Settling Into Retirement: Six Years and Counting

Dr. Kathy McCoy writes, “Once the excitement of transitioning from the working world to retirement has become an altered version of real life — complete with dental appointments, tire rotations, bad habits and challenging friendships — there are some settling in realizations. It has been six years since Bob and I left our jobs in Los Angeles and headed for a new home in rural Arizona. Thinking back from the early days of our transition to the present, these are the realizations that have dawned as we’ve settled in”. Read her Blog

When Working Out Doesn’t Always, Well, Work Out

I had a tough spell of moderate depression that started two weeks ago and just ended recently.

I had little energy. I was glued to my seat.  Before this, I had been exercising religiously three times per week.  I noticed that exercise had a wonderful cumulative effect on my mood that carried over from day-to-day as long as I kept at it.  I actually looked forward to going to the gym.

But then, something happened.  I got a horrible head cold. I couldn’t work out.  As I laid on the couch, I felt myself sinking.  I was cranky. More followed.

image0I got a call a few weeks ago from folks that wanted to write an article about my parents and I.  They had found me by reading a blog I had written, Our Parents, Our Depression.”  They interviewed me then asked if I would rummage through some old pictures of my parents.  I dug around in some boxes. I found an old black and white of my parents. Probably when they were in their early fifties.  It brought me down.  They had depression also. Though I didn’t know that as a child. And they probably didn’t think of it that way.  But they clearly had all the symptoms.

This whole thing brought up a lot of sadness. Some of it because of the unhappy lives they led – much of it punctured by episodes of depression, drinking, and violence.  I feel connected to them still years after their deaths. I thought about how powerful the link, genetic, emotional and psychological, is between where we come from and where we find ourselves now.  Given this history, I sometimes feel like my depression is insurmountable.  Why even try? I think. It’s just going to come back away.

So, back to working out.  I just couldn’t get going.  Just thinking of the 10-minute drive from Starbucks made me weary. I drank more coffee to get a boost, but it had no effect.

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I started feeling a bit better yesterday. I still didn’t want to go to the gym but had enough energy to push through my resistance.  I got to the gym parking lot. My legs felt heavy as walked to my workout.  I got through 20 minutes on the elliptical and pumped weights.  I felt great the rest of the day and today the depression is gone.  I feel back to my old self.  While exercise and movement aren’t a panacea, it is one powerful tool to coping with this onerous illness.

This experience taught me something: exercise isn’t just something that healthy for someone like me who has depression.  It’s essential.  It has powerful effects on the brain that are difficult to achieve with therapy and/or medication. In fact, for mild to moderate levels of depression, studies show that exercise is just as effective as the meds.  As it turns out, exercise actually boosts the positive effects of antidepressants.

So build up a regular workout regimen.  There will be times that you’ll fall off the wagon. You’ll find that working out just doesn’t isn’t working out when you’re blue.

But get back on the wagon. And get your heart and spirit pumping again.

Check out the excellent book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain for a wonderful explanation of what goes on in the brain during a depression and how exercise counteracts it.

Copyright, 2016 by Daniel T. Lukasik

Working Through Stress and Depression

Depression is tough. Stress is also tough. Being depressed and stressed at the same time is even tougher. As a person who struggles with depression and has to manage stress on a daily basis, I have some good news for you:

Managing stress while being depressed is possible if you have a plan.

Depression has been a part of my life from as early as I can remember. Like a never-ending fog, I walk through it each day. As I have gotten older, I have discovered that it manifests itself in a variety of ways.

● Sometimes it feels like anger.
● Sometimes it feels like sadness.
● Sometimes it feels like emptiness.
● Sometimes it causes me physical pain.
● Sometimes it is a combination of the above.
● Sometimes it is all of the above.

Like most children, I wasn’t as aware of my thoughts and feelings as I am now, as an adult. At it’s worst my depression became extremely frustrating and overwhelming. The only way I knew how to cope with it was to act out.

Acting out included violent outbursts and harming myself.

● Acting out got me hospitalized 3 times in a psychiatric hospital.
● Acting out got me expelled from 3 schools.
● Acting out lead me to try and take my own life at age 10.
● Acting out mad friendships and dating difficult.

Nowadays, I still experience depression. Fortunately, I don’t act out like I did as a child. Through therapy, support groups, and being a mental health speaker, I have learned that there are other people who struggle with depression, too.

