Book Review: The Scar: A Personal History of Depression and Recovery

Posted June 13, 2019 in Print

BIMM nov 13 – dec 15 – Desktop

The Scar: A Personal History of Depression and Recovery

Mary Cregan

[Lilliput Press]


“The Scar is an important book about a condition described as ‘the common cold of mental illness'”

A scar is a white mark that remains on the skin after injured tissue has healed, it’s a result of a previous trauma that will leave an indelible impression upon its bearer. A scar becomes part of our physical tapestry, it is a cruel embodiment of the knowledge that ‘something happened to me.’ In Irish American Mary Cregan’s new book, The Scar, this ‘something’ is identified as her ongoing battle against depression. The death of Cregan’s first child cut an almost fatal wound into her 27-year-old body, striking a blow that would take decades to recover from:

Three months after my daughter died, I was so depressed that I had to be hospitalised. On my second morning in a locked ward, I stepped into the shower with a glass of moisturiser and dropped it on the floor. Then I felt the left side of my neck for the strong pulse of the artery and pulled a large piece of broken glass firmly across it.’

 The scar that resulted from this savage act of absolute despair served as a constant reminder to Cregan that she was ‘not well’, whilst simultaneously provoking the painful question, ‘what happened to you?’ In her personal attempt to answer this question, Cregan accentuates her multifaceted account of the illness with continuous references to works of art and mythology. From The Odyssey to The American Psychiatric Association, Cregan’s book contains as many references to works of literature and art as to medical studies. This only strengthens her argument that depression is an illness that has forever inflicted itself upon mortal mentality. To this day we struggle to understand its complexities.

Throughout the book, Cregan observes the fading stigma that surrounds mental illness since the days of straight-jackets and shackles, and in doing so she introduces ingrained ideas about normality. The concept of ‘being normal’ is a source of conflict in the life of those battling against mental illness. It pressures patients to strive to meet a version of life that is far beyond their grasp. Cregan wrestles with the fact that her depression was not a thing that could be cured, rather it is an inherent part of her psyche and self which needs to be managed and medicated, a hard pill to swallow. For Cregan, her prescribed recovery took the form of ECT, heavy medication and psychotherapy.

In our world full of pharmaceutical promise, The Scar is an important book about a condition described as “the common cold of mental illness.” Using the lens of history, literature and culture at large, Cregan highlights the complexity of depression and shows the profoundly scarring effects it can have upon a life. Through her extensive analysis, Cregan considerably demystifies melancholia and depression and offers hope to those who are struggling to come to terms with what is happening to them. The Scar provided a fascinating glimpse into how the mind works, and how, most interestingly, it can begin to work against itself.

Words: Ciara Haley


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