Rachel Maddow Gets Depressed

Rachel Maddow. Photo courtesy MSNBC

So she describes in the midst of a long, fascinating interview with Terri Gross, which I had the pleasure of listening to during a rare long drive last week. (The video above is from Jon Stewart; quite entertaining.) The entire Terri Gross interview is splendid. But a high point — an unexpected stretch amid a conversation with many small surprises — is Maddow’s description, during a short, remarkably chipper exchange about her depression, of several of the black dog’s most defining features. A lucid, engaging concision seems to come naturally to her.

Essentially ever since puberty, every since I was 11 or 12, I guess, I’ve had cyclical depression. That’s, you know, something that has been a defining feature of my life as an adult. And it’s manageable, but it’s real. And doesn’t take away from my joy in my work or my energy, but coping with depression is something that is part of the everyday way that I live and have lived as long as I can remember.

Maddow loves her job, and she’s clearly a confident person. Yet she sometimes labors under the imposter syndrome that many depressive types have — the feeling, as she put it,

that  [her success] is going to go away at any moment. People are going to realize that I’m a great fraud and it’ll end, so I better make sure this is a good show because it’ll be my last. Part of me feels that way every day.

GROSS: Does the focus that you need and the adrenaline surge that you get doing your show help with depression when you have it?

MADDOW: No. Depression for me is you can’t distract your way out of it, and I think people can understand the difference, if you’ve never been depressed, you can still understand the difference between sadness and depression. It’s like the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. And the opposite of happiness isn’t necessarily sadness, it’s disconnection. And you know, when you are depressed, it’s like the rest of the world is the mothership and you’re out there on a little pod and your line gets cut, and you just don’t connect with anything, you sort of – you sort of disappear.

This sense of disconnection she describes is a central feature of depression, in many ways its essence, along with the feeling of deadness: a sense of isolation from your own life and from others. You’re cut off even if you’re surrounded by people who care about you. This amazes those around you; they can’t believe that you can’t feel their wish to help you.

That said, Maddow is clearly a pretty high-functioning depressive; she gets the job done (with help from a staff) even when she’s down.

GROSS: Does it affect your performance when you’re depressed?

MADDOW: It affects my ability to focus and my preparation. So because I tend to know sort of – I can tell it’s coming – my depression isn’t all the time, so if I’m coming up on a bout of depression, a few things happen, so I can tell it’s happening. Like I just – I’m used to it. I lose my sense of smell and some other things like that happen. And… you know it’s coming; it has nothing to do with anything else in your life. It’s like a train and you just ride until it slows down enough that you can get off. And if I know it’s coming I will try to schedule my work life around not having to, for example, read a complete book. Because it will be hard for me to – with my schedule I will often need to read a book, as I’m sure you know, in a day and getting a book read plus a show done on a day where I’m pretty low and I can’t focus is a hard row to hoe. And so I try to adjust my schedule around it to accommodate.

GROSS: Well, you would never know watching you.

MADDOW: Oh, good.

GROSS: Never. Never know.

MADDOW: I’m not embarrassed. I’m not embarrassed by it. You know, I mean, it’s no – I don’t see it as having any moral component. I’m not embarrassed by it and I know that a lot of people live with it and cope with and treat depression in different ways. And I’ve been able to be a high-functioning person with depression all my life. And I expect that – I don’t expect it to ever go away. It would be great if it did but in the meantime, I can make a life around it.

I don’t watch any TV, and very little streaming video. But this interview makes me want to make time to watch Maddow work. She comes across not just as highly intelligent but as someone with an extraordinary level of deep empathy and — something really hard to summon — a social and moral courage: the courage to confront people and differ with them, including some people I find intolerable and don’t feel I could be civil with, and treat then respectfully, all in front of an audience of millions. Really quite something. This is a great listen.

via NPR.org » Rachel Maddow: The Fresh Air Interview.

26 responses

  1. I guess realizing you were a tool in enabling those who are wrecking America can be a bit depressing. In a recent article, she was actually arguing original intent and that it shouldn’t be so easy to start wars…which it’s NOT supposed to be. Maybe she’s waking up and realized that mister chin-in-the-air in the WH completely bypassed Congress in getting us into more wars.

      • What a clever rejoinder! What a well-thought-out rebuttal argument! Astonishing. 

        Amazing how some people never progressed beyond the childhood lunchroom “I know you are but what am I, nyah”.

