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  • Writer's pictureBryan Miller

The Onset of a Depression that Almost Took Everything

Updated: Apr 23


For those grappling with depressive illness, life is largely about showing up. Social interactions can be exquisitely painful, and much of one’s time is taken up contriving ways to avoid them. Depression gives no quarter. It tracks you everywhere, ever tightening the vise of its own intensity. One of the most trying challenges for anyone afflicted with serious depression or anxiety is coping in the workplace.

For ten years as the New York Times restaurant critic, my life was consumed by high-profile work and endless socializing. I would review restaurants five to six nights a week in the company of one or two other couples, and two to three times at lunch and dozens of celebrities. I would report food stories; co-write weekly recipe columns and kitchen equipment columns; pen magazine features; represent the paper as a public speaker, and produce daily radio spots and weekly TV appearances. I’m surprised they didn’t draft me as an auxiliary truck driver.


 

I will be discussing my experience with workplace depression and my book, "Dining in the Dark" on new show launched by Dawn Helmrich and Neil Parekh, “Shining Light on Shadows: A Candid Conversation About Mental Health.” We’ll be live Thursday, March 28 at 7pm ET / 6pm CT on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and Neil’s website. If you can’t watch the show live, you can always watch it later, on the same links, at your convenience.

 

The following account, based on my recent memoir, “Dining in the Dark: A Famed Restaurant Critic's Struggle with and Triumph over Depression,” recounts that first horrific morning at paper.

The morning I tumbled into the jaws of mental illness, in November of 1983, was ordinary in every way. As was my routine, I arose early to peruse the newspapers before commencing the work day (At the time I was a 30-year-old freelancing for The New York Times.) I wedged into my tiny office, which was the size of a rich man’s shoe closet, and settled onto a swivel chair that lacked space to swivel. Upon scanning the front page of the newspaper it was evident that something was awry. I found myself reading the same paragraph over and over. Everything was slow and opaque, like awakening after anesthesia. It could be a hangover. Anne, my French girlfriend (and later wife) and I had consumed a bottle of wine with dinner the previous evening, which was not uncommon in our household. Attributing my condition to fatigue to - I had been working long hours that week - I returned to bed. An hour later, with Anne rattling around in the kitchen, I padded into the office. It was worse. I was trapped in a gauzy mental haze. It was as if a mischievous visitor had turned down the light dimmer in my brain. Reading was possible but slow and soon forgotten; writing was out of the question. My heart began pounding. For the remainder of the day the light dimmer remained at low. Unable to work, I passed the time with mindless tasks - organizing files, polishing copper pans, running errands - with the expectation of doubling down the following day. On Friday I remained in bed until eight, a rarity, while Anne started her day, recumbent on the futon - we could not afford a proper bed at the time, I had the premonitory feeling that the day would not embrace me with a smile. Happily, for the first five minutes, my mind was as clear as a winter’s dawn, and I attempted to discount the previous day’s drama. Perhaps it was an allergic reaction to that particular wine, or something I ate? I arose with a bounce in my step and heightened appreciation for the normal. Little did I suspect that worse was to come, and that it would be worse than anything I had ever imagined.



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