Undercurrents: A Therapist's Reckoning with Depression / Edition 1

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This is the memoir of an ordinary woman—a mother, a daughter, a psychologist, a wife—who tells the tale of her spiraling descent into a severe, debilitating depression. Undercurrents pioneers a new literature about women and depression that offers a vision of action instead of victimhood, hope instead of despair.

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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
A brilliant combination of wit, irony, and despair....Undercurrents is absolutely as good as it gets.
Washington Post
A moving and engaging journal....I found myself laughing out loud.
Philadelphia Inquirer
Humor, candor, and a respect for the power of image and metaphor to heal.
USA Today
An absolutely absorbing read.
New York Times Book Review
A convincing testament to the inexorable cruelty of depression and a frightening reminder of its unprejudiced choice of victims.
Dallas Morning News
Full of unexpected delights...honest, hilarious, full of hope.
From Barnes & Noble
The compelling journal of a psychotherapist chronicles her struggle with life-threatening depression & her hopes for recovery through a controversial treatment: electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062511843
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/28/1995
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 514,158
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.47 (d)

Meet the Author

Martha Manning, Ph.D., is a writer, clinical psychologist, and former professor of psychology at George Mason University. She is the author of Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface; Chasing Grace: Reflections of a Catholic Girl, Grown Up; and All Seasons Pass: Grieving Miscarriage. Manning has been recognized by the National Institutes of Mental Health for her work in education and advocacy and was awarded the American Psychiatric Association 1996 Presidential Award for Patient Advocacy. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post, Ladies' Home Journal, and New Woman. She has been featured on Dateline NBC, Good Morning America, C-SPAN, The Early Show, NPR's "Voice of America," and other radio and television programs.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perffect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen, "Anthem"

January 5, 1990

My nine-year-old patient Stephanie and I sit on the floor of my office playing Sorry. Sorry is one of those wonderful games that is easy even for young children to master, but often difficult for the most mature of adults to tolerate. You can be so close to Home, and be bumped so precipitously by your opponent all the way back to Start. Positions shift quickly. The sure winner loses and the loser triumphs.

Stephanie whoops loudly as she beats me for the third time. Each time she bumps one of my pieces back to Start, she croons "Sooorrryyy" with considerably more delight than remorse. I glance at the clock and let her know that we are close to being out of time. We pack up the box and she places it back on the shelf. I stand up. Without warning, my slip drops to the floor and lands on my shoes. We both stare at it, stunned. I stammer, "Oh my goodness!"

Stephanie, a rather solemn child, is seized with paroxysms of laughter, which become contagious. I step out of my slip and stuff it into my briefcase. Stephanie tries to catch her breath and exclaims, "My perfect Dr. Manning is coming apart!"

She bursts into the crowded waiting room and graphically describes the scene to her parents. It is clear that the entire waiting room enjoys this story. I can see them smiling and smirking behind their Ladies Home Journals and National Geographics. My friend Ed passes me in the hall between our offices and asks casually, "Thatwouldn't be your Freudian slip, would it?"

January 8, 1990

My desk is littered with too many things that are getting too little attention. Papers wait passively in the "to do" pile. They've been there so long they are beginning to discolor. Four Diet Coke bottles sit half-filled with warm flat brown liquid. A crusty coffee cup holds the remnants of old candy bars, abandoned midway in fits of guilt. The phone bill is two months overdue and three Medicare forms are screaming for attention. I've been so busy lately, I've started a "to read" pile for the mail I have yet to open. Each evening I leave the office with the magical thought that the night will bring order to the chaos and transform it all by morning. But that is like shoving the box of aluminum foil back into the haphazardly organized closet and closing the door quickly, before it can slide back out. I always hope that time will somehow settle the contents of the closet, and I'm always surprised the next time I open the door when the package slides right back out and smacks me in the head.

I picture a woman who has it all together. She processes things completely the first time they cross her desk. She is up-to-date with bills, Pap smears, and teeth cleanings. She knows that her children's drawers are filled with clean, folded clothes. She knows what her family will be having for dinner three days in advance. She is complete. Able to go to sleep each night without the weight of any old business on the agenda. Everything on her list is crossed off. I hate her.

January 9, 1990

I am on a blitz. A week ago I heard about the National Institutes of Health offering grants for beginning researchers. Since then, it has been constant and frenetic activity: liaison with the grants office, designing the study, estimating budgets, getting endorsements, consultations, statistical input. I'm on my second day of no sleep and I actually feel great. I'm running on fumes with the nutritional support of Diet Coke, coffee, and Hostess powdered-sugar doughnuts. In the middle of the night, hunched over my computer, with the rest of the house dark and quiet, I feel a certain moral superiority to the sleeping world. Even with all this effort, I'm not sure the proposal will be finished by the deadline. But my foot is on the accelerator and I plan to push it to the floor. That's never failed me yet.

