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Social Work

Explorations of Depression: Poetry and Narrative in Autoethnographic

Qualitative Research
Heather L. Gallardo, Rich Furman and Shanti Kulkarni
Qualitative Social Work 2009 8: 287
DOI: 10.1177/1473325009337837
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Qualitative Social Work

Copyright 2009 Sage Publications Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore, Vol. 8(3): 287304
www.sagepublications.com DOI:10.1177/1473325009337837


Explorations of Depression
Poetry and Narrative in Autoethnographic
Qualitative Research
Heather L. Gallardo
University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA

Rich Furman
University of Washington, USA

Shanti Kulkarni
University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA


poetry as

This article explores the uses of poetry in qualitative research.

In this study of the first authors lived experience with nonclinical depression and the second authors experience of
living with someone experiencing depression, poetry and
responsive narrative are used as data, as means of data representation, and processes of inquiry. The authors explore the
nature of poetry as a tool for investigating human phenomena and its congruence with post-modern methods of
research. Autoethnographic poems are used as data and
analyzed via narrative written by the original author of the
poem on two separate occasions. A third researcher added
an additional layer of narrative analysis for increased depth.
This self-reflection provides reflexive analysis of our individual understanding of depression via narrative.


288 Qualitative Social Work 8(3)

As one of the only forms of public communication that struggles financially to

break even, poetry may join academic research as one of the few media that can
be (more or less) trusted to represent honestly and authentically the truth.
(Sherry and Schouten, 2002: 220)

Depression is perhaps the most common form of emotional struggle, which in

its extreme form represents an actual mental illness. So common, that it has
been likened to the common cold of emotional conditions (Turnbull, 1991).
Increased advances in psychopharmacology have created numerous new treatments for depression and depressive disorders. These advances have been responsible for helping countless people who previously have suffered from depression
without relief. Yet, the medicalization of depression and symptoms associated
with depressive syndromes has potentially deleterious effects (Furman et al.,
2004). For example, depression may often signal the need for an individual to
make changes in their life course or structure; medicating depressive symptoms
in such a situation may shortcut needed personal growth and development.
Further, understanding depression from a medical standpoint does not help
clinicians understand the way in which an individual constructs and understands
their depression, both personally and culturally (Furman and Bender, 2003). In
this article, we do not refer to depression in a clinical sense, but as a condition
that all people experience at one time or another in their lives. Depression in
this sense is an existential phenomenon, a feeling or cluster of feelings that are
part and parcel of being human (Van Deurzen-Smith, 1997). To be alive is to
experience loss, grieve, and pain. To be human is to periodically feel a degree
of depression (Krill, 1978; May, 1979).1
The purpose of this article is to explore how autobiographical poems and
narrative can be a valuable means of understanding depression from the perspective of the person experiencing depressive symptoms, or of those of close
personal relatives who have witnessed the depression of others. It will do so in
several ways. First, a discussion of the use of poetry and narrative in qualitative
research is discussed. Second, the methodology and a rationale for it are explored.
Third, the poems and narrative responses are presented as data and data analysis.
Finally, we conclude with implications for social work and qualitative research.

The tradition of autoethnography as a method of legitimate inquiry is steeped
in qualitative research (Philaretou and Allen, 2006). Autoethnographies are
written accounts about life experience providing rich, full, detailed narrative
and insight from the perspective of the person who is living and experiencing
the researched phenomena. Previous scholarship suggests that autoethnography
is a particularly useful strategy for understanding private or taboo topics (Gelles,

