The Dead Zone Of Depression

There is a zone in a depressed person’s life where nothing seems to happen — except the pain of the absence of everything. 

Such anguish is so overwhelming that every other concern is squashed in its wake.  Our capacity for willful actions seems to be gone; we can’t “figure it out.”  We are stuck.

I have learned a lot about the zone over the years and how to handle it.  It’s really like surfing a giant wave.  To handle these waves, you study them and prepare yourself for when the next big one rolls in.

When I feel I’m entering a Dead Zone, I start a deliberate and kind conversation with myself that is practiced and rehearsed.  I don’t let the toxic voice of depression drown me out.  It’s important to empower ourselves in whatever ways we can during these times because depression will lead you to falsely conclude that you’re helpless to lift your dark mood.  This conclusion is one of the central tenets of depression; one of its main “themes”.  We need to create – and we can – different and healthier themes for our lives.

Start with a three by five index card.  Use it to create your own deliberate and kind script of themes for yourself that day.  Here’s is an example of what I had written on one of my cards:

— This depression isn’t forever, it will pass.

— I have handled it in the past, I will handle it now.

— Get out of my head – don’t sit around and ruminate.

I usually write a new card out every morning.  When depression is absent (and there are long periods of time when it is), the theme of the card might be more celebratory or grateful:

— I appreciate all of the goodness in my life.

— Thank you God for all of the wonderful people you’ve put in my life.

— I am happy that I am not experiencing depression today.

Try this for awhile and see if it helps you. Don’t wait until you are in the zone of depression to construct the cards because your thinking during such times will be distorted.  Doing this is a healthy and self-empowering step that you can take today.

Father’s Day By the Sea

 

It’s Sunday night, still Father’s Day.  I’m on vacation with my family in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  The ocean’s waves are right outside my window reminding me of mysteries that I’ll never understand. And I am thinking of the man who was my father all those years ago.

My earliest memories of my dad are deeply troubling.  His life was defined by violence, alcoholism and neglect of his family.  I know that sounds morbid, even to me.   But, it’s just the plain truth.

When I look back on his life this day, I think about the time that he was dying in the hospital for a month.  One night, I stopped by after everyone else had gone.  Only the florescent light from the hallway made sense of the room.  My dad was tired and I told him just to sleep.  I pulled up a chair beside his bed.  My back was turned towards him and I was hunched over in the silence.  I thought he was asleep.  Minutes passed.

Then I felt his warm hand on my back.  He was rubbing it as he never had before.  We both said nothing.  Yet, there’s no doubt what it all meant in that moment.  He was saying that he was sorry and that he loved me.  He couldn’t say those words no more than he could say at AA meetings, “My name is Walter and I’m an alcoholic.”

I asked my sister and three brothers about their memories of Dad dying. My one brother, Tony, said, “Danny, I know that you’re trying to find good in Dad.  But really, he was just a big asshole.”  Yet, I’m not so sure that’s what I was trying to do; to find “good” in him.  What felt truer to me was the mystery of grief.  Such an experience seems a strange mix of sadness, loss and the weight of existence.  It’s a mystery that I can still touch today – especially today – when I think of him.

My sense of this is captured in Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Visitor.”

My father, for example,
who was young once
and blue-eyed,
returns
on the darkest of nights
to the porch and knocks
wildly at the door,
and if I answer
I must be prepared
for his waxy face,
for his lower lip
swollen with bitterness.
And so, for a long time,
I did not answer,
but slept fitfully
between his hours of rapping.

But finally there came the night
when I rose out of my sheets
and stumbled down the hall.
The door fell open
and I knew I was saved
and could bear him,
pathetic and hallow,
with even the least of his dreams
frozen inside him,
and the meanness gone.
And I greeted him and asked him
into the house,
and lit the lamp,
and looked into his blank eyes
in which at last
I saw what a child must love,
I saw what love might have done
had we loved in time.

When Is My Depression Going to End?

I find writing about depression for lawyers a delicate balancing act.  On one hand, I don’t want to pull any punches about just how awful depression is or how adversely it can affect your life and career.  On the other hand, I want to offer hope and encouragement to those who are in the trenches and deal with it every day.  I will try to do both today.

