Late one night, just before Christmas in 1994, a police
officer and a clergyman came to former Sen. George McGovern's
door. Slowly, sadly, they told him that his daughter, Theresa,
had been found dead in Madison, Wis. She had been found frozen to
death in an alley, lying in a snowbank not far from a bar where
she had been drinking heavily the night before.
"Terry was an intelligent and unusually compassionate person," McGovern told the more than 700 people who gathered in Turner Auditorium in East Baltimore for the 11th Annual Mood Disorders Research and Education Symposium. "Her wit about life kept her friends from realizing her problems. She was an alcoholic and suffered from clinical depression."
After Terry's death, and after moral debate, McGovern read his daughter's 27 journals and diaries. Using them, he wrote Terry, a book in which his late daughter speaks to the living about her struggles with her dual afflictions of alcoholism and depression.
McGovern reminded the audience that in the 1960s the war in Vietnam became his obsession. "To this day I mourn the passing of every one of these 58,000 Americans who died because of that mistaken policy," McGovern said. "While it's a terrible thing to lose 58,000 Americans over 10 years, we lose more than twice that many every year to alcoholism."
Sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Affective Disorders Clinic and the Depression and Related Affective Disorders Association, the symposium drew professionals, patients and family members who heard J. Raymond DePaulo, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and guest speakers, including humorist Art Buchwald, discuss depression and alcoholism. Speakers drew from personal experience and scientific studies and perspectives.
"When she was 19, she developed a notable depression," McGovern said of Terry, who had participated vigorously in his 1972 presidential campaign several years before her depression began. "She told us one day that she was so sad and depressed that she couldn't stand life. She appeared to have no serious drinking problem until after she was 25."
Terry had one eight-year period of sobriety, but always returned to drinking, McGovern told the audience. In her last five or six years, drinking took over her life. While she felt that her drinking induced and worsened her depression, she continually relapsed. By the time she died she had been in and out of de-tox 68 times.
"Working with Terry's writings has helped me," McGovern said, who added that Terry's story is probably not all that unique, that addictions to alcohol take tolls on many families, despite valiant struggles. McGovern said he wanted to tell her story because she could not. "They contain the whispers of her immortality and her continuing influence."
Kay Redfield Jamison, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the School of Medicine, and author of the best-selling book An Unquiet Mind, in which she tells of her struggles with bipolar illness, profiled writer Virginia Woolf.
Woolf, afflicted with mania and depression until her suicide in 1941, left writing that describes her moods and madness. Redfield, who writes about creative people who have suffered from bipolar illness, cited Woolf's capacity for zest and joy as reported by Woolf's friends and associates in letters and memoirs.
The symposium ended with a conversation between DePaulo and humorist and writer Art Buchwald, who suffered a major depression in 1963 and a manic-depressive episode in 1985. Buchwald admitted that he feared the public's knowing about his depression.
"I made my living being a funny man," said Buchwald, who spoke of his desire to kill himself when deeply depressed and institutionalized. "Making people laugh was my livelihood. How could I make them laugh if people knew I was depressed?"
Buchwald, who recovered and takes lithium for his manic depression, is a frequent talk show guest discussing his experiences with depression.
"I didn't kill myself after all. I was afraid to." Buchwald told the symposium. "I was afraid that I wouldn't make the New York Times! I was also afraid that DeGaulle would die on the same day."
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