Gallardo et al. Explorations of Depression 289

1978; Ronai, 1992). The investigation of ones own lived experience, such as
through autoethnography, allows us to gather data that might be missed with
more traditional methodological means (Philaretou and Allen, 2006).
Writing autoethnographically allows for voice on issues based directly on
ones own experiences. This permits the examination of experiences previously
ignored or marginalized (Allen, 2000). It should also be noted that many scholars
suggest both the significance of this source of knowledge as research as well
as the healing or self-help of the researcher (Allen, 2000; Dilworth-Anderson
et al., 1993; Kreiger, 1991). Simply, autoethnography extends our understanding about the phenomenon under study from a different frame (Wall, 2006).
Initially a term used by anthropologists to describe studies of an individuals own culture, autoethnography has evolved and broadened in use across
many social scientific academic disciplines including both communication
studies and social work (Ellis and Bochner, 2000; Hayano, 1979). Perhaps Behar
(1996: 174) best describes it as a process,to map an intermediate space we cant
quite define yet, a borderland between passion and intellect, analysis and subjectivity, ethnography and autobiography, art and life. Pelias (2003: 372) suggests
autoethnography, lets you use yourself to see culture.
Despite debate in the social sciences to the contrary, our lived experiences affect what we observe, how we observe it, and how we interpret and
examine it (Smith, 2005). Autoethnography allows researchers to study their
own experience, providing a unique perspective, complementing and expanding related research. Autoethnography differs from autobiography in its focus
on drawing connections to cultural groups of experiences, thereby helping to
illuminate the social constructions of the phenomena being investigated.


Along with autoethnography, the creative and expressive arts have become
increasingly influential in qualitative research. Eisner (1995), one of the pioneers
in the use of the arts in educational research aptly discussed the relevance of
this work:
The primary tactical aim of research is to advance understanding. The works I
have cited [artistic and literary words] help us to understand because their creators
have understood and had the skills and imagination to transform their understanding into forms that help us notice what we have learned not to see. They
provide an image fresh to behold, and in so doing provide a complement to the
colorless abstraction of theory with renderings that are palpable. The consciousness and insight they provide make understanding possible. (Eisner, 1995: 3)

In such research, the researcher is more of an artist than a scientist, but a

researcher none the less. The goals of arts inspired inquiry to present data about

290 Qualitative Social Work 8(3)

clients that will be of use to its audience, and will portray the experiences of
research participants fully. Intuition, subjectivity, and the emotional sensitivity
of the researcher are seen as valuable tools in the research process. The insights
of trained and skilled researchers are valued, not hidden in a false cloak of
Willis (2002) describes this research as expressive in nature, contrasted
with analytical research. In expressive research, the goal of the inquiry is to
expand and contextualize meanings, to value and cherish the subjective, while
in the analytic tradition the goal is to reduce and simplify meanings. Many
studies have utilized personal, expressive poems as qualitative research. Furman
(2004) utilizes the prose poem as a means of exploring the nature of male
friendships. His poems are autoethnographic in that they are concerned with
the cultural norms and rules that interfere with, and facilitate, his relationships
with other men. Furman (2005) also utilizes personal poems and narrative (the
method of this study) in his exploration of the death of his companion animal.
Poetry and narratives present multiple levels of the same phenomenon. The
narratives illuminate, expand, and coterie the meaning. In a very real sense, by
reflecting upon the data after the fact and providing narratives, the author
provides us with a type of member check. Similarly, expressive or creative poems
are used in his exploration of step-fatherhood (Furman, 2003). In this work, he
presents poems and discussion that explore his changing roles, and the manner
in which he constructs his identity as a new parent.
Poetry has held other roles in quality research. For instance, several authors
have utilized poetry as a means of data representation in traditional qualitative
studies. For instance, Furman (2006) demonstrates how using poetic forms and
structures can provide different emphasis when representing in-depth interviews.
Poindexter (2002) uses methods borrowed from linguistics as a means of coding
and representing interview data of HIV caretakers.
It has been argued that poetry is an idea medium for capturing the lived
experience of complex, emotionally laden experiences (Butler-Kisber, 2002).
Characterized by compression and an economy of words, the lyric poem has
the capacity to meet the important qualitative aim of capturing the depth of
human experience, while also delivering the succinctness that quantitative
researchers value. Through the use of poetry and other forms of expressive
writing in research, the research seeks to, grasp an objective [rather than] to
analyze and subdue it. It attempts to hold it in consciousness, to allow its reality
and texture to become etched on the mind (Willis, 2002: 4).
Poetry has been used to document the depths of various psychosocial
phenomenons. For instance, nursing researcher Oiler (1983) used poetry to
explore the experiences of nurses in practice. To her, art and poetry are valuable
means of exploring human experience.

