Other People’s Judgements About Our Depression

We all dish out opinions and advice whether asked for or not.

Much of it harmless; some, necessary and kind.

Then there’s those we dole out without knowing what the hell we’re talking about. Where we should tread carefully, we lumbar.

For better or worse, there’s tremendous power in words we use to express our opinions.  When vulnerable – as we are during depression – the critical or misguided words of others take on the ring of gospel truth. Some may blame us for our depression.

In one poll, 54% of Americans said they thought of depression as a “personal or emotional weakness”.  This explains much of stigma surrounding not only depression but all mental illness.

In a recent survey, what do 43.8 percent of women state as the Number 1 reason for not telling someone they were depressed?

“Others would think I am weak or think less of me.

What do 57 percent state as their Number 1 reason?

“I believe I will get over it by myself”, followed by the same reason as women, the fear of being seen as weak, at 32 percent.

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

“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 Wellbutrin. 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.”

Some just don’t think of it as the illness it is, but an excuse not to work hard.

Years ago, when I first told my three law partners that I was diagnosed with major depression and would need to take time off from work.  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. Take a vacation!”

His anger humiliated me.  “What’s wrong with me?” I thought.

I later learned that his reaction was, sadly, all too common. His judgment was that a lack of gratefulness was at the root of my distress. If only I jetted to Florida and sat under a palm counting my blessings, I would be depression-free.

For some time, these types of comments hurt me.  They made me feel less-than. But after a while, they often made me angry. I thought, “What the hell do I have to do to be worthy of their mercy?” In retrospect, it wasn’t a question of my worthiness, but their ignorance. They didn’t have an emotional reference point for depression. They thought of it as stress, or, at worst, a bit of burnout.  I recall a surgeon friend of mine (you would think that he, as a medically trained person, would know better!) telling me I was just in a “funk.” And then he said, “You want to see people who really have a right to be depressed?  You should see the poor people with little money take two bus rides just to get to my office!”

Another painful innuendo.  I had no right to be depressed, he must have thought.  I was an upper-middle class professional, after all.

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.

One of my best friends who has struggled with depression the past five years is frustrated by his wife’s lack of interest in talking to him about his depression.  “Why doesn’t she love me, Dan?”  “It’s not that she doesn’t love you,” I replied.  “It might just be that she’s not capable of understanding in the way you want her to.”

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.

 

Hope Counts: One Lawyer With Depression’s Testimony

I am a lawyer, as many of you.

I went to law school and passed the bar exam like you.

I also struggle with depression like too many of you,  as well.

A new study by the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation found that twenty-eight percent of over 12,825 practicing lawyers polled reported a problem with depression.  This is over three times the rate found in the general population. When put in perspective, of the 1.2 million attorneys in this country, over 336,000 reported symptoms of clinical depression.

Levels of stress, anxiety, and problem drinking were also significant, with 23%, 19%, and 20.6% experiencing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and hazardous drinking, respectively.

“This is a mainstream problem in the legal profession,” said the study’s lead author, Patrick Krill, director of the Legal Professionals Program at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, and a lawyer himself. “There needs to be

Dan’s Top 10 Video Picks on Depression

Films can teach us a lot about depression.  Not only can they provide information.  They can also move us emotionally by drawing us into the subject with interviews, animations, and other techniques that aren’t amenable to books.  Here are my favorite videos that address the topic of depression.

Living with Depression

I came across this short video recently.  And was very moved.  It captures, with sublime music and moving images of a young woman, her struggles with clinical depression and the loneliness she endures. Powerful. Over four million people have viewed it. Running time is 3 minutes and 22 seconds

The Crunch of Time and Depression

Time is the enemy of our synapse-challenged world.  This beast is always just a step behind us. And we keep losing ground as it nips at our heels and bears its sharp fangs.  Time, indeed, becomes an enemy.

We tap on the brakes to try and slow down, but even the vacations and weekends aren’t always terribly relaxing.

We attempt to break apart our days into manageable segments or, as the poet T.S. Eliot once wrote, “Measure out our lives with coffee spoons.”

We often experience time as a force outside of ourselves; as if the clicking clock on the wall or watch on our wrist had its own personhood that nags at us: “Do this not that, wait, what about that other that?”

As Will Rogers once wrote, “Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we’ve rushed through life trying to save.”

Weathering the Dead Zone of Depression

There is a dead zone in a depressed person’s life where nothing seems to happen.

Except for 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.  And it sucks.

I have learned a lot about this “zone” over the years, its patterns, and how to handle it.  It’s really like learning to surf a giant, dark wave.  To handle these waves, you need to prepare yourself before the next big ones roll in.

When I’m entering a dead zone, I use positive affirmations I’ve created to “talk back” to my depression. I don’t let the toxic voice of depression drown me out.  It’s important to empower yourself in whatever ways you can during these times because depression will lead you to falsely conclude that

The Bald-Faced Lies Depression Tells Us: Part 1

Whatever the cause, clinical depression sufferers are often shackled to a prison of ruminative, negative thoughts about the world and themselves.

They are full of self-loathing, feelings of worthlessness, and a sense of failure.  Confidence in their ability to build and maintain successful relationships is eroded.  Their sense of competency about their work can plummet as they struggle to get things done, be productive and earn a living. Some may even hate themselves when lost in this destructive process.

If that weren’t tough enough, are brains actually work against in this negative spiral. Psychologist Margaret Wehrenberg writes:

“Brain function plays a role in rumination in several ways, but one significant aspect

Me, Mom, Dad, and Depression: A Family Affair

lukasik_parents_cropped“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in the moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Like all parents, my Mom and Dad were flawed people – as I am. Yet, they were something more than that.