      • What more needs to be said?  You spew deranged propaganda from the “people who are wrecking America,” and spew it at the only people doing anything to fight them.  So you’re either a paid tool, or an incredibly dumb, unwitting tool.

      • Oh, I’m certainly in awe of your wit, but you had already reduced the discourse to the level of playground insults, so fuck off. 

    • See, you took an article about something completely non-political, about the nature of depression, and injected your political ideology into it.

      You know that guy that always turns any conversation around to how he is awesome, or the things he’s done?  

      You know how you really don’t like being around him?

      You’re that guy, only it is politics.

       Conspiracy theory politics at that, fed to you by the far-right meme-makers, with a small dose of epicac.  And you’re spewing your verbal vomit everywhere.

    • There is a long history of mental illness and homosexuality existing in tandem. In fact, until the 1970s, homosexuality itself was classified as a mental illness – as it still should be.

      • So, your evidence for the correlation is that, once upon a time, people believed one was in a subset of the other?

        When the DSM currently does not?

        Let’s try a substitution game:

        “There is a long history of [possession by a Demon] and [epilepsy]  existing in tandem.  In fact, until the [20th century], [epilepsy] was itself classified as [possession by a demon] – as it still should be.”

        See what I did there?  Your statement has no more logical basis to it than my own..

      • Although I haven’t reviewed the science behind the original classification of homosexuality as a mental illness, what does seem abundantly clear is that the removal of homosexuality from the list of symptoms of mental illness was changed due to non-scientific political machinations of the militant homosexual lobby.

        Whether its Bradley Manning or Rachel Maddow, it seems that every homosexual in the news has some sort of mental illness.

        While correlation is not causation, the scientific evidence needs to be reviewed as hard science, not as politically correct phantasmagoria.

      • This is the point where you come up with some kind of citable research to back up your rampant and baseless homophobia.

        Go on, we’ll wait here for it.

      • And how many millions of homosexuals are not in the news and are perfectly well adjusted? And how many heterosexuals are in the news and show evidence of mental illness? There is no basis in your post for correlation. The whole point of science is to pull back the veil of superstition around what we previously did not understand. What seems to be abundantly clear is that your points here are baseless.

      • And Feargus, I woud wean yourself off of the DSM-you will shortly find that almost all of the information in it was poorly thought out and not based on hard science.

      • I wonder why they’re depressed?  Maybe it has something to do with the fantastic amount of garbage they have to deal with.  You know, things like “I think your sexuality should be classified as a mental illness”.

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  2. @daviddobbs:disqus thank you for finding and sharing this interview.  I think how Rachel Maddow approaches her depression – acceptance without being a victim – would be a noble approach to many conditions.

  3. Nice post, David.  The fact that she suffers from depression ought to have nothing to do with her political views.  Too bad that idea has reared its head…

    • Absolutely.

      I’m just glad that she quite obviously groks heavy depression (thus meaning she really suffers it), and yet is still a high performer.

  4. I like the part where she couches it in understandable (or at least, as understandable as possible) terms for those who are unfamiliar with the effects of depression, or think of it as just a bad case of the blues that’s easily lifted with chocolate and a silly movie.

    Not so much a deep sadness, as you may feel at the death of a close relative; that sort of feeling can at least have some kind of catharsis. More a withdrawal, a disconnection, a deep fear of doing anything outside of a terribly small, inactive comfort zone where you’re not really any good to anyone… and don’t feel like you ever could be. The only key, outside of medication (which is only useful if the root cause is a chemical (signalling hormone based…) imbalance), is recognising you’re in that state and finding the strength to work your way out of it (not easily stepping out, but working out), which sometimes needs others’ help.

  5. cyclic depression? Or bipolar? 
    It’s good if she can cope, but it’s biochemical, and she is sending a message that one can overcome depression with a strong will.
    That is true to a certain extent, but for those  with deep depression, it only tells them they are no good, since they aren’t strong enough to make it go away.

    • I agree, she should have evaluated the types of treatment might be available and present that to be completely fair and informational.

  6. Her new book, Drift, is quite good as well. A very subtle and interesting thesis. Though in places the writing can veer too far into a conversational tone, overall it’s excellently written.

    • Rhody, don’t you think a discussion on this board is due more than just nonbased name calling?

  7. This is a very enlightening article and I feel a little closer to her. I relate to a lot of what’s going on up in her head space. It sucks to be fair. But I guess she’s proof it can get a whole lot better. I mean she works in the same building as Matt Lauer, what’s not great about that? 

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