Listening to Depression

Those of us who suffer from depression tend to think of this state of mind (and being) as an obstacle to moving forward.  Is there a useful purpose to be found when we are depressed?

listening to depression

Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D., thinks so.  Her book, Listening to Depression, is full of stories and examples of showing that depression is not only not a mistake, but can yield powerful messages that unlock our life purpose.  The central themes she explores are: Depression symptoms are communications to you from yourself, about yourself. 
Depression is a time-out to re-vision and re-figure your life. 
Depression is a signal that something new has to come into your life. 

 I met Lara almost three years ago, when she came for coaching.  At that time she was working as a clinical psychologist and professor.  Since then she has added author and mother to her resume.

Lara’s passion for this subject was fueled by her own struggle with depression in college—which led to getting back on track with her life’s work. “I came from a family which was not at all stable financially.  Because of that I wanted to choose a career that would be sure to give me financial security, so I was planning to major in business.  However, before long I started feeling very depressed.  I had lost interest in business very quickly. Luckily, I decided to take some psychology classes.  I found psychology is where my real interests lie, and this is my life path.  I still thank God for that depression, which I now see as a signal of being out of alignment.”


After developing her own clinical practice and supervising hundreds of cases on depression, Lara’s skills and mission came together.  She says, “A lot of the time, clinical psychologists don’t take into consideration that depression may be an accurate reflection of what’s going on with a person.  Ironically, a person’s friends can easily point out why they are depressed, but clinicians sometimes miss the obvious!  In most cases, I believe that depression is not a mental disorder, but a reflection of choices that people are making that don’t fit.”

Lara makes it clear that, in cases where depression is severe or the person is suicidal, he or she must be stabilized before addressing the roots of their depression. Similarly, anyone dealing with depression resulting from external problems and situations, such as addictions, on-going physical or emotional abuse, debilitating ethnic or gender discrimination, or poverty and homelessness must first address these conditions. Depression is a Wake-up Call About How You Are Living your Purpose
. According to Lara, our feelings of depression are a call to bring our life into alignment with our own needs, values and desires.  How do people get off track in the first place?

Operating from a sense of loyalty.

While loyalty allows people to belong and feel connected, it could hamper our individual choices.  Think of people who just slide into a family business because it’s there.   If you are depressed, notice where you might be conforming in order not to rock the boat. To get back on track, differentiate between how you genuinely agree with your family or social milieu, and where your dreams and interests are different.

Not believing in yourself

Many people feel they are not “good enough” to go for their dreams.   For example, someone may want to be a doctor, but comes from a working class family.  The message from their parents and milieu might be, ‘Who do you think you are?’  Adding unconscious loyalty to self-doubt builds a powerful justification for not going further than their parents or friends.

Lack of reflection

If we never take time to ask ourselves what we really want, or to notice how we may be different from those in our upbringing, we never take time to get on track.
 Need for security.   Is our choice of career based solely on the financial reward?  We build real security by investing in ourselves, learning new things, and being willing to take on new challenges.

Fear of the unknown

To move past fear, we have to have a compelling reason to move forward—such as, a creative urge that won’t go away, a desire to have our own business, or an urge to live according to our own values.  If those compelling urges are suppressed, depression follows.  If we don’t listen to our inner voice, we sink deeper into depression, or even find that we have an accident or illness that amplifies the message that something has to change. Lara quotes the philosopher, Heiddegger, “‘Breakdown is always in the service of breakthrough.’”

When It’s Dark Outside Follow the Inner Light of Life Purpose

Lara writes in her book, “Depression feels like all the lights have gone out.  When the lights are out, the only thing you can see is that which is lit from within.  And that which is lit from within is your life purpose.”
One story describes Jamie, a young man who is married with children, thirty-five, and deeply depressed–almost suicidal. Through counseling (though not with Lara), he came to recognize that the only thing truly lighting his path was his desire to be a comic-book artist—though he had experienced no success so far, and did not believe that he could support his family from his creativity. He got the idea to start an on-line comic book, and was the first one to start such a site (

His is a good example of translating one’s personal pain into creative channels that help others. The site became a success, and is not only entertaining, but healing. His topics have individually and socially inspiring messages–the gift, so to speak, of his depression.  “His original issue was being indiscriminately loyal,” says Lara, “Jamie had to learn to separate himself from what others think, and set boundaries that allowed him to do what he could do best”

Use The Four P’s to Heal Depression

According to Lara, depression can be healed by letting your life be guided by pleasure, presence, power and permission.

Increase Pleasure.

So many times depression is a call to re-enter life—instead of just going through the motions.  Instead of focusing all your time on performance demands—which ultimately is one-sided and draining—be sure to give yourself a few simple pleasures, like browsing in bookstores, walking with a friend, playing with your child or bicycling.