Gallardo et al. Explorations of Depression 291

Art forms allow us to reflect on experience with at least some of the habitual
meanings held in abeyance. The art form itself gives the expression a structure,
calling on experience on its own terms. Images and symbols in poetry speak to
us about experience. Since it is vision that gives us the best understanding of
experience, the words used in poetry to express reality give us a clearer image
than the precise language of science. (Oiler, 1983: 81)

Poetry encourages an empathic relationship between the author and its audience.
Denzin (1997) encourages the use of alternative forms of data representation
and exploration as a means of evoking emotions in consumers of research.
Through the use of poetic devices such as metaphor, symbols, imagery, cadence,
the poem allows the reader to develop their own relationship to the work.While
a poem usually starts with one persons experience, it attempts to move beyond
the N of one to the N of many. That is, poetry seeks to be what has been
termed metaphoric generaliziblity (Stein, 2004). Not generalizable in the statistical sense of the world, but generalizable in that it helps stimulate an empathic
understanding in the reader; they are able to locate themselves in the poem,
and when there is difference, they are able to transcend the poem and create
that which is their own.

The following four poems by each author were written in direct response to
the experience of depression or dealing with a spouse experiencing depression
on different occasions over a period of several years. Here, poetry and reflexive narrative analysis are used to gain a greater sense of the lived experience of
depression. On two separate occasions the first two authors reflected on each
of their four poems and wrote an analytic autoethnographic narrative response
to explore how understanding is subjectively embedded within the context of
a different time and space. Narrative reflections of this type have two purposes,
in that they serve both as data and as data analysis. That is, readers may utilize
the narrative reflections as data in understanding the authors responses to subject
matter, which is autoethnographic in nature. Additionally, the reflections serve
as a type of analysis, in that they clarify and expand the perspective of the
authors. This type of data analysis emanates from an expressive agenda, in which
the purpose of analysis is expansion, rather than contraction. Approximately six
months later, the third author of the study added responsive reflections in order
to add an additional layer of data and analysis. These reflections can be found
in italics. Those more comfortable with more reductionistic approaches to data
may wonder about the generalizablity of this type of data. The authors acknowledge that this data may not be generablizable, but instead may sensitize the

292 Qualitative Social Work 8(3)

reader to themes and issues that have been explored. Indeed, exploration is the
key verbiage when discussing this type of data.
Studies such as this may be viewed as exploratory in nature. Insights and issues
discovered from autoethnograpahic studies may further be explored and tested
by other research methodologies, or utilized by clinicians to sensitize them to
potential practice issues. (Furman, 2005: 35)


The first poems and reflections were written by the second author. It is important to note that the second author does not believe that he has ever experienced clinical depression that demanded treatment. Bouts of depression have
for the most part passed quickly for me. Readers wondering about their own
depression are encouraged to discuss their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors with
a mental health professional.
Any time I want
It was a holiday in London
when my father become
as sick of me
as I was of him,
and left me in the room
with no money,
or food,
and told me dont to leave,
and the rats scurried across the floor,
and I hid under the covers,
and waited to die.
Things are roughly the same now,
except that this room has no rats,
and I can leave,
any time I want.
Wow, what a dark poem. I do not want to share this. What will people think?
What will my colleagues say if they read this? Will they worry about me; will
they think I am strange? This is always the fear of sharing the darkest, most
vulnerable parts of our histories, of our lives. I think of clients I have had in
my social work practice, and of the practice classes that I teach. I continually
encourage students to realize that sharing the darker parts of ourselves is difficult. Perhaps this is why now I am more willing to explore this poem in an
academic sense, and not penetrate the data. OK, what does it say to me now? I

