TED conferences have been presenting “Ideas Worth Spreading” since the 1980s. Here are eleven talks dealing with depression, happiness, mental health and related issues. Read the Blog
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.
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.
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.
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.
From The New York Times, a powerful piece by Will Lippincott who writes, “When depressed, the self-esteem I presented to the world belied just how out of control I felt inside.” Read the News
A good overview of depression in the legal profession. Read the Story
There is a zone in a depressed person’s life where nothing seems to happen — except the pain of the absence of everything.
I wish I could explain it so someone could understand it. I’m afraid it’s something I can’t put into words. There’s just this heavy, overwhelming despair – dreading everything. Dreading life. Empty inside, to the point of numbness. It’s like there’s something already dead inside.
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.
I have learned a lot about the zone over the years and how to handle it. It’s really like surfing a giant wave. To handle these waves, you study them and prepare yourself for when the next big one rolls in.
When I feel I’m entering a Dead Zone, I start a deliberate and kind conversation with myself that is practiced and rehearsed. I don’t let the toxic voice of depression drown me out. It’s important to empower ourselves in whatever ways we can during these times because depression will lead you to falsely conclude that you’re helpless to lift your dark mood. This conclusion is one of the central tenets of depression; one of its main “themes”. We need to create – and we can – different and healthier themes for our lives.
Start with a three-by-five index card. Use it to create your own deliberate and kind script of themes for yourself that day. Here’s is an example of what I had written on one of my cards:
— This depression isn’t forever. It will pass.
— I have handled it in the past. I will handle it now.
— Get out of my head – don’t sit around and ruminate.
I usually write a new card out every morning. When depression is absent (and there are long periods of time when it is), the theme of the card might be more celebratory or grateful:
— I appreciate all of the goodness in my life.
— Thank you God for all of the wonderful people you’ve put in my life.
— I am happy that I am not experiencing depression today.
According to psychologist, Deb Serani, Psy.D, there are both emotional and psychological reasons why this is so:
So, why do these gratitude experiences boost happiness and alleviate depression? Scientists say that these techniques shift our thinking from negative outcomes to positive ones, elicit a surge of feel good hormones like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, and build enduring personal connections.
The insight and reflection of counting these moments is what makes the practice of gratitude so powerful. But the key to combating depression is making these positive experiences part of the fabric of your life.
Try this for a while and see if it helps you. Don’t wait until you are in the zone of depression to construct the cards because your thinking during such times will be distorted.
Doing this is a healthy and self-empowering step that you can take today.
By Daniel T. Lukasik, Esq.
Most people who commit suicide are suffering from depression and the 3rd leading cause of death for attorneys is suicide. Read the Story
Studies show that as many as forty percent of law students will suffer from depression by the spring semester of the second year of college. It’s critical for them to have a mental health screening. Here’s a piece about how to go about it. Read the Blog
“What can I do to help my depression?”
Well, there are many things you go do, really: therapy, medication, etcetera, etcetera.
But one idea you might not have given much thought to: join a depression support group. There are many benefits. I have belonged to one for the past seven years. Here are some of my thoughts about why it’s good for you and how to find one.
Why It’s Good For You
One of the worst aspects of depression is the loneliness that sufferers endure. There are several reasons why this is so: they don’t feel up to being with other people, others simply don’t understand, or they feel a sense of shame and hide. While it may be a good idea to take “timeout” from others to enjoy some peace or not share with others that we have strong reason to believe won’t understand, these strategies are often maladaptive and only serve to maintain and/or fuel one’s depression. Here is a bit of hard-won wisdom I’ve learned: when I feel the worst is when I most need to be with other people and share.
Being with others is even more critical when you’re in pain. You need to communicate your distress and know that your “tribe” will listen and care. When this doesn’t happen, you feel alone, distressed and even abandoned. You wander in the wilderness of pain by yourself and endure it as best you can. But don’t you deserve better than that?
Having a place to admit and share your story
Andrew Solomon, author of the best-selling book The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, writes:
Depression is a disease of loneliness. Many untreated depressives lack friends because it saps the vitality that friendship requires and immures its victims in an impenetrable sheath, making it hard for them to speak or hear words of comfort. Worldly success does little to assuage that agony, as Robin Williams’ suicide makes clear. Love, both expressed and received, is helpful, not because it ameliorates the symptoms of depression (it does not), but because it gives people evidence that life may be worth living if they can only get better. It gives them a place to admit to their illness, and admitting it is the first step toward resolving it.
Besides the psychological salve that support can bring to the wounds of your loneliness, there are important physiological reasons for being part of a support group.
Positive experiences can also be used to soothe, balance, and even replace negative ones. When two things are held in the mind at the same time, they start to connect with each other. That’s one reason why talking about hard feelings with someone who’s supportive can be so healing: painful feelings and memories get infused with the comfort, encouragement, and closeness you experience with the other person. (Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom, Rick Hanson, Ph.D. with Richard Mendius, M.D.)
I’ve talked to hundreds of folks about depression over the years and often found that a good chunk are resistant to joining a support group. They feel tired and unmotivated to do so or feel hopeless that anything, even this, will help their depression. They have to meet this resistance and push forward because as depression expert Richard O’Connor, Ph.D. once told me, “Depression isn’t your fault. But it is your responsibility to get better.” And a support group, together with treatment, is one of the best ways for you to take responsibility for getting and staying better.
Small steps are best. Before going to a group, get in touch with the contact person for the group and speak with them by phone, or, better yet, meet them for coffee to see if the group would be a good fit for you.
How to Find a Support Group
It isn’t as hard to find a support group as you may think. Here’s my list:
If you are a lawyer, check in with your local and/or state ABA’s Lawyers Assistance Program.
If there isn’t a support group in your community, my next blog will address how to create one.
From The New York Times, best-selling author and psychiatrist, Kay Redfield Jamison writes, “Certainly, stress is important and often interacts dangerously with depression. But the most important risk factor for suicide is mental illness, especially depression or bipolar disorder.” Read the News