Blue comes in many shades, just like sadness and depression. There is the muddled color known as queen blue that casts a disorienting fog over life. This hue can slip dangerously into shadow blue, a color that swallows you into the murk. Then, there is Yankees blue, made famous by the baseball team. Sure, the name sounds patriotic, even possibly celebratory. But this is one of the darkest shades of blue, a blue that borders on black. Here is where the precipice lies: Do you fall over and succumb to the black, or hang on to the shred of blue that perhaps supplies some level of hope?
These hues are described in Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue, a collection of essays edited by Amy Ferris. Ferris is an author, screenwriter, editor, and playwright who, in her introduction, recounts her own battle with depression. The essays she has gathered are a way of saying “I know how you feel” and “You’re not alone” to readers who suffer from depression or suicidal thoughts. And, they provide insight for those who don’t have a firsthand understanding of this level of despair and loneliness.
The contributors artfully elaborate on hidden details. One writer unfolds the movement of pulling a trigger to reveal the excruciating moments just before, the sobs that tore through the night, the despair that left someone paralyzed in their bed. Another unpacks the treasured moment of holding a child to show the blinding heartache of being unable to hold that child as a baby while trying to recover from a near-death delivery. These stories provide the voice, the cry, and sometimes, the scream that is within many individuals.
Not every essay talks about a desperate person’s suicide attempt, though some stories do look at suicide from the perspective of the person desiring it or the viewpoint of those whose lives are indirectly affected by it. Some of the writers tackle AIDS, cancer, and grief. There are happy endings, and there are not-so-happy endings. Each writer provides an empathetic voice to those who have been in the pit without a ladder, and each paints with words a picture that holds the depth and richness of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”
Some of the lines I read spoke directly to thoughts I have had, while others were just such beautifully coined phrases that I wanted to underline and remember. I could not help but think of the ones I have lost to suicide — people who maybe, just maybe, would have found some comfort in the pages of this book (though perhaps that is just a bit of survivor’s guilt talking). The essays are raw, realistic.
“What is wrong with me is not a bump in the road,” one contributor writes, “or a case of the blues, and it is not something that can be addressed by the right herbal tea. It is not a pot hole, it is a fucking canyon — one I can only navigate with help.”
This quote stayed with me as well: “Pain isn’t a constant. There’s an ebb and flow. Looking out a train window there can be a gorgeous view you want to hold onto but darn, you whiz past it. Then there’s an ugly sight out the window you don’t want to see. The train whizzes past that too.”
Books, though, however wonderful and honest, are not always enough. If you are having suicidal thoughts or think you might need help, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue
Seal Press, September 2015
Paperback, 256 pages