The Grace of Good People

In the rough and tumble world of the law, it’s easy to become jaded; our classmates and colleagues are competitors for grades, jobs or victories. Clients can be tough and demanding; judges unyielding.  Life being what it is, things can and do go wrong despite our most valiant efforts.

Not surprisingly, lawyers are pessimistic thinkers – problem solvers extraordinaire. People come to them in some sort of trouble and want solutions.  Dr. Martin Seligman writes that the law is one of the few professions where pessimistic thinking is rewarded.  We are trained to see potential problems and pitfalls lurking around every corner and cubicle. And this skill helps us to plan, prepare and strategize — good stuff. But we often take it too far.

In an article he wrote for Lawyerswithdepression.com, Dr. Richard O’Connor states:

Because of their experience with the law, most attorneys have lost their rose-colored glasses some time ago. (Or else they never had them and chose the law as a career because it suited their personality). Attorneys know that life is hard, and doesn’t play fair. They’re trained to look for every conceivable thing that could go wrong in any scenario, and they rarely are able to leave that attitude at the office.  They see the worst in people (sometimes they see the best, but that’s rare). They tend to be strivers and individualists, not wanting to rely on others for support. They have high expectations of success, but they often find that when they’ve attained success, they have no one to play with, and have forgotten how to enjoy themselves anyway.

Pretty glum assessment, don’t you think?  It’s unlikely that we can change the difficult nature of our craft, but we can mitigate its stressful effects on our bodies and brains.

We must take time to reaffirm the goodness in our lives.  It’s just as important to recovering from depression as a hot bowl of chicken soup on a frigid day or lexapro in your lunch pail.  There are lots of books on gratitude.  To me, this is a reminder that all of us –some more than others – are ungrateful much of the time.  I am not so sure that we can be taught to be grateful.  But I do believe we can be reminded.  I believe that we all have within us a deep need to express thankfulness – we just need to open the shutters.

It’s hard –very hard—to be grateful when one is depressed. In a deep depression, it’s not only unlikely — it’s impossible. Let me be clear, this piece is not written for those in a biochemical free fall.  It’s writte for those who want to prevent relapse, remain or get healthy, or for the lawyer who is simply stressed and unhappy.

Depression can obscure our vision and prevent us from seeing the goodness in our lives – especially the kindness and decency of other people.  This may be colleagues and friends, or maybe family members. We need to identify these people and cherish their goodness.  Their lights are like homing beacons in the fog of our struggles.  Like a good laugh, they are like salves that can heal our wounds.

The humorist Garrison Keillor, in his book We Are Still Married, wrote:

To know and to serve God, of course, is why we’re here, a clear truth, that, like the nose on your face, is near at hand and easily discernible but can make you dizzy if you try to focus on it hard. But a little faith will see you through. What else will do except faith in such a cynical, corrupt time? When the country goes temporarily to the dogs, cats must learn to be circumspect, walk on fences, sleep in trees, and have faith that all this woofing is not the last word. What is the last word, then? Gentleness is everywhere in daily life, a sign that faith rules through ordinary things: through cooking and small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing, tending animals and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music and books, raising kids — all the places where the gravy soaks in and grace shines through. Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.

The goodness of others is grace. It’s the universe’s way of reminding us not to fret too much, that things will work out, that our important jobs are just a part of life and not all of it and that uplifting fortune cookie messages sometimes do come true.  If I could, I would stick this quote by author Anne Lamott on one of those skinny wrappers:

I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it greets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.

Think of the kind people you’ve had in your life from your past and today; the everyday saints who were dropped into your life for no other reason than to remind you that life can be good, that you are special and that life is worth living.

These people always leave us feeling better than when they found us.

It’s About Time

Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we’ve rushed through life trying to save – Will Rogers

Time is the enemy of our synapse challenged world.  This beast is always just a step behind us; we keep losing ground as it nips at our heels and bears its sharp fangs.  We tap on the brakes to try and slow down, but even the vacations and weekends aren’t always terribly relaxing.  We attempt to break apart our days into manageable segments or, as the poet T.S. Eliot once wrote, “Measure out our lives with coffee spoons.” 

We often experience time as a force outside of ourselves; as if the clicking clock on the wall or Timex on our wrist had its own personhood that nags at us: “Do this not that, wait, what about that other that?” There is the visceral sensation that everything – everything – must be done NOW. We spin like a top trying to take it all in. We labor to manage our time while our nervous systems overload, toasted to a crisp in the microwave of our modern times.

No doubt most folk dream of chucking it all; of hopping on a Jumbo 747 to Italy to sip Chianti in a verdant field near a Tuscan village – hence the popularity of the best-selling book and movie, “Eat, Pray, Love.”  But most of us will never go aerial; we soldier on and muddle our way through our lives as best we can.  This becomes all the more a sticky wicket when life’s engine seizes up in the throes of a murky anxiety and/or depression.  Trying to stop this pain moves to the top of our priority list; we hammer away at it, but sometimes it just won’t relent.

We feel that we must figure out our sorrow and mind-bending stress before time runs out and we find ourselves in a real pickle: “If only I didn’t feel stressed and depressed, I could get all this shit done!”

In his book, You Can Feel Better Again, Richard Carlson, Ph.D., writes:

When you feel down, depressed, or blue, there is a strong tendency to try to figure out why you are feeling the way you do and to try to do something about it.  The worse you feel, the stronger the urge.  Many times, particularly with regard to a ‘depressed’ person, this need to escape from the way you are feeling is ‘urgent’. One of the tricks to overcoming depression, or even extended low moods, is to learn to relax when you feel down – having faith that the low period will pass if you are able to leave it alone and do nothing.  The important point to remember is: The factor that keeps you feeling down is your reaction to the ‘urgency’ you feel.’