Lara notes, “Since I wrote the book, I would add that having more pleasure in your life is actually very practical.  Taking pleasure in something automatically brings its own sense of fulfillment.   You don’t have to wait to “make it someday,” to feel happy.  When in a good mood, you also perform better in everything.  You attract people and opportunities because you are operating at a higher energy level. You have the energy to see more possibilities and take more chances.”

Make a point of being present in the moment each day. It’s the difference between being and doing–performing.  Lara says, “Presence happens when you are just having lunch with your child, just watching him make a mess, and not being concerned about it.  Ironically, the work of depression pushes you into being, not doing.  Some people who survive suicide attempts say that they learn that just being is a great gift.  Therefore, the failure of one of your ‘doing” goals could be the thing that connects you to your being in this moment.”

Power reminds us to be the author of our own life. Lara says, “I call this re-writing the rules.   For example, women often think motherhood has to be a sacrifice, but there’s power in making authentic choices instead of simply conforming to a life that doesn’t work for you.  You can re-write the rules for yourself and say, ‘I don’t have to solve everybody else’s problems.’ Or, ‘I don’t have to make every single choice based on security.’  Re-write the rules about having to get together for toxic family holidays; make taking care of yourself the highest priority. 

Another example is a man who really wanted to work in a pet store. “ His main obstacle between himself and his life purpose,” says Lara, “was that he believed that men didn’t do those sorts of jobs.  He found that he had the power to change his thinking.”


Practice giving yourself permission to see life a different way.  For example, some of us have to learn that life doesn’t have to be a struggle (despite our past experiences.)  The future doesn’t have to be a repeat of the past. Give yourself permission to explore something, or simply to be happy (despite others who want to draw you into the misery-loves-company conversation.).

Healing Tragic Loss

Deep depression from loss takes us on a journey.  How do we ever recover from the loss of a loved one, of losing our home, livelihood, or health?  Lara says, “Finding meaning in a tragic loss is essential if you are to recover.  For example, I have a story about a woman who survived a car crash caused by a drunk driver, in which her parents and sister were killed.  She brought that tragic loss into her life purpose and became a lawyer and an inspiring public speaker about drunk driving.  Sometimes these events are, mysteriously, a stepping stone to revealing a life purpose.”

By Carol Andrienne, Ph.D.


10 Ways For Lawyers to Deal With Their Depression

A lawyer with depression used to call me once a month. He’d sometimes weep as he told me about the myriad of ways that his depression was disrupting his work and personal life.

I’d listen each time, for about fifteen minutes or so.  I thought I was helping him by offering a compassionate ear.

The conversation would always end with, “catch you later.” 

This went on for six months. 


During our talks I’d make suggestions about things he could do to help himself.  It seemed to go in one ear and out the other. Despite all the pain in his life, absolutely nothing changed for him.

I finally got to the point where I said, “Bob, what are you willing to do to change your life?”  He seemed surprised by the question.  There was a long pause on the other end of the phone. 

He then said, “Catch you later.”  And he never called again.

Making a Choice to Change Things in Your Life

A hallmark of depression is that those afflicted feel that they have no choice: they victims of their depression and powerless to change it.  In the final analysis, that’s what happened with Bob and why things never changed for him.

listening 2

In her book, Listening to Depression:  How Understanding Your Pain Can Heal Your Life , psychologist, Lara Honos-Webb, takes a somewhat unique view.

She maintains that depression isn’t just as an “illness”, but as a wakeup call; a powerful warning that we have been traveling down paths in our lives that have been untrue to who we really and, as a result, have gotten sick because it.  She encourages us not to see depression as just a disease, but as an opportunity to change our lives.  There is something in us, she writes, if we would only listen, that is telling us that we are killing ourselves. 

But depressives, like my friend Bob, often don’t listen to the early warning signs.  So that inner voice just turns up the volume until we get sick with anxiety and depression – or heart disease, hypertension and cancer. 

I would like YOU to challenge a conclusion that you might have reached about yourself: that you can’t change.

I believe if you’re going to heal and grow, however, you’ll need to come to see life as a series of choices rather than inertia.  Richard O’Connor, Ph.D. once said, “While you’re not to blame for your depression, you are responsible for getting better.”

What old behaviors are you willing to change or what new behaviors are you willing to try to help you get better?

1.   Get help

You can’t handle this by yourself.  It’s not your fault.  It is a problem bigger than any individual person.  There are Lawyer Assistance Programs in most states that can get you started in the right direction, provide resources and help you with referrals.  Click here to search by state for a program nearest you.  While this advice sounds self-evident, believe me, it is not.  Recent statistics reveal that eighty percent of Americans don’t get any help for their depression.

