I now understand that I was brainsick ('diseased of the brain and mind') when I tried to kill myself. I view my suicide attempt as the end result of mental illness in the same way I view a heart attack as the end result of coronary artery disease. Both are potentially lethal, both have known risk factors, both are major public health problems, both are treatable and preventable, and both generate fear and grief. But the shame associated with them differs greatly. Heart attack victims are consoled ('Isn't it a pity?'); suicide victims are cursed ('How could he?').
Rosenberg's illness began at age 26 when, after finishing two years of residency training in medicine, he suffered episodes of crying for no obvious reason, his sense of self-worth evaporated and he lost pleasure in his family. The funk lasted several weeks. A second episode and others were precipitated when he made professional moves:
Some of my depressive bouts would last a month, others hung on for two or three. I felt like everything--movement, thought, speech--took more energy. I had trouble connecting with either my family or my associates.
On the other hand:
I liked the way my mind worked during the long intervals when I wasn't depressed. I could work 16 to 18 hours daily, write papers quickly, make original scientific connections, speak articulately, and interact with associates and family pleasurably.
In an aside, Rosenberg commented:
Because ECT is offered at a relatively small number of hospitals, I find myself wondering what would have happened to me had I not been referred to one of them.
As a leading academic, Rosenberg decided that going public about his treatment could help destigmatize both mental illness and ECT.