I love this psychological approach: I had never thought of my reaction to my depression as “urgent”, but so often it is.  Depression’s five alarm pain can burn down even our best laid plans. We think that the way to stop this unruly visitor is to squash it, when we might be better served by waiting it out. 

Today, walking up a leafy sidewalk thinking about past fall memories, I said to myself, “I accept where I am right now.”  And I really meant it.  It calmed me. I accepted all that lay in front of me today.  This gave me a sense of peace and rootedness.  I somehow felt a kinship with the blowing trees who so timelessly anchor themselves in the rich brown soil.

Take time for yourself today.  Take time to appreciate your daily bread – moment by moment – because it’s the only loaf of time you’ve got. There is much to be appreciated beyond depression’s grasp or the clatter of our anxiety. Depression, stress and anxiety do not last forever; there are gaps – some shorter or longer – between these turbulent emotional states.  Learn to see that this is so.

Sometimes, I catch myself.  I sense that I have let hours whizz by without having paid attention to neither my life nor a scintilla of the dear people and events that surround me.  I had lived too much in my head.  We all need to step out of the limitations of our own thoughts and through the portal of all the rich possibilities and blessings that lay both within and without in the time we’ve been given.

Stepping Over Depression

The currents of depression run fast and deep, indeed.  The water isn’t crystal blue, but a muddy green.  We can’t see the jagged stones, the severe topography that lay beneath.

We wake at the beginning of our days, knowing we must wade through our despair.  We must cross the river of depression, feel its force against our bodies.  We pray that we get to the other side; hope that we finish the day with some semblance of having felt productive, of having lived a “normal day.” 

Back in the days of my deepest depression — what seems like another lifetime ago — I would look in the mirror in my bathroom late at night when I couldn’t sleep.  My face ashen, my eyes lifeless, I felt I just couldn’t do it again – I just couldn’t face another day battling depression.  It wore me out.  I was tired.  I had had enough. Often, for comfort, I would turn to the faith which had sustained me and my ancestors in times of great trouble.  My grandmother, long since passed away, would read me this short prayer as a child:

May God support us all the day long

till the shadows lengthen

and the busy world is hushed

and the fever of life is done.

Then, in God’s mercy,

may God grant us a safe lodging,

and a holy rest

and peace at last.

I’d take peace, I thought.  A few crumbs would do.  I didn’t need happiness at those dark moments.  Merciful peace, yes, I could take solace in that.   The moon shone through the bathroom window one starry cold night.  I felt some peace, the memory of my grandmother’s sweet hands on my round face.

We don’t always have to fight the river.  We just have to find a way to get across.  We can’t step over the expanse of water all at one time. We need some steeping stones, pieces of rock that can take us over one step at a time.

One such stone of wisdom is to not look down at the water as we walk.  We can get mesmerized or paralyzed by depression’s swirling rapids.  It sucks us in to a garbled dialogue with our melancholy and we become paralyzed.

In his new book, Beat the Blues before They Beat You, Robert Leahy, Ph.D., writes:

Depression has a mind of its own.  When you are depressed, you think in generalizations (nothing works out), you don’t give yourself credit (I can’t do anything right), and you label yourself in the most negative terms (loser, ashamed, humiliated).  You set demanding standards that you will never live up to.  You may think you need to get everyone’s approval, or excel at everything you do, or know for sure something will work out before you try it. Your thinking keeps you trapped in self-criticism, indecisiveness, and inertia.

Yup, that pretty much captures depression . . . .

But it doesn’t always have to be this way.  Author Henri Nouwen, who suffered many bouts of depression in his life, in a piece called “Stepping over Our Wounds” from his book, Bread for the Journey, wrote:

Sometimes we have to ‘step over’ our anger, our jealousy, or our feelings of rejection and move on.  The temptation is to get stuck in our negative emotions, poking around in them as if we belong there.  Then we become the ‘offended one,’ ‘the forgotten one’,’ or the ‘discarded one.” Yes, we can get attached to these negative identities and even take morbid pleasure in them.  It might be good to have a look at these dark feelings and explore where they come from, but there comes a moment to step over them, leave them behind and travel on.

If we’re not careful, we can get stuck in our identities as depressed people.  We don’t so much experience depression – – we become depression. 

Sometimes, yes sometimes, we just need to let go of it.  We need to let go of the darker emotions that often fuel depression’s fury.  We can’t do this all the time, I know; but this way of dealing with it, of not getting drawn into a an exploration of our depressive thoughts and feelings –“Why can’t I do anything right, Why doesn’t anybody care about me, when will this pain end?” – is a healthy alternative to the same old, same old approach.  For years, I would get sucked in by depression. Before I knew it, I had been depressed for weeks.  Depression, and surviving it, consumed me. 

Now, after years of hard work, I know I can often — allright, sometimes — just let it go. 

And travel on.

Getting Unstuck From Depression

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.

Grinding in the Wheels of Depression

Every time a person gets depressed, the connections in the brain between mood, thoughts, the body, and behavior get stronger, making it easier for depression to be triggered again.  At the earliest stages in which mood starts spiraling downward, it is not the mood that does the damage, but how we react to it.  –  The Mindful Way through Depression.

It has been estimated that the human brain kicks out about 50,000 thoughts per day.  A majority of them for lawyers with depression are negative and pessimistic; they spin in our minds like gears in a machine.  They lack an essential truth and vitality – – they’re almost parasitic – – and can suck the life right out of us.  Unmoored from the shore of everyday reality, depressive ruminations calcify and harden us to our own humanity, to the beauty of others and the joy of living one’s life. 

Your thoughts are rooted in your personal beliefs, morals, and principles. They are your opinions of your inner self and the outside world. Every thought you have is personal. Each one is reflective of your curiosity, experiences, and the random actions of your brain cells. Everybody has times when they get caught up in some negativity. But depression allows these thoughts and feelings to grow out of control. They can paralyze a person’s life, pulling them downward into despair.

