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.
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.
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.
A friend I hadn’t seen in months bumped into me at Starbucks.
I’d been standing in line waiting for coffee. There was a tap-tap on my shoulder. Turning around, I saw my friend, Brian, who, like me, had been a lawyer for over twenty-five years.
Accomplished and well-connected, Brian had a quiet composure that appeared to follow him wherever he went. I liked him. You could look into his eyes. And he would look attentively back. He knew I had struggled with depression.
“How are you?” he said.
“Not so great,” I slumped.
Every day you wake up, drive to work, sit in an office for eight hours, and drive home. For five days a week it is a lather, rinse, repeat cycle. This is a sample of an average job. Nowadays, more and more jobs are starting to extend themselves outside of the office. Cell phones and laptops make it simple to be connected to our jobs 24/7. You may find yourself answering emails at the dinner table or fielding phone calls from other time zones on the weekends. The piles of work continue to grow, but the deadlines become much closer together. You have no choice but to do what you have to do to get it all done. Or do you?
With growing workplace demands, depression amongst employees has started to become a real epidemic. Signs of depression include feelings of sadness, worthlessness, fatigue, anxiety, and lack of concentration. For a company to operate at its best, it is important for its employees to feel their best. If you are feeling depressed at work, or feel like your employees are suffering, take note of a few suggestions to ease the stress and get back to smiles and productivity.
I started a lawyer depression support group ten years ago. It’s one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done. We started out with ten people. It met once a month. Over time, it evolved into every other week. We now gather once a week. I’ve been asked many times about how to start a group. Here are a few pointers to help you get going. They’re in no particular order of importance.
- Be clear about what a support group is
A peer support group is a regular gathering of folks suffering from depression who share their struggles with fellow sufferers to gain insight, strength and hope. These meetings are less structured and more open-ended and the content doesn’t come from a mental health professional. In contrast, group therapy is more structured, focused on teaching, and has a clear outcome that the group is trying to reach. They’re led by a therapist. Since about 60% percent of those with depression also struggle with anxiety, it is likely that members will like to discuss both issues amongst themselves.
The daylight is shrinking. As I drive home at night, it’s as if nature is slowly pushing down on the dimmer switch with each passing day.
Usually, this time of year is a drag for me. Metabolism becomes more slothful, my brain a bit foggier. Diet changes. I go from slurpy gazpacho in the summer to the thick stews that made up Buffalo’s winter cuisine. Activity level tanks. Time on the elliptical replaced by sprawling on the couch.
I guess some would call it Seasonal Affective Disorder. I hate that term. We seem to pathologize everything these days. So what if I tend to be a bit sadder, a tad more slothful. Is that a “disorder?” I think not.
Something seems better this year, however. It’s pretty clear that the more I sleep, the better I feel. Summer meant seven hours of sleep; now I’m clocking nine. I go to bed earlier, but wake up feeling fresher, and mentally sharper without the gloom of depression.
The following blog was submitted by an anonymous lawyer.
Once upon a time, I was a trial attorney at a personal injury defense firm. I was good at it. I always pushed hard; always did the best job possible. I won a good share of cases, and, of course, lost a few as well. I was valued highly enough to be made a partner shortly after joining the firm.
But I had a dirty little secret. I had bipolar disorder, which was well-controlled through a close partnership with a good psychiatrist. Still, in my mind, if word ever got out, my employers would see me as weak, a liability. To a degree, I understood. If the insurance companies that paid the bills learned that one of the firm’s trial attorneys had such a condition, their mandate would be clear: if you want our business, get rid of him. That is what I assumed.
Throughout my career, colleagues would make offhanded remarks about someone “not taking his medication.” I would grit my teeth and ignore it.
Big law has a big problem.
The reality that lawyers suffer from high rates of mental health problems, addiction, and problem drinking can no longer be denied in light of the 2016 study conducted by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation which has a nationally renowned drug and alcohol treatment center.
A “National Task Force on Attorney Well-Being” was assembled following this study to make recommendations on what law schools, law firms, bar associations, and others, can do about these serious problems. I have read both the study, the task force’s report, and recent press reports coverage about how the recommendations of the task force are to be implemented.
To be frank, I am disappointed.
Although my mood seems to be better with more sun, I understand why a substantial number of folks get more depressed in the summer. Extreme heat is hard to tolerate. In fact, in a study published in Science in 2013, researchers reported that as temperatures rose, the frequency of interpersonal violence increased by 4 percent, and intergroup conflicts by 14 percent.
There are four distinct types of people when it comes to weather and mood, according to a study published in Emotion in 2011.
- Summer Lovers (better mood with warmer and sunnier weather)
- Unaffected (weak associations between weather and mood)
- Summer Haters (worse mood with warmer and sunnier weather)
- Rain Haters (particularly bad mood on rainy days)
Ten percent of those diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder suffer symptoms at the brightest time of the year. The summer’s brutal heat, bright light, and long days can affect a person’s circadian rhythm and contribute to depression for the opposite reasons that winter conditions do.
If you’re a Summer Hater, or just notice that your mood is affected negatively by the heat, here are some summer depression busters that may help you better tolerate these months — maybe even enjoy them.