January 12,1990

The grant proposal gets in, with three minutes to spare before the 5:00 P.m. deadline. The department chair dispatches a lab assistant to hand-deliver it to NIH. As we madly collate and staple, I notice a typo and almost start to cry. But it is too late for changes. I whip off a cover letter, pack the damn thing, and send the lab assistant on his mission, encouraging him to consider all speed limits and stoplights as suggested guidelines rather than rigid driving rules. He promises to call me the minute the package is stamped "Received."

For the next hour I put in my time as academic adviser to the parade of students outside my office. I jump when the phone rings. The lab assistant tells me he got it in just under the wire. I thank him profusely and promise that I will never push a proposal to the limit like that again. Before the words fully leave my mouth, I'm aware that I am lying.

January 14,1990

There is something about flying through time, as I have over the past week, that makes me think that I am exempted from the laws of gravity. But the way I feel today lets me know that I'm not. I have done another of the crash-and-burns that are the price for my blitzes. I am grounded, heavy, and slow. I have overdosed on effort, and the hangover is horrible. I guess this is what I get for flying too close to the sun. Unfortunately, I never remember this part when I am aloft.

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 24, 2008

    Undercurrents provides hope

    For anyone who has ever struggled with depression, of any severity, this book will give you pause. She writes so clearly and vividly of the pain of the illness, which is only compounded by the fact that she herself is a psychotherapist.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2006

    A glimpse of a Life Beneath the Surface

    As a person who has dealt with mental health issues all my life, and is still trying to conquer my problems, I highly recommend this novel to everyone. Manning¿s book is simple and informative for those who want to understand depression. For those who experience such sad and tough moments, it is uplifting to read her story and know that she made it out of such pain and despair. Her description of her thoughts and feelings are dead on. Moving and funny, this novel can help those who don¿t understand the lows that someone with depression (or even bi-polar or borderline personality) may experience. If everyone read this book, behavioral health complications would not seem so scary to those who do not suffer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2005

    An amazing journey described brilliantly that I too have taken!

    I thought I was indestructable, but at age 46 I suddenly 'shut down' with clinical depression. After 4 months on Prozac I feel wonderful again...this book makes you realise that IT CAN HAPPEN to anyone & Martha Manning's professional insight is refreshing & incredibly helpful. There is light at the end of the long dark tunnel & the huge depression 'bubble' that traps you from the outside world can be burst!!!!The book makes you realise you can still have bad days but SLEEP & APPETITE do indeed return....just hang on in there!Martha makes you feel 'normal' & makes depression acceptable!!Well done !

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2003

    Surprisingly humorous and very engaging

    I can relate especially well with Martha's depression because of its similarity to my own depression. It was disturbing to find that Martha had to resort to ECT to treat herself, but at least it worked. Overall, the book is very well-written and keeps the reader's attention throughout. It's a reminder of how a positive attitude can help one ride out the storm during the treatment of severe depression. Even though I'm giving it five stars, I don't think it's quite as good as my favorite mental illness memoirs: 'An Unquiet Mind' and 'Girl, Interrupted'. Nonetheless, I recommend it highly.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2001

    Honest and Fascinating

    This was a very open and honest accounting of the story of Martha Manning. She left little out and I learned much from her book. Her style was surprisingly optimistic; I appreciated that.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2000

    Read this book to understand depression better!

    As another counselor who is also a clergyman and a depression sufferer, I identified closely with much of what Manning had to say. Fortunately, I have not undergone ECT, but anyone who wishes to better understand their own or someone else's depression will be well informed by this book. It is easy reading, and if I had any criticism of the work, I would suggest that perhaps it moves a little too quickly to adequately convey the way time drags for the depressed. I recommend it highly, and I congratulate Manning for her courage in sharing it with all of us.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 29, 2000

    Manning's Undercurrents A Must Read

    As a person who has battled depression, reading Undercurrents by therapist Martha Manning was, at times, like reading my own journal. Manning accurately describes the pain and isolation that go hand and hand with manic depression. Her tale is tragic, but what she learns and shares with us is worthwhile. I highly recommend this short book to everyone. It should give you a better understanding of the dark cavern that is depression.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2008

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    Posted July 23, 2010

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