The thoughts of a depressive mind are often boring and lethargic.  When in a depressive trough, such thoughts drone on about why other people, our job and our lives stink.  After years of repetition, such thoughts have worn neurochemical and structural grooves in our brains.  This is why many depressives suffer from a formless ennui; doldrums that numb them to the creative engagement with the world they yearn for.

Depressive thinking ignores evidence to the contrary (e.g. that people love and care about us – – and we about them — or that our work product isn’t that bad and often times pretty good), and snubs its nose at suggestions that life can be otherwise. Folks with depression are often closed minded: the world sucks and if you try to disagree with them, they may conclude that – -well – – you suck.

Lord knows, my observations aren’t meant to be depression downers, judgmental or condemnatory.  They’re meant to underscore the enormous role that habitual, unconscious ways of constructing the world with our negative thinking can lead to depression. Mind you, we don’t want Pollyannaish thoughts – happy go lucky gibberish to replace depressive thinking.  Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t jettison ourselves into such a Dairy Queen-like state full of vanilla, optimistic musings about the world we live in.  What we do seek to achieve is balance, a life that works and the normal rhythms of emotions that everyone deserves.

Lawyers lose sight of the fact that WE are the ones actually thinking these depressive thoughts.  To heal, we must take responsibility that we are – – on some level – – choosing to think and believe in such thoughts.  To get to the point where we can see this usually involves a great deal of effort and a fair amount of pain.  It is often the pain of depression, and a lawyer’s desperation to stop it, that make him or her, hopefully, seek out help and question their melancholic assumptions. 

Abraham Lincoln, who many forget was a trial lawyer for decades before becoming president, struggled with depression his whole life.   His battles with depression, which included two suicide watches, is powerfully told in Lincoln’s Melancholy:  How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled Him to Greatress. Once, when he felt the searing pain of depression, he wrote: “I’ve been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.  My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day.”

Mood and Thoughts

Depression begins with a low mood – for many when they first get out of bed in the morning. Like animals that sense bad weather approaching, we can sense the fog of depression beginning to descend on us as the barometric pressure in our minds begins to fall.  

In The Mindful Way through Depression, author, Mark Williams, writes:                            

“Negative thoughts can trigger or feed depression once a low mood is upon us. We might sink into a glum mood by thinking nothing ever goes right for me. That mood may then trigger self-criticism like why am I such a loser? As we try to unravel the cause of our unhappy state, our mood plunges.  As we investigate questions about our worthlessness, we form a whole scheme of other negative thoughts, ready to be recruited at a moment’s notice in the future”.

There is, in a sense, a senselessness about depression. Or, alternatively, there may be a real reason to be upset (e.g. “I have a big trial next week and I’ve not prepared enough”), but we’ve catastrophized our circumstances to such an extent (e.g. “they’ll fire me if I lose this case) that our predicament bears little resemblance to the facts before us. 

A friend of mine, who is now a judge, screwed up on a big case while working for a large corporate firm some years ago. He went home, wrote a suicide note and drove himself to a rural motel.  There he downed a number of sleeping pills, drank some whiskey and lay down in bed to die.  He was found, unconscious, by colleagues of his who had been searching for him all night.  He didn’t lose his job – and he didn’t lose his life.  But he had let his thinking take him from the fact that he had made a mistake a work to the conclusion that HE was the mistake and that such a life was not deserving of life.

Here are some examples of depressive thoughts.  Reflect on how often you have thought them in the course of a day:

I feel like I’m up against the world — I’m no good –Why can’t I ever succeed? — No one understands me — I’ve let people down — I don’t think I can go on — I wish I were a better person — I’m so weak — My life’s not going the way I want it to — I’m so disappointed in myself — Nothing feels good anymore — I can’t stand this anymore – I can’t get started — I wish I were somewhere else — I can’t get things together — I hate myself — I’m worthless — I wish I could just disappear.

With this flotilla of thoughts, we filter our experiences in a consistently negative way.  We cull from the raw material of daily life proof that things are as bad as we think them to be.  Such cynicism corrodes a person’s soul as surely as Coke rots away the enamel on our teeth.

There has been much commentary and studies which suggest that lawyers are pessimistic thinkers and that such pessimism helps us to become better, more successful lawyers, but not very happy human beings.  Read the article “Why Lawyers Are So Unhappy?” by happiness researcher Martin Seligman.  We examine all of the possible dangers, pitfalls and troubles that may befall us and our clients in a case.  Such thinking becomes problematic – which it does for many, many lawyers – when we turn this mode of thinking on ourselves.  We can from judging facts to judging ourselves. The habit of judging ourselves severely disguises itself as an attempt to help us to live better lives and to be better people, but in actuality the habit of judging ourselves winds us functioning as an irrational tyrant that can never be satisfied.

Trying to Think our Way out of Depression

With our negative thoughts, we get perpetually stuck in a tar pit of our own making.  We struggle to extricate ourselves from this gooey mess and just keep falling backwards. 

“When depression starts to pull us down, we often react, for understandable reasons, by trying to get rid of our feelings by suppressing them or by trying to think our way out of them.  In the process we dredge up past regrets and conjure up future worries.  In our heads, we try out this solution and that solution, and it doesn’t take long for us to start feeling bad for failing to come up with a way to alleviate the painful emotions we’re feeling.  We get lost in comparisons of where we are versus where we want to be, soon living almost entirely in our heads.” – The Mindful Way through Depression

We get caught up in thinking about life, rather than living life.  We become obsessed with doing rather than being.  The problem is our overcritical mind’s determination to solve the problem of our depression with its analytic arsenal.  When we do this, our depressive mind tries to hunt down what’s wrong with us – as if we were defective people for God sake! 

