SHORTLISTED FOR THE HILARY WESTON WRITERS' TRUST PRIZE FOR NONFICTION
Award-winning journalist Anna Mehler Paperny's stunning memoir chronicles with courageous honesty and uncommon eloquence her experience of depression and her quest to explore what we know and don't know about this disease that afflicts almost a fifth of the population--providing an invaluable guide to a system struggling to find solutions. As fascinating as it is heartrending, as outrageously funny as it is serious, it is a must-read for anyone impacted by depression--and that's pretty much everybody.
Depression is a havoc-wreaking illness that masquerades as personal failing and hijacks your life. After a major suicide attempt in her early twenties, Anna Mehler Paperny resolved to put her reporter's skills to use to get to know her enemy, setting off on a journey to understand her condition, the dizzying array of medical treatments on offer and a medical profession in search of answers. Charting the way depression wrecks so many, she maps competing schools of therapy, pharmacology, cutting-edge medicine, the pill-popping pitfalls of long-term treatment, the glaring unknowns and the institutional shortcomings that both patients and practitioners are up against. She interviews leading medical experts across Canada and the US, from psychiatrists to neurologists, brain-mapping pioneers to family practitioners, and others dabbling in strange hypotheses--and shares compassionate conversations with fellow sufferers.
Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me tracks Anna's quest for knowledge and her desire to get well. Impeccably reported, it is a profoundly compelling story about the human spirit and the myriad ways we treat (and fail to treat) the disease that accounts for more years swallowed up by disability than any other in the world.
About the author
- Short-listed, Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize
ANNA MEHLER PAPERNY is an award-winning reporter for Reuters based in Toronto. Over a decade she's chased down stories ranging from the opioid crisis to migration, from post-quake Haiti to Guantanamo Bay. She's written for the Kingston Whig-Standard, the Edmonton Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle, Maclean's Magazine; as a staff reporter at The Globe and Mail; and a reporter-editor for Global News, where she developed globalnews.ca's award-winning Investigative Data Desk. Her work on deaths in Canadian prisons won an investigative journalism award. At Queen's University, she spent most of her time working on the campus newspaper.
Excerpt: Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me: Depression in the First Person (by (author) Anna Mehler Paperny)
How do you talk about trying to die? Haltingly, urgently: in messages and calls to friends. Abashedly: you stand in the middle of a hospital hallway on a parent’s cell phone as your grandfather bellows, “No more stupid tricks!” Gingerly: you stand in your psych ward at the patients’ landline, conscious of fellow patients watching TV just behind you, white corkscrew cord curled around your finger as you murmur to your grandmother who understands better than she should. Who is the first to tell you, as you lean against the orange-tinted counter with its row of cupboards for confiscated belongings below the sink, that you have to write all this down. And even though you put it off for months, agonize for years, you know she’s right.
Quietly, desperately: in one medical appointment after another. Trepidatiously: to colleagues. Searchingly: in interviews. Increasingly loudly. In a book? With the world?
A disorder hijacks your life and becomes an obsession. Know thine enemy. Chart in minute detail the way it wrecks you and seek out every aliquot of information out there. Butt up against the constricting limits of human understanding, smash yourself against that wall and seek instead to map the contours of collective ignorance. Know the unknowns of thine enemy, learn them by heart. Because even if you never best it, never loosen its grip on your existence, at least your best attempt at understanding will give you some semblance of agency.
No one wants this crap illness that masquerades as personal failing. I had no desire to plumb its depths. The struggle to function leaves me little capacity to do so. But in the end I had no choice. I approached this enemy I barely believed in the only way I knew how: as a reporter. I took a topic about which I knew nothing and sought somehow to know everything. I talked to people in search of answers and mostly found more questions.
Personal experience has made me more invested in addressing the gross inequities depression exacerbates, in hammering home the human, societal, economic costs. The depth of depression’s debilitation and our reprehensible failure to address it consume me because I’m there, spending days paralyzed and nights wracked because my meds aren’t good enough. But this isn’t some quixotic personal project that pertains to me and no one else. Depression affects everyone on the planet, directly or indirectly, in every possible sphere. Its very ubiquity robs it of sexiness but not urgency. I found this in every interview I did, in every article I read, in every attempt I made to sort out how the fuck this can be so bad and so badly unaddressed.
This book is also my way of exorcising endless guilt at having been so lucky—to have benefited from publicly funded inpatient and outpatient mental health care; to have maintained, for the most part, employment; to have had patches of insurance lighten the burden of paying for years of drugs. This shouldn’t be the purview of the privileged but it is. We fail the most marginalized at every level, then wonder why they worsen.
