Beautifully designed book cover for The Scar by Mary Cregan

The Scar
A Personal History of Depression and Recovery

A graceful and penetrating memoir interweaving the author’s descent into depression with a medical and cultural history of this illness.

At the age of twenty-seven, married, living in New York, and working in book design, Mary Cregan gives birth to her first child, a daughter she names Anna. But it’s apparent that something is terribly wrong, and two days later, Anna dies—plunging Cregan into suicidal despair.

Decades later, sustained by her work, a second marriage, and a son, Cregan reflects on this pivotal experience and attempts to make sense of it. She weaves together literature and research with details from her own ordeal—and the still visible scar of her suicide attempt—while also considering her life as part of the larger history of our understanding of depression. In fearless, candid prose, Cregan examines her psychotherapy alongside early treatments of melancholia, weighs the benefits of shock treatment against its terrifying pop culture depictions, explores the controversy around antidepressants and how little we know about them—even as she acknowledges that the medication saved her life—and sifts through the history of the hospital where her recovery began.

Perceptive, intimate, and elegantly written, The Scar vividly depicts the pain and ongoing stigma of clinical depression, giving greater insight into its management and offering hope for those who are suffering.

READ THE PREFACE

AVAILABLE AT:     Amazon     Audible     Barnes & Noble     Bookculture     Google Play   

 

Praise for The Scar

“In her powerful debut memoir…Cregan writes lucidly of her illness and offers hope as well as valuable insights for those living with depression.”

— Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Disturbing, powerful, revelatory.”

— Booklist, starred review

“Cregan’s debut stands out for its personal and profound insights into a subject that can be difficult to grasp.”

— Library Journal, starred review

The Scar is a compulsively readable account of one woman’s descent into suicidal despair in the wake of the death of her two-day-old daughter. Written matter-of-factly, without recourse to melodrama or a facile assigning of blame, Mary Cregan explores the roots of her own depression and hospitalization with a candor that is all the more effective because it is set against an informed historical overview of the treatment of mental illness….Cregan offers a story that is both singular and representative of all the sufferers who live with the horror of depression or melancholia…The Scar will make you think differently about this condition and its debilitating effects, bringing out into the light a disease that has all too often been shrouded in stigma and shame.”

Daphne Merkin, author of This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression

The Scar is a memoir unique in my experience: intensely personal, warmly and unflinchingly intimate, yet wide-ranging, informative, even scholarly—beautifully and persuasively written. Unlike any other memoir I have read touching upon psychological vulnerability and the risk of suicide, The Scar reaches beyond its immediate subject to provide a cultural and historical context for that most mysterious of afflictions, ‘depression’—or, in more Romantic terms, ‘melancholia’—making it particularly valuable at the present time.”

Joyce Carol Oates, author of A Widow’s Story

“In The Scar, Mary Cregan has set herself the challenge of describing her personal anguish while educating the reader about the history of the treatment of depression. With a rare combination of clear sightedness, a novelist’s sense of narrative presence and cultural texture, and an ability to synthesize and explain an enormous quantity of scientific data, Cregan makes an entirely original and invaluable contribution to the literature of this illness that has cast its mysterious shadow over so many lives.”

Mary Gordon, author of There Your Heart Lies

“This is a searingly honest and riveting book. In prose that is vivid and exact, Mary Cregan describes her experience of deep depression. With skill and serious research, she also charts changes in the way this illness has been treated by doctors. This is a book that will really matter to anyone who has been through the experiences of depression or who have witnessed the suffering. What makes the book stand out is the sheer clarity of the writing, the personal fragility and the wrestling with demons emerging here with a kind of grace, a hard-won heroism.”

Colm Tóibín, author of House of Names

“What makes this immensely helpful and beautifully written book so moving is the way the author keeps unpeeling one layer after another of her experience, with such exquisite patience and intelligence that it is impossible not to care or identify with her.”

Phillip Lopate, author of A Mother’s Tale

“A truly exceptional book. All those who know depression first-hand will surely recognize themselves in Mary Cregan’s account. This beautifully written and informative work will no doubt be critically important for those who read it.”

David Karp, author of Speaking of Sadness: Depression, Disconnection, and the Meanings of Illness

The Scar has had a more profound influence on me than any book I’ve read in years. In its humanity and resolve, its depth and precision, its scientific rigour and personal candour, this book is deeply moving, riveting and enlightening. Woven through the text are as many references to works of art as there are to medical studies, demonstrating art’s singular ability to convey experience—and The Scar accomplishes the same, as an artwork. This book is for everyone who has any interest in how the mind works, and how it can work against itself.

