“Fiction is one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved. Drugs, movies where stuff blows up, loud parties — all these chase away loneliness by making me forget my name’s Dave and I live in a one-by-one box of bone no other party can penetrate or know.”
– David Foster Wallace
Some of David Foster Wallace’s archive, which has been acquired by the Harry Ransom Centre at the University of Texas, is now available to view here. The selections include DFW’s first poem (in which the author rhymes about Vikings), a letter from his publisher regarding his magnum opus Infinite Jest, and a vocabulary list.
David Foster Wallace died on September 12th 2008 aged just 46. He committed suicide by hanging, and did so because he had been a lifelong sufferer of depression. He had been successfully medicated for many years and this had allowed him some creative productivity. During this time he published collections of essays, three collections of short stories, and two novels including the critically lauded Infinite Jest. He was considered one of the brightest stars of his generation and the literary world was horrified on learning of his sudden death.
I have read a number of Foster Wallace’s works and admired his loony take on the world, obvious intelligence, extensive vocabulary and unique writing style. Like everyone else, I was shocked at his death but then when I learned he had been battling with depression, that his meds had ceased to be effective and he had even gone so far as to have Electroconvulsive Therapy, his suicide began to make some kind of twisted sense.
I am currently on medication to treat Major Depressive Disorder which has dogged me for most of my life, which made me suicidal, which did not respond to counselling no matter how hard I tried. When my depression was eventually diagnosed as being chemical and not reactive, when I was finally given antidepressants and when they began to work, it was nothing short of a miracle. My nerves stopped jangling, I stopped feeling suicidal, and I experienced simple contentment (a revelation!) for the very first time in my life, aged 31.
Having been on medication now for two years, I know that it is likely I will have to change antidepressants. They generally cease being effective after a number of years and so my psychiatrist and I will have to begin the journey again to find something that works. I hope that the journey is successful.
David Foster Wallace had obviously given up hope that his journey towards mental health would be a successful one. I feel tremendously sorry for his family – suicide is so very difficult for those left behind – and I feel even sorrier for him. This extract from a commencement speech the author gave to a graduating class at Kenyon College is something I can relate to on so many levels. David talks about “making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head”. When a person is depressed, suicide isn’t just an end to their suffering, it is the only logical reaction to an existence that is meaningless and brutal.
In this Rolling Stone article David’s father says, “I don’t think that he ever lost the feeling that there was something shameful about this…his instinct was to hide it”. Statements like that make me very sad. I believe that clinical depression is the same as epilepsy or diabetes or any condition where the sufferer must take medication in order to function normally. That is why I am so open about my depression and my treatment and this is why I am talking about it here. It is only by removing the stigma surrounding mental illness that we allow those who are suffering to seek treatment and possibly prevent their death.
(My apologies for such a long post.)