This thesis contains two parts: a novella, “Plum Sickness” and a critical essay, “Wrestling the Blue Cactus: grappling for meaning through story and the self: writing depressive illness”.
The novella tells a story of Judith Black, a young woman with depressive illness. It begins with her admission to hospital after a suicide attempt, then goes back in time to explore her relationships with her lover Michael, and her parents John and Aileen Black. There are fantasy passages showing her attempts to deal with negative attitudes to mental illness as well as the illness itself.
The critical essay is a deliberate effort to explore the various influences on my approach to the writing of depressive illness without referring to any personal illness experience of my own, and without making detailed reference to "Plum Sickness". I wanted to write a piece that could stand on its own, as well as an accompaniment to the novella, and I kept the depressed person in mind as my reader. The essay begins with particular medical writings, is followed by memoir, Anne Sexton's poetry, Virginia Woolf, The Imitation of Christ, self-help literature, and finishes with self-representation in fiction and an exploration of storytelling through "The Blank Page" by Isak Dinesen.