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Notes from 40 Years of Treatment for Depression: It Gets Better

Black Calendar
March 24, 2015
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Boston Evening Therapy Content

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Writer George Scialabba collected notes from doctors who treated him for depression for more than 40 years.

Milestones over the years

Doctor’s notes, Sept, 30, 1970: “…I see him as a very troubled man and I would venture to say probably sicker than an adjustment reaction of adolescence. More likely borderline personality with obsessive-compulsive features…

Those are some of the notes Scialabba shared, along with details of his religious and spiritual pursuits and psychiatric treatment, in a February 2015 interview with Christopher Lydon on Radio Open Source.

Doctor’s Notes, Aug. 26, 1981: “My assessment is that this man suffers from a rather severe endogenous depression superimposed on a schizoid personality…”

Scialabba wanted to be a priest, but he didn’t end up following that path. Notes from one therapist suggest that Scialabba “…worried that his turning away from religion may have been a mistake and that he could be damned to Hell for this.

He went to Harvard, where he did well, and was also active in Opus Dei, a Catholic organization dedicated to bringing the holy into daily life and he thought he had found the best of both worlds. Eventually, he left the religious group and in retrospect, said it felt like a kind of withdrawal.
As life went on, Scialabba continued the search for spiritual meaning.

Reflection and acknowledgement

“Like a lot of people, I suppose, I have a bouillabaisse or potpourri of anchoring beliefs and one of them is…a belief in the abiding solidarity of humankind…”

In some ways, he said, he walked a more a worldly path: “I’ve been diverted into political complaining for the last three-and-a-half decades.”

Along the way, he continued to suffer from depression.

“We’re all issued shock absorbers, but some of them work better than others and some lives are more full of shocks and stresses than others,” said Scialabba. “So if you have a kind of flimsy shock absorber and you’re subjected to unusually heavy stresses, you crash.”

Over the decades, he received many kinds of treatment, including electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, and a long list of medications.

Embracing the progress

“I’m certainly much, much calmer, more tranquil, but a good deal of that is simple exhaustion. Among other things, it’s exhausting to be depressed,” said Scialabba. “I wouldn’t say that I’m healthy now, but I’d say that I’m free of clinical symptoms.”

What people should know, said Scialabba, is this: “One of the things that hurts most about depression is that you don’t really believe that it’s ever going to go away, get better. It just doesn’t seem like something with a plausible cause. So you can’t imagine what the remedy is. So people should tell you, Look, eventually, everybody gets a little better. Some people are still mildly depressed, but virtually no one is acutely depressed for decades and decades — their whole life. It’ll get a little better, and probably a lot better. So hang on.”


Scialabba, George, Depression, Inside-Out, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Feb. 29, 2015.

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