I have been encouraged by some to write only “positive” articles about dealing with depression. But I just can’t do that. To not deal with the more troubling aspects of depression seems to me a form of denial.  The other day, I was at my local bookstore checking out the Self-Help section for any new titles on depression.  Some of the titles seemed like they were being pitched by used car salesmen:  “Overcome Your Depression in 30 Days!”  This doesn’t help the conversation about depression because it sets up ludicrous expectations in the minds of those who suffer from it and their loved ones about the speed of recovery.  For many with depression, they’re in it for the long haul.

One of the hardest parts about dealing with depression on a daily basis is its seemingly unpredictable nature:  When is it going to start again and how long will it last?

Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of the best-selling book, Prozac Nation, gets it right when she wrote:

“That’s the thing about depression.  A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight.  But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.  The fog is like a cage without a key”.

Many, many lawyers go into a mode of survival waiting for a depression to end.  To me, the degree to which such a depression can create catastrophe in our lives as lawyers seems driven by the episode’s severity:  is it a tropical depression or a full blown hurricane?

If it a low to medium grade depression, tools like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (“CBT”) are very helpful.  With CBT, we work in therapy to replace destructive, depressing, negative self-talk with positive, healthy and realistic self-talk.  The efficacy of this approach has been studied and documented using PET scans of the human brain.  Such scans show that an area in the frontal cortex (the thinking part of our brain) is hyperactive in depressives before CBT and then calmed down after successful CBT treatment.  This same area of the brain is activated when people do self-referencing [relating external events, particularly negative ones, to the self] and depressives do too much of this.  They spin around in a cycle of negative thoughts and try to use the cerebral cortex to snap out of their depression.  With CBT, they learn to decrease their self-reference to the things that are negative.  It’s a form of rehabilitation of the cortex where depressives learn to turn the volume down.

This is a critical skill for lawyers to develop.  According to psychologist, Martin Seligman, author of the best-selling book, “Authentic Happiness,”  lawyers are pessimists.  They develop thinking habits which see problems as permanent and intractable.  They also feel an overdeveloped sense of ownership or responsibility for such problems.  Optimists, on the contrary, see problems as temporary, solveable and not necessarily their “fault”.  The important point here is that optimism is a skill that can be developed and practiced. Read Seligman’s chapter, “Why Are Lawyers So Unhappy?”

If it is a deeper depressive episode, more like a trough of despair, CBT won’t work very well.  During such an episode, there is the sense that it’s never going to end.  Yet, this is the distorted voice of depression talking because for the majority of people with depression, IT DOES END.  The trick is to learn how best to weather the storm.

I find that when I am in a deeper depression, I need to go outside my mind and get into my body.  Consistently, the things that helped me the most were the following:

1.   It’s virtually impossible to feel depressed while exercising and even for a good period of time thereafter.  The problem, as most of us know, is getting to the gym or the park.  Behavioral prompts can help.  Always have your gym gear in your car.  Also, be realistic.  Remember that it takes at least 21 days to form a habit.  So, those first 21 days won’t be the easiest ones.  Tell your family and friends about the importance of exercise to you and have them support and remind you about this on a daily basis.

2.   Cut off any unnecessary negative input in your life during these times.  Don’t listen to any sad music, watch violent T.V. shows or read somber books.  This isn’t a forever type of deal.  Think of it more as a “timeout”.  Some people stop reading the newspaper during an episode as well.  Also, the time you’re not doing these activities gives you the time that you’ll need to exercise.

3.   See a massage therapist.  Touch has a powerful effect on the human body and is known to cause the release of endorphins (the feel-good chemicals).  It doesn’t involve any thinking on your part.  For busy lawyers, it’s a time to relax and receive something positive for the day.

Remember to be kind to yourself today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Litany of Quotes

I simply love quotes.  I am always writing them down on scraps of paper.   Winston Churchill once said, “It is a good thing to read books of quotations.  The qualities, when engraved upon the memory, give you good thoughts.”  Churchill needed such reminders because he suffered from depression, or what he called “the black dog,” much of his life.  I often turn to quotes to lift my spirits or give me some insight into life’s deepest questions. While reading the newspaper this sunny morning, I came across a great quote from the novelist, Joyce Carol Oates:

“Nothing is accidental in the universe – this is one of my Laws of Physics – except the entire universe itself, which is Pure Accident, pure divinity.”

Here are some other gems:

“Let us endeavor to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”

-Mark Twain

“We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”

-Martin Luther King

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

-George Eliot

“I find that the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.  To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against – but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie in anchor.”

-Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes

“The future depends on what we do in the present.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

My favorite collection of quotes is found in a book, Sunbeams:  A Book of Quotations.  The quotes found in this book were culled from the magazine, The Sun Magazine. If you’re not aware of this publication, you should be.  It is simply a beautiful, eccentric and insightful magazine.  What is the magazine about?  Here is what the publisher says:  “The Sun is an independent, ad-free monthly magazine that for more than thirty years has used words and photographs to invoke the splendor and heartache of being human.  The Sun celebrates life, but not in a way that ignores it’s complexity.    The personal essays, short stories, interviews, poetry, and photographs that appear in its pages explore the challenges we face and the moments we rise to meet them.”  The last page of each edition, called “Sunbeams” is devoted to quotes.  Check it out.

Do you have some favorite quotes?  Please post a comment and share it with everyone.

In Praise of Kindness

This week, I was privileged to receive the Special Service Award from the Erie County Bar Association for my work in assisting lawyers with depression.  It was a particularly emotional night for me.  You see, my 81 year old mother was in the audience.  She’s in very poor health and it was difficult for her to walk to our table at the event.  My father died 30 years ago.  So mom has been my only parent since I was 18 years old.

Each of the award recipients were asked to keep there remarks short.  Accordingly, I will try to keep this blog short.  I thanked the bar and many others for their love and support. First and foremost, my wife, Kelsey. No man could ask for a more beautiful and loving partner.  Then I said:

“Last but not least, I want to thank my mother who is here tonight.  She taught me one of life’s most important lessions:  kindness counts.”

Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of the best selling book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, said that when he was a young man, he admired people who were cunning.  But as he grew older and wiser, he admired people who were kind.  See this great clip of him.

I told the audience the whopping statistics; about how major depression afflicts 350 billion people in our world.  Forty million people in our own country suffer from it.  It is the leading cause of disability worldwide and costs the U.S. economy 70 billion dollars a year in lost productivity. 

But, as Helen Keller once said, “Life is full of suffering, but it’s also full of the overcoming of it.”

To me, being of service to others has helped me cope with my own depression.  It has given me more than I have ever given.  Giving to other appeals to what is best in people.  To what Abraham Lincoln called, “the better angels of our nature.”

My role model for service is Mother Teresa.  She used to carry around “business” cards that she handed out to people.  On the front, was her contact information.  On the back, read a beautiful prayer she had written.

The fruit of silence is PRAYER

The fruit of prayer is FAITH

The fruit of faith is LOVE

The fruit of service is love is SERVICE

The fruit of service is PEACE.

I wish all of you the peace that comes from loving service.

A Lawyer’s Heart

I’ve felt plenty of anger over my twenty years as a litigator.  Sometimes, and thank God they were few and far between, I would blow up at opposing counsel or a client.  More often, my anger would sometimes simmer just below the surface.  This is an all too common reality for today’s lawyer.  “By definition, the adversarial system is conflict-ridden, and conflict creates certain types of emotions like anger, guilt and fear, which causes stress, says Amiram Elwork, Ph.D. author of the book, Stress Management for Lawyers

According to Chicago litigator, Shawn Wood, the “nature of civil litigation involves two lawyers (often Type A personalities) squaring off against one another under circumstances where there will be a winner and a loser, and part of each lawyers job will be to capitalize on any possible error in judgment that the other side makes.”  I really don’t buy into this completely.  Many lawyers that I know aren’t “Type A” personalities.  They are usually hard working and successful.  But, it can take a tremendous toll on their mental and physical health.  They struggle with the simmering variety of anger.

Anger turned outward is hostility.  Such hostility can express itself in a number of ways for lawyers.  Andy Benjamin, Ph.D., both a lawyer and psychologist who treats lawyers with stress, anxiety and depression, describes hostility as an “array” of the following thoughts and behaviors: 

  • Holding persistent negative, hostile, or cynical thoughts during relationship interactions;
  • Chronic impatience;
  • Frequent irritability
  • Disconnecting from others due to an empathetic deficit (for example, being rigid in relationship interactions);
  • Suffering continual fatigue.