Gallardo et al. Explorations of Depression 293

think of that boy. It is me, it was me, but it feels like a different person. What
would I want to say to him? Perhaps, that he will find love. That he will find
many people to explore this world with. And perhaps, that he will learn to love
being alone.
It is interesting how much we change and also how much we stay the same.
What is the same? At times, when I feel down, I hide under the covers. Now
though, I am not afforded the luxury of wallowing very long. I have a family,
things to do, work, responsibilities. Sometimes I wish I could linger in that place
longer, allow myself not to sink into depression, but experience the full and
bittersweet nature of life. Also, I am so much more comfortable being alone,
almost cherish being alone.
The perspective of time and distance and reflection viewing options now that did not
exist or were not perceived at the time. Do we ever fully heal from our deepest wounds
is there always a tender spot? How can a future self relate to a past self to relate, to
offer compassion, to try understanding in a more complicated, more detached way? The
authors analysis focuses on understanding how this experience relates to the person who
exists now the enduring self. The sense of contamination for ever having been in a room
with rats does it make us unfit to teach others, be respected as a colleague the stigma
of depression or the self-loathing (too strong a word) that is its symptom.
The best years
And your sitting on your
old filthy sofa chair,
and the dogs
watch you suspiciously,
the raven outside
watches you suspiciously,
roaming through all the possibilities,
all those things to do,
that you wont.
the adventures, poems, women.
you will not meet any of them,
in nights not of the right kind,
of madness.
nope, never, not for you.
you will lie back with your feet up,
the hours will pass.
the years float away like cardboard soul.
these are the best years of your life.

294 Qualitative Social Work 8(3)

A pop song came into my head, one that deals with transition and change. When
we open one door, we close another. This is one of the tragedies of life, one of
the tragedies that make each day special: we only have one life to live and cannot
possibly do all that we want to do. Sometimes, all the possibilities can become
overwhelming, and we do nothing. How different it is now though, that I feel
so much passion for my work, how clear I am about my path. Yet, it lingers, that
feeling at times, when I wonder if I have chosen well, if I choose well. All there
is to do is live.
I am so different now. I cannot almost imagine allowing myself the luxury of
not pushing though feelings of sadness. I give myself a day, two days maybe,
but then, it is back to work on my goals. I rationalize that the feelings will
accompany me on the journey that somehow I am able to both DO and FEEL.
My work is so central to my sense of self, to whom I am.
The self-criticism in this poem is scathing and oppressive, there is no self-compassion
whose voice was this first. To be looked upon with suspicion by companions (dogs) and
the raven outside there is no trust of self internal or external. The reflection comes from
a different place one of focus that pushes through the occasional self-doubt, echoes of that
self-doubt without the self-criticism.
I loved her once, for all the wrong reasons
And then there was the time
she went into rehab. She had a
two week bender split her head
on the wall bled on the dogs
at the hospital doctor said
might be brain damage might
never be the same again
did not know she popped more pills
minutes after her blood test.
Things had gotten this bad.
Spent the night dreaming of far
away places with parrots and palms
white sands pure and safe
lounging lazily in the breeze now
taking care of addicted now
brain damaged a weight that
I had loved once this was not
the way it was supposed to be.

Gallardo et al. Explorations of Depression 295

Looking back years later, I feel a sense of longing towards those times. Not the
times, but wishing I could access the feels that I felt. Why? Perhaps it brings me
back to when my dogs were still alive. I think this is the hardest part of moving
on emotionally from experiences. It is as if when we let go of difficult feelings,
when we are moved passed them, we move passed, in a sense, those we love.
And if we can do that to those that we loved, clearly they can do that in relation
to us. And then, what did our love really mean? What did we really mean? Are
we ultimately replaceable? Replaceable parts in the negatives of others? This is
a difficult thought to contend with. I need a refill on my tea.
Looking at this poem from a somewhat detached space, I wonder about the
actual feelings I had at the time. I use the classic poetic norm: show, do not tell.
By showing the contest and not directly explicating the feelings, the poem allows
the reader to place themselves into the poem. They are allowed superimposing
their own feelings onto the work in empathic response. To me, this is the power
of poetry. It speaks about one, but can speak to many.
This poem has an ethereal detachment that feels different from the earlier poems. It seems
more documentary, perhaps as the author reflects a meditation on something more universal
than an emotional confession.
Capybara Depression
ten year old giggles pleading
to know the whereabouts
of Lake Titicaca
and pretending geography
as enthralling as sleep deprived clowns on yerba matte,
or titillated paparazzi at a debutante crisco ball,
chanting, mesmerized, euphoric,
Titi caca Titi caca Titi caca
the cadence of a stretched eight track tape
droning the Stylistics in a 72 Coop De Ville
down interstate ten between south central and nowhere,
but this tid-bit of joie de vivre, this luminescent morsel,
this savored crumb in a stranded galley, starving,
is merely a smooth aqua glass shard
on an oil soaked shore,
as May spins downward
a bent drill bit through pewter,
and depression the shadow of a looming balsa dog,
and four am hypnogogic breathing anxious
and sugar pine ears absorb the itch
of the dog stained couch