— Caoilinn Hughes, author of Orchid & The Wasp

Praise for The Scar

“In her powerful debut memoir…Cregan writes lucidly of her illness and offers hope as well as valuable insights for those living with depression.”

— Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Disturbing, powerful, revelatory.”  

— Booklist, starred review

“While there are quite a few memoirs on depression, Cregan’s debut stands out for its personal and profound insights into a subject that can be difficult to grasp.”  

— Library Journal, starred review

The Scar is a compulsively readable account of one woman’s descent into suicidal despair in the wake of the death of her two-day-old daughter. Written matter-of-factly, without recourse to melodrama or a facile assigning of blame, Mary Cregan explores the roots of her own depression and hospitalization with a candor that is all the more effective because it is set against an informed historical overview of the treatment of mental illness….Cregan offers a story that is both singular and representative of all the sufferers who live with the horror of depression or melancholia…The Scar will make you think differently about this condition and its debilitating effects, bringing out into the light a disease that has all too often been shrouded in stigma and shame.”

Daphne Merkin, author of This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression

The Scar is a memoir unique in my experience: intensely personal, warmly and unflinchingly intimate, yet wide-ranging, informative, even scholarly—beautifully and persuasively written. Unlike any other memoir I have read touching upon psychological vulnerability and the risk of suicide, The Scar reaches beyond its immediate subject to provide a cultural and historical context for that most mysterious of afflictions, ‘depression’—or, in more Romantic terms, ‘melancholia’—making it particularly valuable at the present time.”

Joyce Carol Oates, author of A Widow’s Story

“In The Scar, Mary Cregan has set herself the challenge of describing her personal anguish while educating the reader about the history of the treatment of depression. With a rare combination of clear sightedness, a novelist’s sense of narrative presence and cultural texture, and an ability to synthesize and explain an enormous quantity of scientific data, Cregan makes an entirely original and invaluable contribution to the literature of this illness that has cast its mysterious shadow over so many lives.”

Mary Gordon, author of There Your Heart Lies

“This is a searingly honest and riveting book. In prose that is vivid and exact, Mary Cregan describes her experience of deep depression. With skill and serious research, she also charts changes in the way this illness has been treated by doctors. This is a book that will really matter to anyone who has been through the experiences of depression or who have witnessed the suffering. What makes the book stand out is the sheer clarity of the writing, the personal fragility and the wrestling with demons emerging here with a kind of grace, a hard-won heroism.”

Colm Tóibín, author of House of Names

“What makes this immensely helpful and beautifully written book so moving is the way the author keeps unpeeling one layer after another of her experience, with such exquisite patience and intelligence that it is impossible not to care or identify with her.”

Phillip Lopate, author of A Mother’s Tale

“A truly exceptional book. All those who know depression first-hand will surely recognize themselves in Mary Cregan’s account. This beautifully written and informative work will no doubt be critically important for those who read it.”

David Karp, author of Speaking of Sadness: Depression, Disconnection, and the Meanings of Illness

The Scar has had a more profound influence on me than any book I’ve read in years. In its humanity and resolve, its depth and precision, its scientific rigour and personal candour, this book is deeply moving, riveting and enlightening. Woven through the text are as many references to works of art as there are to medical studies, demonstrating art’s singular ability to convey experience—and The Scar accomplishes the same, as an artwork. This book is for everyone who has any interest in how the mind works, and how it can work against itself.

— Caoilinn Hughes, author of Orchid & The Wasp

Events

Events

March 25th  |  12:00 PM

Radio Interview

All of It, WNYC radio
LISTEN HERE

March 28th  |  7:00 PM

Reading at Bookculture

April 6th  |  3:00 – 4:30 PM

Book talk at Harvard Club, Boston

April 8th  |  7:30 PM

Muldoon's Picnic

Irish Arts Center
LEARN MORE

May 1st  |  6:30 PM

Featured Book, IAC Book Club

Irish Arts Center

may 8th  |  11:00 am

The Center for Hope 2019 Annual Luncheon

May 20th  |  9:30 AM – 12:30 PM

Master Class: The Academy for Teachers

June 13th  |  7:00 PM

The Center for Fiction, Brooklyn

Changing Our Minds: Three Personal Perspectives
Jacki Lyden leads a panel of three writers—Mary Cregan, Amanda Stern, and Marin Sardy—in a discussion of the political, social, and financial challenges of mental illness and treatment in America.