You could say most people have these problems in our hectic, stressful world.  “But lawyers are particularly susceptible to stress-related illnesses because of the unique interplay of the legal profession and lawyer personality” says the ABA Journal.  A study that followed University of North Carolina law students as lawyers for 30 years suggested that those with significantly elevated levels of hostility were more likely to have died prematurely from cardiovascular disease.

According to Jesse Stewart, assistant professor of psychology at Purdue University, depression and hostility commonly occur together.  When a person is both depressed and hostile, the traits interact in a complex way to elevate inflammatory proteins in the body.  The combination of hostility plus depression appears to be as dangerous a risk factor for heart disease as high blood pressure or even smoking.

Edward C. Suarez, Ph.D., of Duke University, says a recent study, “. . . suggests the possibility that men who are . . . hostile and exhibit depressive symptoms, even in the mild to moderate range, are at heightened risk for cardiac events.”  This is so because of the release of adrenaline during times of stress.  According to Dr. Cleaves M. Bennet, clinical professor of medicine at UCLA Medical Center,  “Adrenaline is the growth hormone for the heart muscle.  On the one hand, its good to have a big, strong heart, but at the same time that the heart is getting bigger and stronger, the arteries are narrowing to protect the tissue.”

Given the clear connection between lawyer hostility, depression and the heightened risk for a cardiac event, what can lawyers do about it?

First and foremost, they need to educate themselves about the connection between depression, hostility and heart disease. Most people don’t see the correlation. But, there’s no denying the science which makes the links. 

Second, because hostility creates stress in the body (i.e. the release of adrenaline and cortisol when the body goes into the fight or flight mode), it’s critical to discharge the stress through some form of exercise.  When I go through a good workout after a confrontational day, it’s as if I am wiping the slate clean.  I am discharging the stress that is causing so much trouble in my body and bringing it back into some kind of balance.  Exercise is really just a formalized form of the flight response to stress.  Our bodies want to step on the gas.  Listen to your body and let it run.

Third, you need to find out where your hostility is coming from.  Is it from problems in your personal life that you bring into your daily life as a lawyer?  If so, these need to be met and addressed.  Or, is it the other way around?  Is it the daily grind and confrontation at the office that you bring home?  It’s important to figure this out.  If opposing counsel is a jerk and elicits a hostile reaction from you, it might be time to learn (and, yes, it is a skill you can learn) different ways of being assertive without harming your heart and increasing your risk for depression.  If it is problems at home, identify them and if need be, go for counseling.

Fourth, learn to tell the difference between being assertive and being aggressive. For further reading on this topic, check out this article “Are you Assertive – or Aggressive?” and the article “Assertive, Not Aggressive.”  To help evaluate your own levels of perceived stress and associated health risks, visit the University at Pittsburgh Center’s Healthy Lifestyle Program Web site.

The Weight of Advice

Each of us is a Dear Abby to the world. We dish out advice and opinions whether asked for or not; me included! Much of this is harmless; some necessary and kind. Then there’s the stuff we dole out without knowing what the hell we’re talking about. Where we should tread carefully, we plod along.

For better or for worse, there’s tremendous power in words. When we are vulnerable – as we are during a depression – the critical or misguided words of others take on the ring of gospel. Some may blame us for our depression in a ploy to get us to snap out of it. In one poll, 54% of Americans said that they thought of depression as a “moral weakness”.

Years ago, when I first told my four law partners that I was diagnosed with depression and would need to take time off, they sat there stunned. After a moment of awkward silence, one partner said, “What in the world do you have to be depressed about? You’ve got a great job, wife, family and friends. What do you need, a vacation?” This is an all too common response. His school of thought would argue that it was a lack of gratefulness that was at the root of my distress. Carried to its logical (or illogical) conclusion, we have control over our depressed state and if we only try harder by thinking positive thoughts, it will all go away.

In the book, Unholy Ghosts: Writers on Depression, author Susanna Kaysen says:

“The Failure of Will theory is popular with people who are not depressed. Get out and take your mind off yourself, they say. You’re too self-absorbed. This is just about the stupidest thing you can say to a depressed person, and it is said every day to depressed people all over this country. And if it isn’t that, it’s, Shut up and take your Prozac. These attitudes are contradictory. Conquer Your Depression and Everything Can Be Fixed by the Miracle of Science presuppose opposite explanations of the problem. One blames character, the other neurotransmitters. They are often thrown at the sufferer in sequence: Get out and do something, and if that doesn’t work, take pills. Sometimes they’re used simultaneously: You won’t take those pills because you don’t WANT to do anything about your depression, i.e. Failure of Will.”