This way of problem-solving our depression doesn’t help us out of our distress – – it just perpetuates our downward spiral.  

Be Patient with Yourself

How will I ever be able to confront all the slings and arrows of so many thoughts?  It seems unachievable and impossible, we may say.   We can become despondent and hopeless. Here is where patience comes in, a big deal for lawyers with depression who have a lot of trouble being patient in a loving way with themselves.  They likely never learned it in childhood and our results-now driven society doesn’t teach or promote it.  Without patience, we drop out of therapy, stop taking medication or generally flop around on our office’s carpet like some sort of fleshy carp.  

It took awhile for us to fall into the pickle barrel of depression and it will take effort, time and patience to crawl out of it. 

For once, just once,  try being kind and patient with yourself today  as you struggle to heal from your depression.  We need to move from being hopeless to being . . . just human.

The Storm Rolls In

There are many myths and misconceptions about clinical depression.  One of the most tiresome is that depression is just being down in the dumps – in my experience, it’s more like being down in the abyss.  Or, that depression is just everyday sadness. Who doesn’t get sad, after all, in today’s crazy world?

But depression isn’t normal sadness – not by a long shot. Everyday sadness – which is part of the human experience for everyone bar none — is usually a reaction to some sort of loss whether in real-time (you just lost your job) or in your mind (you have a sad memory).  After some period of time, our ability to adapt kicks in and our emotional world levels off; we regain a sense of emotional balance and are ready to face life challenges.

In contrast, clinical depression is persistent sadness (according to experts, something that last two weeks or more – see a list of other symptoms from the DSM- IV as laid by clicking the link above).  This sadness does not go away.  We do not adapt. We do not return to an emotional balance without some sort of treatment — whether it’s therapy, medication, life style changes (e.g. a committed exercise regimen) or some combination of all three.

Many folks with depression may also have an absence of the normal range of emotion – particularly the ability to experience joy. There is a flat affect – an emotionally deadening; tears are replaced by simply torment. Our emotional range, if you will, our palette of colorful emotions, is reduced to variations of grey or black.  Purples, greens and yellows are simply unable to bloom in depression’s arid soil.

The predominant feeling that all depression sufferers endure, if you could call it a feeling, is unadulterated pain; a sense of darkness that sets up residence in the core of our humanity like a burned out sun that has lost its sense of heat and light.

Some people recover from depression and go into complete remission. For many that fall into this group, their depression is contained by medication, therapy, life style changes and/or some combination of all of these.  Depression does not return, thank God.

Others – in my experience many – do not per se recover.  They have periods of recovery and episodes of relapse. Or, their depression goes from being Major depression (a truly crippling condition where daily functioning is all but impossible) to Dysthymia (a milder, but more chronic form of depression). The biggest difference between the two is that Dysthymia does not usually incapacitate someone and thoughts of suicide are absent.

Stress can trigger the mercenaries of depression to return during a relapse and assault our mind’s garrisons – – a big problems if you’re a lawyer.  Too much stress, too many triggers and a lawyer who had been doing pretty well finds herself or himself falling into the basement of despair.  This underscores the importance of learning about the patterns of depression in our lives so as to head it off at the pass.

It’s as if each person’s depression (while sharing some common features – hence the DSM IV) has its own personality, like the classic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are.  We must learn read the habits of our depressions because we will then be able to recognize the signs of the trouble brewing inside our heads.

Like a storm seen in the distance from the shore, those who’ve been through a depression can sense the barometric pressure dropping and see the threatening clouds approaching. We may not tell others of this sense of foreboding because we don’t want to concern others, feel that they wouldn’t understand or conclude that they can’t do anything to help anyway.

Other signs begin to appear as the storm moves closer to shore: we don’t have the energy to return calls at the office (our voicemail box becomes digital chunks of impatient clients or opposing counsel calling back for the third time), a fragmentation of our ability to think and concentrate and a strong desire to isolate ourselves and wait – for God knows how long – for the storm to pass.

Just as storms form because of a combination of climatic condition, so too does depression.

For law students, their personality types (often neurotic, perfectionist and overachieving), run head on into the pessimistic thinking style they learn in law school – the buzz saw of learning to “think like a lawyer.”  This pessimistic style, finds trouble everywhere it looks.  It may make us good lawyers, but often unhappy – and depressed – human beings.

For practicing lawyers, the qualities they took into and learned from law school meet head on with the extraordinary demands of a modern law practice.  We’ve come to name those who grew up and fought in World War II “The Greatest Generation.” Perhaps today’s lawyers might be thought of as “The Driven Generation.” Law has become less of a profession and more of a business. 

For a lawyer who has goes through a relapse of depression, it’s often befuddling to them why they’re they are going through all this shit again. But regardless of the reason, there you are in the thick of it; the vaporous stink of depression has fallen on you like used up coffee grounds.  It seems, most assuredly, unfair.  Yet, there it is.

Here are some thoughts about preventing relapse and how to keep you feeling well:

  • Learn about how your depression expresses itself.  When you start to experience the early warning signs of a depression, talk about with a professional.  Read  5 Depression Relapse Triggers to Watch For which should give you some further signs to watch for.
  • Watch your thoughts.  In myself, I can see a shift from a relatively optimistic outlook to a pessimistic one.  I am quicker to judge others and assume the worst about them and their behavior – as well as myself.  When not in this space, I am likely to be more forgiving and – I am sure my wife would agree – easier to hang out with! Read, Therapy Better Than Antidepressants at Heading Off New Bout Triggered by Sadness.
  • People who relapse are often people who stop taking their medication.  They do so because they’ve been taking it for awhile, feel better and decide they just don’t want to take it anymore.  This can often have disastrous consequences: a return of depression or even suicide.  Beware of this and carefully plan out with a professional how to taper off medication if that’s where you would like to go.  Read, What is Depression Relapse and Can It Happen to Me?