I don’t want to be the person writing this book. Don’t want to be chewed up by despair so unremitting the only conceivable response is to write it. But I am. I write this because I need both life vest and anchor, because I need both to scream and to arm myself in the dark. Maybe you need to scream, to arm yourself, too.
FINALIST FOR THE 2019 HILARY WESTON WRITERS’ TRUST PRIZE FOR NONFICTION
“As gripping a memoir as it is a commanding work of journalism. With a scope that ranges from intimate to panoramic, Anna Mehler Paperny expands outward from her own struggles with suicidal thoughts to explore the dizzying array of medical anti-depression treatments that are available around the world. Personable and passionate—and full of raucous, life-affirming humour—the book casts much-needed light on one of the most persistent and mystifying diseases of our time. This is an urgent read in societies such as ours, where, directly or otherwise, everyone’s life is increasingly affected by depression.” —2019 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction Jury (Ivan Coyote, Trevor Herriot, and Manjushree Thapa)
“This book documents [Paperny’s] effort to become acquainted with depression, for the sake of herself and others. She is a fine tour guide, with a reporter’s rigour, strong narrative skills and self-deprecating humour.” —Toronto Star
“Raw, frank and dark-humoured. It’s not a story of redemption or triumph. . . . But, in its unpretentiousness, the book is a must-read for those who want to understand what goes on in the heads of those who take their own lives each year . . . and the multiples more who, like the author, come perilously close. Ms. Mehler Paperny does a masterful job of delving into the complexities of living with depression, the challenges of getting the help you need and why it’s so difficult to prevent suicide.” —The Globe and Mail
"Well-researched, engaging, and highly readable . . . [Anna Mehler Paperny] demystifies depression and calls for 'compassionate, equitable [and] informed' care for what has become 'the most fatal psychiatric phenomenon we're up against.' An eye-opening and humane book treatment of a difficult subject." —Kirkus Reviews
“Using her own experience as a jumping off point, Paperny explores the world of psychiatric care from as many angles as she can. . . . Her skill as a journalist is evident both in the seamless ease with which she moves from one topic to another and in her ability to break down complex ideas into accessible and engaging prose. . . . Paperny’s study is a very compassionate, thorough, and fascinating one. It’s hard to imagine any group of people who wouldn’t benefit in some way from reading this book. Those who have been through the system will feel less alone in their experiences, and those who haven’t will gain necessary insight into what it’s like. Paperny ends not with the story of a triumphant recovery or a miraculous cure, but a call to arms: let’s fix this broken system. Her work will go a long way toward helping readers understand just how vital that need is.” —Quill and Quire
“In this courageous and honest book, Anna Mehler Paperny plumbs the depths of her own acute depression, and also investigates the cultural, social, and historical discourse around despair. She writes with a stunning fluency that belies the narrative’s underlying pain. This is an insightful and important book.” —Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon
“Anna Mehler Paperny illuminates the dark corners of suicide and depression with wit and tenacity. Both an extraordinary work of journalism and a poignant, harrowing (and occasionally funny) memoir. Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me is fearless and necessary.” —Don Gillmor, author of To the River: Losing My Brother
“This is such an important book. . . . Paperny writes with urgency and intensity because she’s tapping into an essential truth: everyone deserves dignified mental healthcare, but systemic injustices create huge discrepancies in how people are treated. I learned so much from this engaging, well-researched, courageous book. It belongs in the canon of ‘must-reads’ to understand mental health treatment today.” —Mark Lukach, author of My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward
“A remarkable book . . . I am just so impressed by Anna’s honesty and rigour, her courage, her thorough research, her insight, her wisdom and her sense of humour. I hugely admire what she has achieved. I am sure it will be a great help to many people, and I have come away with new understanding after reading her book.” —Dr. Irfan Dhalla, MD, MSc, Vice-President, Health Quality Ontario, St. Michael’s Hospital
“Compelling . . . This is a very good book. People coping with depression will find it supportive as well as entertaining (Anna has a great sense of humor). I also think it will help educate the public.” —Dr. Marcia Valenstein, MD, MSc, Psychiatrist, University of Michigan Hospitals, and Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System
“Anna’s the best journalist I know. Her story about the mental healthcare system as seen through her own experiences is an act of monumental bravery. This is a book that will save lives.” —Omar El Akkad, author of American War, on Twitter
“Clear-eyed without being dispassionate, this book has so much to offer even the most well-versed in mental health issues. Anna Mehler Paperny goes far deeper than the surface conversations we usually have about depression, giving us the unvarnished reality of what it means to live with the feeling you want to die. Brave and brilliantly researched, this powerful book is poised to create real change, and is an absolute must read for those who have had their lives touched by depression—which is everyone.” —Stacey May Fowles, author of Be Good and Baseball Life Advice