Bethanne Patrick, LIFE B: Overcoming Double Depression: A Memoir

Bethanne Patrick, LIFE B: Overcoming Double Depression: A Memoir

Zibby speaks to writer and book critic Bethanne Patrick about her brave, clear-eyed, and honest new memoir Life B: Overcoming Double Depression. Bethanne describes her life-long struggle with double depression and the life-changing treatment that has finally allowed her to feel joy. She also discusses the power of books as empathy-builders and then reveals how she slowly built a career around them. (She’s @TheBookMaven on Twitter and has over 200K followers!) She finishes off with her best advice for aspiring writers.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Bethanne. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Life B: Overcoming Double Depression.

Bethanne Patrick: I am really happy to be here, Zibby. Thank you so much.

Zibby: It’s funny to say happy to be here when we’re talking about depression. It’s sort of ironic.

Bethanne: That is true. I know you have a galley. I have a finished book to show you.

Zibby: Beautiful. It looks great.

Bethanne: Thank you. Very exciting for me, my first all-creative book all by me. I know you know this feeling. It hasn’t been that long for you, has it?

Zibby: Since my book came out?

Bethanne: Yes.

Zibby: Last July, almost a year.

Bethanne: Last July. We’re both debut this year, debut authors. It’s very exciting.

Zibby: It is exciting. Congratulations to you. This is a very — all memoirs, I guess, are open, but this is really just putting it all out there. You’re such a big deal in the literary industry. Seriously. You’re influencer, critic. I don’t even know how to say it, just so influential in all of the different parts of the business where you’re involved. To then come out and share the most deep, painful parts of you to everybody who you know will be reading with avid interest — I didn’t like when people said to me that it was brave or bold because it felt like something I just had to do. It didn’t feel brave or bold. How do you feel about the whole thing?

Bethanne: That’s exactly it. It’s so wonderful to speak to someone else who has written this kind of book, who understands the “have to” part of it. I did not expect to write this memoir. I did not expect to have to tell people about my family history, my family dynamics, my mental illness, all of the things that go into that, but that is what I needed to write about in order to write about anything else, in order to keep going, and to grow as a writer. I’m really glad that I wrote it. I do know that for some people, it will be difficult to read. For other people, it is something that is really illuminating, it seems. I don’t mean illuminating about me. Oh, wow, look at this brave influencer. No. I mean it’s illuminating in terms of, they think, gosh, someone can be so high-functioning and doing a lot and still be having a tough time. It’s okay to talk about the tough time that I’m having.

Zibby: Yes, and so important. I know, I’m sort of over the whole “let’s pretend we’re all perfect” façade. Come on. We don’t have time for this anymore.

Bethanne: Moms don’t have time to hide our problems.

Zibby: It’s just, as soon as you strip back one layer, it’s like taking off the back of a band aid. It’ll stick as soon as you take that layer off. That’s all we’re trying to do, is get people connected and sticking by those shared feelings and all of that.

Bethanne: That is so true.

Zibby: Thank you. I liked that analogy, actually. Tell listeners about your story. You start this book where you’re struggling with your husband whether or not to go back into inpatient treatment. That’s another thing that people can relate to, I’m sure, is when you have your own struggles, how to make people on the outside really understand, take it seriously, know what to do, how to advocate for yourself when your brain is the one that’s getting in the way, and all of that. Just take us through your story and when you started confronting mental illness and depression and finding out double depression and the whole journey if you don’t mind.

Bethanne: Not at all. I think that’s a great thing to say, when I started confronting it. Here’s the thing. I’ve said this in the essay that sort of started this book. I realized I had depression probably in college. I started getting treated for it when I was in my early twenties in grad school. Even though I was taking my antidepressants and going to therapy and doing what I thought you were supposed to do, I didn’t really know that I had double depression. I just knew there was something off. There was something that didn’t sit correctly. It took decades for me to find that answer. I didn’t find that answer until I had had a period of real stability and joy in my early fifties. This was a few years back. I thought, oh, okay, this is what life can be like. Then the next time depression hit, I said to my doctor, “I’m done with this. There is something we need to work on. I don’t know if it’s psychological. I don’t know if it’s biological, but we’ve got to get to the bottom of this.”