I’ve struggled to understand them much of my adult life; maybe more so now that they’re both gone. Here’s a picture of them from 1946 cleaning up the reception hall after a two-day celebration.

The nineteenth-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once wrote: “The first forty years of life furnish the text, while the remaining thirty supply the commentary.” Maybe it isn’t till midlife that we really work hard to interpret the stories of our past. I believe there’s a strong urge in all of us to make a comprehensible story of one’s life at this juncture. And our parents are a large part of that tale.

Depression and Hope in the Legal Profession

I am a lawyer, like many of you.

I also struggle with depression, like too many of you as well.

A new study by the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation found that twenty-eight percent of over 12,825 practicing lawyers polled reported a problem with depression.  This is over three times the rate found in the general population. When put in perspective, of the 1.2 million attorneys in this country, over 336,000 reported symptoms of clinical depression.

Levels of stress, anxiety, and problem drinking were also significant, with 23%, 19%, and 20.6% experiencing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and hazardous drinking, respectively.

“This is a mainstream problem in the legal profession,” said

Out of the Blue of Depression

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August.

It seems like the sweet sun’s been high in a blue sky for months.

It’s steamy outside. But that’s just fine with me.  My feet aren’t cold, dark clouds don’t threaten snow, and everyone’s outside watering yards and going for walks at night.

Author Natalie Babbitt captures some of  summer’s magic when she writes:

“The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noon’s, and sunsets smeared with too much color.”

I’ve been upbeat and productive these past few months.  I wake with the light thrown through cracks in my bedroom curtains. I charge up on coffee, create a killer to-do-list, and fly out the door with a sort of crazy, off-kilter optimism.  Looking out at the sun-baked, south of France Monet-like landscape, all is good.

I am out of the blue of depression. And haven’t been in that god forsaken place since a murky week-long stretch last spring.  I am sure the stinky weather had something to do with it.  Months of accumulated winter darkness had tipped me into a dark well. Happily, it didn’t last too long.

And for this, I am grateful.

One of the things I do to stay healthy is to take time to reaffirm the goodness in my life when things are on-kilter and going well. It’s like building up a reservoir of fresh water that I can tap into when my streams run dry. I do this by taking the time to be grateful for the good people and things in my life. It warms my soul. And may even put a smile on my face.

Yes, it can be very hard to feel grateful when depressed. When in a bog of waist deep misery, it’s not only unlikely that we’ll give thanks, it might be impossible. We just can’t conjure up the goodness at such times. Everything feels like a mess.  We’re fragmented, lonely, and depressed.  There isn’t much to hope for. We sort of trudge through our days existing, but not really living.

The devil of depression seems to squeeze out all the goodness out of life. We’re left high and dry. When this happens, we need loved ones and a therapist to help us reap the goodness both past and present.  We can’t do it alone.  But when we’re feeling well, man is it a great practice.

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Here’s a neat and timely tome on this theme from humorist and NPR’s Prairie Home Companion creator Garrison Keillor:

“To know and to serve God, of course, is why we’re here, a clear truth, that, like the nose on your face, is near at hand and easily discernible but can make you dizzy if you try to focus on it hard. But a little faith will see you through. What else will do except faith in such a cynical, corrupt time? When the country goes temporarily to the dogs, cats must learn to be circumspect, walk on fences, sleep in trees, and have faith that all this woofing is not the last word. What is the last word, then? Gentleness is everywhere in daily life, a sign that faith rules through ordinary things: through cooking and small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing, tending animals and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music and books, raising kids — all the places where the gravy soaks in and grace shines through. Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.”

The goodness of others is grace. It’s the universe’s way of reminding us not to fret too much, that things will work out, that our important jobs are, well, just a part of life, and that uplifting fortune cookie messages sometimes do come true.  If I could, I would stick this quote by author Anne Lamott on one of those skinny wrappers:

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it greets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”

Think of the kind people you’ve had in your life from your past and today; the everyday saints who were dropped into your life for no other reason than to remind you that life can be good, that you are special and that life is worth living.

These people always leave us feeling better than when they found us.

Take the time today to reflect and take in the goodness in your life.  Depression may be part of your life.  But it isn’t the whole enchilada.

There is always the other side of the coin.

And it’s sweet when we think about it.

By Daniel T. Lukasik

Further Reading:

The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Make us Healthier by Ocean Robbins in the Huffington Post.

How Gratitude Combats Depression by Dr. Deb Serani in Psychology Today.

9 Ways to Promote Gratitude in Your Life by Therese Borchard at Everyday Health.

 

What’s Up? Gratitude and Depression

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When first squashed by clinical depression years ago, some told me to think of all the things I had to be thankful for – as if this would cure my “blues.”

But I didn’t have the blues. I didn’t just feel “sad.”  I had an illness.  I had entered a long, dark tunnel.  I didn’t see a glimmer of light at the end of it.  I wandered in it for years before things got better.  At some point, I saw an end, of sorts, in sight.  I exited that tunnel and felt the warming sun of life reinvigorating my body. I knew I was going to be okay.

It was only after having exiting the tunnel that I was capable of even thinking about gratitude.  But now it’s an important part of my “Depression Toolkit”: things I do to keep what sufferer Winston Churchill called “the black dog” at bay.

Listen to the podcast of my interview with Rabbi Mark Gellman

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