David Foster Wallace was an award winning author, essayist, novelist and academic- after coming off his medication for depression, he received ECT ‘treatment’, and then went into a spiral which resulted in taking his own life….
His story is all to common…
Psychiatry, and psychiatric drugs, can- and do- kill…
Unbeknown to most, Wallace had suffered from clinical depression for the past two decades. Family and close friends knew of it, but few others did. Over those years, Wallace had taken powerful anti-depression medication that had allowed him to work and write, according to his father, James Donald Wallace. But recently the drugs had been having very serious side effects. In June of 2007, Wallace and his doctor decided that they would have to try another course of treatment.
“Going off the medication was just catastrophic,” his father remembers. “Severe depression came back. They tried all kinds of things. He was hospitalized twice. Over the summer, he had a series of electro-convulsive therapy treatments, which just really left him very shaky and very fragile and unable to sleep.”
Suffering from near-crippling anxiety, Wallace found himself unable to write. “I don’t think he’d been able to write for more than a year,” says his father. Wallace told the human resources department at Pomona College that he would be unable to teach there in the fall, and he was granted a medical leave for the fall semester.
“I knew this summer had been particularly bad,” says Nadell. “My job was just to keep everyone and everything away from him.”
On Aug. 18, Wallace’s parents came to Claremont to stay with their son. Wallace’s wife of four years, Karen Green, had been called away on an urgent family matter, and Wallace did not want to be left alone. He had canceled previous visits with his parents over the past year, telling them that he couldn’t bear to have people in the house, even those he loved, so the invitation came as a welcome surprise to them.
When Mr. and Mrs. Wallace arrived, they found their son exhausted and gaunt. “He was very, very thin,” says his mother. “He weighed about 140 pounds, so I immediately started to try to put 40 or 50 pounds on him, the way mothers will.” She cooked and cleaned. Wallace couldn’t eat, he told his sister later, but he liked the way the house smelled, and how clean everything was.
Mornings were spent walking Wallace’s two dogs, Werner and Bella. Wallace and his parents strolled the streets of Claremont, talking of small things. In the afternoons, they spoke some more, and helped their son deal with the paperwork and insurance issues that had been piling up. “He was very glad we were there,” says his mother. “And he was very emotional. He was just terrified of so much. We would just try to hold him.” The memories bring tears. “He did tell me that he was glad I was his mom.”
The time together, she says, was a gift. “We hadn’t spent that much time with David since he was a small boy. Once they grow up and leave home you see them, of course, and you visit, but you don’t spend hours and hours with them.”
Toward the end of their visit, Wallace and his parents called his sister Amy. “I’m a public defender,” she says, “and I had just lost a trial that I was really upset about. He was really in a lot of pain, but he said all the right big brother things, you know, like how lucky my client was to have me.” She pauses. “That was the last time I spoke with him, and it was his last chance to be a big brother. I think it really made him feel better, at least for a few minutes. I know it made me feel better.”
The respite, though, was brief. “He told me that he wasn’t OK,” she says. “He was trying really hard to be OK, but he wasn’t.”
His wife returned home shortly after, and, on Aug. 30, James and Sally flew back to their home in Urbana, Ill. It was the last time they would see their son. Two weeks later, Wallace hanged himself. He was 46.