That is where this book took off from. Even though I talk about my childhood and my coming-of-age and my early years of marriage and motherhood, it’s really about that moment where you say — you could say this at any time in your life, but for many of us, it’s in middle age. There has to be something better. The great thing about life B — the title, Zibby, I just want to say — we don’t have to talk about it. Just so readers know, it isn’t about, life A was the bad part, and life B is the good part. You know from reading it there’s something else going on. Anyway, life B is about a life where you have confronted a problem and really said, okay, what do I do next? How does life go from here? Double depression, just to quickly tell people about that, is a form of cycling depression where you always experience what we know as depression, dysthymia, chronic long-lasting depression. With double depression, that is combined with periods of major depressive episodes, clinical depression. You’re always depressed, a little bit depressed or a lot depressed.

Zibby: I’m so sorry. It stinks. That’s such a rotten thing to get from the grab bag of life.

Bethanne: It is. They often diagnose it — when someone has treatment-resistant depression, they diagnose them with double depression if they know they have a first-degree family member with bipolar syndrome. My sister has bipolar syndrome. That is what helped my very, very good psychiatrist to say, “Let’s see if you respond to this kind of treatment.” It was amazing. I have lived the last several years of my life the way many people live all the time because now I know what it’s like to be intentional and to experience — I had joy. I’ve been married. I’m still married to the same man. We have two beautiful daughters. When they were born, those were moments of joy. It’s not like it didn’t break through sometimes. Now I know much more about contentment and joy than I ever did. It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. It just shifts your whole perspective. It has to. What’s important? What really does make you happy?

Bethanne: Books still make me happy. That’s the funny thing. I didn’t want to write a book about reading saving me because that’s not what happened. I’m glad that I have reading and that I had reading, but that wasn’t what worked on this. However, it’s not as if I came out on the other side a wholly different person. I still have my personality, my temperament. It’s about curing an illness, not curing your character. I’m the same Bethanne I ever was. I’m the same Book Maven I ever was. Reading, for me, as for you — it’s so funny. It’s not that I want to say we’re both such influencers and such power people. What we are are passionate people, Zibby, you and I. I think that is the thing that has made us both get on these paths and continue them and just continue to share the love of reading and books with other people. I’m able to do that in so much more of a focused and happy way. That really, really makes me joyful.

Zibby: I think there is part of having experienced these huge highs and lows where you’re very aware and eager to connect to other stories and other emotions. It’s this enhanced sensitivity. Maybe they don’t always go hand in hand, but I do think there’s something to just being in a place and coming out of it where you kind of want to see other people do that or something.

Bethanne: In fact, I just said this the other day on another podcast. It’s not my words, so I don’t feel bad repeating them. I think it was Robin Williams who said that people who are very funny are often people who have experienced great depression. Anyone who has gone through tragedy, as you have, and loss, grief, depression, all of those things, we don’t want other people to feel them. I think it’s the same thing with people and literature as it is with comedy. We understand from our deep, deep reading, a great deal about sensitivity and empathy. This is scientifically proven, Zibby. We are scientific experiments. The more you read fiction, the more compassion you have because it is such a builder of consciousness. You go into all these different worlds and headspaces and characters and stories. How can you ever say that mine is the only world that matters? Not after you’ve read some of the books we have.

Zibby: It’s true. I feel like I’ve been reading a lot of books lately where people’s life savings are wiped out by some sort of institutional thing, in Vietnam, like in Dust Child, or in The Dream Builders in India where they had all — I haven’t had my life savings wiped away suddenly. Not to say that I would ever. I just feel like I’ve been through it because I’ve read it and I can feel it and know all those anxieties. It’s not something I’ve been through, but now my empathy is even a bazillion times higher than it could’ve been. Maybe that’s a bad example.

Bethanne: First of all, I want to say thank you for giving a shout-out to Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s Dust Child because it is one of my favorite books of the year.

Zibby: It’s so good.

Bethanne: Oh, my gosh. What an incredible — The Mountains Sing was her debut here in the United States. Dust Child is so, so good. I think that having everything wiped out — I’m teaching right now in American University’s creative writing program. One of the things I talked to my students about with creative nonfiction is a memoir called Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. I don’t know if you read it. Deraniyagala, who was an economics professor, lost her sons, her husband, and her parents in the tsunami.

Zibby: Oh, in the tsunami. Yes, I do know this book. I haven’t read it.

Bethanne: When you get time, when we get time. It is a book about loss beyond loss. She does talk about the tsunami a little bit, but it’s really a book about grief. I said, this is the kind of book that can teach you what I hope you never go through. That’s the thing. We all hope. I hope no one else ever has to worry about double depression. I know you hope no one else has to worry about 9/11 happening again. Now we can give those experiences to people, as meaningful as they are to us, so that they can understand and move on in their lives, privileged or not, with this new empathy for a different kind of experience.