The $tress of Success

         

We avatars of the legal system, we hired guns who ride into town and shoot up saloons, measure our success by the notches on our dusty belts: Did I win or lose?  Or, perhaps more accurately, is it: Am I a winner or a loser? There is a thrill about winning and being successful, however we define it — but also a lot of stress.

Results, bottom-line bastards that they are, can spew toxic stress into our bodies like BP oil into the Gulf.  Many lawyers struggle to shut off their inner dialogue that pings between their ears as they lay awake at night and their family sleeps:  “Will I be successful tomorrow?  Will I bill enough hours this month?” We mash ourselves up like Idaho potatoes flopping around in our beds as the minutes click away on our L.E.D. alarm clocks.

 I wrote an article for Trial Magazine about the connection between stress, anxiety and depression.  Here’s a part of that article:

 “How our bodies and brains deal with stress and anxiety hasn’t changed much in the last 10,000 years.  A wonderful defense mechanism, which is wired into our nervous system, is called the fight-or-flight response.  When confronted with a threat – whether real or perceived – this response kicks in and floods our bodies with the powerful hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which propel us into action.  This was an essential survival device for our ancestors who lived in the jungle and would have to flee beasts or fight foes trying to kill them.

Lawyers don’t face these types of real life-or-death threats. But they perceive life-or-death threats in their battles with opposing counsel while sitting in a deposition or sparring in the courtroom.  Our bodies respond as if they were being chased by a hungry lion.  Over time, this chronic anxiety causes the release of too many fight-or-flight hormones.  Research has shown that prolonged release of cortisol damages areas of the brain that have been implicated in depression: the hippocampus (involved in learning and memory and the amydala (involved in how we perceive fear).”

Living in the jungle of our profession doesn’t involve warding off wooly mammoths, but it does involve a fight-or-flight from mental constructions in our heads:  the fear of missing a court ordered deadline can create panic in our nervous system every bit as real as a tangling with a beast that tried to kill our ancestors.

Lawyers are perfectionists and overachievers who are never content to give things their just their best try.  They believe in dumping large amounts of energy into each and every project. Such extraordinary efforts are stressful on our bodies and minds.  Yet, we know all of this, don’t we?  The truth is that many lawyers have already made the calculations in their heads and are willing to take the pounding for more dollars.  We come back to our abodes at the end of our days exhausted, peak at our mutual funds statements and turn on the T.V. too tired to think about the implications of living this type of life.

Lawyer Steve Keeva, in his piece Take Care of Yourself, wrote:

 “The dominant method of legal billing can, if you let it, subvert your ability ‘to claim a full and rich life   for yourself,’ as litigator John McShane put it.  Think about it. Billing by the hour is extraordinary in the way in which it so nakedly equates money with time.  It thereby offers no incentive at all to stop working. The taskmaster par excellence can reduce grown professionals to slavish piece workers.” 

When exploring the stress of success, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that depression happens in a context, a cultural milieu and a profession’s mores.  Too often, we put everything on the individual – her depressive thinking, his genetic makeup – as if depression in a person forms and takes place in a vacuum:  if it “takes a village to raise a child;” well, it takes a culture to create conditions for depression to develop.

We are social creatures that need support from our families, institutions and society.  These structures help mitigate stress and prevent depression.  Yet,  contemporary culture has largely failed us: the breakdown in families, the betrayal of cultural and political institutions, a grimy cynicism in people, vacuous and crass entertainment unmitigated consumerism and a legal profession which endorses the value of professionalism while lawyers say that levels of incivility between lawyers is at an all time high.  It’s become more of a business than a profession and calling, it’s become more mercenary in nature where lawyers forget that they are officers of the court and not just there to do the bidding of a well paying client.

Bruce Levine, Ph.D., author of the book Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic, writes about renowned psychoanalyst and social critic Eric Fromm’s commentary on the connection between our cultural values and depression.  Here is an excerpt from book about the dangers of a comsumerism driven culture:

“Fromm argued that the increase in depression in modern industrial societies is connected to their economic systems.  Financial success in modern in modern cultural societies is associated with heightened awareness of financial self-interest, resulting in greater self-absorption, which can increase the likelihood of depression; while a lack of financial interest in such an economic system results in deprivation and misery, which increases the likelihood for depression.  Thus, escaping depression in such a system means regularly taking actions based on financial self-interest while at the same time not drowning in self-absorption – no easy balancing act.

The idea that money and buying stuff and acquiring status = happiness isn’t treated for what it is – a paper thin myth.  Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with making money; buying things and wishing to obtain a certain level of success in our careers. It’s a healthy recognition of the limitations of our income and what it really can buy that makes all the difference and keeps us out of this downward spiral.

In the book The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, author Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., concludes:

 “One of the reasons for the failure of materialism to make us happier may be that even hen people finally attain their monetary goals; the achievement doesn’t translate into an increase into an increase in happiness. Also, materialism may distract people from relatively more meaningful and joyful aspects of their lives, such as nurturing their relationships with family and friends, enjoying the present, and contributing to their communities.  Finally, materialistic people have been found to hold unrealistically high expectations of what material things can do for them.  One father confided to me that he believed that purchasing a forty-tow-inch flat-panel TV would improve his relationship with his son.  It didn’t.

A more spiritual take on the issue was penned by famed author and Trappist monk Thomas Merton.  In his classic work, No Man Is an Island, he writes:

 “One of the chief obstacles to a sense of wholeness in life is the selfish anxiety to get the most out of everything, to be a brilliant success in our own eyes and in the eyes of other men. We can only get rid of this anxiety by being content to miss something in almost everything we do. We cannot master everything, taste everything, understand everything, drains every experience to its last dregs. But if we have the courage to let almost everything else go, we will probably be able to retain the one thing necessary for us -whatever it may be. If we are too eager to have everything, we will almost certainly miss even the one thing we need.

