How well do we really know whether someone has a hard life or not? Not very much at all.
That’s the first big takeaway from Daphne Merkin’s recently published book, This Close To Happy: A Reckoning With Depression.
By many seemingly objective measures, she had it all. She comes from a wealthy family, with all the priviledge that money brings. Her first novel, Enchantment, which she seems to barely have even pitched, was sold over a "champagne lunch" with the man who would become her publisher, William Jovanovich. She hadn’t even written the book and yet still received a sum more than her annual salary.
It gets better.
When published, the novel was greeted with what sounds like wall-to-wall critical acclaim, at least by what’s written in her book. She went on to help Jovanovich at publishing house Harcourt Brace Jovanovich and she earned some dough. That sounds like a Hollywood-esque tale, but it’s how Merkin tells the story in her new book. (And yes, the story will no doubt make many would-be novelists now living in Brooklyn beyond green with envy.)
From the outside, Merkin’s life sounds charmed. But underneath she was battling an evil, debilitating, and misunderstood disease: Depression. Her new book chronicles her ongoing fight with it: What treatments worked, what didn’t, and the lack of understanding about the affliction by many people she knew. And that’s the second part of the message of her book, which business people would do well to consider before casting judgments on their colleagues. Mental illness doesn’t make your co-workers useless, any more than a broken nose, or a sprained ankle, does.
The truth is that despite her affliction Merkin has had a stellar career, one where she had to overcome those days when just getting out of bed is a monumental act. That is to say, she wasn’t weak, she was strong. She ‘soldiered on,’ continuing to work in the face of adversity. That’s admirable, and something we should all salute.
Simon Constable is a writer, economics commentator, and a fellow at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health and the Study of Business Enterprise.
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