Mary Chapin Carpenter could barely compose herself.

The 48-year-old country singer-songwriter had just been asked to talk about her experience with depression during her discussion of the creative process with author Kaye Gibbons at the 2006 N.C. Festival of the Book.

"I was so," Carpenter said, pausing for words, "afraid that people would find out."

Carpenter, a five-time Grammy winner whose last album was 2004's "Between Here and Gone," said she believes that she suffered from depression as far back as childhood, but no one understood.

Instead, she was considered "shy" or "lonesome."

The illness "is so mysterious to me," said Carpenter, who sees a therapist. "It's caused me a lot of pain."

But it's also provided her with music, she said Sunday, the last day of the weeklong festival.

She referred to depression as "suffering an episode," which she described as a "period of time when I feel very, very down."

"It's not a coincidence that I'm not writing" during those times, she said.

She also sang three songs, including two from an upcoming album. One song, "Houston," explores the possibility that some people whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina may never return home.

About 1,000 people listened to the discussion between Carpenter and Gibbons, author of "Ellen Foster," making it one of the most popular sessions of the festival.

Except for appearances by Barbara Kingsolver and Tom Wolfe, the festival was set up in a discussion format and artists were asked to talk about a certain topic. They sat in green rocking chairs that lent an intimacy to the discussions.