Therese Borchard blogs, “Although I like to cling to the promise that my depression will get better — since it always has in the past — there are long, painful periods when it seems as though I’m going to have to live with these symptoms forever. In the past, there was a time when I had been struggling with death thoughts for what seemed like forever. The death thoughts did eventually disappear, but I’m always mindful of my depression. Every decision I make in a 24-hour period, from what I eat for breakfast to what time I go to bed, is driven by an effort to protect my mental health.” Read her entire blog here.
Here’s an excerpt from blogger Amy McDowell Marlow who writes: “i began to cry. all the time. by myself. i would cry in my car, i would cry in my closet, i would even cry, silently, in the toilet stall. every night i would lay face down in my bed and cry myself to sleep, so quietly that my roommate never knew. i lost my appetite and stopped eating meals. i just wasn’t hungry. i couldn’t stop thinking about my mom being gone. that something outside of our control could take her away. that there was nothing i could do about it. and just like when my dad killed himself, i didn’t feel like i could relate to my friends. none of them had experienced (or shared that they had experienced) family losses and challenges like mine. i began to feel very alone.” Read this blog.
Hi, I’m Dan Lukasik from LawyersWithDepression.com.
Today’s guest is Tom Roberts. Tom is a mental health speaker and writer living in Huntington Beach, California. He’s the author of “Escape from Myself: A Manic-Depressive’s Escape to Nowhere” Tom earned his Master’s Degree in Radio, Television, and Film from the University of Kansas. He worked for several years as a broadcast journalist for local stations and freelanced for National Public Radio’s popular newscast “All Things Considered,” “The Voice of America,” and “ABC Radio News.” Tom has been a professional actor on stage, screen, and television and currently does voice-over work in the L.A. area. He is the creator of the website Tom Speaks Out!
DL: Tom, welcome to the show.
TR: Thank you very much, Dan. I appreciate the invitation.
TR: Bipolar disorder is described as an affective illness. It affects your moods. You go from deep, deep depression to manic episodes which would make you hyperactive, give you poor impulse control and a number of other things like hypersexuality. Major depression is treated quite differently than Bipolar. Depression usually responds well to antidepressants whereas bipolar you have to experiment with different medications and I always dread the worst part of bipolar disorder which is a deep, deep, deep. In fact, up to 17% of people with bipolar commit suicide.
DL: What causes bipolar depression? Previously on the show, we’ve asked other guests as to the causes or risk factors for depression. What about bipolar disorder?
TR: With bipolar disorder, it is believed to be genetic. My dad, my brother, my sister; we all have it. So, first of all, it is genetic. But the cause of it doesn’t have to manifest itself. Frequently, it goes along and the gene doesn’t wake up. So, there is what is called a “precipitating cause”. In my experience, I believe, the precipitating cause was the sudden death of my mother. I was 14. And then the depressions started and it really disabled me throughout college, throughout my 20’s, throughout my 30’s. And it was only addressed as depression because that was the only way it presented itself at that time.
You don’t go to the doctor when you’re manic and go, “Doc, I feel great! What’s wrong with me?” So, once it’s diagnosed then the correct medication can be given, the mood stabilizers. That’s what happens.
DL: You mentioned the sudden death of your mother. Can you share with our audience what happened to her?
TR: I was in ninth grade. I got into a bit of trouble with some other guys. And my mom had to get me out of it. She came to talk to the county attorney and pick me up after school. And she said, “As long as I live, I’m never going to help you out of another mess like this!”
Just after she said this, she slumped forward in deep pain. She managed to get down to her doctor’s office. I remember her saying to the doctor, “Please tell Tommy that I forgive him”. The last time I saw her alive is when they wheeled her out. What happened to her is that she had a burst brain aneurysm that she didn’t know she had. She had high blood pressure that she had been treated for. So, that’s what happened. She was 34 years old. She left three boys behind.
DL: How common is bipolar in the United States?
TR: The bipolar rate is 2.6% among the U.S. population. It’s not that common to the degree that it is so difficult to treat. 15% to 17% of the people who have it ultimately kill themselves.