Happiness consists in finding out precisely what the ‘one thing necessary’ may be, in our lives, and in gladly relinquishing all the rest. For then, by a divine paradox, we find that everything else is given us together with the one thing we needed.”

For Merton, that one thing was God.  For some of us with depression, this may be our touchstone as well; a center around which to slow down the centrifugal force of our spinning lives.  For the others, it may be our family or friends.  But whatever it is, it must ground us and bring out, as Abraham Lincoln once said, “The better angels of our nature.”

To lessen the stress in your life, and the risk for developing or exacerbating your depression, try these tips from your friend Dan:

1.   Fast for a few days from the radio in your car, the newspapers or fooling around on your Blackberry.  Take a time out.  Think of it as an experiment.  Lawyers complain that they’re stressed out only to dump more information and stimulation into their craniums at every few moment they have.  Lawyers already read and think enough for a living – give your nervous system a break for crying out loud.

2.   Hand in hand with the above, incorporate some slice of silence into your life.  It doesn’t have to be a monastic experience.  I wear a runner’s watch and do a ten to fifteen minute period of silence a day.  If you don’t do something like this, you know what you’re stuck with – too much noise.

3.   Start asking yourself some questions.  What toll on your mental and physical health is your drive to succeed exacting on your life?  Make an actual list, take it out every day and read it.  The purpose is to try to become more conscious of the actual cost of your career to you.  People tell me they don’t have the time to do this, but then spend hours researching whether to buy a Lexus or Audi.  The irony of it all.We love accumulating things and experiences in our society.  Instead of adding something into your life, what can you drop out of it that would make you feel better? 

4.   Read something that would nurture you as a person and dump the rest of the crap.  Read only one thing at a time.  Maybe a book of poetry or the biography of a heroic person. 

5.   Reconnect with the humorous, whether highbrow or sophomoric.  Plug into it and have a gut-busting hoot.

6.   Remember, that life isn’t a dress rehearsal.  The time you’re spending at your job is a segment of finite time that you’re given.  Once it’s spent, it’s spent.  No one tells you how to spend it, despite what you might have gotten yourself around to believing.   Remember, you choose.  My priest once said that on every gravestone there are two dates:  the date we were born and the date we died.  We don’t get to choose those dates.  But between those dates, is a dash line: “—.” That dash is our life and what we have done with it.  Resolve to be a person whose dash is driven by substance and not solely by success.  As Mark Twain once wrote, “Let your life sing so that upon your death, even the undertaker will weep.”

7.   The notion of “quality time” for oneself or others is largely bullshit.  Richard O’Connor, Ph.D. once said that to overcome depression we need to start investing in ourselves like we’re worth it: exercising, sleeping enough, etc.   No matter how you slice it, there is no small amount of “quality time” in which you can achieve these basic self-care routines.  The reality is you will need to take whatever amount of time it takes because YOU are worth it.

8.   If you are locked in the success matrix as a lawyer, remember that it doesn’t have to stay that way forever.  Realistically, your life won’t probably change tomorrow.  But it can begin to change in small way that can lead you in a healthier direction.

Three Skills for Overcoming Depression

 

“Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” Author, Regina Brett

The legal profession and those who shape it devote plenty of time to the practical side of being a lawyer; the nuts-and-bolts of how to do, for example, a Will and Estate.  Precious little time, however, is spent on teaching lawyers how to maneuver skillfully through their lives not just as professionals, but as people. 

Three years ago, when I first went public with my depression, I suggested to a Bar Association director that we put on a half-day Continuing Legal Education Seminar on Depression.  She looked at me oddly — as if her face were about to crumble — and said “Who in the world is going to show up for that.” With some trepidation, I went forward expecting twenty people – over 125 showed up.  Lawyers are hungry for meaning in their lives and want direction from other people in the business. 

Ideally, every young lawyer should be paired with a mentor, a wise elder of the law.  Lacking that, few lawyers have examples of how to deal with the profession in a healthy and meaningful manner.  Is it any wonder then that lawyers suffer from depression at twice the rate of the average citizen? 

We live in a profession where people endure a real pain, trauma and meaninglessness in the hope that it will get better “someday” in the indeterminate future.  That someday may come sooner than later in the form of early retirement forced by burnout, unforeseen illness or some sort of divine intervention.  I don’t see this as pessimistic, but as realistic.  My goal is to wake lawyers up to the real costs of approaching their vocation with only nut-and-bolts in their tool chest.  We are not crude machines in need of tune-ups.  We are living beings in need of emotional and spiritual sustenance.

Depression is a type of half-living; we go to work, raise our children, sip lattes, do wheelies on our mountain bikes or grill steaks on the grill.  But there is something vital within us always yearning just below the surface, something that seeks expression in our lives. Perhaps the situation wouldn’t be so dire for the legal profession if our time as lawyers were just okay – a manageable amount of stress, decent interactions with people and fair wages.  But it isn’t okay; it’s completely out of balance: too much stress, combative interactions and wages, albeit much higher than the average American worker, that exacts a tremendous toll on our brains and bodies.

Is there any hope, any way out of this legal conundrum?  I think there is because I have seen it happen in my own life, and in the lives of scores of other lawyers.  For most – including me—the pain decibels have to be jacked up pretty high for us to conclude that change is better than living one’s life this way. 

Carl Jung, a former protégé of Sigmund Freud, offers us a great deal of wisdom for dealing with our modern day psyche.  He never preached a “top ten” ways to overcome depression, but some of his essential wisdom can be summarized for the modern reader.  In dealing with melancholy, he said that there were three essential steps that we need to take – and no one else can take them for us.