296 Qualitative Social Work 8(3)

my wife forbids me to haul to Nebraska,

but she advises that a new journal
will exorcise the hundred and fifty pound
sopping bucked toothed wet rodent
squatting upon my ribs.
Writing has always been my way out of sadness, out of depression. I remember
writing this when my dog was first diagnosed with cancer. What a painful time
that was for me. How heavy I felt with her death eminent, with a move away
from a town that I loved. I think about the couch mentioned in the poem. I
locate it in my mind, I can locate my dog, Belinda. She is in the corner of that
couch, staring at me, her lips caught on her bucktooth, the breeze blowing in
from the windows. The mountain air. Why do we remember? Perhaps to validate
the love that we had, knowing that without validating this love, we fear losing
the love we now have.
I think of the difference between depression and sadness, and loss. At times, they
seem a more important distinction when looking at the lives of others. Yes, I
understand the differences, duration, intensity, behavioral consequences. Perhaps
I have never been clinically depressed. Perhaps it is just that I feel deeply; this is
in part cultural, part of being Jewish. Yet, it also goes against another cultural
reality, being a man. Well, the man that I am now knows deeply what sadness
is, what loss is. I read this poem again, in my office. I look up at a photograph
on the wall of my friend Gil. He has been dead for two years now: Cancer.
Almost simultaneously I have two sets of thoughts. One, how dare I give into
the indulgence of melancholia I am alive (ah yes, the traditional male part
bubbling to the surface). Two, each of us has had so much loss in our lives; it is
amazing that we move on at all.
The mosaic of images related to loss and depression connected by individual history and
memory. They say your life passes before your eyes when you die this poem evokes some
of what I imagine that to be full of personal allusions connected by the thread of what
is meaningful for that person.

The following four poems were written at different points in time in reaction
to the challenges the first author faced as a non-depressed person being married
to someone experiencing extreme clinical depression, who was unable and
unwilling to seek treatment. These poems represent my struggle to understand
and cope with his emotions and my own emotions in response. They demonstrate the continuum and changing response one can have as a loved one

Gallardo et al. Explorations of Depression 297

oscillates between moments in which the depression is removed or slight to

moments in which they are stopped in their daily experience by the depression.
They also embody the coming apart of an intimate relationship over several
My husband, rather than seeking traditional treatment, spent most of our
marriage, using alcohol, drugs, and infidelity to attempt to feel better and break
the cycle of depression. Not surprisingly, to many of us, this escalated his experience with depression and sped up the cycle, leading to larger valleys throughout our married life.
Sadness seeps into my soul,
Anguish, real and hot heats my heart,
Molten anger filled with dreadful despair.
Emotion is in reaction to finding out that my husband has been unfaithful to our
intimate relationship just two months after our wedding. All I knew and understood in that moment was the extreme emotion a person can feel in response
to being hurt.
Even years later, I can remember the overwhelming emotion of being hurt by
the person I wanted to love me most: my partner. He will likely never realize
the damage that his depression and subsequent behaviors, did to us both, and I
am only now beginning to understand why what he did during our marriage
became both a reflection of and an expression of a deeply depressed person.
This reminds me of how intense emotion is so present focus there is no past, no future
in an odd way you are never more fully alive than when you are in this type of pain.
When God is Still
You are lost,
I am here . . . waiting.
The real question is how long I will have to wait.
What you are searching for in someone else you simply wont find.
What you are looking for is something within your own spirit.
Running solves nothing and creates more of the same.
I want to be your panacea, yet,
How can I, when you wont let me.
Stop running, get still and listen to the shadows of the past.
Leave them there and become even more still.