DL: You mentioned earlier that your brother and sister were afflicted with bipolar. It is fair to say that genetics played a role in the development of your bipolar illness?
TR: Definitely. In my book, I say my experience in bipolar began when my mother was impregnated by me! It went through my family like a Kansas tornado. My dad had it, and refused because of his fear of stigma, to ever get help from a psychiatrist until two years before he died when he was 62.
My brother, who was 7 years younger than I am, was diagnosed with bipolar in the army and then discharged without any treatment and he was so ashamed and so afraid of the stigma that he didn’t get help and, unfortunately, committed suicide. My surviving sister was diagnosed when she was about 35 and continues today to try to deal with it and figure out better ways to manage it as a mother of two boys.
I have a stepsister who took her life 5 years after my brother because she suffered from major depression and was addicted to prescription narcotics which she used to take out her life. In one of the chapters in my book, I write that mental illness is a family “dis-ease” and with the emphasis on “ease” because the craziness in our family mixed with untreated bipolar disorder. So, I’m so afraid of the genetics in my children and, especially, in my grandchildren. My goal is really educating them and helping them see the symptoms so they can get it treated earlier than I did.
DL: Can you share with our audience your first big experience with bipolar. What was the experience like? Try to put our listeners in your shoes.
TR: I had been struggling with depression since my mother passed. It was awful in college. In fact, it was kind of interesting in college because friends of mine, who were psychology majors, used to have me take the MMPI which is a very common test to determine personalities, especially abnormal psychology. They never told me why. I just wanted to help them out.
After I finished college and went to graduate school, and then went eventually into broadcast journalism, I thought depression might have left me. When I wasn’t depressed, I couldn’t remember a time when I was depressed. Then when I was depressed, I couldn’t remember a time when I was ever not depressed. I call these things my “happy times” and during my happy times, my behavior was rather poor. I drank a lot, womanized a lot, and spent a lot of money, and those types of things were never, never addressed.
I went on from being a broadcast journalist to teaching broadcast journalism at a small college in Arkansas. I was miserable, in and out of major depressions, and blaming everything. I thought it was my environment, that I was in the wrong career, that I didn’t like the people and became very suspicious of other people.
Finally, in 1988, I became severely depressed after spending a year on sabbatical working on my Ph.D. I admitted myself to a psychiatric hospital to be treated for the depression. The psychiatrist there treated me for depression. He did not treat me for bipolar. So, he gave me a new antidepressant. It really sent me to the moon in about three days and, suddenly, I had this wild idea: “I know what I can do to get out of this situation. I can go to Hollywood and become a film and television actor”. It’s always been what I wanted to do. I found this other woman, in the psychiatric hospital, who believed in my dream. We planned to go to Hollywood, which we did.
That was the major, manic episode because I walked away from my wife, my two little kids, my college teaching career, to go pursue a fantasy. Then that bubble burst, as it always does, and I was back in a major depression. I tucked my tail between my legs and took a bus back to Arkansas to try to salvage everything.
But, it was all gone.
It destroyed everything I had.
That’s a very powerful story. When you say it “destroyed everything,” that must have been very difficult to cope with. Did it intensify your depression? What was your reaction and behavior after all that and coming to terms with it?
TR: It intensified my depression for five years. I was doing menial jobs. I was a hospital emergency room janitor, just trying to get a little money, living in an unheated cabin in the country. Two years before, I was a college professor and had my own home and my family. That was quite a shock living that way. I was depressed more and more and I became more preoccupied with suicidal ideation during that period of time. I never attempted suicide, but I thought about it a lot.
I was finally diagnosed with bipolar, actually came from an orthopedic physician I worked for. He gave me a job of videotaping research and producing videos for his patients. About a year into the job, I was in the operating room during surgery and talking non-stop. The doctor stopped the surgery and said, “I want to see you outside”. We went back to the surgeon’s dressing room and sat down on a bench. He said, “Tom, you’re acting kind of crazy. And you’re scaring the staff. I think you may have bipolar disorder and I do not want you to come back to work until you’ve seen a psychiatrist.”
