North of 50 – Depression at Midlife

IMG_6849When first diagnosed with depression fifteen years ago at the age of 40, I thought I would recuperate and, more or less, go back to my busy life as a lawyer and husband with a young family. It didn’t work out that way. I soon found out it was going to be a long haul. And I’m still truckin’.

What’s changed in my experience of depression over the past decade and a half? A lot.

I know much, much more about the illness; it’s contours, triggers, and wily ways. I know what will help when I’m in the thick of it, more often than not. I also accept there will be times when there’s little I can do to make a dent in depression’s cold armor.

My depression doesn’t last as long as it used to. Nor is it typically as deep. In the early days, it seemed like it went on forever. I couldn’t remember a time before it when I’d been happy. And couldn’t envision a future of being anything other than depressed. I felt I was barely living. Nothing gave me pleasure. Even eating good food, one of my favorite things. Everything tasted like ashes in my mouth. Death felt preferable, at times.

I didn’t feel much compassion for my depressed, younger self. I’d slap myself in the head and say, “What the hell’s wrong with you?” I had my own inner medieval-like inquisitor ready to burn my soul at the stake for some unknown sins depression’s twisted thinking had convinced me I’d committed.

The verdict: my depression was my fault.

I don’t believe that anymore. I now understand it’s a bunch of hooey cooked up by my depressed head. After all, depression’s a terrible liar. There’s a cruel irony to all of this. We need our minds to recover – but sometimes it’s this very organ that’s turned against us. Depression isn’t who we really are, but we can feel that way. As Parker Palmer once wrote about his experiences with this affliction, “I wasn’t walking in the darkness, I had become darkness.”

I have the upper hand on depression now. It isn’t the giant that once pummeled me. It isn’t as scary. Because I know know that depression will, yes, always be a part of my life, but it isn’t my life.

I am more than that.

And I have a good and full life that I’m determined to live.


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5 thoughts on “North of 50 – Depression at Midlife

  1. I’ve followed this blog from time to time as I’ve been very frustrated with being a lawyer for a long time.

    I’m posting on this particular thread as I’m 53, about the same age as you, and I’m having a really rough time. I haven’t wanted to be a lawyer for a long time, maybe I never really did, but I’ve been successful at it in spite of myself. My last year was my best year, financially, ever.

    This year won’t be. I just can’t get my act together. Two family members of mine, of an older generation, have died and it hit me in a way that I didn’t expect. I haven’t been able to adjust. I dread coming into my office every day and have way to much to do.

    My wife feels that I need to see our doctor for depression, and she’s really probably right. But I don’t feel bad if I’m not in the office. I’m scared to death of being medicated, and having my brain chemistry changed, for what might just be disgust with the profession and myself for having stayed in it. But I do admit that I just the thought of the law and everything in it, in spite of my success.

    I don’t know what I expect in posting, but I’m curious about what your perception regarding medications is.

  2. After a horrible week, and more to come, and an unyielding schedule, I’ve finally determined I have no choice but to now go in for help. I’m so depressed I’ve reached the point where I’m having ideas that are scaring me.

    As part of this, I’d so like to quit. I wish I could go back and never have gone to law school. I feel so ashamed as I’m so supposed to help people, but I no longer want to anything to do with people. And I’m amazed by the extent to which there’s simply no help at all. Friends and family really aren’t going to step in and sympathize, there will be no relief at work. It’s up to me to help me and I have to keep on helping everyone else.

    I guess the lesson is, for people getting in, please make sure you know what you are getting into.

    1. JS – I suspect that the intensity of your feelings of your work are part of the depression. Depression intensifies anything we’re not feeling great about in our lives, whether it’s our work (or in my case, the lack thereof), relationships, winning only one Olympic gold metal, anything. Yes, you may have come to dislike practicing law, and when you’re feeling more balanced you can consider alternatives. But first address your depression, through medication, therapy, and other means.

  3. After a horrible week, and more to come, and an unyielding schedule, I’ve finally determined I have no choice but to now go in for help. I’m so depressed I’ve reached the point where I’m having ideas that are scaring me.

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