In addition to depression, I also get stressed out from time to time. Stress can be the result of challenges at work, at home, or in my personal life. Sometimes stress is the result of living your life. Let’s face it, life can sometimes just be overwhelming.

Through learning to manage my depression, I’ve also learned to better manage my stress. I’ve learned the hard way that being stressed while you are depressed is a crisis waiting to happen. If you don’t have a plan in place to manage both, it can end up costing you your job, your health, your relationships, and worst of all, your life.

Here are some tips that I have learned to help me cope. They are part of my plan to manage my depression and stress:

1. Get sun every day

According to Healthline, “Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. This is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused.”

My goal is to shoot for a half an hour of sun. Ironically, an hour before I began writing this article. I was feeling extremely stressed and sad. I spent about a half an hour in the sun and am feeling much better.

2. Exercise every day

Like sun, it’s important that I keep my body moving, even if it’s just a quick ten-minute walk in the morning. In fact, you can walk and get sun at the same time. The combination of both, even for a short period of time will do wonders for your stress level and depression.

My trainer and nutritionist, Maik Weidenbach, has helped me manage both my stress level and depression with customized plans. Check out his article, Depression and Exercise: 10 Tips to Stay Motivated and Strong and his book 101 Fitness Myths.

3. Writing Things Down

When you are feeling overwhelmed, sad, angry, upset, anxious, etc…, a yellow legal pad can be your best friend. By taking a few minutes to write down everything that is on your mind you can quickly clear your head. As you clear your head, you will feel better.

Also, by seeing what is on your mind written down on paper, you will feel less overwhelmed. I am not sure exactly why this works, but it does. Ironically it’s an exercise that many therapists and professional organizers give their clients.

As I am finishing up writing this article, I feel a bit depressed and a bit stressed. Regardless, it’s not stopping me from being productive because I have a plan in place that I used to take care of myself today.

Managing your stress while being depressed is doable, but you have to be proactive. I encourage you to make a commitment to try one of the ideas listed above every day for the next week. I also encourage you to spend the next week creating a plan for yourself to manage your stress.

What will you include in your plan to manage stress while depressed?

Mike is a mental health advocate and creator of the website Transforming Stigma.  To read more about Mike and his courageous work, click here.

Copyright, Daniel T. Lukasik, 2016

Holiday Survival Guide for Lawyers with Depression

From The Anxious Lawyer website, “Unfortunately, for all too many people, and particularly for all too many lawyers, the holiday season is a time filled with sadness, self-reflection, loneliness and anxiety. It is a season that comes with a “holiday depression” of its own which can affect anyone, whether it be due to time pressures, family issues, financial worries, memories of past holidays or just loneliness.” Read the Blog

One Trial Lawyer’s Journey From Severe Depression to Greater Fulfillment

I do not consider myself a lawyer. I am a human being who took on the role and career of a lawyer for 25 years. Unlike some people who entered law school with a burning passion to practice law, I ended up there because I was confused about my career direction and had no career counseling. Stop here. If you don’t feel excitement and joy when thinking about a career my hindsight advice is don’t enter it!

After a couple of years in NYC working for a small firm I quit because I hated following orders due to my anti-authoritarian streak dating back to early childhood. When I left for California I passed the CA bar exam, worked briefly for a solo practitioner, and then opened up my own solo practice. During my first few years I took whatever I could get including cases involving wrongful employment termination, wrongful eviction, workers compensation, and personal injury. I gradually steered my practice completely into plaintiff’s personal injury because I come from a family of physicians and I was truly fascinated by the medical aspects of these cases.

After I while I became rather successful as a lawyer, especially because I had a nose for what made a good case, I enjoyed investigating the facts, I cared about my clients (most of them anyway), and I frequently knew more about the medical/psychological aspects of the client’s injury than the defense. My Achilles heel was my biological tendency toward anxiety and depression which, to my mind, are two sides of the same coin.

Although I got excellent results in my cases I was plagued by fears of failure and so I worked myself to the bone when it came to preparing for depositions, hearings, and trials or opposing motions to compel discovery or obtain summary judgment. Although I was never sued by a client in 25 years I always worried that the innately disgruntled ones who complained about everything in their lives might sue me. So I worked extra hard to make sure their cases turned out well. To put in all these hours I gave up on exercise, sat more, and ate unhealthy, high salt, high sugar foods to give me some compensatory pleasure. Stop. If you are doing these things you will damage your physical and mental health. Our bodies crave outdoor exercise in the fresh air and they crave real food, not the processed crap made in factories.

