Wednesday 13 December 2017

Marian Keyes: 'I thought of suicide 40 times every day'

Author Marian Keyes
Author Marian Keyes
Battle with depression: Irish writer Marian Keyes

Laura Harding

Author Marian Keyes has compared her recovery from depression to "coming up from the bottom of the ocean".

The writer of novels including Watermelon, Sushi For Beginners and Rachel's Holiday, has said she faced suicidal urges up to 40 times a day in the depths of mental illness.

She battled the depression for 18 months and tried every possible remedy, including medication, cognitive behavioural therapy and meditation and mass - but nothing worked but the passage of time.

"I had never really experienced anything like it," she told Kirsty Young on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.

Marian Keyes at home
Marian Keyes at home

"I stopped being able to sleep and eat, I couldn't have conversations and it accelerated and I ended up going into a psychiatric hospital.

"Suicidal impulses started and it was very hard to physically stop myself from going through with it; for months and months every day it was an enormous effort not to do the acts of wounding myself. That went on for 18 months.

"It's an illness and it ran its course. Three years ago, at the start of 2014, it was like coming up from the bottom of the ocean. It was really speedy. I had always described myself as melancholy or depressive but I hadn't a clue, anything I had before was a blue day by comparison; this was altered perceptions, a mental illness."

Keyes (53), who has been sober for 23 years, detailed her recovery from alcoholism: "Alcohol was the love of my life. It was my best friend and, in the end, my only friend."

She said starting to write was her "rope across the abyss" as she penned her first short story months before entering a recovery programme.

She said: "I had stopped eating, stopped hoping, I was constantly suicidal. There was only one way it would go. I couldn't stop drinking and was preparing to go under. One afternoon I was at home when I should have been at work and read a short story in a magazine and thought 'you could do that' and got a pen and paper and wrote my first one. It was that primal urge in all of us to stay alive, saying 'I can give you this, will you live for this?'"

Writer Marian Keyes
Writer Marian Keyes

She has written 17 books, but is frustrated they are dismissed as "popular fiction".

Questioned why, she said: "Because I'm a woman and because, for good or for ill, lots of women enjoy my books and relate to them. I feel they are empowering, and anything that empowers women or makes them feel like 'hello there, could I have some equal pay or how about access to the management jobs?', anything that makes us uppity, has to be slapped down.

Desert Island Discs is on BBC Radio 4 today at 11.15am.

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article please contact the Samaritans on 116123 for support or visit the website on

Pieta House can be contacted on 1800 247 247.  For more information on Pieta House and its services visit

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