These observations capture some of the angst – and yes, anger – of depressives. When I was struggling with other’s judgments about my depression, I thought, “What do I have to do to be worthy of their mercy?” In retrospect, it wasn’t a question of worthiness, but ignorance. Some people (friends, family and business associates) will never be able to overcome the inertia of their own ignorance. They’re not bad people. It’s just the way life is. And we have to learn to be okay with that. But then there are others. These precious souls – and there don’t have to be lots of them – who have our back. They truly want to understand and help. Mother Teresa was once asked by a hard-boiled reporter what God expects of humanity. I think the reporter expected some stock answer. Mother Teresa, in all her gracious dignity, said that all God really wants from us to be is a “loving presence” to one another. There are those in our lives who want to be that presence to us. Give them the chance to be that light.

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Lying in the Hands of God

Growing up in a Polish-Catholic home, I was more of a cultural catholic than a church going sort. But, my alcoholic father would make us go with him sometimes. I think it gave him a sense of normalacy; a feeling that he could be with other people without throwing down shots of Jack Daniels at a local watering hole. Only later did I develop any real sense of  my own spiritual search. I’m still on that journey.

All religions have a lot to say on the topic of suffering, but not so much on the topic of depression. I guess you could say that depression is a “form” of suffering. Personally, I think that doesn’t cut it. When someone says to me, “Well, everyone suffers,” I walk away misunderstood and feeling the worse for the encounter. Maybe there’s not much dialogue about depression in our churches because of the raw fear that faith can’t fix everything.

When I first became sick, I didn’t know I had “depression”. I just thought I was having one of life’s many existential emergencies. I would kneel and pray that God would take away my pain. But, it simply didn’t happen that way. Sometimes, I would give God an ultimatum: “You either take away this damn pain, or I’m turning my back on you fella”. I demanded “a” solution, an answer. One wasn’t forthcoming.

As time went on, something happened. I stopped trying to dictate so many of the terms of my recovery from depression. Instead, I just  began to surrender myself. I began to see that God was bigger than my depression. It didn’t mean that I wouldn’t suffer now or in the future from it. But a light appeared through cracks in depression’s armor. There’s a sense of joyous relief that comes when we stop the war against depression. We lay down our burden.

In the new album by The Dave Matthews Band, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, there’s a beautiful song (listen now), called Lying in the Hands of God. In one part, Dave sings:  “If you feel the angels in your head. Tears drop of Joy runs down your face. You will rise.”

At my best, when I feel “the angels in my head”, I weep with joy knowing that depression doesn’t have the final say in my life. Yes, there will be times when I suffer from it. But, it doesn’t last.

In her article written for my website, Sister Kathryn James Hermes (who suffers from depression), author of the book, A Contemplative Approach to Depression, wrote that prayer leads us to “. . . vulnerability – the learned powerlessness of the truly powerful who can simply be: simply wait, simply be present, simply wonder, simply trust that much larger hands are holding us and knows for whom we work in view of a much larger plan that we cannot as yet understand”.

Tune out the drumbeat of depression for a bit today. We don’t have to understand or control it all. Try lying in the hands of God awhile. And rise.

Creating a Self-Care Toolkit

I talked with a wonderful woman from halfway across the country this morning about her ongoing battle with depression.  At one point, she asked me so tenderly, “Am I ever going to get better?” My unwavering response was “Yes”. Maybe I had no right to say this. After all, I’m not an expert. But I have talked with hundreds of lawyers across the country who have shared their depression stories with me. Many of them have recovered or are on their way. The woman also shared with me that she was in therapy and taking antidepressants, but was still having a lot of problems with depression. I offered her a little hard won advice which I will share here.

