SAMSHA in Washington, D.C. asked me, and others, to be in this PSA about living successfully with mental illness and how important support is in recovery. I am proud of what they produced, but it’s often not easy for me to talk about living with depression. I don’t want to be defined by it. More importantly, I don’t want others to define someone else who is, likewise, struggling with a mental health problem. I hope this commercial helps.
Strong, supportive relationships are one of the best safeguards against depression. In fact, studies have found that good social support helps to protect both our psychological and physical health. Sharing our lives with others is pleasurable and helps us feel better at times when we feel down. The process of talking about our problems and being listened to by someone who cares can be healing by itself.
Friends provide us with many important things such as emotional support, practical assistance and information, a different perspective on our problems, a sense of personal worth and belonging, and ideas for solving problems.
Catastrophizing is an irrational thought a lot of us have in believing that something is far worse than it actually is.
It can generally can take two different forms: making a catastrophe out of a current situation, and imagining making a catastrophe out of a future situation.
Decastrophizing means mentally bringing the problem back to its proper perspective.
We may end up recognizing that a situation rates only a “5” or “10” on our awfulness scale and not the “95” that we currently perceive. Decastrophizing means more than purely acknowledging that our feared situation is unlikely to arise. It means considering the consequences if it should arise. It means considering the consequences if it should arise, and recognizing that in any event, we would cope.
Have you ever noticed that depression can distort time?
It’s really good at making a day seem like a year that will never end.
You may think, “Only five hours until I can get in bed.” On other days, the day might rush by and you realize you’ve done absolutely nothing. A lot of this has to do with the fact that depression tells you that you can’t complete projects anyway, which makes you not even try to focus on the amount of time you have to get something done.
If you’ve ever seen a chess match, you know that each player’s time is limited. When you have unlimited time to think, you often take as much time as possible to ponder all the possibilities. But with a depressed brain, unlimited times could easily stretch to forever.
It may take forever – or at least feel like it – to do something.
My life has been a journey. Much of it spent in wonderful places, with awesome people I deeply love, and transcendent experiences. I’ve also had my share of the topsy-turvy curveballs of life’s tribulations that happen to everyone: loved ones dying, friendships fizzling, and adult children leaving home.
But depression doesn’t happen to everyone.
I’m in a dream of driving my car through a countryside landscape. My window’s open and the fresh air is blowing in. It’s sunny, and the road is sharply winding. I arrive at a border crossing and drive from the land of a healthy life into one of darkness that is depression. The air is stale and lifeless, hanging down like a musty drape. I close my car window. Looking through my windshield, I see only murky clouds. The landscape is barren and absent of people. I turn to make a U-turn to make it back across the border, but something blocks my path. I’m lost in this place. I don’t have a map. All signs and traffic signals make no sense. It’s hard to think straight. I drive around for hours, maybe days, and eventually make cross back into this sweet land of the living where I hope, live, and love.
This blog is by Dr. Richard O’Connor, a psychologist in NYC who has treated patients with depression for almost 40 years. He is the author of the best-selling book “Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Give You” and appears in the documentary, “A Terrible Melancholy: Depression in the Legal Profession.”
There’s some interesting research to suggest that happy people view the world through certain comforting illusions, while depressed people see things more realistically. For instance, the illusion of control. You can take a random sample of people and sit them in front of a video monitor with a joy stick, and tell them their joy stick is controlling the action of the game on the screen. (But the point of experiment is that it actually doesn’t). Depressed people will soon turn to the lab assistant and complain that their joy stick isn’t hooked up correctly. Normal people, on the other hand, will go on happily playing the game for quite some time.
I was 40 years old when depression first struck.
I was a trial lawyer and managing partner at my firm. From the outside, I was successful: a high-paying career, interesting work, a great family, and lots of friends.
From the inside, however, something was terribly wrong.
There was a deep sadness that wouldn’t go away. Before this time, I had gone to therapists for stress-related issues. Therapy always worked. After a few months talking things through, I always felt better and stopped going.
But this time, it was different. Things didn’t get better.
My dad was an alcoholic.
He died at age 56 from too much drinking. Almost 40 years ago.
I was 19 at the time, a sophomore at a local state college. I lived upstairs from my Polish grandma who, was a big woman with arms as strong as an elephant’s trunk.
One morning, my Aunt Clara, who, with her husband Eddie (who was genuinely cross-eyed), lived with grandma downstairs, came up to tell me, “Your father died today.”
I had never heard my dad called “father.” It sounded formal, like, “The President of the United States died today.”
My dad had been ill for months. The year he died, 1981, Hospice wasn’t around. Most people, as sick as my dad with cancer and cirrhosis of the liver, met their end in the hospital.
The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to. – F. Scott Fitzgerald
When first diagnosed with depression, my sleep became fragmented in a way I had never experienced before.
Before this time, I, like most frenzied lawyers, had periods of restless sleep tinged by stress and anxiety. But my sleep would return to normal after a lengthy trial or round of contentious depositions.
But this was different.
Lots of Depression, Little Sleep
I was always tired, but couldn’t sleep through the night. I went to bed early, exhausted from trying to make it through another day with depression. Trouble sleeping is a symptom of major depression. Kay Redfield Jamison, M.D., a psychiatrist, writes:
The body is bone-weary; there is no will; nothing is that is not an effort, and nothing at all seems worth it. Sleep is fragmented, elusive, or all-consuming. Like an unstable, gas, an irritable exhaustion seeps into every crevice of thought and action.”
When people are suicidal, their thinking is paralyzed, their options appear spare or nonexistent, their mood is despairing, and hopelessness permeates their entire mental domain. The future cannot be separated from the present, and the present is painful beyond solace. ‘This is my last experiment,’ wrote a young chemist in his suicide note. ‘If there is any eternal torment worse than mine I’ll have to be shown.’ – Kay Redfield Jamison, M.D., “Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide”
A second-year law student at the University at Buffalo School of Law, Matthew Benedict, died by suicide earlier this week by leaping from the Liberty Building he had been clerking at according to the Buffalo News. Another account of Matt’s life and suicide was reported in The New York Law Journal.
Matt’s funeral is tomorrow. By all account’s he was a tremendous, loving, talented, bright young man.Matt was kind-hearted, passionate and driven.