Zibby: Yes, a hundred percent. Double depression, how can you not be analyzing the impact of feelings? If you haven’t had depression, you don’t know that there’s an alternative to just going through life — you can feel sad, but it’s impossible — even something like, one time, I broke my foot, and the next thing you know, you’re thinking, look at all these people walking. When you’re walking, you don’t necessarily think about the fact that you can walk without crutches. It’s the same thing. All of a sudden, you’re analyzing and being super hyperaware of everybody else’s feelings when you know that your feelings are being impacted.

Bethanne: I love that. Zibby with the metaphors today being so great. We were both in Los Angeles for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and also at Zibby’s Bookshop in Santa Monia, which was very cool. I saw an author Sunday, an author that I know and love. The author had a lower limb injury, a leg injury. We were talking about it because I’ve had an ankle fracture in the past. I was thinking, oh, my goodness. I notice these things for exactly the reason you do, because I’ve been through it. It did get me thinking on this little train. When you are hoping to be pregnant or you are pregnant, you notice every pregnant person.

Zibby: Yes.

Bethanne: You know.

Zibby: I know. Totally. It’s like we have different lasers. I’ll stop with the .

Bethanne: No, that’s so funny. It is true. The other thing I want to say about depression, let alone double depression, is that one of the things I disliked about it and knew when I was in it was that it made me so self-centered. I think I talk about this in the book. When you’re depressed, you almost have to be a narcissist because you’re trying to save yourself, especially when, like with me, you have suicidal ideation or you have suicide attempts. You’re always thinking about either how to disappear or how to stay right where you are. No wonder you become kind of boring in depression. That is not to say every second I was around someone I was, necessarily, boring. When you’re talking about the depression, as you said a few minutes ago, it’s very difficult to communicate the state to people. I think one of the reasons it’s difficult to communicate is that all you can say is, me, me, me. I really dislike that aspect. My psychiatrist and my psychologist say I’m not a narcissist. I don’t want to claim that for myself. I do want to say I’m not a person who is always self-centered. I have a family. I have a lot of friends. Like you, I have people I want to communicate with. That’s what interests me in this life. It was very difficult to be in a place where I was kind of all Bethanne all the time. I’m so glad to have found a way out. I do believe now that I’m going to spend a lot of time talking to other people about, keep going. No, you don’t necessarily have double depression, I’m going to say to a person. Whatever it is that is holding you back, you can find a way through this. You can find a way to your purpose and, I know I keep saying joy, but it’s true.

Zibby: It’s also this whole self-advocacy for the right diagnosis. You could’ve missed it. You could’ve been like, okay, it’s just regular depression. I’m just not going to get better. If you don’t stop trying, you’ll never get to the bottom of it.

Bethanne: I just thought of something that — talk about my own metaphor.

Zibby: Your turn. Metaphors today.

Bethanne: I know people who have skipped screenings of various kinds for annual cancer screenings and wound up at higher levels of entry into the cancer universe than they would’ve expected. It’s not always a person’s fault for skipping. It can also be a diagnostician’s fault for getting things wrong. That is kind of what it was like for me. All those other people that I had, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors of various kinds, they don’t get it either. I am never blaming them. Never. Nor am I ever blaming my parents for not seeing that I was so depressed because you wind up, in our society, hiding it. I was very good at hiding it. We were talking earlier about the people in our professional world. I would make sure that — I wasn’t always successful. Let me actually underline that. I wasn’t always successful, but many times, I was. Many times, I could put on a game face and stiffen my spine and just say, okay, I’m going to be in it right now, and then go home and collapse into, a lot of times, tears, sometimes just complete numbness and despair. It’s not that people who are taking care of you or who care about you are letting you down. You have to also say, I need to advocate, as you also said. You need to say, I’m going to go in for the screening. I’m going to make sure every year, I ask all these questions. I think I probably got a little — I took it for granted. I got a little lazy about it. I thought, well, I’m showing up for therapy. I’m taking my little capsules. Instead of saying, let’s talk about this. Can I push a little bit more? Can you ask me harder questions? The self-advocacy is an extremely important part of life B, absolutely.

Zibby: Bethanne, can you just explain to listeners who don’t know, the breadth of your involvement and how you got to where you are professionally. Seriously, because it’s really impressive and amazing. I’m so inspired by you and your success and all of that. Talk about getting into this industry. How did you know what you wanted to do? All of that.

