An excellent meditation on how Lincoln (we forget he was a lawyer before he was a President) handled his dark periods of depression. Read the Blog
This week, I was privileged to receive the Special Service Award from the Erie County Bar Association for my work in assisting lawyers with depression. It was a particularly emotional night for me. You see, my 81 year old mother was in the audience. She’s in very poor health and it was difficult for her to walk to our table at the event. My father died 30 years ago. So mom has been my only parent since I was 18 years old.
Each of the award recipients were asked to keep there remarks short. Accordingly, I will try to keep this blog short. I thanked the bar and many others for their love and support. First and foremost, my wife, Kelsey. No man could ask for a more beautiful and loving partner. Then I said:
“Last but not least, I want to thank my mother who is here tonight. She taught me one of life’s most important lessions: kindness counts.”
Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of the best selling book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, said that when he was a young man, he admired people who were cunning. But as he grew older and wiser, he admired people who were kind. See this great clip of him.
I told the audience the whopping statistics; about how major depression afflicts 350 billion people in our world. Forty million people in our own country suffer from it. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide and costs the U.S. economy 70 billion dollars a year in lost productivity.
But, as Helen Keller once said, “Life is full of suffering, but it’s also full of the overcoming of it.”
To me, being of service to others has helped me cope with my own depression. It has given me more than I have ever given. Giving to other appeals to what is best in people. To what Abraham Lincoln called, “the better angels of our nature.”
My role model for service is Mother Teresa. She used to carry around “business” cards that she handed out to people. On the front, was her contact information. On the back, read a beautiful prayer she had written.
The fruit of silence is PRAYER
The fruit of prayer is FAITH
The fruit of faith is LOVE
The fruit of service is love is SERVICE
The fruit of service is PEACE.
I wish all of you the peace that comes from loving service.
If you have been living with depression long enough, you will inevitably face the question of whether managing your depression is enough. Many lawyers dealing with depression (and there are 200,000 in America) are struggling to get rid of their symptoms of depression. I understand the value and necessity of this all too well. But once the symptoms seem manageable, what next?
In his book, What Happy People Know, psychologist, Dan Baker, offers his criticisms of much of modern day psychology: “Clinical psychology – the treatment in a clinical setting of people with mental disorders – was begun with great fanfare as an adjunct to modern medicine in the late 1800s. It was patterned after the conventional medical model of fighting pathology. Clinical psychology was based on the assumption that most people are mentally healthy – and happy- but some people contract mental pathologies that conform to neat diagnostic compartments, and require standardized treatments. The only problem is that it doesn’t work very well. It fails approximately two-thirds of the time.” As I write, let it be known that I attend therapy twice per month!
There is a great debate worldwide about the causes of depression. Most agree that it is a complex condition related to a combination of factors both genetic and environmental. While there is value in thinking about depression as a disease of sorts – say on par with diabetes or heart disease – there is a real danger to as well. That’s because it isn’t just a “disease;” it’s also a psychological and spiritual malady. If those aspects aren’t addressed, those who suffer from it may never taste the wonder and joy of life. They are left with the discontent of a life where they are only managing their depressive symptoms. Don’t we have the right to expect more?
Dr. Baker central point is that the approach of clinical psychology was not designed to help people find happiness. “It assumed that if mental illness were cured, happiness would naturally follow, as the normal human condition. But that doesn’t happen for the vast majority of people.” He continues, “I believe that even when people do not have diagnosable psychological illness, they still cannot be considered psychologically healthy unless they are happy. The absence of disease is not the same as health, just as the absence of poverty is not the same as wealth.” For a further exploration of the issue of happiness, see the interesting article in The Atlantic Magazine, “What Makes Us Happy” by Joshua Wolf Shenk. Interesting, Mr. Shenk is the author of Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness.
I believe Dr. Baker’s point is well taken. Yes, it is critically important to treat the symptoms of clinical depression. But we must stop and pause: is that enough? If it is, I can’t help but feel as though we have allowed ourselves to be victims on some level. Depression then has the danger of defining our identities as people. We are more than that. We must aspire to live a fuller life with times of joy, happiness and a sense of being alive. As Mark Twain once wrote, “Let us endeavor to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”