Five days later, I was in the psychiatrist’s office talking non-stop for an hour. “Without a doubt,” he said, “Mr. Roberts you have bipolar disorder. I’m putting you on this medication that I want you to take immediately”. This was the beginning of an awareness that I had to learn to manage my illness.
DL: How long ago was that experience?
TR: I was diagnosed in 1993. It was a year after my brother’s suicide. Had I been diagnosed before that I could have talked to my brother about it and gotten him some help. But it was 1993 and I was under the assumption because my psychiatrist did not tell me what I needed to do to manage this illness. He told me if I just took a pill, I would be okay. That’s not true. Medication compliance is important, but I had to learn how to manage my life; my stressors, my sleep patterns, my nutrition.
That took twenty years to learn and, unfortunately, I left a lot of wreckage behind.
DL: Tell us some of the things that you’ve learned over the years to manage your bipolar?
TR: I think, first and foremost, besides medication compliance, is a good sleep pattern. It’s called “sleep hygiene”. Sleep problems are usually an indication of the onset of a mood change: if you miss sleep, or can’t sleep. Six to seven hours of sleep is what I need every night to stay even. Exercise. Personally, I have a dog. The exercise, the clean air, that’s terrific.
The other thing that has helped me so much, is that I remarried in 2010, and it was just having a family, having loved ones. My two adult children went through difficult times with me, but we’re very close. And being a grandfather. And being very, very grateful and having to stop, at times, and say thank you to my higher power that I am here. It took a long time, but I put the pieces together. I see a psychotherapist when I need to. Those are my management tips.
DL: You’ve also written a book, “A Manic-Depressives Journey to Nowhere”. Tell us a little bit about the book and why you wrote it.
TR: The book is my memoir and I’ve been struggling with the idea of a memoir for 10 years. But I wasn’t ready yet – probably because I wasn’t stable yet. If I had done it earlier, it would have been grandiose. This time, a year ago, I was asked to give a webinar for the International Bipolar Foundation. It was a long presentation and I thought this would be a great outline for a memoir. All I have to do is flesh it out a little more. I found a publisher and I wrote it.
I have to tell you that I wrote it with many tears reliving some of these experiences. Especially, my brother’s death.
But it was cathartic and by the time I finished it and published, that is what I needed. Then I realized in the process of writing, I love what Abraham Lincoln said, “Writing is man’s greatest invention. It allows the dead to speak to the living or those yet to be born.” I thought, wow, my grandchildren can pick this book up one of these days and it will help them.
Listen to the remainder of the interview as a podcast on Apple iTunes or Goggle Play and hear Tom talk about the stigma surrounding mental illness.
7 Tools for Overcoming Impulse Control Issues by Eric Johnson
Surrender, Acceptance, and Living with Bipolar Disorder by Karl Shallowhorn
My Bipolar Brain: Constant Conversations in My Head by Dave Mowry
The Connecticut legal community was shocked to learn that longtime Meriden attorney John Ivers Jr. took his own life last week near a local pond after having been reported missing a couple days earlier.The 50-year-old lawyer, who had practiced since 1992, left behind a family, including three children. His father, the late John Ivers, was also a longtime attorney in the state. Read the News.
A new study reports that approximately two in five adults (39%) who have experienced major depression are able to achieve complete mental health. “This research provides a hopeful message to patients struggling with depression, their families and health professionals. A large number of formerly depressed individuals recover and go on to reach optimal well-being” said Esme Fuller-Thomson, lead author of the study. Read the News
Are you a lawyer suffering from depression? Do you know a colleague that struggles with it?
If so, you’re not alone.
A new landmark study conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs published this February reveals that 21 percent of licensed, employed attorneys currently qualify as problem drinkers, 28 percent struggle with some level of clinical depression and 19 percent demonstrate symptoms of anxiety. Forty-six percent (46%) reported concerns with depression at some point in their legal careers.
When put in perspective, that means that of the 1.2 million lawyers in the U.S., 336,000 lawyers have struggled with some form of depression this past year. A staggering number when one considers the rate of depression in the general population is ten-percent.