Bethanne: Thank you. You’re really, really kind and generous, Zibby. I will say that my path is not one anyone else could follow because it’s a little circumstance driven. I won’t say it’s odd, but it definitely — as some of our colleagues know and maybe some of your listeners know, I fell deeply in love in college with my boyfriend. I was at the apex of feminism in the United States. I was at Smith College. I fell in love. Instead of falling in love with someone either at an Ivy League school or whatever, I fell in love with a West Point cadet. I became a military spouse right after we graduated. I had planned to go into publishing. I had a job set up at St. Martin’s Press. I was going to be living in Manhattan with five roommates, as we do when we’re young, and going to my job. I was really excited about it. My husband was assigned to Berlin, which was West Berlin at the time. I’m old. I don’t mind mentioning it because it was so amazing. We were there until just before the wall came down, so it was an amazing time. Clearly, I wasn’t in publishing, but I still wanted to be in something books adjacent. I got a master’s degree in English literature. I wanted to go on for a doctorate. Of course, what happened? I got pregnant. I had two children. We were moving around a lot. I thought, I still want to go into publishing. How am I going to do this?

I started writing book reviews. Then I got a job at a magazine about books. Then I got a job at a big tech company as the books editors, and then, and then, and then. On from there, I’ve done a lot of different jobs. I’ve never been in-house at a publisher, except for a short stint at National Geographic Books. I decided that I was going to, by hook or by crook, become a book reviewer and critic. I really focused on that. I talk about this in something that’ll probably come out around my book launch. I thought, you know, some of that early stuff might not be that great, but now I can really stand behind my work. It’s been a work in progress. What I do now, just to wrap that all up for your listeners, is I am a reviewer for the LA Times, frequent reviewer. I review for NPR Books. Who else am I reviewing for these days? I can’t even remember right off the top of my head. Oh, Virtuoso Life magazine. I do work with Poet & Writers magazine, other places. I also have a book and a book that I’m working on in proposal. I have a podcast called “Missing Pages” about the publishing industry. We’re producing season two right now. That has been really exciting. I’m going to brag on my team and The Podglomerate for a second, Zibby, if it’s okay.

Zibby: Brag. Go for it.

Bethanne: We just got an honorable Arts and Culture mention in the Webby Awards.


Bethanne: Thank you. It was very, very exciting because we were one of, I believe, three or four honorees. Then the finalists were BBC, NPR, Sirius. I can’t remember the fourth one. I thought, oh, my goodness, we are really playing in the big leagues. It’s because of The Podglomerate that this has all come about. I’m delighted with that. I also just recorded the audiobook for Audible of Life B. That was an amazing experience. I’m hoping, between podcasting and audiobooks, to do more of that kind of work because I really, really love it. I will never stop advocating for books on social media as The Book Maven. I will never stop writing about books. I will continue to also, I hope, lift up other people in publishing, like Zibby Books and Zibby Media and everyone else we know who are doing such great things to keep giving readers what they’re looking for, keep giving them exciting new ways of finding these stories that you and I are so passionate about.

Zibby: That’s amazing. It’s so awesome. Wait, what is the new proposal about? What’s your new book about?

Bethanne: ADHD.

Zibby: Oh, wow.

Bethanne: We’ll see. We’ll see if I can pay attention long enough to — .

Zibby: Look at us, making ADHD jokes.

Bethanne: Moms don’t have time to deal with this, Zibby.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. If you could give an aspiring author, or actually, a real author since you read so many books and review them and everything — what’s something that is just the most important thing that you think somebody should know or should do or something that makes a great book?

Bethanne: I’ve just finished something about this, so I’m not going to give too much away. I will say after listening to a lot of friends at the Los Angeles Times festival that the thing to do is to finish your story. Do not show it to other people too early or too often. You need to finish your story, your manuscript before you get lots of other eyeballs on it. Even if you’re in a writers’ group or a critique situation, just be very protective of your idea and yourself.

Zibby: That’s smart. Bad feedback early can really throw you off. Very true.

Bethanne: Exactly.

Zibby: Bethanne, I hate to say what a fun podcast we had about double depression, but —

Bethanne: — But we did.

Zibby: But we did. Thank you for coming on. Thank you, honestly, joking aside, for being so open and letting people in, like me, the reader, and all the people you don’t know and you do know and just putting yourself out there because all it does is help other people, as we all know. It’s inspiring. Your whole story is inspiring. Even the writing about it was just really moving. Thank you.

Bethanne: Thank you, Zibby. So great to be here. It was a lot of fun talking about depression.

Zibby: Who knew? Have a great day, Bethanne.

Bethanne: Thank you. You too.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Bethanne: Bye.

Bethanne Patrick, LIFE B: Overcoming Double Depression: A Memoir

LIFE B: Overcoming Double Depression: A Memoir by Bethanne Patrick

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