In the summer of 1985, I flipped my lid: went mad, had a breakdown, or embarked upon a depressive illness, whatever your preferred terminology is. Depression, though a euphemism, is probably the best available description of what the condition looks and feels like to the person going through it, and to others. Madness is fascinating to read about in literature, where it seems to provide a royal road through tragic downfall to moral salvation. But this is, of course, the world of art, where everything works out in the end, for better or worse, and everything fits together. Life, need we say, is not like that, since it just keeps on going on until one day it stops, generally of its own accord: and for this reason, among others, madness (or depressive illness) in reality, as opposed to literature, is boring as well as upsetting, and seems to lead nowhere and prove nothing. There are many consoling clichés abroad about breakdown: one is that it is 'like breaking your leg'. Another is that it can make you a better person. Neither of these statements is true. Anyone who tries to tell me them again will end up severely mutilated.
LRB 29 September 1988 | PDF Download