is just one of those really brilliant, funny women, who are out there, not unfiltered as she is completely aware of what she’s writing, but brave and original. Her writing is just gorgeous.
TP: I liked Liz Rosner’s piece because her healing was helped along by a dog.
AF: Well, Liz Rosner is Liz Rosner. Amazing.
TP: It was clear how strongly nearly all of the authors felt about saying meds played a pivotal role in their recovery.
AF: Meds can be so important yet there’s still this stigma about taking them. What we’re doing with this book is say to people that this isn’t something you can push under the carpet anymore. You need to treat depression as a disease, because it is. People will say to you it’s just a phase or an attitude. It’s not. It’s a condition that needs to be managed with everything you’ve got and then it’s still hard. For me there are days I wake up where I think, Oh my god I don’t want to get out of bed. You can’t will or pray or hope depression away. You can’t. You have to treat it.
TP: I really hope young people read this book as young people are having a hard time dealing right now, according to a lot of studies on college campuses.
AF: The rate of suicide among young people is horrific. They don’t have enough hope in their lives. They don’t have enough belief in the power of their own greatness. They need to know that depression isn’t something bad. It shouldn’t be hidden. It should be something that we share and talk about and encourage each other to manage. You don’t have to be perfect. Young people need to know that there are a lot of us out there with the exact same struggle.
TP: It was intense and at times difficult to read these essays, especially in sequence. A lot of pain on the page. What was it like for you?
AF: Similar. I mean, the pieces were so exquisite and heartbreakingly raw and truthful. When you’re done you certainly don’t think, Well, that was a fun, light read, I’m going to go out and dance. But they touch you to the core. They open a vein. The writers wrote their hearts out and it was a privilege for me to read their work.
TP: What kind of outreach are you doing with the book?
AF: Seal Press is being pretty amazing in terms of the book launch, which is going to be in Los Angeles on Nov. 19. We’re doing a lot of readings.
TP: I enjoy seeing all the activity on social media.
AF: I’m actually not very good at tweeting but I am good on Facebook. I have a huge following on Facebook because I do a morning post every day. But I’m not good at that other stuff. I’m not even on Instagram! If I spent any more time on social media my husband would kill me.
TP: What’s the number thing you want to leave readers with when they read this book?
AF: That they’re not alone. That what they’re going through can be shared and they are supported. We’re out there.