WHAT IS DEPRESSION?
Depression can be mild, moderate or severe in intensity. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms include:
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions;
- Fatigue and decreased energy;
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness;
- Insomnia, early- morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping;
- Irritability, restlessness;
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that were once pleasurable;
- Loss of pleasure in life;
- Overeating or appetite loss;
- Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings; and
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.
Whether or not you’re clinically depressed can only be determined by a mental health professional. To be so deemed, you must have at least five of the above symptoms for at least two weeks.
But many people never get to the point of receiving such an evaluation or treatment because they or others see their symptoms as a “slump,” “sadness,” or even burnout. Perhaps a vacation will cure the blues, some say. Others take the tough love approach and tell the depressed lawyer to “snap out of it.” But none of this works.
The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality – the ability to experience a full range of emotions, including happiness, excitement, sadness, and grief. Depression is not an emotion itself; it’s the loss of feelings; a big heavy blanket that insulates you from the world yet hurts at the same time. It’s not sadness or grief, it’s an illness.
WHAT CAUSES DEPRESSION?
Depression has many causes: A genetic history of depression in one’s family, hormone imbalances, and biological differences, among others. Certain personality traits, such as low self-esteem, a pessimistic outlook, chronic stress at work or home, childhood trauma, drug or alcohol abuse and other risk factors increase the likelihood of developing or triggering depression.
Why do lawyers experience depression at higher rates?
According to Patrick Krill, J.D., LLM., director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s Legal Professionals Program, just why lawyers have such sky-high rates of melancholy isn’t always easy to see:
(The) rampant and multidimensional stress of the profession is certainly a factor. And not surprisingly, there are also some personality traits common among lawyers – self-reliance, ambition, perfectionism and competitiveness – that aren’t always consistent with healthy coping skills and the type of emotional elasticity necessary to endure the unrelenting pressures and unexpected disappointments that a career in the law can bring.
One factor is a pessimistic outlook defined not in the colloquial sense (seeing the glass as half empty) but rather as the pessimistic explanatory style. These pessimists tend to attribute the causes of negative events as stable and global factors (“It’s going to last forever, and it’s going to undermine everything.”) The pessimist views bad events as pervasive, permanent, and uncontrollable while the optimist sees them as local, temporary and changeable. Pessimism is maladaptive in most endeavors.
But there is one glaring exception: Pessimists do better at law. Pessimism is seen as a plus among lawyers because seeing troubles as pervasive and permanent is a component of what the law profession deems prudent. A prudent perspective enables a good lawyer to see every conceivable snare and catastrophe that might occur in any transaction. The ability to anticipate the whole range of problems and betrayals that non-lawyers are blind to is highly adaptive for the practicing lawyer who can, by so doing, help his clients defend against these far-fetched eventualities. If you don’t have this prudence to begin with, then law school will seek to teach it to you. Unfortunately, though, a trait that makes you good at your profession does not always make you a happy human being.
Tyger Latham, Ph.D., a psychologist in Washington, D.C., who treats many lawyers with depression, writes:
. . . I’ve come to recognize some common characteristics amongst those in the profession. Most, from my experience, tend to be “Type A’s” (i.e., highly ambitious and over-achieving individuals). They also have a tendency toward perfectionism, not just in their professional pursuits but in nearly every aspect of their lives. While this characteristic is not unique to the legal profession – nor is it necessarily a bad thing – when rigidly applied, it can be problematic. The propensity of many law students and attorneys to be perfectionistic can sometimes impede their ability to be flexible and accommodating, qualities that are important in so many non-legal domains.
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT?
1. Join a Depression Support Group
You can (a) join or (b) start a support group in your community. These groups provide a place for the depressed to share their struggles and gain the encouragement and support they need to recover and remain well.
(a) Join a Group
A depression support group is not “group therapy”. The group is run by those who attend the meetings. To see if there’s a lawyer group in your community, go to the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs’ website to find such information. To see if there’s such a group in your city that isn’t lawyer specific, go to the Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance’s website at www.dbsa.org.
