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.
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.
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.
After a long winter and dreadful May of rain and cold temperatures, beautiful June is finally here. The sunlight is filtering through the green tree leaves and warm air blowing across my hair.
Summer’s a great time to start investing in your health again after winter’s hibernation. People are out walking or working in their gardens. This whole time of year screams “move!” I have added weight training as part of my moving routine. Maybe you can, too.
Here is my fascinating interview with Dr. James Hollis, psychoanalyst and author of several best-selling books including “Swampland of the Soul” and “What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life.”
Dan: What is depression?
Jim: I think first of all we have to differentiate between depressions because it‘s a blanket term which is used to describe many different experiences, different contexts and different internalized experiences of people. First of all, there is the kind of depression that is driven by biological sources and it is still a mystery as to how that works. We know it affects a certain number of people in profound ways. Second, there is reactive depression which is the experience of a person who has suffered loss and as we invest energy in a relationship or a situation and for whatever reason, that other is taken away from us, that energy that was attached to him will invert as depression. Reactive depression is actually normal.
I am 57 years old. I am a lawyer. And I struggle with depression.
I was diagnosed when I turned forty. I didn’t know what was happening to me. But I knew something was wrong. I was crying quite a bit. My sleep became disrupted. It became difficult to concentrate. I felt no joy in my life.
Since being diagnosed all those years ago, I have learned to live with depression as have many of the 20 million people who are living with this illness right now in this country.