2.   Maybe you have to take medication

That’s okay.  You may have a chemical imbalance that you need to address.  For many, psychotherapy won’t help until they quiet down their somatic complaints (e.g. extreme fatigue, sleep problems) so that they can have the energy and insight to work on their problems. However, “one size doesn’t fit all.”  Medication can – and is – over-proscribed.  I also have a problem with family physician diagnosing depression and recommending antidepressants.  In fact, such doctors write eighty percent of the scripts for antidepressants in this country.  Better idea:  go to be evaluated by a well-regarded psychiatrist who specializes in mental health. Check out, a not-for-profit organization, for a balanced overview of the pros and cons of medication.

3.   Negative Thinking

Whether you will need medication or not, you will need to confront your negative thinking with a therapist.  You really can’t do this effectively with friends or family alone.  A lot of research suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy is a particularly effective form of treatment for depression.  It teaches us that a large part of depression is made up of cognitive distortions.  One example is the all-or-nothing thinking approach.  Lawyers often think to themselves that they’re either “winners” or “losers” in the law. This is a distortion because the reality is that most lawyers both win and lose in their careers. Check out this excellent website article for a list of other cognitive distortions.  I recommend interviewing a couple of therapists before you settle on one.

4.   Exercise

The value of exercise is widely known:  It’s is simply good for everybody.  For a person with depression, it becomes not just about a healthy habit, but a critical choice.  In his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Harvard psychiatrist, Dr. John Ratey devotes a whole chapter to the importance of exercise in treating depression.  Please check this book out.  Also check out this short article from the Mayo Clinic about how exercise can help with the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

5.   Spirituality


If you have a spiritual practice, do it.  If you don’t, think about starting one. This could include anything from a formal meditation practice, going to Mass or just taking a walk in the woods.  A lot of research suggests that people who do have a spiritual practice do better with depression.  If you believe in God or a higher power, you can avail yourself of help and support from Someone who is bigger than your depression.  If you do not believe in God, maybe you believe in some other form of spirituality you can tap into.  Spiritual growth and development, in my opinion, is an important pillar of recovery.

6.   Join a support group 

I started a lawyer support group in my community and it has been going strong for seven years.  Such groups can be invaluable in helping you to see that you are not alone and that others share in the very same struggle.  Contact a Lawyers Assistance Program in your state.  If you don’t feel comfortable being in a support group made up of lawyers, there are plenty of other routes to go.  Check out the website run by The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.  They run depression support groups meetings in all fifty states.

7.   Get educated

Read some good books on the topic of depression.  As part of your education, learn about the powerful connection between stress, anxiety and depression.  I recommend you read Dr. Richard O’Connor’s, Undoing Perpetual Stress:  The Missing Connection between Depression, Anxiety and 21st Century Illness.  Dr. O’Connor opines that depression is really about stress that has gone on too long.  The constant hammering away of stress hormones on the brain changes its neurochemistry.    This can and often does result in anxiety disorders and clinical depression.  I list a number of other great books on my website at Lawyers With Depression.  The site also offers guest articles, news, podcasts and helpful links for lawyers.

8.   Build pleasure into your schedule 

As busy lawyers, we have the “I will get to it later” mentality – especially when it comes to things that are healthy for us.   We have to jettison that approach.  We must begin to take time – NOW – to enjoy pleasurable things.  A hallmark of depression is the failure to feel happiness or joy.  We need to create the space where we experience and savor such feelings. 

 9.   Restructure your law practice

Nobody likes changes.  Lord knows, I don’t.  Yet this pointer falls into the category of “what are you willing to do?”  Maybe you will have to leave your job.  Is this stressful?  Yes.  Is it the end of the world?  No.  Maybe you will have to change careers.  I have spoken to many lawyers who haven’t been particularly happy with being a lawyer since day one.  But they kept doing it because they didn’t know what else to do, the legal profession paid a good buck, they didn’t want to seem like a failure, they were in debt, etc.  I am not trying to minimize these very real concerns.  However, your good health (as I learned the hard way) has got to reestablish itself as a top priority in your life.  I changed the nature and variety of my practice and am the better for it.  I do less litigation.  As a consequence, I have less stress, which has been long known to be a powerful trigger for depression.  It can be done.

10.   Practice mindfulness in your daily life

A lot of attention has been focused on the use of mindfulness lately as a way to help depression.  In mindfulness meditation, we sit quietly, pay attention to our breath and watch our thoughts float by in a stream of our consciousness.   We habitually react to our thoughts (e.g. “I will never get this brief done”).  In mindfulness meditation, we learn – slowly – to let the thoughts and feelings float by without reacting to them.  If such an approach to depression seems far-fetched, read the compelling book, The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, for an excellent primer on how you can incorporate mindfulness into your day. Check out this article written for my website by one of the book’s authors.

