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Thoughts on the death of David Foster Wallace-How to get Help

Posted Nov 17 2008 8:58pm
September 7-13 was National Suicide Awareness Week. It went in with a bang, and out with a whimper—and a bang a day late.

Most of the literary world is still rocking from the suicide of David Foster Wallace, 1962-2008, this past weekend. Wallace's magnum opus was Infinite Jest in the 90's, which set the mood for American Literature in the 90’s and 00’s. He was awarded a MacArthur Foundation genius grant in 1997, and was endowed in a chair at Pomona College by Roy Disney.

What has come to light in the aftermath—Wallace's father has gone on record to say his son was severely depressed. His med cocktail of 20 years had stopped working; he was having no luck with newer meds. This summer he tried ECT in a last ditch effort to get rid of the black dog.

"It was a brilliant cure but we lost the patient.", said Hemingway right before he used his father's gun on himself. Hemingway had had ECT some six months earlier and could not recover. Apparently the same was true for Wallace.

One of the things about National Suicide Awareness week is to let the media know how many have died by their own hands. Things to know – the rates are going up for males over 45 – and for Veterans coming back from the Middle East.


While there is no magic wand to wave and depression will go away magically, there are things we, as patients and fellow sufferers, can learn to help in recovery. One of them is to have a peer or family support group to utilize should the depression/suicidal ideation get too bad. They should have the name of a doctor to call or take you to the emergency room. You should have a good working relationship with your psychiatrist and your therapist. Keep a med chart. Kay Jamison, author of An Unquiet Mind, said the best tool she had in her recovery was the "badger diet". Badger, badger, badger your pdoc, tdoc with questions about every med, every side effect; don't be afraid to call if you feel ill with side effects. Put these numbers on your speed dial.

Try to stay active. Take a walk. Go to the mall, and have something to eat. Exercise and eating are all important. Don't be afraid to reach out for help. Living is hard; living with depression is harder, but the alternative is far worse.
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