As I've written about before, I have experienced depression on-and-off for a great part of my life. When I was in college I was depressed more or less the whole time. My sophomore year was a particularly tough one. I was failing organic chemistry, throwing into question my career goals (not for the first or last time, mind you). My brother Bear was homeless and would collect-call me and ask me to give him our mother's credit card number. I spent hours sobbing on the phone with him and feeling horrible for the rest of the week. So I dropped organic chem and decided to take a semester off from college in the spring to try and get some perspective.
I ended up working as a volunteer for the United Farm Workers in San Francisco. At the time everyone who worked for the UFW was technically a volunteer, from the President on down to the lowliest (me) and made a minimal amount of money. So my mother, angel that she is, pretty much subsidized my life for those six months. I was still depressed but in therapy too. And then I found this little book in a wonderful bookstore in Oakland. Diary of a Whacked Out Bitch, by Judith A. Heinz. (I think this would actually make a wonderful title for a blog…) The novel? memoir? is written as a diary and tells the story of a waitress turned paralegal turned waitress turned roamer of the US. She feels things deeply, both on a personal level and on a global level. She worries about how no one makes eye contact on the metro, how people walk right by homeless people, about why her boyfriend – and society – seem to want her to be someone other than who she is. It is by turns heart-wrenching and very very funny. She is the whacked out bitch of the title, a name she co-opted when a boyfriend of a friend called them that. There are parts of the book that are still a part of my vernacular. For example, during one of the many road trips she takes, she and her friend come up with new "Plans of the Day" every so often. Which are plans for their future that are, well, whacky. Or at the very least quirky. Every time I think of a new cool thing to do when I grow up it becomes my Plan of the Day. And I'll call up my best whacked out bitch friend, gigglygirl, and tell her about it (I made gigglygirl read it too, so she knows what I'm talking about).
This slim book helped me through my depression. It showed me that I wasn't the only person in the world that felt some of these things. I actually highlighted the sentences and paragraphs that I felt resonated with me and showed them to my therapist. I couldn't believe that a stranger had access to my mental and emotional processes. And while I despaired of many the same things, I knew tht I wasn't alone. And that's at least half the battle with depression.
Unfortunately, the book appears to be out of print, although you can find it used. I recommend it to any young woman who might be depressed. Or who would like to read about an idiosyncratic, independent woman trying to make sense of the world, who sometimes makes mistakes and encounters setbacks but continues to reach out to her friends, her sisters, and her birds to find solace in this crazy, fucked up world.