September 10th  |  7:00 PM

Westport Library

20 Jesup Rd. Westport CT
Reading and discussion of The Scar and depression
Details to come

September 12th | 7:00 PM

Minneapolis - Basilica of Saint Mary

Mental Health Initiative / hosted by Trinity Episcopal Church and Basilica of St. Mary’s
Details to come

EVENTS IN IRELAND

11th April

Publication: Lilliput Press

9th June | 3:30 PM

12th June  |  6:00 PM

The Scar: Book launch with Anne Enright

21st July  |  1:30 – 2:30 PM

Galway International Arts Festival

How Has Mental Illness Been Treated over the Years?
With Catriona Crowe, Curator of First Thoughts

26th July

Talks at Google | Dublin

Details to come

Press

Press

Op-Ed, New York Times

Spring is the Season to Ask, ‘Are You Okay’?

Op-Ed, The Irish Times

Writing My Way through the Pain of My Daughter’s Birth and Death

Review, The Irish Times

The Scar: An intimate insider account of recovery from mental illness

Radio Interview / All of It with Alison Stewart / WNYC

All of It, WNYC radio

Radio Interview / Newstalk with Pat Kenny

Feature: Irish Independent

Totally Dublin

Dublin Review of Books

RTE Culture: Book Review

Image.ie

Psychology Today

Psych Central

READ HERE and HERE

About the Author

Mary Cregan is a lecturer in English literature at Barnard College in New York City. She holds an undergraduate degree from Middlebury College and a PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. Her work has been published in a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Irish Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Financial Times. The Scar is her first book.

Mary Cregan Author Photo for The Scar

About the Author
Mary Cregan is a lecturer in English literature at Barnard College in New York City. She holds an undergraduate degree from Middlebury College and a PhD  in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. Her work has been published in a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Irish Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Financial Times. The Scar is her first book.

Beautifully designed book cover for The Scar by Mary Cregan

Preface

Going through a box of old photographs recently, I came upon one taken long ago at a baby shower in a friend’s New York apartment. I’m seated at the center of the photograph, wearing a gray winter dress, my eight-month pregnancy mostly hidden behind the gift-box on my lap. I’m twenty-seven. A small stuffed bear sits at my feet beside its crumpled wrapping paper. My husband is to my left, looking relaxed, holding a beer, and several of our college friends are in the photo as well, drinking, eating, watching me open their presents. I’m holding up another gift I’ve just unwrapped: a newborn’s onesie in white, sprinkled with tiny bears outlined in pink and blue. Looking at this young woman many years later, I feel a rush of fear and pity for her, unprepared as she is for what will unfold a few weeks later when her baby dies.

Another photograph sits on the desk where I write. It was taken thirteen years later, after a divorce and remarriage, on a visit to Arizona in the springtime. In the background, out of focus, is a blur of mountain, aspen trees, and blue sky. In the foreground, in close-up, I’m hugging my rosy-cheeked nine-month-old son, his broad forehead and dark hair much like my own, his eyes lit up in a smile as his father snaps the picture. On a hike that day, I had let the baby down from his carrier to test his legs and watched him grasp the big round boulders along the side of the trail. The photograph was taken a moment later, just as I’ve lifted him up, and our faces reflect the pleasure of being outdoors in the sunshine. I keep this photograph on my desk because it radiates happiness and comfort: it reminds me of what I’ve been given, and how love for my husband and son continues to anchor and sustain me.

This book is about the difficult path I traveled between the moments captured in these two photographs. After the death of my infant daughter, I fell into a depression so severe and unrelenting that I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital where I nearly succeeded in taking my own life. Since then, I have never taken the fact of my existence for granted. Instead of living as I do now—teaching, writing, spending time with friends and family, taking pleasure in watching my son grow up—I might be nothing more than a fading memory in the minds of those who knew me as a woman who died young, in sad and desperate circumstances. I’m aware, as I remember that long-ago day of gift-giving, that my own life has been another kind of gift: a second chance. Even so, the depression that emerged so clearly at that time has never entirely left me. It is the trace of bad luck that lingers, amid so much good fortune that has come to me since.

Depression is far more widely acknowledged today than it was back then. The word “depression” is ubiquitous, and the disorder is too—though depression takes a variety of forms and diagnostic labels. In 2016, nearly 11 percent of Americans from eighteen to twenty-five experienced a major depressive episode (as did nine percent of adolescents from twelve to seventeen and 6.7 percent of the general adult population). The correlation between depression and suicide is striking: the risk is significantly higher for people with mood disorders, and highest among those who have been hospitalized.

When I was diagnosed with a major depressive episode in the wake of my first child’s death, I had no idea what the long-term implications of that diagnosis would be. I didn’t even grasp that I was facing a long-term situation. Nobody could tell me whether my depression was the result of an inherited vulnerability, or whether it was rooted in my temperament, or my life experience, or to what extent it was a combination of all of these. Nor could even the most dedicated and sympathetic doctors provide clear answers to what seemed the simplest and most urgent questions: What exactly was depression? Why did some medications work, while others didn’t? Would I ever be able to put it behind me?

