Two people look out the same prison doors: one sees mud and the other stars. – Frederick Langbridge.
Some of our best efforts to escape the deep mud of depression are misguided – – we step hard on the gas pedal only to find our wheels spinning deeper and deeper into the gooey, brown earth.
We keep using depressive thinking to get ourselves out of, well, depressive thinking. We are asking the wrong questions: “What’s wrong with me, why can’t I fix this, I suck at being a lawyer, my life is a mess.” Surely, this is not the tow truck we need to pull us out of the swampland of depression.
Depression makes us feel like we are stuck in our lives; we can’t seem to move forward beyond our melancholic sighs. According to psychologist Rollo May: “Depression is the inability to construct a future.” Maybe this is so because the muck of depression is so painful and deadening that it freezes us like a deer caught in a steel trap.
Depression also handcuffs us to our past. We mercilessly ruminate about all the ways our lives have gone wrong. We marshal the evidence against ourselves and “guilty” is the verdict every god damn time. What are we really “guilty” of? Of being a human being who makes mistakes. As newspaper columnist Jan Glidewell once wrote: “You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.”
Our real and true self is sandwiched between our negative views of the past and our inability to move forward – hence, our bogged down blues. We have to let go of the past and lean into a vision of a more optimistic future to begin living our lives again.
We largely ignore the truth that we are not perfect – like every other person on the planet because we likely didn’t learn it in childhood. Perhaps, as much of the research as suggested, we were the victims of parents or other caretakers who caused us as children to see ourselves as “bad” or “the problem” instead of the out of control parent(s) who dumped their toxic thoughts and/or unhealty thoughts and emotions on our precious heads.
Our child’s mind, which lived in a world of magical thinking, was simply unable to process these painful interactions with our parental giants who held all the power. We could not reason that it was the caregiver(s) that was the “bad” one – and not ourselves. This dramatically changes how we view ourselves as people and we leave childhood with a high risk of adult onset clinical depression.
I was one of these children with a raging alcoholic father and a depressive mother. And I developed adult onset depression.
According to psychologist Richard O’Connor, author of the book and website Undoing Depression:
“Considerable research has shown that people with depression differ from others in how we perceive the world and ourselves, how we interpret and express feelings, and how we communicate with other people, particularly loved ones and people in authority. We think of ourselves as unable to live up to our own standards, we see the world as hostile and withholding, and we are pessimistic about things every changing. In our relationships with others we have unrealistic expectations, are unable to communicate our needs; misinterpret disagreement as rejection, and are self-defeating in our presentation. Finally, we are in the dark about human emotions. We don’t know what it’s like to feel normal. We fear the honest feelings will tear us apart or cause others to reject us. We need to learn to live with real feelings”.
Optimism researcher, Martin Seligman, Ph.D., wrote an article, “Why are lawyers so Unhappy?” which was reprinted on Lawyerwithdepression.com. The essence of the piece is that lawyers have a pessimistic cognitive thinking style which is groomed in law school. I think this theory is half-right: we are groomed to “think like a lawyer” in school, but many people who come into law school are already vulnerable to depression based on genetics and their childhood experiences. For these people, the stress of being a law student and the combat of practicing can law can tip them over into as state of depression.
In his book Unstuck, psychiatrist James Gordon, in a subchapter entitled, “From the Swamp of Stuckness to the River of Change,” writes:
“‘This is the way things have to be,” you may tell yourself. Or you plead, ‘I’m doing the best I can.’ Pride and stubbornness and, of course, fear fix you in a circle of pointless argument and hurt. But it’s familiar and seems so justified. Even as the pain of stuckness becomes intolerable, or life begins to pry your fingers loose, you still hold on”.
“You’re afraid that without your familiar mooring you will lose hope and, perhaps, life. You will not let go, will not move into the current of your life, will not trust that this current will take you where you need to go. And go you continue to live less than fully, in denial of the change that is possible and necessary. And, as time goes on, as you persist in resisting or blocking your own movement, your depression may deepen”.
Dr. Gordon lays out his holistic approach to recovering from depression in a question and answer session on his website.
Depression gets to be a habit – a bad one. The more we depress, the more likely we are to become depressed in the future, the more likely are to become . . . stuck.
Please understand that your depressive thoughts are just broken records that keep repeating crummy tunes about yourselves. We become stuck because we refuse to change or we just don’t know how to do our life any other way. We need to let go and see that we can lead a very different and empowered life — a life without depression.