I'm going to go about this backwards and start with why I read Shadows in the Sun.
- In the 1990s, I had a friend who told me about the time of her life when she had two small children and was suicidal. She considered drowning the children and then killing herself because she thought the children would be better off dead than living without a mother.
- Two of my friends have lost a child to suicide.
- My mother suffered from depression most of her adult life. I inherited her tendency to depression.
- About a year-and-a-half ago, one of my physical therapists took his own life.
And, then there's the reaction from those who don't understand, which only goes to show that there is still a serious lack of understanding about depression and a stigma attached to it. Again, examples from my own life.
- After my physical therapist killed himself, his business partner responded in anger. "That's just stupid!" he said. "He was depressed for years. Why didn't he do something about it?"
- A depressed character came up in discussion at my book group and one of the women said, "Oh, most people just try to kill themselves to get back at other folks, to say 'I'll show them!'"
- When the subject of depression came up while I was talking to one of my friends, she gleefully told me she'd never been depressed because, "I won't let myself!"
- A few years ago, one of my friends simply disappeared for a few months. Every time I called to see if she was home yet, her husband would make some excuse. "She's taking a break," he said at first. Eventually, he told me she'd been hospitalized to treat a vitamin imbalance. Two years passed before I wormed the truth out of her -- that she'd attempted suicide and been put into the local mental facility for observation and treatment. Both my friend and her husband were still too embarrassed to talk about her experience in any detail.
Back to the subject . . . the book:
Shadows in the Sun is a memoir about Gayathri Ramprasad's journey through depression and how she found the path to healing. I added the lengthy asides above because in Shadows in the Sun, Gayathri addresses things like the stigma still attached to depression (and other mental illnesses), the misunderstanding of those who have never experienced mental illness and the lack of affordable, readily available treatment options. The idea, for example, that you can just will away depression is a really nice thought but mental illness simply doesn't work that way. Depression is caused by chemical activity in the brain. Sure, there can be a triggering incident that sends you spiraling into depression. But, you can also become depressed for no reason, whatsoever. And, it's because the author went through so much that it has become her mission to raise awareness that mental illness is an illness, not a defect or something that can be wished away.
In the author's case, growing up in India contributed to her difficulty with diagnosis and treatment. It's worse in India by far, but regardless of where you go there is still a stigma attached to depression. Gayathri rightly compares mental illness to other illnesses. If you had a deadly virus, people wouldn't tell you to pray harder or pull up your bootstraps and get over yourself. But that's often true of mental illness. The fact that it's not always easily treatable with medication or therapy alone makes it an especially tricky kind of illness, as well.
Gayathri's struggle to find the help she needs and her battle with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts comprise the bulk of the book and I loved reading her story -- the pages flew -- but one of the things I loved best about Shadows in the Sun was the unique cultural perspective. I learned a lot about India; there's even a glossary of Indian terms in the back of the book. Because the traditions and religious beliefs were a part of why it took so long for the author to receive treatment, you actually come away from Shadows in the Sun with a new understanding about India and its people. I really loved that.
In general, the story was very well-written. I found Shadows in the Sun incredibly gripping. Gayathri has a combination of conditions - depression and anxiety along with anxiety-induced panic attacks, which made her symptoms more dramatic than the perhaps more typical quietly-depressed individual who puts up a good front and suffers in silence. Gayathri was often physically ill - vomiting, disinterested in eating, sometimes collapsing publicly. While she did eventually recover from a lengthy depression that caused her to lose a great deal of weight (recovery was hastened by marriage; the change of environment made a difference), she became severely depressed again after the birth of her first child. It was then that she finally began to get the help she needed.
I was unaware of how hospitalization for depression works and found the description of the author's experience eye-opening. When Gayathri went in to talk to a psychiatrist for admission to the hospital with severe depression and he asked her if she was suicidal, the response to her affirmative reply stunned me. The doctor immediately stopped asking questions and had Gayathri led to a room to change into a gown. Then she was placed in isolation. By that, I mean she was locked into a room alone in a flimsy robe with a camera watching her every move.
When I read that part, I was so shocked that I turned to my husband and said, "I can't believe they do such an uncivilized thing in our country!" I told him I thought it would make a whole lot more sense to take someone for an emergency therapy session -- one that involved putting him or her in a room with 20 people who are there just to hug them and share their own stories of hope. Doesn't that make more sense than locking someone up all alone when he or she is in despair? The woman I mentioned -- the one who considered drowning her own children -- responded best to group therapy; that's a part of where I'm coming from, the idea that knowing you're not alone can be one of the biggest factors in recovery. But, maybe I'm oversimplifying the dangers, too.
At any rate, you will get a full perspective of what it's like to live with depression, fight the negative thoughts and feel so desperate that you want to end it all, if you read Shadows in the Sun. You will get a fascinating glimpse into the culture in India and see how treatment both there and in the rest of the world doesn't create a big enough net to catch and save the million people who died at their own hands, each year. And, you will learn what finally turned Gayathri Ramprasad's life around.
My only complaint is that the part about her healing was too short. I wanted the author to go a little deeper into the healing process and what she did to turn her life around. Although she does go into how she eventually discovered what worked for her, Shadows in the Sun is more a tale of one person's struggle than a how-to on recovery.
Highly recommended - You don't have to be depressed or have experienced depression or mental illness to read Shadows in the Sun. It is an utterly fascinating, compelling, passionate memoir that also offers a great cultural perspective on life in India and what it's like to be an immigrant.
Link to the organization founded by Gayathri Ramprasad:
My thanks to Hazelden and TLC Tours for the review copy of Shadows in the Sun.
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