298 Qualitative Social Work 8(3)

What you will find is the answer,

Just being you,
And opening yourself to the possibilities of the future.
Take the risk on another being, just as wounded, jaded, and disillusioned as yours.
When two souls meet and connect, God is still.
He is awed by the miraculous power of something so good, out of something
so imperfect.
Yet, in When God is Still, you can see things of the idea that depression is a
relational disease, often inherited and shared within a family. Although, the reader
might also be advised to consider the idea here that while not challenged by
depression myself, I recognize my imperfections that too must be overcome to
save my marriage. Marriage is indeed built by, maintained by, and ended by two
individuals, their actions, thoughts, and imperfections.
I see this poem very differently so long after writing it. I feel like this poem is
about loving someone more than our self, but also a desperation of wanting to
make a relationship gone sour have a happy ending. What I suppose I wanted
most in my marriage was the recognition that we were dealing with the elephant
in the room: depression. However, communication was not our strength, thus
why poetry became an essential outlet of my feelings, frustrations, and hopes.
This poem is about hurting in a bad relationship and the longing for it to be different. It
is about wanting to will someone else into being who we want them to be seeing the
world the way we want them to. It is about wanting to stop a trainwreck, wanting to save
someone and save yourself.
The Tentative Step
I, the sign of the balance, have become confusion,
Torn between my past and my future,
Who will win out?
It seems logical that the future must,
The journey should continue,
Yet, how can the past be left behind?
Its as though torn between two roads,
As a poet once wrote,
Sorry that I must eventually decide.
The alternative is to be. . .
Still, without a sound, not moving,
How long can that possibly last?
I, the indecisive one, take a tentative step,
Moving beyond the stillness,
Will it be the right one?

Gallardo et al. Explorations of Depression 299

The Tentative Step describes the internal conflict I felt in attempting to put my
marriage back together, overcoming, forgiving and facing, the infidelity, the lies
and the turmoil they had caused to my marriage and family life. It is easy to see
my deep confusion at what to do, as well as my understanding that in order to
move forward in our relationship, my husband and I were required to face what
had happened, why it had happened and we each had to decide whether to reinvest in one another and a deeply troubled relationship. I did take a tentative
step to reach out to him and restore our friendship and marriage. In retrospect,
I believe it was, indeed, the right decision, despite what I now know.
This piece always makes me think about trudging through mud and sometimes
thats what going through relationships feels like . . . wading through all the junk.
And sometimes we get through it, sometimes we get stuck, and sometimes we
just give up the trudging altogether. I spent much of my life wading through
the makings of life and never feeling as though I was making any progress. Interacting with someone experiencing depression is like trying to make it out of
the mud with someone who feels stuck in the mud. It was exhausting and difficult and a struggle most days, despite my loving him.
The stillness of indecision is in such contrast with the emotional struggle of making the
right choice. Tentative seems like such a light, uncertain word compared to the fortitude
that it takes to trudge and persevere through something as difficult as staying in a painful
relationship as the author describes in her reflection perhaps the difference between action
and thought or commitment.
Despair, Like a Cloud
Get out of bed,
I want to scream!
Laying there wont make it better. . .
Or will it?
I dont really know,
Cant really relate,
To wanting to cry ceaselessly,
Deeply as though sorrow rains down.
Dont get me wrong,
Ive been really sad and distressed,
Cried buckets of tears,
But nothing that continues,
Day into night,
And night into day,
Unable to get up,
Yet not sleeping at all