In his book “Why Good People Do Bad Things,” James Hollis, a student of Jung, writes:

“To gain the positive values arising from the “landfill” we call the Shadow [i.e. to learn the painful lessons that depression is trying to teach us], we have to wrestle with Jung’s suggestion that to be a full , we have to know what we want, and do it.  Knowing what we want, really, takes a lot of sorting.  And living what we find, really, takes a lot of courage and endurance.  In reflecting on the task of therapy, Jung once noted that it can only bring us insight.  Then, he said, come the moral qualities of our character – courage to face what must be faced, and then to take the leap, and the endurance to stick it out until we arrive at the place intended for us from the beginning. So much of our lives have been lived through reflexive adaptations [unexamined emotional habits grounded in our past], so knowing what we really want is difficult, and then scary, but it feels right when we live it, as were meant to do.”

Here’s a great presentation by Dr. Hollis about finding a meaningful path in life.

Insight

Most of us are, at best, barely aware of things we do and why we do them.  Many stuck in the muck of depression are doing things that actually encourage their distress without knowing they are doing so.  As Richard O’Connor, Ph.D., points out, “Depressives keep doing the things they’ve always done because they don’t know how to do anything else.”  They’ve become experts at “depressing.”

 Insight means that we begin to see the causes of our distress and our role in perpetuating it.  As Dr. O’Connor has said: “We aren’t to blame for depression, but we are responsible for getting better.”  To fulfill that responsibility, we need to develop ideas of what and how to do things differently in our lives and we can only do that when we have some insight into why things are going so wrong.  Absent this, we will continue to drift; to be a sort of unhappy ghost in the world.

We can become educated, in a dialogue with our therapist, about the origins of our depression and the old wounds that we will need to revisit in order to heal.  It’s in the safety of a therapist’s office where we learn to stop blaming others and – perhaps a bigger problem for depressives – ourselves.  Blaming ourselves is replaced by the recognition that bad things did happen to us as children that were not our fault.  In fact, much of our negative thinking and painful emotions were learned and endured here.  They don’t go away – we carry them into hood.  Numerous studies have concluded that one of the major indicators for onset depression is trauma, neglect or abuse during childhood.  Blaming others is replaced by the recognition that this just keeps us stuck and resentful.

We shouldn’t give ourselves license to remain stuck in our childhoods and abdicate our responsibility in the here and now to create a healthy life. Our responsibility is to find a way to empower ourselves so that we can get on with living a fulfilling –instead of futile—life.

Courage

Once we get insight, we need to then act on it. Jung suggests that this isn’t something a therapist can give you. It’s your job to leave that one hour session and go out into the world and experiment with your newly found knowledge. In short, you will need courage.

Too often, people achieve hard-fought insight, but then their recovery doesn’t go very far because they don’t put their wisdom into action.  In my experience, action can be stressful because it involves stepping out of depression’s cave (a dark cave, yes, but also cozy in its own destructive sort of way) and risking new behaviors or feeling emotions long suppressed.   We can even feel great shame – a sense of cowardice—if we don’t change because in some sense, we feel we now “know better.”  

Pilot Amelia Earhart once wrote: “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”  We are never at peace until we act in congruity with our inner truth.

I’ve have talked to hundreds of lawyers across the country who say that they “have to” stay a lawyer, as if it is a form of servitude that was somehow imposed on them.  This seems to me a variation of depression’s theme that they are helpless.  This is not to suggest and I’m unsympathetic or unrealistic about the very real impediments to change.  What I am saying is that such impediments are given way too much power over our lives.  They become heinous bogeymen that we’re afraid to confront.   We give them so much power, that we remain stuck and depressed in our relationship to them.  We think of our fears as “reality” and our dreams for a different life as flat-out .

The fact is it may not be your law job that is depressing; you may be bringing your depressive way of being into the job.  It might be true that you’d be just as depressed if you were a librarian or sang in a country western band.  

I am not suggesting any answers on this score.  I am suggesting the living of questions to untangle this Gordian knot:  Why am I choosing to remain in the job I am in?  What behaviors support my depression while at work?  Am I willing to take some chances, even small ones, to move my life in a different direction? 

You will need courage, my friend, to act on the insights you’ve gained and not let these precious seeds die in the ground.

Sometimes music can get themes across when words aren’t enough.  The other day, my ear inclined towards this powerful piece of bluesy jazz music by artist Lizz Wright.  Watch this video of her belting out her song “You Can Fly”. 

Endurance

Once we have got it together, it has to stay together.  Episodic starts and stops just won’t do in the long run.  We need to be determined for our recovery and personal growth to continue.  We can get lazy or reckless about this.  We just don’t want to put in the time to exercise, or think that it really doesn’t matter if we don’t go to therapy.  It does my friend.  I’ve learned the hard way.  Everything counts. 

We will all have peaks in valleys in this journey.  The important part is not to stop.  It took us a while to fall into depression, and it will take us a while to get out of it.  By pressing on, we grow in stature because it is a courageous journey.  Novelist William Faulkner once wrote: I believe that men and women will not merely endure.  They will prevail.  They are immortal, not because they alone among creatures have an inexhaustible voice, but because they have a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”

My Mom’s Passing Last Night

I was with my mom last night as she lay dying of brain cancer.  I stroked her brow and kissed her many times.  We were alone together in the room around 9 p.m. Only a crack of light from the hallway shined in from the partially closed door.  Holding her hand, I told her that it was okay to let go. That God would take care of everything.  I read to her from the book of Psalms. 

She slipped away at 10 p.m. 