At the beginning of the 1990s I took on some new challenges. I moved to a larger, more expensive office. I became a homeowner. And, my wife became pregnant with our first child. In the mid-1990s, I developed a bridge phobia, a phobia involving the fear I would fall out of the window of a tall office building, and panicky dread over crime in our neighborhood which seemed to be getting worse every day. To help myself through these irrational fears I became a good friend of Jack Daniels. This nearly led my wife to divorce me. The threat of divorce woke me up like a cold shower. I went to see a psychiatrist who put me on Zoloft and I stopped drinking. Things got better. We had a second child, a son. In the coming years I became a very good father. I adore my kids. They adore me. Both kids are flourishing. This is something I am very proud of.

In the decade between 1995-2005 I handled an increasing number of cases involving traumatic brain injury and made significant income. Initially these cases were very exciting. Over time they became a drag. Why? The defense, which had paid up relatively quickly in the early days, now used scorched earth tactics by hiring experts in human factors, biomechanics, neurology, psychiatry, neuropsychiatry, neuroradiology, etc. I had to hire counter experts in each field and I had to pay to depose every over-priced, hostile defense expert who gave me all their specious reasons why each client was a neurotic, a hysteric or a malingerer.

I felt like Sisyphus, the man condemned by the gods to roll a boulder up a steep hill every day. The litigation costs drained my coffers to the point where I was late on my rent, my copier machine rental, my records fees, and witness fees every month. In the midst of these depressing circumstances my mother suddenly died of a brain virus. And then, one day, my wife noticed we were completely out of money and our home equity lines were maxed out. I instantly plunged into what my psychiatrist called a psychotic depression in which I heard a voice from within me tell me to die over and over again, relentlessly 24/7 until after 4 days of it, I went to a hospital emergency room.

The psychiatrists who cared for me in the hospital told me I had snapped as a result of an inborn vulnerability to depression, years of stress from legal practice, and the trauma of my mother’s death and insolvency. They told me never to return to legal practice. My past 8 years have been a journey back from severe depression and into a new, more fulfilling life. Thanks to a private, own-occupation disability policy I was able to pay my family’s living expenses while recovering.

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I researched and wrote my book for lawyers, The Upward Spiral: Getting Lawyers from Daily Misery to Lifetime Wellbeing, on stress and depression while studying and practicing Buddhist meditation. I became ordained as an interfaith chaplain and sat with dying patients at a local hospital. More recently I entered an MS program in mental health counseling at Capella University. I anticipate becoming a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor at the beginning of 2017. I am finding my studies, practicums, and internships in mental health graduate school to be very meaningful and fulfilling.

Law is a very stressful profession which produces severe depression in one out of every five lawyers. What is my message to my colleagues in the law who suffer depression?

First, face the depression. Do not deny it and self-medicate it with unhealthy substance or behavioral addictions.

Second, try medication. For a depression with obsessive, suicidal rumination (like mine) it can be life-saving.

Third, see a therapist (a psychologist, MFT, counselor or social worker) so you can explore and understand the bio-psychosocial roots of your depression and choose the best form of therapy to resolve your depression.

Fourth, consider couples counseling or family therapy so your spouse and children can understand your depression and have an opportunity to educate you as to how it is affecting them. This can lead to improved understanding, communication, and cooperation at home within the family system.

Fifth, consult experts in nutrition, exercise, and sleep to develop ways for you to eat healthier, exercise more, and sleep better. A wonderful book on these topics is Go Wild by Dr. John Ratey.

Sixth, spend more time in nature because there is nothing better to quiet the mind, ease the sore psyche or restore the spirit.

Seventh, take time to actualize your potential as a unique self through whatever activity calls to you, be it photography, calligraphy, water color painting, baking, cooking, etc.

Good luck. I know you can beat depression and be happier.

Harvey Hyman, J.D. spent 25 successful yet stressful years practicing personal injury law in New York and California.  Thanks to an episode of severe depression in 2007, he found happiness and joy that had always eluded him.

 

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