When we think about recovery, we need to envision a Self-Care Toolkit. What’s that? It’s behaviors that you are going to do that are healthy and offer you relief and hope. Certainly, seeing a psychologist and a psychiatrist are self-caring acts. But, there is a lot more that we can do to help ourselves. I call them the pillars of recovery. Here are a few that I shared with my friend on the phone today:

1.    Join a support group for depressed people. Ask your psychologist or psychiatrist if they know of one. If not, maybe they will start one that you can participate in. Alternatively, contact the Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance. It’s a national organization dedicated to helping people just like you. Here is the link to finding a support group in your area. Another idea is to contact a Lawyers Assistance Program (LAP) in your State or community. These programs are confidential and are there to help lawyers with problems including depression. They may be able to help you find a lawyers support group in your community. Here is the link to find a LAP in your state. Please note that a support group is not the same thing as group therapy. Here is a great article from the Mayo Clinic about the difference between the two and the benefits of joining a group. One of the biggest problems is the loneliness that we as people with depression experience.  We often think to themselves, “No one understands my pain”. We compound this loneliness by isolating themselves from others. The act of joining a support group is a much healthier choice than walling ourselves off.

2.    Start a journal. Depression often causes us to bottle up our emotions or feel like we just can’t sort them out. In one study , conducted by The University of New England, police officers spent 15 minutes at the end of their shift writing in a journal about stressful events and feelings that had occurred during the shift. In just four days the officers experienced a 28% reduction in stress, anxiety and depression. “Keeping a journal is a good way to start coping with depression”, says Jessie Gruman, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of Health in Washington. “It’s not aggressive, it’s something you can do by yourself, and it gives you the chance to see your feelings in black and white and then make plans to do something about them.”

3.     Help your spouse/partner to help you.  Many spouses/partners who love people struggling with depression don’t know what to say or do. Sometimes, although well intentioned, they say something that only makes you feel worse and more alone. What a spouse/partner needs to do is get educated. I have recommend reading the book, When Someone You Love Is Depressed: How to Help Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself, by Laura Epstein Rosen, Ph.D. It’s important for your partner to be on the same page because depression affects the whole family.  I recommend that you buy the book for your spouse as a gift. It lets them know that you care and realize that they struggle with how to help.  Read this article from Psychology Today about how families often do better at recognizing depression than patients. Need online help? Wonderful resources can be found at the Families for Depression Awareness website at www.familyaware.org.

More later. For now, be well.

Managing Your Depressive Symptoms Is Not Enough

If you have been living with depression long enough, you will inevitably face the question of whether managing your depression is enough. Many lawyers dealing with depression (and there are 200,000 in America) are struggling to get rid of their symptoms of depression. I understand the value and necessity of this all too well. But once the symptoms seem manageable, what next?

In his book, What Happy People Know, psychologist, Dan Baker, offers his criticisms of much of modern day psychology: “Clinical psychology – the treatment in a clinical setting of people with mental disorders – was begun with great fanfare as an adjunct to modern medicine in the late 1800s. It was patterned after the conventional medical model of fighting pathology. Clinical psychology was based on the assumption that most people are mentally healthy – and happy- but some people contract mental pathologies that conform to neat diagnostic compartments, and require standardized treatments. The only problem is that it doesn’t work very well. It fails approximately two-thirds of the time.” As I write, let it be known that I attend therapy twice per month!

There is a great debate worldwide about the causes of depression. Most agree that it is a complex condition related to a combination of factors both genetic and environmental. While there is value in thinking about depression as a disease of sorts – say on par with diabetes or heart disease – there is a real danger to as well. That’s because it isn’t just a “disease;” it’s also a psychological and spiritual malady. If those aspects aren’t addressed, those who suffer from it may never taste the wonder and joy of life. They are left with the discontent of a life where they are only managing their depressive symptoms. Don’t we have the right to expect more?

Dr. Baker central point is that the approach of clinical psychology was not designed to help people find happiness. “It assumed that if mental illness were cured, happiness would naturally follow, as the normal human condition. But that doesn’t happen for the vast majority of people.” He continues, “I believe that even when people do not have diagnosable psychological illness, they still cannot be considered psychologically healthy unless they are happy. The absence of disease is not the same as health, just as the absence of poverty is not the same as wealth.” For a further exploration of the issue of happiness, see the interesting article in The Atlantic Magazine, “What Makes Us Happy” by Joshua Wolf Shenk. Interesting, Mr. Shenk is the author of Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness.

I believe Dr. Baker’s point is well taken. Yes, it is critically important to treat the symptoms of clinical depression. But we must stop and pause: is that enough? If it is, I can’t help but feel as though we have allowed ourselves to be victims on some level. Depression then has the danger of defining our identities as people. We are more than that. We must aspire to live a fuller life with times of joy, happiness and a sense of being alive. As Mark Twain once wrote, “Let us endeavor to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”

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