Driving home late last night, memories of our journey together flooded me: her teaching me to whistle on kitchen steps one summer when I was 5, showing me how “big boys” tie their sneakers by themselves and lying in bed with her and my younger brother when we were small children and her teaching us our nighttime prayer:

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.  If I should die, before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

I prayed that prayer with her last night, over 40 years later from when  she had first taught it to me.

My mom’s life was marked by extraordinary kindness.

Psalm 85 reads, in part:

I will hear what God proclaims;

The Lord – for he proclaims peace.

Near indeed is his salvation to those who trust in Him;

glory dwelling in our land.

Kindness and truth shall meet

Justice and peace shall kiss.

Truth shall spring out of the earth,

and justice look down from heaven.

My mom wasn’t a particularly religious person, but it didn’t matter one damn bit.  Her Mass was one was sweetness, her host one of gentleness.

God rest this lady of kindness . . . .

My Friend’s Shot at Redemption

There’s a complexity to language; words color what we think, say and do.  With our locutions, we praise and condemn, stumble upon transitory meanings and conniptions and try to make sense of things both ordinary and profound.   What words we use to describe ourselves and others says a lot about the world we live in.

“I’m a loser, a failure,” my buddy said through sad eyes as he looked across at me. 

Tom’s 50 years old and been struggling with anxiety and depression for the past fifteen years.  I have witnessed the arc of his demise, his struggle to keep depression’s wolves at bay.  There had been red flags along the way – a bad temper, divorce, drinking too much and a lot of self-condemnation.  But my friend had long felt that these were justified by what the adversarial nature of the law had saddled him with.  He didn’t see – until now – his role in creating the mess that his life was now in.  Only pain, unrelenting pain, had broken him open.  It had humbled him and given him the opportunity to honestly examine his life.

As my friend spoke on, it seemed to me that he wasn’t only seeking better mental health – that seemed to be unattainable for him during this low tide – but a sort of redemption; not in any great religious sense, though he certainly would’ve welcomed any help of the divine variety. 

The redemption he was hoping for and seeking was a second chance at life.  He wasn’t sure whether he deserved it; but he was hopeful that he would be given one.  A second chance to make better choices in his life; to stop going down mental and emotional dead ends that only strengthened depression’s vise-like grip on his life.   Ultimately, the restoration of a fundamental goodness and harmony that had been so long absent.

Tom’s brokenness seemed not just about his depression, but cracks in his soul.  In his misguided efforts to squelch his bottoming-out, he often did self-destructive and self-defeating things – anything to soothe those acerbic rants of depression.  But the rants inside his head didn’t stop – they only got louder.

Perhaps they were trying to tell him something, I suggested.  “No they’re not”, his psychiatrist had assured him.  “It’s just part of the disease of depression, pure and simple”.  Yet I believe that such advice did more harm than good.  No doubt Tom, given his incapacitated state, could probably benefit from some medication.  But he could also benefit from trying to discern the signposts contained inside the depression that might lead him out of the swamplands. 

Author Lee Stringer, in the book Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression, writes:

“One grows older and more knowing over time; life’s more facile charms grow dim; the soul yearns, seeking more than could ever be had on this earth, more than could ever be wrought out of three dimensions and five senses.  We, all of us, suffer some from the limits of living within the flesh.  Our walk through the world is never entirely without that pain.  It lurks in the still, quiet hours which we, in our constant busyness, steadfastly avoid.  And it has occurred to me since that perhaps what we call depression isn’t really a disorder at all but, like physical pain, an alarm of sorts, alerting us that something is undoubtedly wrong; that perhaps it is time to stop, take a time-out, take as long as it takes, and attend to the unfinished business of filling our souls.

The aridity of our soul calls out to be watered by a greater relationship to the Universe, called by many God.  This Mystery is concerned not only with the building up of better mental health, but also our engagement with the larger questions of life:  Why was I born?  Who am I? What is my life’s purpose?  What is the meaning of life?  Why have these Job-like tragedies befallen me?  The ancient Greek’s talked about Fate and Destiny, modern-day philosophy calls it existentialism.  But, they’re all ultimately concerned with the same thing – a jettisoning of friviloius, superficial and hedonistic pursuits and the journeying towards wisdom and a wider vision of what this life is truly about.

In some sense, we can be worn out by such intense probing. But the questions won’t go away, as if demanding our response.  When we give up engaging with these larger questions in life, we are inevitably diminished in some fundamental way.  We “settle” for a more predictable and smaller life that we often regret later on – the roads not taken.  But when we meet these questions, when we finally stop running away from life, we can begin to respond to our soul’s deepest yearnings.

Thomas Moore,  in his best-selling book, Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life, writes:

“The soul presents itself in a variety of colors, including all the shades of gray, blue, and black. To care for the soul, we must observe the full range of all its colorings, and resist the temptation to approve only of white, red, and orange – the brilliant colors. The “bright” idea of colorizing old black and white movies is consistent with our culture’s general rejection of the dark and the gray. In a society that is defended against the tragic sense of life, depression will appear as an enemy, an unredeemable malady; yet in such a society, devoted to light, depression, in compensation, will be unusually strong.”

Looking into my friend’s weary eyes, I don’t tell him he’s mentally ill or that he deserves his pain for all the bad mistakes he’s made – he’s already been told this by others.  I don’t tell him to get help, because he already knows that and is getting help. I don’t even tell him that it’s terrible that he’s experiencing depression

What I do tell him is that something or someone essential –something beyond just recovering from depression – is missing from his life.  I don’t pretend to know what or who that is; we each have a unique relationship with life.  But I tell him that he will have to search for that essential thing or person – and it might not come easy.  But it’s in living the big questions that we are somehow healed, perhaps slowly, and recover a sense of meaning to our lives which is, after all, what our souls truly want.

My friend needs a renewal, a change of course, another chance – a real shot at redemption.

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