Five years ago, I began trying to answer these questions, initially in an effort to understand competing claims in an ongoing debate about whether the antidepressants I’d been taking for many years were merely expensive placebos. I had already read a number of memoirs and other popular books on depression, but I began to investigate the subject more widely and intensively. I had earned a doctorate in English literature and was comfortable doing research outside of the discipline in which I had been trained. And as someone who had lived with depression—and experienced the worst of it—I approached medical, social, and cultural questions about the disorder and its treatment from an insider’s perspective that few of the historians and scientists who have written on the subject can provide.

Once I decided to include my own history in this investigation, I worried about the exposure that would come with publishing what I was writing. In my large Irish Catholic family, the tacit understanding was that it was best not to draw attention to oneself. A couple of decades leading discussions and lecturing in college literature classrooms had brought me a greater ease with the self-exposure necessary for teaching. Yet in all professional settings and most social ones, this particular story—my past, my diagnosis, the vulnerability to recurrence, the ongoing, quiet necessity of dealing with being depressed for months at a time—has remained deeply private.

A couple of years into the project, a close friend asked me why on earth I would want to revisit the worst days of my life. The simplest answer is that after decades of trying to keep it hidden and behind me, I wanted to turn to the past and face it squarely. Those who have lived through a traumatic experience will know what I mean. I wanted to understand what had happened. Having survived to tell this story, I’ve long known that I have something to say about what happened back then.

The first two chapters were the hardest to write (and because of the sadness they contain, may be the hardest to read). But once I had written them and better understood the gravity of my subject, I realized that telling this story—and sharing it through publication—was a way of refusing the shame and stigma that still cling to the subjects of mental illness and suicide. I often think about what might have been different for that young woman at the baby shower, who didn’t know that help existed for the inchoate feelings she had long had about herself, and who didn’t realize that while feeling devastated was a normal response to the loss of an infant, feeling suicidal was not. This book is written for her, and for the young women in my family who have inherited the same vulnerability. It is also for the countless people who find themselves struggling to cope with internal forces that feel overwhelming but—as I try to show in these pages—are survivable.

This book is more than a memoir. It seeks to build a bridge from my individual narrative to the broader landscapes of literature, cultural history, and science, where the questions I’ve been asking have been addressed by many who came before me—writers, poets, psychiatrists, historians, chemists, and neuroscientists. I’ve found a deep satisfaction and a sense of fellowship in reading writers of the past, who did not have the benefit of even the partial scientific explanations we now have. Centuries-old accounts provided accurate descriptions of the harrowing state of mind that leads to suicide and a confirmation that the illness that beset me has been described with great consistency across time. When we lose sight of the long history of the illness formerly called melancholia, we lose this sense of continuity. While the experience of depression is intensely solitary, reading has been a way of binding myself to the larger effort at understanding and to the community of sufferers. Recognizing my own experience in that of others—those who endured the peculiar madness of melancholia, those who laid themselves down the first time for shock treatment, those who fell again and again into the void and had to make their hesitating way back—has been a means of finding a history into which I could insert myself, one in which my experience makes some sense.

In the chapters that follow, my accounts of loss and mourning, melancholia, shock treatment, the asylum, and the development of antidepressant drugs situate my personal experience within the long, hopeful, and as yet incomplete movement toward effective treatment and cure. I’ve been able to return to the person I was in my twenties and thirties aided by hospital records, notebook entries, and the memories of people who were close to me at the time, even as I’m also present in these pages as a much older self, reflecting on the repercussions of these events and the continuing presence of depressive episodes over the past three decades. Sometimes memoir and context are interwoven; sometimes they are juxtaposed. In both cases, it is my hope that those who are not experts—those afflicted with depression as well as their loved ones—will have a better understanding of the past and of the road ahead, and at the same time, I hope to allow those whose lives are committed to treating depression to see one patient’s experience from the inside.

 

Contact Agent

Anne Edelstein
Anne Edelstein Literary Agency

Contact W.W. Norton Publicist

Erin Sinesky Lovett
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
 

Contact Lilliput Press Publicist

Saffron O’Sullivan
 
 

Contact Author

Contact Agent

Anne Edelstein
Anne Edelstein Literary Agency

Contact W.W. Norton Publicist

Erin Sinesky Lovett
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
 

Contact Lilliput Press Publicist

Saffron O’Sullivan
Lilliput Press
 

Contact Author