(b) Start a depression support group for lawyers in your legal community.
If there’s not one in your hometown or the ones’ you’ve attended aren’t a good fit, think about starting one yourself or with another friend or two.
Read my previous post, “18 Tips on How To Start a Depression Support Group“.
2. Get Educated
There are plenty of great websites to educate you about what depression is and the variety of ways it can be treated. A great resource can be found at the University of Michigan’s Depression Center website at www.depressioncenter.org.
Also, read my previous post, “Dan’s Top 10 Depression Books“.
3. Work with a Lawyer Life Coach
If you would wish to work one-on-one with a life coach, I offer such services at www.yourdepressioncoach.com. My practice is unique in that I am a fellow lawyer who has struggled with depression over the years while practicing law. I believe I can help you if you answer “yes” to any of the following questions:
- You need someone to listen with a sense of compassion. I am that person. I will care. I will be in your corner.
- You need a sense of structure at a time when life may seem pointless and meaningless. I can be an anchor for you, a safe port in a storm, a place to go and share your deepest struggles and concerns about home and work.
- You need someone to educate you about what depression and anxiety are and their symptoms and causes.
- You need guidance as you weave through the matrix of treatment options to find a plan that works for you.
- In addition to treating with a psychologist and/or psychiatrist, you find that you get more encouragement, insight, and support to help you keep moving forward.
- You suffer from anxiety and depression. If so, you’re far from alone. Studies show that as much as 60% of all people with depression also suffer from an anxiety disorder.
I will work with you on whatever specific problem most pressing to you. Here are some areas where depression and anxiety may be causing real pain and trouble in your life:
You need help getting things done at work. You’re falling behind and because of you’re the depression and/or anxiety. I can help by providing insight, support, and exercises to help you deal with this all too common and critical issue.
You want to leave your job. You’ve been coping with work-related depression and/or anxiety for some time and decided “enough is enough”. You want to make plans to transition to another job or career. I can help you develop your game plan to do so and hold you accountable for following through and take the necessary steps to make this a reality.
You’re a “Depression Veteran”. You might be further down the road in your recovery from depression and/or anxiety but still need help and encouragement. Or you’ve been struggling with off-and-on depression and/or anxiety for years. I will work with you to develop a program to make sure you do things that will help you recover and stay well. I will hold you accountable for actually following through with your program. I can help to motivate you to stick with a healthy game plan.
You are just plain unhappy. Many people, while not clinically depressed, are very unhappy with their lives. They have too much stress. Aren’t happy in their careers. Or don’t have a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives. The support and structure I provide for depression sufferers are easily transferable to getting to the heart of what’s causing your unhappiness. I will work with you to build a different set of skills and make different life choices to lead a happier and healthier life.
You need help explaining your depression to others. For loved ones and business associates that have never been through depression, it’s difficult for them to really understand your pain because they really don’t have a point of reference for psychic pain someone undergoes with clinical depression. They mistake it for “the blues” or everyday sadness, which it clearly is not. I can work with you to develop a language and actions that could help others understand. If you wish, I would also be happy to talk with others as your work to educate them about what depression is and ways that might be able to help and support you.
If you relate to any of these issues and think coaching might be a good fit for you, I offer a free twenty-minute consultation. You can contact me at www.yourdepressioncoach.com to schedule a meeting. I coach clients around the country via Skype and over the phone.
Copyright, 2016 by Daniel T. Lukasik, Esq.
She had always dreamed about being Dallas County district attorney. But as her career took off, her personal life was falling apart—divorce, pain pills, thoughts of suicide. After two months of treatment, she says she’s ready once again to serve. Is she up to the job? Read the News
A major multi-national study of suicides has identified the behavior patterns which precede many suicide attempts. This may lead to changes in clinical practice in the care of patients affected with depression, as it shows the clinical factors which confer major risk of suicide attempts. Read the News
Here are important things to check into when you find yourself in this position. Read the Blog
People Magazine reports that supporters of “Project Semicolon”, a group that is dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, are getting the grammatical symbol tattooed on their body to show solidarity with the project’s mission. Read the News