How novelist Marian Keyes overcame depression

After her mental health battle, the writer is back with a new novel.

She’s known for writing books that are warm and funny, and that always come with a happy ending. But now bestselling writer Marian Keyes has revealed she was so depressed several years ago that she battled suicidal urges up to 40 times a day.

The Rachel’s Holiday author has previously admitted that her mental illness became so overwhelming that she needed treatment in a psychiatric hospital. Now she’s opened up about just how serious it was.

“The suicidal impulses started and it was very hard to physically stop myself from going through with it,” Marian said when she featured on BBC radio show Desert Island Discs.“For months and months, every day was an enormous effort not to do the acts of wounding myself.”

During the 18 months when she was desperately ill, she wrote her novel The Mystery of Mercy Close and later explained how a scene in which her heroine plans to kill herself in a hotel room was inspired by her own experience.

“I was going through who would find me, leaving money for her to apologise… I wasn’t in my right mind.”

Marian (53) has described her illness as “catastrophic”, saying she felt frightened all the time.

“Every single day was a waking nightmare. The biggest feeling was extreme fear.”

She tried everything to fight depression, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, “vitamins up the wazoo!” and even going to mass with her mother.

“I abhor Catholicism but I was that desperate.”

Eventually, it was writing her next book, The Mystery of Mercy Close, discovering a new passion (baking) and the passing of time that led to her recovery.

“It’s an illness and it ran its course,” she says.

Several years on, she sounds bubbly and bright again, but won’t describe herself as 100 per cent free of depression.

“The fear isn’t too bad now,” she says. “I feel normal so much of the time and I feel that when the fear does happen, I can be compassionate with myself about it.”

Marian doesn’t subscribe to the concept that it is possible to carry on with life again as if nothing has happened.

“You don’t get over everything. You can’t polish off these things when they’re over and put them away and say, ‘That’s grand now; let’s get back to our perfect life'.

“With every one of us, we walk forward carrying our wounds. But I’m okay.”

The Irish author says she has always been prone to bouts of depression and in her twenties, while working in an accounts office, turned to alcohol to deal with her mental health issues.

After eventually facing up to the fact she was an alcoholic, she went into rehab and when she came out, decided to send some short stories she’d written as a hobby to a publisher.

She lied that she’d started work on a novel and when they asked to see it, she had to step up to the challenge and actually write one. The first book, Watermelon, was a big success and she’s now written 12 books that have sold 35 million copies worldwide. Book number 13, The Break, will be published later this year.

She’s regarded as one of the bestselling chick lit authors in the world but doesn’t like the label. Her books may be laugh-out-loud funny in parts, but they’re by no means frothy. They have tackled very serious subjects such as drug addiction, bereavement, domestic violence and mental illness.

Writing has been the “rope across the abyss” for Marian in the past and it, along with the understanding she has gained of how to deal with depression, will hopefully help her to cope should it ever strike again.

She says she has “learnt to feel the feelings and not be horrified by them... To not think, ‘Oh, my God, what can I do to make this stop?’ To just know that I might wake up in the morning anxious or full of dread and instead of trying to outrun it, try to almost welcome it”.

Marian adds that there are ways, “to be happy and live alongside our wounds rather than look for cures. To accept the stone in our shoe or the hole in our soul.

“I’m not going to say I’m better, because I don’t think anyone goes through anything traumatic and becomes better. You become different.

“I’ll never be that starry-eyed, innocent, rushing-around-thrilled-with-everything person again. I’m far more wounded now, but I’m grateful. Grateful to be on the planet.”

Where to get help
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757
Healthline: 0800 611 116
Lifeline: 0800 543 354
Samaritans: 0800 726 666
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Youthline: 0800 376 633 (You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email talk@youthline.co.nz)

All lines are open 24/7.
For further information, contact the Mental Health Foundation’s free Resource and Information Service on (09) 623 4812.

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