300 Qualitative Social Work 8(3)

We move about,
In the house and the world,
You deeply hidden within your wall,
And all I can feel is that despair
Like a cloud hanging over,
The relationship we have.
I am drawn to break free,
Escape I feel I must
From the endless depression,
You feel in your soul.
I need to breathe,
Yet loving you so,
I feel conflicted and torn,
Damaged and worn.
Finally, I move forward
And I glimpse the sunshine
I delight in its warmth, while
Recognizing my loss,
I take tentative steps and
Hope and pray that someday,
You too will find the sun in the sky
The clouds will depart
And you will be smiling inside and out.
In this piece, we see a continuation of The Tentative Step, written over three years
later. Here, though, I have made a different choice, taken a different path, and a
step in another direction. Despite the internal conflict and the marital conflicts,
restoration is present. Moving in the direction of light and air, warmth and
healing. While, this does signal the end of my marital relationship with my
husband, whom I do love deeply; it also speaks of the hopes I have for him.
The positive post-script is that he is now getting treatment for his depression
and is working hard in counseling and on his sobriety. For that, I am most
thankful and believe deeply that he too will find peace from the extremes of his
depression and the daunting trails down which he has traveled in the past.
My feelings about this poem now are reflective of my state of mind now. I feel
a huge sense of relief that I made it through this relationship, I am better for it,
and recognize the difficulty of what I have been through. I often feel like a
butterfly that has made the successful transition from chrysalis to a beautiful
creature changed by the process. Yet, I still hope that one day, he will come to
know this place, too.

Gallardo et al. Explorations of Depression 301

This is a hopeful poem to me about letting go and the redemption that may be available
to each person. It reinforces the idea that healing is indeed an individual choice that you
can only make for yourself in your own time. It makes me think of freedom someone
setting themselves free and allowing the other to be free as well to succeed or fail by their
own devices.


While social science continues to debate whether authoethnography is merely
intellectual masturbation or a viable scientific endeavor that provides insight
into lived experience, we suggest that the latter is true (Davis and Ellis, in press).
Specifically, autoethnographers are in the process of socially constructing
meaning within the social context they seek to understand (Anderson, 2006).
It is naive to believe that ones own lived experience is not fertile ground for
understanding as complicated an experience as depression. The poems and
narrative reflections presented here represent cultural artifacts; they explore
depression not only from the vantage point of individuals, but of individuals
who are the embodiment of behavioral that is prescribed by both gender and
culturally bound frames of references.
Ellis and Bochner (1999) admonish researchers in the social sciences
interested in studying health and illness to consider fully the role of emotion
and personal narrative in our understanding of these issues. They continue by
arguing that privileging evocative narrative, gives room to the sense-making
struggles of people whose illusions of prediction and control have been interrupted by illness or death (Ellis and Bochner, 1999: 235). Here, we provide two
juxtaposed positions of the one living with depression and the individual living
with another person living with depression. This provides perspectives that
cannot be understood from more traditional social scientific methods.
Although risks are taken by any researcher using a personal experience approach
such as autoethnography, there is a place in scholarship for shining the light of
research where one stands for attempting to know ones own experience and
sharing that knowledge. (Duncan, 2004: 13)

1 The authors are aware that this notion of depression greatly differs from clinical
depression, which is a severe mental health disorder that can lead to severe social
dysfunction. We do not wish to minimize the potential severity and consequences
of clinical depression, and encourage all those who suffer from it seek appropriate

302 Qualitative Social Work 8(3)


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Heather L. Gallardo is Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, at the

University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She currently teaches communication theory, research methods, and health communication at the undergraduate and masters levels. Her scholarship investigates the social construction of
individual identity within intimate relationships. Address: Department of
Communication Studies, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 9201
University City Blvd, Colvard 5003, Charlotte, NC 28223, USA. [email:

Rich Furman, MSW, PhD is Associate Professor and coordinator of the Master
of Social Work program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Dr
Furmans books include Practical Tips for Publishing Scholarly Articles: Writing and

304 Qualitative Social Work 8(3)

Publishing in the Helping Professions (Lyceum Books) and Navigating Human

Services (2nd edition, with Margaret Gibelman, Lyceum Books). Address: Social
Work, University of Washington, Tacoma, Box 358425, 1900 Commerce Street,
WCG 203A, Tacoma, WA 98402, USA. [email: rcfurman@u.washington.edu]

Shanti Kulkarni, PhD, LCSW is an Assistant Professor of Social Work, at the

University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She currently teaches in the MSW
program. Her primary research explores developmental and contextual factors
within interpersonal violence theory and practice. Address: College of Health
and Human Services, Department of Social Work, University of North Carolina
at Charlotte, 9201 University City Blvd, Charlotte, NC 282230001, USA.
[email: skulkar4@uncc.edu]