In closing, I often tell lawyers to remember, to “be kind to yourself.”  When I say this they usually look puzzled – like many a judge who has listened to my oral arguments. They’ve rarely, if ever, thought about it and don’t know how to be kind to themselves.  I believe that it first begins with a conscious intention – “I am not going to treat myself poorly anymore.” 

Depression is often built upon poor mental/emotional and physical habits.  Such inner pain can bring people to the point where we they’ve had enough.  As one friend of mine said, “You get sick and tired of being sick and tired.”


Listening to Depression

Dr. Lara Honos-Webb blogs about her book “Listening to Depression” where she writes that depression isn’t just a disease, it’s a warning signal: it’s a way for our true selves to tell us that our life has gone off track, that we’re not living an authentic life and that we should listen to what our depression is trying to tell us rather than try to eradicate it.  Read the Blog.

Hangin’ With Depression


I’ve been living with depression for the past ten years or so – longer than I’ve known a lot of people! I’ve come to think of depression as a sort of troublesome companion; one I need to keep some distance from and yet, at some other level, recognize as a voice I need to care about and even listen to.

Not Letting Depression Define Who We Are

It’s helpful sometimes to think of depression as not “me,” but an “it.”

It’s so easy to get lost in depression; to wander into a compass-less night with no way home.  During these times we just don’t experience depression, we are depression. We can’t get any traction or relief from its withering pain. It rants and never raves; it’s negative thinking on steroids.

Dr. Richard O’Connor writes:

“Most tragically, this depressive thinking is likely to be turned on yourself. You remember all the times you failed, and all the times the other guy succeeded; you literally can’t remember your successes. You probably think of yourself as different from others: weaker, damaged, shameful, and inadequate. You don’t consider that you can’t get inside another person’s skin: the confidence you envy may be just a front; the skill you wish for is just practice and hard work; the success you covet may be bought at a high price.”

During the peaks and valleys of my depression over the years, I have learned to say to myself “that’s my depression talking.”  I’ve learned to put a little space between me and this formidable foe.

But I know, deep in my bones, that this companion will travel all of life’s pathways with me – it’s here for the long haul.  While it may not define me anymore, it wields a pointy pencil and shades in various features of my character, reality and moods.  There will be days when I’m better at seeing this, at cutting through the clutter of depression as I navigate my day.  And then there are still days when it bogs me done a bit, cuts into my productivity and colors my face a deeper shade of grey.

For some, like me, it may not be a question of ultimately curing depression, but containing it; of keeping it at the periphery of my life.  When it tries to wander into the center, the wise sentinels – my psychologist, psychiatrist and chums – remind me that it’s time to refocus and employ my self-care stuff to keep depression at bay.

You are not your depression.  It may be a part of your life, but it isn’t your life.

Listening a Little More Closely

Sometimes we fight our depression too hard.  In our attempts to extricate ourselves from its pain, we sometimes chew off a limb like an animal stuck in a steel trap.  Sometimes, we need not squelch the pain of depression, but listen to it because it’s trying to tell us something.  It can be a messenger from somewhere deep inside of us, not just an illness or a psychological malady.

I’ve often thought that part of depression is a lack of love for one’s self, whatever the reason.  This pain, through years of neglect can pathologize into real illness, like depression; it can grow into a giant monster that we’re just too scared to face.  So we hide in our work, our addictions and in all the many fronts we show to the world.  We kick the can down the road, hoping that things will get better, hoping that depression will just leave us alone.

We need to incline our ears to our pain.  As the poet and author Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote:

“Perhaps all the dragons of our lives we fear are princes and princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.  Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants us to help.”

Somewhere in all us is that depression dragon, that part of us long neglected, abandoned and helpless.  We need our hearts to turn and love this part of ourselves that wants help from us, wants to be heard, wants to tell us that for us to heal and have a shot at happiness, we must listen – maybe as we never have before – to all that is truly in us and needs our attention.

Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D., in her book Listening to Depression, writes:

“We only reflect on those things that break down in our life. For example, if life is going along smoothly you won’t spend time thinking about the meaning of your life. We tend to think deeply about life when something is not working. When we identify a problem, we begin to reflect on what caused the problem and how to fix the problem. If you are disconnected from your deepest feelings and impulses you may still manage to get through life without realizing it.

But if you begin to open to the possibility that there was something fundamentally wrong with your level of functioning before your depression, only then does the idea of depression as a gift begin to make sense. A breakdown can become a gift when it is in the service of increasing reflection on your life which will lead you to ask the fundamentally important questions: What is wrong with my life? What can I do to correct the problem? When you listen to your depression, you can heal your life.”

Depression feels different on different days.  Sometimes, try treating it as an “it.”  And during other times, perhaps when you’re feeling a little better, try listening to what it is trying to tell you.

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